Malaysia - Country Overview
To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia. A bubbling, bustling melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony.
Multiculturalism has not only made Malaysia a gastronomical paradise, it has also made Malaysia home to hundreds of colourful festivals. It's no wonder that we love celebrating and socialising. As a people, Malaysians are very laid back, warm and friendly.
Geographically, Malaysia is as diverse as its culture.Malaysia is divided into 13 states and 3 Federal Territories, separated by the South China Sea with 11 states and 2 federal territories (Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya) in Peninsular Malaysia and two states and 1 federal territory (Labuan) in East Malaysia.
One of Malaysia's key attractions is its extreme contrasts. Towering skyscrapers look down upon wooden houses built on stilts, and five-star hotels sit several metres away from ancient reefs.Cool hideaways are found in the highlands that roll down to warm, sandy beaches and rich, humid mangroves.
For the perfect holiday full of surprises, eclectic cultures and natural wonders, the time is now, the place is Malaysia.
* Further information on the country tourism can also be obtained from the Tourism Malaysia's official portal, www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my.
Tourism Info Line: 1 300 88 5050
The Federation of Malaysia comprises of Peninsular Malaysia, and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.
Situated between 2º and 7º to the North of the Equator line, Peninsular Malaysia is separated from Sabah and Sarawak by the South China Sea. In the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia lies Thailand, and in the south, neighbouring Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak are bounded by Indonesia while Sarawak also shares borders with Brunei.
329,758 square km
Malays comprise 57% of the population, while the Chinese, Indian and Bumiputeras and other races make up the rest of the country's population.
(Bahasa Melayu)Malay is the national language in use, but English is widely spoken. The ethnic groups also converse in the various languages and dialects.
Islam is the official religion of the country, but other religions are widely practised.
Malaysia follows the bicameral legislative system, adopting a democratic parliamentary. The head of the country is the King or the Yang Di-PertuanAgong, a position which is changed every five years among the Malay Sultanates. The head of government is the Prime Minister.
The country experiences tropical weather year-round. Temperatures are from 21ºC (70ºF) to 32ºC (90ºF). Higher elevations are much colder with temperatures between 15°C (59° F) to 25°C (77°F). Annual rainfall varies from 2,000mm to 2,500mm.
New Year*, Hari Raya Aidiladha*, Federal Territory Day **, Chinese New Year *, AwalMuharam*, MaulidurRasul*, Labour Day*, Wesak*, King's Birthday*, National Day* Deepavali# Hari Raya Aidilfitri* Christmas*
Note: (*) - National Holidays (**) - Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur & Labuan only (#) - except Labuan & Sarawak
Manufacturing constitutes the largest single component of Malaysia's economy. Tourism and primary commodities such as petroleum, palm oil, natural rubber and timber are major contributors to the economy.
The monetary unit of the country is Ringgit Malaysia and is written as RM. The exchange rate is valued at USD1 = RM3.15. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at banks and money changers.
Eight hours ahead of GMT and 16 hours ahead of U.S Standard Time.
Voltage is 220 - 240 Volt AC at 50 cycles per second. Standard 3- pin square plugs and socket.
Measurement and Weight
Malaysia follows the metric system for weight and measurement.
Local calls can be made from public phones using shillings or prepaid cards. International calls can also be made using card phones or at any Telekom office.
Malaysia has a wide range of accommodation at competitive rates. International standard hotels, medium and budget hotels, youth hostels are just some of the types of accommodation available.
Culture & Heritage
Having had an interesting past and being a part of the international spice route many hundreds of years ago, Malaysia has turned into a mosaic of cultures. Everything from its people to its architecture reflect a colorful heritage and an amalgamated culture. To understand Malaysian culture, you must first get to know its people.
DISCOVER A LAND OF INTRIGUING DIVERSITY
Malays, Chinese, Indians and many other ethnic groups have lived together in Malaysia for generations. All these cultures have influenced each other, creating a truly Malaysian culture.
