The largest ethnic group in Malaysia, accounting for more than half of the total population today, is the Malays. Its origins can be traced back to Yunnan China through the Proto-Malays and Deutero-Malays, which belong to the broader-based Malayo-Polynesian group of races. These early aboriginal groups first reached the peninsula around 2000BC.
Since their arrival, the cultures of the peninsular Malays have been shaped and reshaped through the many influences - including those from the surrounding areas of Jawa and Sumatra, the Indian sub-continent, China, the Middle East, and the West - due largely to the strategic position for trade, resulting in variations in customs and social identities.
Perhaps the most significant influence that has served as a unifying and binding factor among the Malays is the religion of Islam. Today, almost all Malays in Malaysia are Muslims. However, though Islam has long been associated with the Malays, the animistic and Hindu influence of the past linger, affecting traditional beliefs, customs and rituals; a fusion of cultures which manifests in the arts, festivals and important ceremonies. Examples of ceremonies that demonstrate the extraordinary cultural merging are the Malay wedding ceremony and the piercing of earlobes, both of which incorporate elements of Hindu tradition.
Prominent festivals celebrated include Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Haji/Korban, Awal Muharram and Maulud Nabi. The Malays, along with the indigenous people, form a group called bumiputra, a Bahasa Malaysia term which literally means "sons of the soil", which accords them special privileges as enshrined in the Constitution.
C-Right 2014 by Langkawi Gazette