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Malaysian Culture

Updated on September 13, 2011

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual society which consist of three major races; the Malays, the Chinese, and the Indians. They are once immigrants who are brought in as workers by the British. The tribal people who lived in Malaysia long before the existence of the three races are known as the Orang Asli which means “Original People”; they populate the East Malaysia more in Sabah (Dayak, Iban, and Bidayuh) and Sarawak (Kadazan) in our current era. There are also other immigrants and expatriates races like Indonesian, Europeans, and etc. Among the three races, the Malay population is the largest.

The people in Malaysia lived in harmony in relation with each other, in business, in marriage, and even sharing food amongst themselves in someone’s wedding dinner or “kenduri”. The Malaysian flag also known as the “Jalur Gemilang” consist of 14 stripes which represents 14 states in Malaysia, the colours are red (courage), yellow (royalty), white (honesty and integrity), and blue (unity and harmony of the people).

National anthem: Negaraku (My country)

National Car Company: PROTON, and PERODUA

National newspaper: The Star, The Sun, Berita Harian, Utusan Malaysia, Sin Chew Daily, New Sabah Times, Rengah Sarawak.

Due to the multi-language environment, the English language in Malaysia has evolved into a creole with its own phonology, and grammar. In Malaysia the language spoken by the people are their own mother tongue language however, there is a mixed language called ”Manglish”. It is an unofficial English based language with words originating from Malay, Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, and Tamil. Manglish means Malaysian English or sometimes Malglish or Mangled English; a unique dialect of English spoken in Malaysia.It is not taught in schools nor in the newspaper, on the streets Manglish is just "Malaysian English". The “Lah word”; in Malay, 'lah' is used to change a verb into a command or to soften its tone, particularly when usage of the verb may seem impolite. Examples like “come here”; sounded harsh and commanding, but if it’s like “come here lah”; it encourages you to go there, so the Malaysians implement this idea to improve the politeness of one’s word.

When you step into a Malaysian’s house, they will normally invite you in with a warm welcome. They will serve you with some drinks and titbits, of course to appreciate them, just take it or at least a small piece or sip. After your visit, they will walk you out the door.

The Malay Culture

The Malays, made up of more than 60% of Malaysia’s total population.

Typical Name: Muhamad (name starter meaning praiseworthy) Zulkifri (real name) bin (bin stands for “son of” and bte stands for “daughter of”) Abu (father’s name)

Language: Malay (Bahasa Malaysia), generally all people in Malaysia can speak the Malay language, for the Malays besides speaking Malay alone, they also speak and read Bahasa Jawi, an Arabic language.

Religion: Islam

Place of worship: Mosque

Traditional Shirt: Baju Kurung and Baju Kebaya (for ladies), Baju Melayu (for men), Songkok are normally worn on the head by men as a custom on Fridays when they visit the mosque

Food: Nasi Lemak, Nasi Kandar, Nasi Briyani, Mee Rojak, Mee Bandung, Roti Jala, Murtabak, Keropok Lekor, Laksam, Satay

Celebrates Ramadan which is the month of fasting, during that time Malays would fast and eat only at certain hours around in early morning, Hari Raya Puasa ends of the fasting month), the reason is to ask parents for forgiveness as well as to cleanse their sins. Green packets with money and Arab words imprinted on it are given to children and to others.

The Kris is an ancient weapon used during the invasion, and now is an ornament and collectibles found in most Malay Houses. Kulit Wayang (shadow puppet) controlled by a puppet master, it is a traditional drama played long before the existence of theatre or television and until today there is still shows offered to the public. Wau bulan is a large moon-like kite flown around the beach or on a large field; it is made by local shops spanning 2.5 meters in width and 3.5 meters in length, it is normally heavily decorated with bright colours so as it is high in the sky, it would look pretty.

The traditional Joget dance consist of dancers in pairs following a quick tempo. It involves a precise control of movements which involves in changing steps and body weight shifting, requires balance and if successful the dance look gracefully. Dikir barat is another type of traditional dance which is a group of dancers dancing based on poetry, the leader (tukang karut) will randomly alter the poem’s text based on social issues, legal matters, animal lifestyles, government regulations, human foibles and more, he may also adjust the tone, speed and rhythm. The backup singers known as the “awok-awok” sings the same lyrics back to him. During the performance, members of the awok-awok clap and perform rhythmic body movements. The musical instrument consists of five main instruments, the rebana ibu, the gendang anak, the gong, the maraccas, and the canang.