The largest ethnic groups in Malaysia are the Malays, Chinese and Indians. In Sabah and Sarawak, there are a myriad of indigenous ethnic groups with their own unique culture and heritage.
Today, the Malays, Malaysia's largest ethnic group, make up more than 50% of the population. In Malaysia, the term Malay refers to a person who practices Islam and Malay traditions, speaks the Malay language and whose ancestors are Malays. Their conversion to Islam from Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism began in the 1400s, largely influenced by the decision of the royal court of Melaka. The Malays are known for their gentle mannerisms and rich arts heritage.
The second largest ethnic group, the Malaysian Chinese form about 25% of the population. Mostly descendants of Chinese immigrants during the 19th century, the Chinese are known for their diligence and keen business sense. The three sub-groups who speak a different dialect of the Chinese language are the Hokkien who live predominantly on the northern island of Penang; the Cantonese who live predominantly in the capital city Kuala Lumpur; and the Mandarin-speaking group who live predominantly in the southern state of Johor.
The smallest of three main ethnic groups, the Malaysian Indians form about 10% of the population. Most are descendants of Tamil-speaking South Indian immigrants who came to the country during the British colonial rule. Lured by the prospect of breaking out of the Indian caste system, they came to Malaysia to build a better life. Predominantly Hindus, they brought with them their colourful culture such as ornate temples, spicy cuisine and exquisite sarees.
INDIGENOUS ETHNIC GROUPS
Orang Asli is a general term used for any indigenous groups that are found in Peninsular Malaysia. They are divided into three main tribal groups: Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay. The Negrito usually live in the north, the Senoi in the middle and the Proto-Malay in the south. Each group or sub-group has its own language and culture. Some are fishermen, some farmers and some are semi-nomadic.
Collectively known as the Dayaks, the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu are the major ethnic groups in the state of Sarawak. Dayak, which means upstream or inland, is used as a blanket term by the Islamic coastal population for over 200 tribal groups. Typically, they live in longhouses, traditional community homes that can house 20 to 100 families.
The largest of Sarawak's ethnic groups, the Ibans form 30% of the state's population. Sometimes erroneously referred to as the Sea Dayaks because of their skill with boats, they are actually an upriver tribe from the heart of Kalimantan. In the past, they were a fearsome warrior race renowned for headhunting and piracy. Traditionally, they worship a triumvirate of gods under the authority of SingalangBurung, the bird-god of war. Although now mostly Christians, many traditional customs are still practised.
Peace-loving and easy-going, the gentle Bidayuh of Sarawak are famous for their hospitality and tuak or rice wine. Making their homes in Sarawak's mountainous regions, they are mostly farmers and hunters. In their past headhunting days, their prized skulls were stored in a 'baruk' a roundhouse that rises about 1.5 metres above the ground. Originally animists, now most of them have converted to Christianity.
Also known as upriver tribes of Sarawak. Forming roughly 5.5% of Sarawak's population, there are over 100,000 different Orang Ulu tribes. Arguably Borneo's most artistic people, their large longhouses are ornately decorated with murals and superb woodcarvings; their utensils are embellished with intricate beadwork; and aristocratic ladies cover their bodies with finely detailed tattoos.
The largest indigenous ethnic groups of Sabah's population are the KadazanDusun, the Bajau and the Murut.
The largest ethnic group of Sabah, the KadazanDusuns form about 30% of the state's population. Actually consisting of two tribes; the Kadazan and the Dusun, they were grouped together as they both share the same language and culture. However, the Kadazan are mainly inhabitants of flat valley deltas, which are conducive to paddy field farming, while the Dusun traditionally lived in the hilly and mountainous regions of interior Sabah.
The second largest ethnic group in Sabah, the Bajaus make up about 15% of the state's population. Historically a nomadic sea-faring people that worshipped theOmbohDilaut or God of the Sea, they are sometimes referred to as the Sea Gypsies. Those who chose to leave their sea-faring ways became farmers and cattle-breeders. These land Bajaus are nicknamed 'Cowboys of the East' in tribute to their impressive equestrian skills, which are publicly displayed in the annualTamuBesarfestival at Kota Belud.
