Who Are Malaysians?

Cultures have been meeting and mixing in Malaysia since the very beginning of its history. More than fifteen hundred years ago a Malay kingdom in Bujang Valley welcomed traders from China and India. With the arrival of gold and silks, Buddhism and Hinduism also came to Malaysia. A thousand years later, Arab traders arrived in Malacca and brought with them the principles and practices of Islam. By the time the Portuguese arrived in Malaysia, the empire that they encountered was more cosmopolitan than their own.


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

Malaysia's Indian Community

The Indian community in Malaysia is the smallest of the three main ethnic groups, accounting for about 10% of the country's population. Tamils, Malayalees and Telegu-speaking people make up over 85% of the people of Indian origin in the country. The Punjabis (mostly Sikhs) are also substantial in number and the people of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan origin are included in the "Indian" category for statistical purposes. Indians first came to Malaya for barter trade, especially in the former Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang.

Chinese in Malaysia

The Chinese first arrived in Malaysia in the 15th century, when the Ming Princess Hang Li Po and her entourage arrived in Malacca, to establish a thriving community which gave rise to the Babas and Nyonyas of today. But it was not until the 19th century that the Chinese had the biggest impact on the social and religious landscape of this nation, as migrants from southern China came in droves to seek their fortune in the tin mines of Perak and Selangor.

Initially, the Chinese immigrants made their livelihood as labourers, but soon many ventured into trade and industry, thriving in the former Straits Settlements of Penang and Singapore, showing an almost natural head for business. But the settlement of the Chinese migrants wasn't all smooth sailing. In 1948 a Communist insurrection, known as the Emergency period, began. The Communist guerrillas largely recruited from among the Chinese population, employing terrorist tactics, which prompted the resettlement of nearly half a million Chinese by the British. The insurgency eventually failed, and the Emergency was declared over in 1960.