Traditions & Culture in Malaysia.
Understand our multi-racial culture and tradition will help us unite.
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The complete guide on Malaysian Culture

The Malaysian population consists of people of different races, religions and race. The largest group of Malaysians consist of three main races, namely the Malays, Chinese and Indians. Orang Asli are the natives in Peninsular Malaysia and is generally divided into three major groups, namely the Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay.

Ethnics in Malaysia

Demographics of Malaysia

The demographics of Malaysia are represented by the multiple ethnic groups that exist in the country. Malaysia’s population, according to the 2010 census, is 28,334,000 including non-citizens, which makes it the 42nd most populated country in the world. Of these, 5.72 million live in East Malaysia and 22.5 million live in Peninsular Malaysia.

The population distribution is uneven, with some 79% of its citizens concentrated in Peninsular Malaysia.

What is population projections in 2021?

70%
of the total population are the Malays and Bumiputeras, Chinese 23.2% and Indians 7.0%.

Source: Department of Statistics Malaysia

Demographic trends and key rates

Censuses were taken in Malaysia in 1970, 1980, 1991, 2000 and 2010. The total population is around 28.3 million according to the 2010 census.

The population distribution is highly uneven, with some 20 million residents concentrated in Peninsula Malaysia.

Facts and Statistics

Location: Southeastern Asia. Shares borders with Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei.

Capital: Kuala Lumpur

Climate: tropical; annual southwest (April to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons

Population: 32+ million (2019 est.)

Ethnic Make-up: Malay 50.4%, Chinese 23.7%, indigenous 11%, Indian 7.1%, others 7.8%

Religions:Muslim 60.4%, Buddhist 19.2%, Christian 9.1%, Hindu 6.3%, Confucianism, Taoism, other traditional Chinese religions 2.6%, other or unknown 1.5%, none 0.8%

Government: constitutional monarchy

Business Culture: Ranked 43rd in the Business Culture Complexity Index™

Language in Malaysia

The Malay language is an Austronesian language spoken not only by Malaysians but all Malay people who reside in the Malay Peninsula, southern Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, central eastern Sumatra, the Riau islands, parts of the coast of Borneo, Cocos, and Christmas Islands in Australia.

It is also very similar to Indonesian, known locally as Bahasa Indonesia. In Malaysia, the language is officially known as Bahasa Malaysia, which translates as the “Malaysian language”. The term, which was introduced by the National Language Act 1967, was predominant until the 1990s when most academics and government officials reverted to “Bahasa Melayu,” which is used in the Malay version of the Federal Constitution.

Ethnic groups of Malaysia

Malay & Bumiputera

The Malays, who account for over half the Malaysian population, play a dominant role politically and are included in a grouping identified as bumiputra. Their native language, Bahasa Malaysia, is the national language of the country.

By definition of the Malaysian constitution, all Malays are Muslims. The Orang Asal, the earliest inhabitants of Malaya, formed only 0.5 percent of the total population in Malaysia in 2000 but represented a majority in East Malaysia, Borneo.

In Sarawak and Sabah, most of the non-Muslim indigenous groups are classified as Dayaks, and they constitute about 40 percent of the population in the state.

Many tribes have converted to Christianity. The 140,000 Orang Asli, or aboriginal peoples, comprise a number of different ethnic communities living in peninsular Malaysia.

Chinese

The Chinese have been settling in Malaysia for many centuries, and form the second-largest ethnic group.

The first Chinese to settle in the Straits Settlements, primarily in and around Malacca, gradually adopted elements of Malaysian culture and intermarried with the Malaysian community, and with this, a new ethnic group called emerged, the Peranakan (“Straits Chinese”).

These Chinese have adopted Malay traditions while maintaining elements of Chinese culture such as their largely Buddhist and Taoist religion.

The more common Chinese varieties spoken in Peninsular Malaysia are Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainanese, and Fuzhou.

Indian

The Indian community in Malaysia is the smallest of the three main ethnic groups, accounting for about 10 percent of the country’s population.

They speak a variety of South Asian languages. Tamils, Malayalees, and Telugu people make up over 85 percent of the people of Indian origin in the country.

Indian immigrants to Malaysia brought with them the Hindu and Sikh cultures. This included temples and Gurdwaras, cuisine, and clothing. Hindu tradition remains strong in the Indian community of Malaysia.

A community of Indians who have adopted Malay cultural practices also exists in Malacca. Though they remain Hindu, the Chitties speak Bahasa Malaysia and dress and act as Malays.

Others

Some Eurasians of mixed European and Malay descent live in Malaysia.

A small community in Malacca are descendants of former Portuguese colonists who married Malay women.

While they have adopted Malay culture, they speak their own language and are Catholics.

Cultural Festivals and Celebrations in Malaysia

In the spirit of Malaysia’s multi-cultural identity, many of these cultural and religious festivities are embraced by the community as a whole and celebrated nationwide, regardless of race or belief.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri
Chinese New Year
Deepavali
Christmas

Culture and Etiquette in Malaysia

Greetings in a social context will depend upon the ethnicity of the person you are meeting.

In general, most Malays are aware of Western ways so the handshake is normal. There may be slight differences though and a few things to bear in mind include:

Malay women may not shake hands with men. Women can of course shake hands with women. Men may also not shake hands with women and may bow instead while placing their hands on their hearts.

The Chinese handshake is light and maybe rather prolonged. Men and women may shake hands, although the woman must extend her hand first. Many older Chinese lower their eyes during the greeting as a sign of respect.

Indians shake hands with members of the same sex. When being introduced to someone of the opposite sex, nodding the head and smiling is usually sufficient.

Meeting and Greeting

Among all cultures, there is a general tendency to introduce:
  • Hierarchy
    the most important person to the lower-ranking person.
  • Age
    the older person to the younger person
  • Gender
    women to men.

Names

The way names are used also varies between ethnicities:
  • Chinese
    The Chinese traditionally have 3 names. The surname (family name) is first and is followed by two personal names.• Many Chinese adopt more Western names and may ask you to use that instead.
  • Malays
    Many Malays do not have surnames. Instead, men add their father's name to their own name with the term "bin" (meaning ‘son of’). So Rosli Bin Suleiman would be Rosli the son of Suleiman. Women use the term "binti", so Aysha Binti Suleiman is Aysha the daughter of Suleiman.
  • Indians
    Many Indians do not use surnames. Instead, they place the initial of their father's name in front of their own name. The man's formal name is their name "s/o" (son of) and the father's name. Women use "d/o" to refer to themselves as the daughter of their father.

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