The third largest ethnic group in Sabah the Muruts make up about 3% of the state's population. Traditionally inhabiting the northern inland regions of Borneo, they were the last of Sabah's ethnic groups to renounce headhunting. Now, they are mostly shifting cultivators of hill paddy and tapioca, supplementing their diet with blowpipe hunting and fishing. Like most indigenous tribes in Sabah, their traditional clothing is decorated with distinctive beadwork.
AN AMAZING ARCHITECTURAL AMALGAM
A fascinating fusion of tradition and modernity, Malaysia's architecture today is a reflection of Asia's many styles, cultures and religions. These influences include Hindu-Indian, Arab-Muslim, Chinese and European. Portuguese, Dutch and British colonization have also influenced local architecture. Now, the country embraces an independent modern Malaysian vision whilst staying true to its rich culture and heritage.
Traditional Malay architecture employs sophisticated architectural processes ideally suited to tropical conditions such as structures built on stilts, which allow cross-ventilating breeze beneath the dwelling to cool the house whilst mitigating the effects of the occasional flood. High-pitched roofs and large windows not only allow cross-ventilation but are also carved with intricate organic designs.
Traditional houses in Negeri Sembilan were built of hardwood and entirely free of nails. They are built using beams, which are held together by wedges. A beautiful example of this type of architecture can be seen in the Old Palace of Seri Menanti in Negeri Sembilan, which was built around 1905.
Another truly magnificent example of Malay architectural creativity is the Istana Kenangan in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar. Built in 1926, it is the only Malay palace made of bamboo walls.
Today, many Malay or Islamic buildings incorporate Moorish design elements as can be seen in the Islamic Arts Museum and a number of buildings in Putrajaya - the new administrative capital, and many mosques throughout the country.
In Malaysia, Chinese architecture is of two broad types: traditional and Baba-Nyonya. Examples of traditional architecture include Chinese temples found throughout the country such as the Cheng HoonTeng that dates back to 1646.
Many old houses especially those in Melaka and Penang are of Baba-Nyonya heritage, built with indoor courtyards and beautiful, colourful tiles.
A rare architectural combination of Chinese and Western elements is displayed by Melaka's Terengkera mosque. Its pagoda-like appearance is a fine example of Chinese-influenced roof form, combined with Western detailing in its balustrades and railings.
With most of Malaysian Hindus originally from Southern India, local Hindu temples exhibit the colourful architecture of that region.
Built in the late nineteenth century, the Sri Mahamariaman Temple in Kuala Lumpur is one of the most ornate and elaborate Hindu temples in the country. The detailed decorative scheme for the temple incorporates intricate carvings, gold embellishments, hand-painted motifs and exquisite tiles from Italy and Spain.
The Sikhs, although a small minority, also have their temples of more staid design in many parts of the country.
Indigenous Peoples of Sabah & Sarawak
Two unique architectural highlights of the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak are longhouses and water villages.
Homes to interior riverine tribes, longhouses are traditional community homes. These elongated and stilted structures, often built of axe-hewn timber, tied with creeper fibre and roofed with woven atap or thatched leaves, can house between 20 to 100 families.
Rustic water villages built on stilts are also commonly found along riverbanks and seafronts. Houses are linked by plank walkways with boats anchored on the sides. Transport around the village is usually by sampan or canoe.
COLONIAL PERIOD STYLES
The architectural styles of the different colonial powers are used in many buildings built between 1511 and 1957.
The most notable example of Portuguese architecture in Malaysia is the A'Famosa fort in Melaka, which was built by Alfonso d'Albuquerque in 1511. Nearly annihilated by the Dutch, only a small part of the fortification is still on the hill overlooking the Melaka town, old port and the Straits of Melaka.
