No announcement yet.

Meet the people.

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Meet the people.

    The first thing that impresses visitors to Malaysia is the multi-racial communities that have adopted the country as their home. Each ethnic community has its own set of customs, passed down over the generations. Yet it is not uncommon to find some traditions that are practised by all.
    The nations oldest inhabitants, the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia and the indigenous people of East Malaysia, have to some extent been assimilated into mainstream development. During the heyday of British rule, from 1905-1957, immigrants and fortune-hunters from within and without the empire converged upon Malaysia, giving the nation its present-day multi-racial and multi-cultural character.

    The official religion of Malaysia is Islam. It is primarily identified with the Malays, although there are a considerable number of adherents from among the other communities, such as Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Chinese, Javanese, Minangkabaus, Bajaus, Kadazans and many others. The new Malay or "Melayu Baru" is a far cry from his forefathers who arrived in Malaysia around 1000 B.C. He is a result of the assimilation of peoples over the generations. Many ethnic groups are regarded as Malays for practical purposes, Islam being the common bond. Together, the Muslims form the largest single religious group in the country.

    The ancestors of the Chinese community in Malaysia hail from various parts of China, mainly from the south. Most of them arrived when Malaysia was still under British rule. Among the many Chinese dialects spoken in Malaysia today are Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainanese and Teochew. The majority of the Indian community in present-day Malaysia trace their roots to south India. Apart from the Tamils, there are sizeable Indian communities who speak Telugu, Malayalam, Gujerati, Punjabi and Sindhi.

    Historical evidence shows that the forefathers of the Malays arrived in Malaysia around 1000 B.C. They represented the second and third wave of massive transmigration activities southwards from China and Tibet through mainland Southeast Asia and the Malay Peninsula towards the Indonesian Archipelago and beyond. With the establishment of regular trading contacts with India and China around the first century BC intermarriage was commonplace between foreign traders and local women.

    Legend has it that the ancestors of the hereditary Malay rulers appeared one dark night on Mount Siguntang in Palembang, southern Sumatra, on a gleaming white bull. They were three royal princes, namely Nila Pahlawan Sang Sapurba, Nila Utama Sri Tri Buana, and Krishna Pendita. The trio were sons of King Suran and Queen Mahtabul Bahari of Amdan Negara, who are said to be the thirteenth generation from the lineage of Alexander of Macedonia and his Indian wife, Princess Shahrul Bariah.

    According to the legend, Nila Utama married Wan Empuk and became ruler of Palembang; Krishna Pendita married Wan Malini and ruled Tanjung Pura in northern Sumatra; while Nila Pahlawan married Wan Sendari and became overlord of the Minagkabau lands in western Sumatra. Consequently, frequent intermarriages between their successors led to the establishment of the institution of the Malay Sultans. The founder of Melaka, Parameswara also known as Megat Iskandar Shah, was said to be a direct descendant of Nila Utama.

    When the Melaka Sultanate accepted Islam as the official religion of the realm, the term Malay or "Melayu" became synonymous with Muslim. The port served as the springboard for the spread of Islam to other parts of the Malay Peninsula and to the Malay states in Sumatra and along the trade routes throughout the Indonesian archipelago. At its peak, Melaka became the most important port in the east between the Mediterranean Sea and China. Over 80 languages were spoken there, and at times there were more than 4,000 traders housed in special quarters.

    By and by, Muslim traders and other foreigners who accepted Islam and settled in the realm came to be known as Malays. Today in modern-day Malaysia, the official definition of a Malay is a person who is a Muslim, speaks Bahasa Melayu, and practices Malay customs and traditions.


    All the Malays in Malaysia are Muslims. Indeed, Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. The Muslims -- who include adherents from among the other communities such as Afghans, Arabs, Bajaus, Bugis, Chinese, Indians, Javanese, Kadazans, Minangkabaus, Pakistanis and many others -- form the largest single religious group in the country.

    The earliest evidence of the presence of Islam in Peninsular Malaysia is the Terengganu Stone. Discovered in Kuala Berang, Terengganu, the stone bears some inscriptions written in Arabic script, or Jawi, pertaining to Islamic criminal law. Estimated to be dated 1326 or 1386 A.D, it precedes the Islamisation of the Melaka Sultanate.