Malays just don’t like white and black as they represent sorrow colours, the Malays are also not allowed to get in contact with pigs and dogs as to religion, they also must pray 7 times a day, they are “imsak”, “subuh”, “syuruk”, “zohor”, “asar”, “maghrib”, and “isyak” praying times, it’s a sin not to attend any of the prayers unless extremely ill. In Malaysia, when a non-Muslim marries a Muslim, he or she must convert to Islam, disregarding the gender and previous religion. Some sayings that, a girl who sings in the kitchen will marry an old husband, if a cat jumped over a dead person, that person will sit up as a zombie, pointing the rainbow make you to lose your fingers, pointing at the moon will cause shortening of the fingers that is used to point it

The Indian Culture

The Indians, made up of more than 15% of Malaysia’s total population.

Typical Name: Abimanyu (real name) A/L (son of) Muniyamdum (father’s name)

Language: Tamil and Hindu

Religion: Hinduism (Hindus believe Brahman, Vishnu and Shiva are three parts of the “force” God: one creating, one preserving and one destroying).

Place of worship: Kuil (temple)

Traditional Shirt: Sari (for ladies), Dhoti (for men), Kurta(for men)

Food: Roti canai, Roti telur, Chapatti, Tossai, mostly food with a lot of spice

Celebrates Deepavali (festival of lights), they light up lights which it means “light up your inner light, may it clear the darkness that’s blocking your way”, it is a spiritual celebration with scented incense and, fire-crackers, feeling of joy, togetherness and regaining hope. Ponggal is another celebration by the Indians, Pongal in Tamil means "boiling over or spill over." The boiling over of milk in the clay pot symbolizes material abundance for the household, the Thai Ponggal, celebrated during harvest time, is traditionally intended to thank the “Sun God” for providing them abundant food, rice. It is one of the most important celebrations as it makes them realize the importance of life. Thaipussam where crowds of people assemble and march to “Batu Caves”, they will have to climb the mountain with stairs and enter the temple within the mountain. There are also “Kavadi” bearers where they are so into meditation that they don’t feel the pain stabbing their body, the kavadi is made up of wood and metal which is decorated with colourful decorations.

The Indians do not eat beef, so don’t ever offer them beef dishes, they appreciate cow as a very important organism as it helps the people to survive by providing milk as food when famine strikes. Their dish normally, has an extensive use of various spices, herbs and other vegetables, that’s what makes the Indian food burning spicy. They use Yoga (meditation) as a discipline to help a person control her or his body, mind, will and adhere to Dharma; moral laws. The Karma, we as humans have the freedom to do anything, may it be doing bad or good to others and to yourself, however there is always a consequence where you will be responsible for your actions, it will also be inflicted on you. So, just be good at all times.

The Chinese Culture

The Chinese, made up of more than 20% of Malaysia’s total population.

Typical Name: Chan (surname) Lek Jian (two Chinese name)

Language: Chinese (Dialect: Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Mandarin, Hainanese, Min Bei, Foochow)

Religion: Buddhist, Taoist

Place of worship: Temple and Pagoda

Traditional Shirt: Cheongsam (One piece dress for ladies), Samfu (A shirt with long pants for men)

Food: Curry mee, Fish ball noodle, Char Kuey Teow, dim sum, Chinese tea, Moon cake (Eat and also gift to other people, during moon cake festival)

Celebrates Chinese New Year with lion dance, fire crackers, giving red packets (ang pau) with money­ to each other, paying visit to most relatives, having a family reunion dinner, some grandma or aunty would set up a mah-jong game normally after the dinner,gifting Pomelos or “loke yau”, in Cantonese is a popular gift as the word 'yau' sounds like the Cantonese word for abundance, and having a dish called Yee Sang; it is a simple mixture of thin slices of raw fish, shredded vegetables, colourful herbs and sauces. The people would mix it as it is a separated dish with pair of chopsticks, tossing the Yee Sang higher while saying out loud the word ”loh hei”, would bring prosperity­­­­­­­­­­­­ and longevity. Wesak Day is the celebration of the birth of Buddha.

Feng Shui is an ancient art related to the law and order of the universe and the power of nature. It's a system developed 6,000 years ago based on the elements of astronomy, astrology, geology, physics, mathematics, philosophy, psychology and intuition. People believe through the knowledge of Feng Shui, are able to make themselves more in tune with nature, so that they can be better on their finances, health, and emotions. The Chinese term 'Feng Shui' simply means 'Wind and Water.'