Located in Melaka Town, the Stadthuys with its heavy wooden doors, thick red walls and wrought-iron hinges is the most imposing relic of the Dutch period in Melaka. It is a fine example of Dutch masonry and woodworking skills. Built between 1641 and 1660 it is believed to be the oldest building in the East.
Among the most significant landmarks built by the British is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, which grandly overlooks the Merdeka Square, Kuala Lumpur. This Moorish beauty, completed in 1897, served as the Colonial Secretariat offices during the British administration.
Pre-Merdeka or pre-independence shophouses still emanate the characteristic charm of their earlier days. A display of English ingenuity is the 'five-foot-way' or covered sidewalk designed to shield pedestrians from the heat and rain.
Games and Past Times
EXPERIENCE THE EXPRESSIONS OF COMMUNITY
Malaysians' strong sense of community is reflected in many of their traditional games and pastimes. These activities are still played by local children on cool afternoons and are also a communal activity during festivities such as before or after the rice harvest season and weddings.
This fascinating Malay martial arts is also an international sport and traditional dance form. Existing in the Malay Archipelago for centuries, it has mesmerising fluid movements that are used to dazzle opponents. It is believed that practising silat will increase one's spiritual strength in accordance with Islamic tenets. Accompanied by drums and gongs, this ancient art is popularly performed at Malay weddings and cultural festivals.
Also known as sepak raga, it is a traditional ball game in which a ball, made by weaving strips of buluh or bamboo, is passed about using any part of the body except the lower arms and hands. There are two main types of sepaktakraw: bulatan (circle) and jaring (net). Sepak raga bulatan is the original form in which players form a circle and try to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible. Sepaktakrawjaring is the modern version in which the ball is passed across a court over a high net.
A wau is a traditional kite that is especially popular in the state of Kelantan, on the East Coast of Malaysia. Traditionally flown after the rice harvest season, these giant kites are often as big as a man - measuring about 3.5 metres from head to tail. It is called wau because its shape is similar to the Arabic letter that is pronounced as 'wow'. With vibrant colours and patterns based on local floral and fauna, these kites are truly splendid sights.
Agasing is a giant spinning top that weighs approximately 5kg or 10lbs and may be as large as a dinner plate. Traditionally played before the rice harvest season, this game requires strength, co-ordination and skill. The top is set spinning by unfurling a rope that has been wound around it. Then it is scooped off the ground, whilst still spinning, using a wooden bat with a centre slit and transferred onto a low post with a metal receptacle. If expertly hurled, it can spin for up to 2 hours.
Wayangkulit is a traditional theatre form that brings together the playfulness of a puppet show, and the elusive quality and charming simplicity of a shadow play. The flat two-dimensional puppets are intricately carved, then painted by hand.It is either made of cow or buffalo hide. Each puppet, a stylised exaggeration of the human shape, is given a distinctive appearance and not unlike its string puppet cousins, has jointed "arms". Conducted by a singular master storyteller called TokDalang, wayangkulit usually dramatises ancient Indian epics.
Congkak is a game of mathematics played by womenfolk in ancient times that only required dug out holes in the earth and tamarind seeds. Today, it is an oval solid wood block with two rows of five, seven, or nine holes and two large holes at both ends called "home". Congkak, played with shells, marbles, pebbles or tamarind seeds, requires two players.
Famously from the state of Penang, Chingay or The Giant Flags Procession is a spectacular procession that celebrates the arrival of spring during the New Year season. Its trademark elements are giant triangular flags and lanterns. These flags on equally huge poles are balanced on performers' foreheads, chins, lower jaws and shoulders. Other entertainers include dancers, jugglers and magicians.
Sepakmanggis is a unique outdoor game played by the Bajau and Iranun men of Sabah. Forming a circle and facing each other, players aim to strike the bungamanggis floral carrier that dangles from a 10-metre high pole. The winner will be rewarded with money, gifts or edibles, which are in the carrier.