    The main avenue for the spread of Islam in this part of the world was by trade. The number of Muslim traders coming to Southeast Asia greatly increased with the conversion of the powerful kingdom of Gujerat on the Malabar coast of India at the end of the 13th century A.D. At about the same time, Islam had established a firm foothold in North Sumatra, from where the new religion was brought to the fledgling port of Melaka.

    With the conversion of the Melaka rulers, the city-port became the nodal point for the spread of Islam throughout Southeast Asia. It permeated through political connections throughout the Malay Peninsula, the Sumatran shoreline and to Java, Borneo, Celebes and beyond.

    Melaka also became an important centre of Islamic learning under the patronage of her rulers until the time of the Portuguese conquest in 1511. By that time, Islam had become firmly established as the religion of the Malays, and the successor states to Melaka had already developed strong Islamic institutions.

    Indigenous People:

    The Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia and the indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak are amongst the oldest inhabitants of the region. There are about 20 different Peninsular groups with a combined population of about 100,000, known collectively as the Orang Asli or original people. By government classification, they are sons of the soil, and hence belong to the Bumiputera category.

    Among the major tribes of the Orang Asli are the Semang, the Senoi and the Jakun, the first group being the oldest people in Peninsular Malaysia. The Semang, previously known as Negritos, have until recently lived a nomadic life deep in the mountain rain forests. They are concentrated in the highlands of Kelantan, Terengganu and the northern regions of Perak, Kedah and Pahang. With a population of around 2,000 - a figure unchanged for a century, the Semang comprises six different sub-groups: Batek, Jahai, Kensiu, Kintak, Lanoh and Mendrik. Muscular, small of stature, with darker skin and curlier hair than the other Peninsular peoples, the Semang, are thought to be related to the Andaman islanders and aboriginals of the Philippines. After millennia of forest life, they are natural masters of their environment. In his book Jungle Dwellers of the Malay Peninsula, Lord Charles Shuttleworth wrote of the Semang: "He is the true child of the rain forests, Natures own gentleman".

    The Senoi, which means human being, are the most populous of the Orang Asli, numbering about 40,000. Archeological evidence suggests that they arrived later than the Semang. Physically they are quite different, being slightly taller and having paler skin and wavy hair. Among the various Senoi groups who live in upland Kelantan, Perak, Pahang and Selangor, the Semai group are the most numerous with a population of about 18,000 followed by the Temiar group with a population of 12,000. Other smaller groups are the creative Mah Meri of coastal Selangor, the Jahut of Pahang who are excellent wood-carvers and the shy Che¡ Wong, the deep forest dwellers of Pahang.

    The Orang Asli of Melaka, Negeri Sembilan and southern Johor are also known as Proto-Malays, and probably have the same ancestral roots as the Malays. Of these, the Jakun and the Temuan are the most numerous, each with a population of about 9,000. The Jakun were the first Malays to migrate to the Peninsula perhaps from Yunnan or Indonesia. They have had more contact with the Malays and the Chinese, deriving most of their income from the collection of rainforest products like rattan, resins and jungle latex. This group of Orang Asli are probably the most affected by the march of progress in Peninsular Malaysia.

    The people of Sarawak constitute about 30 ethnic groups with a total population of about 1.83 million. Of these, the Ibans and the Chinese are almost equal in number, about 500,000 each, contributing to a third each of the population. The Malays come third about 21 per cent, followed by the Bidayuh, the Melanau, and the Orang Ulu. The rest are Indians, Eurasians, Javanese and Europeans. Each racial group boasts a rich cultural heritage, with their own costumes, dances, festivals, architecture, arts & crafts and other traditions. There are however two common factors among the indigenous people: a warm, friendly disposition, and preference for longhouse living.