There is another element known as Yin Yang, Yin and Yang are opposite in nature, for example good and bad, but they are part of nature, they rely on each other, and they can't exist without each other. The balance of Yin and Yang is important; any offset will cause the other to become stronger than the other, this will cause trouble. Many people believed that Yin Yang exists in everything.

The Orang Asli

The orang asli, made up of less than 10% of Malaysia’s total population, are indigenous people who live in the outskirts, they are normally less modernize although some tribe seemed to own electrical devices. Speaks Bahasa Melayu and their own native language, consists of Penan, Dayak, Iban, and Bidayuh and Kadazan. Very close to nature, they live in harmony with the environment and survive by hunting for food, repairing houses on their own, less electrical device. Some of them do wear shirt as most of them wear simple clothing, those had taken a step further compared to others by going to the town or city to look for a job.


So, to summarize, people in Malaysia may have different culture, different ways of doing things, different believes, but they are all united, Malaysia is a country with three major races whereas most countries have only one. Even though there are limitations, but we can tolerate and be considerate to others, I guess this the main point our unity. We do enjoy celebrating others celebration, enjoy other races food, and enjoy dressing up as others. Our government is doing a fantastic job in maintaining this harmony, and being a third world country is not too bad as people wouldn’t strive for work much, heavily compete among each other, instead we live in peace and implement “real culture” not “ideal culture”.


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    • profile image

      amigos 4 years ago

      muslims only pray 5times a day which is subuh, zohor, asar, maghrib and isya'. imsak and syuruk is not counted.

    • GT Ooi profile image

      GT Ooi 6 years ago from Penang, Malaysia

      Thank you for your comment, we shall be proud to be Malaysian, truly Asian

    • mrcan profile image

      mrcan 6 years ago from Malaysia

      Malaysia's diversity has blessed the country with one of the most exquisite cuisines in the world, and elements of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cooking are both distinct and blended together. Rice and noodles are common to all cuisine; spicy dishes are also favorites. Tropical fruits grow in abundance, and a local favorite is the durian, known by its spiked shell and fermented flesh whose pungent aroma and taste often separates locals from foreigners.

      Thanks for sharing! Thumbs Up!

    • klyyong profile image

      klyyong 6 years ago

      Great, proud to be Malaysians.

    • profile image

      happyyeo 6 years ago

      Very good article to introduce Malaysian culture. Thanks for sharing.

    • calvinlau88 profile image

      calvinlau88 6 years ago from Malaysia

      thanks for sharing

    • joriechew profile image

      joriechew 6 years ago

      Foodies will be thrilled by the variety of different foods available from the many cultures within Malaysia. This article will be useful to many visitors to Malaysia.

    • idex231 profile image

      idex231 6 years ago from MY

      The sharing of mixed culture and celebrations from different races in Malaysia makes it a really interesting and colorful country. I believe fellow Malaysians enjoy learning from each other all the time.

    • doubleH profile image

      doubleH 6 years ago from Singapore

      I Love Malaysia!!

    • bjtutu profile image

      bjtutu 6 years ago from Malaysia

      Malaysia is indeed a beautiful country. With all the mixed culture, all can enjoyed the rich culture celebration and also lot of variety of foods.

    • ilitek profile image

      ilitek 6 years ago

      good to know more about malaysia in time to come

    • My Footprints profile image

      My Footprints 6 years ago from MY

      Its people co-exist harmoniously and the many colourful facades of its people make Malaysia a unique country. Thanks for the sharing.

    • umakeit profile image

      umakeit 6 years ago

      Good and in detail. Thanks fo sharing.

    • martinyz profile image

      martinyz 6 years ago

      Very good insight of Malaysian culture.

    • beginners-dslr profile image

      beginners-dslr 6 years ago from Malaysia

      Malaysian culture is a multitude of cultures. One of the examples featuring amalgamation of cultures is the intermarriage in between Chinese and Malay, known as Babas and Nyonyas, with their own beliefs, rituals, practices and arts.

      Thanks for the article sharing and voted up!

    • profile image

      ghiblipg 6 years ago

      good that you could write some thing around us =)

    • fordie profile image

      fordie 6 years ago from China

      Interesting text. Can we have some images, please