    The Ibans are scattered within the midland and mountainous interior regions, mostly in the Sri Aman, Sibu, Miri and Kapit Divisions; the Malays are mostly found in the coastal areas of Kuching Samarahan and Sri Aman Divisions, and the Melanaus in the coastal areas in the Sibu, Sarikei and Bintulu Divisions. The Bidayuhs are concentrated in the rural areas of the Kuching Divisions, while the other indigenous groups, collectively known as Orang Ulu, are found in the interior area of Miri, Kapit and Limbang Divisions. The Chinese, most of them originally from Foochow province in China, are found in all the urban centres throughout Sarawak.
    The Ibans were originally from the Kalimantan region of Borneo. By the 19th century, they had settled throughout the inland areas of Sarawak. Although they have successfully permeated all levels of society, the Iban still have enormous reverence for their original culture and festivals and many still live in longhouses. Elders still sport tribal tattoos and are adept at storytelling and time-honoured dances. Iban youth are more interested in football and television but longhouse life is still a reality and many traditions are preserved. Formerly feared headhunters, the Iban now work as a fisher-people, or cultivate hill rice or other cash crops in the interior.
    The Bidayuh live in the hilly interior of western Sarawak, and their longhouses are the most accessible from Kuching. They comprise several distinct sub-groups with different but related dialects. The Melanau live predominantly on the coast and are renowned for their fishing and boat building abilities. Through their assimilation with the Malay lifestyle, they have adopted the separate stilt-house habitat.
    The upper reaches of theRiver Rejang, beyond the Pelagus rapids, is home to about 21 Orang Ulu ethnic groups. These include the Kayan and Kenyah (about 30,000), Kelabit (10,000) and Penan. Their social hierarchy system: lower, middle and upper class, imbues great respect for their chiefs. In the longhouse, the chief occupies a larger central unit with the other residents spread on either side, decreasing in social standing as they are farther removed from him.

    The Penans are nomadic. About 500 or so of them live in the hilly regions bordering Indonesian Kalimantan. They practise a way of life largely unchanged from the dawn of time. Some still hunt for wild game with blowpipes, tipping heir darts with the poisonous sap of the Ipoh tree. To supplement their diet, they harvest wild sago. They regard themselves as stewards of the trees and cultivate them in such a way as to ensure the plants are regenerated and sustained for future use. They make complex mental maps of their territory, naming every feature of the land after an incident that occurred there, such as the death of a favourite hunting dog or the sighting of an unusual bird.

    In Sabah, there are 32 different ethnic groups speaking about 100 dialects. The largest is the Dusunic family which includes the Kadazans, Kuijau, Lotud and Rungus, who are traditionally rice-planters and fruit-growers. The Kadazans, which form the largest single indigenous group, reside near their sacred peak, Mount Kinabalu, which towers over the state in the central and eastern region. Famed for their artistry with bamboo, they have been in the forefront in all walks of life since early days. The first Chief Minister of Sabah was a Kadazan.

    The Murutic family comprises the Timugon, Gana, Nabai and Tagal/Sumambu. Most of them are shifting cultivators and river fisherman. The Bajaus migrated from the southern Philippines about 200 years ago, together with the Suluk, Iranum and Obian tribal groups. Formerly known as Sea Gypsies,(or pirates) many Bajaus have traded their sea-going vessels and fishing gear for farm tools and some, especially in the Kuala Belud area, have become buffalo rearers. These highly skilled horsemen, dubbed "Cowboys of the East", often participate in state celebrations. In their elaborate gear, they make a magnificent sight astride their ponies which are decorated with tiny bells and colourful reins and cloths. They live a semi-water borne life, dwelling in houses built on stilts over the water and connected by boardwalks. Housewives paddle their sampan to visit the neighbours and children can swim before they can walk.

    Most of the Chinese in Sabah came in the 1800s, and settled in Kampung Mumiang at the mouth of the Kinabatangan River. They are of Hakka, Hokkien and Teochew descent, each with their own clubs and associations which were formed mainly to keep their customs and traditions intact. Today, they form the largest non-indigenous group in the state. There are also a significant number of Indians, who too have managed to maintain their identity.

  • #2
    Great post.


    • #3
      What I miss most about Malaysia:


      • #4
        Thanks, that was an interesting read.


        • #5