Malaysia is a nation of diversity in unity where Malays, Chinese, Indians and the indigenious people of Sabah and Sarawak live in caring cultural harmony. Once you have overcome your jet-lag fatigue, step into the real heart of Malaysia-the citizens of the country. You would be pleasantly surprised at the warmth of Malaysians. For deeply entrenched within each of the different race is the engaging charm and traditional hospitality which the country is renowned for.
Malaysians enjoy meeting people from other lands. So, do go right ahead and strike up a conversation. After all, the whole point of travelling is to know other cultures.
The National Language, Bahasa Melayu is established as such under Article 152 of the Constitution, which also safeguards other languages by stipulating that no person may be prohibited oprevented from using (except for official purposes) or from teaching or learning any other language. As the national language, Bahasa Melayu must be used for official purposes which includes its use by federal and state governments,and as defined by the constitutional amendment of 1971 by all authorities (including local authorities) and statutory bodies. By the same constitutional amendment the status of Bahasa Melayu may not be questioned, and any amendment to Article 152 can only be made with the consent of the Conference of Rulers.
The main festivals of Malaysia are naturally religious in origin. The major ones are listed below : Religious Festivals
The two most important festivals of the Islamic year are the Hari Raya Haji and Hari Raya Puasa. Of these two occasions Hari Raya Haji which marks the successful conclusion of the pilgrimage to Mecca is probably of greater religious significance. Five of the states of the peninsula make it two-day holiday. But socially Hari Raya Puasa is a far greater occasion – the children wear new clothes, in fact everyone does and the home itself is redecorated and cleaned.Visiting other houses also takes place on a large scale. A moving part of Hari Raya Puasa is when, on return from the mosque, the children formally approach their parents and ask their forgiveness for their sins and omissions during the previous year. Hari Raya Haji is a much quieter occasion. Of course fasting month itself, though not a festive occasion, is of very great significance in the life of Muslim and is marked by a number of religious observances including special prayers (sembahyang tarawih) at night in the mosques.
The birthday of the Prophet Muhammad is another important occasion, marked by special prayers and lectures in the mosques, processions and kenduris. The start of the Islamic New Year, now known as Maal Hijrah, is also a public holiday. The festival of Israk and Mikraj (the Prophet’s ascension) is a purely religious one and is observed as a public holiday only in Kedah and Negeri Sembilan, while in Johor the start of the fasting month is a public holiday. Nuzul Quran is a public holiday in Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor and Terengganu.
By far the most important festival is Chinese New Year, a two-day holiday for many stretches into a week and which for most is their is their only real public holiday for the whole year. It is a time for family reunions – the family dinner on the eve of the New Year is most important – settlement on the eve of all debts and the closing of accounts, and a time for special prayers and offerings. Preparation on it begins on the 24th day of the 12th moon whwn sacrifices are made to the Kitchen God to send him on his way to his annual visit to heaven. The celebrations continue for another three weeks; strips of red paper together with fresh paper gods are pasted on the front door with the characters for happiness, wealth, good fortune, long life, etc., written on them; Ang pow are distributed to all.
The main Buddhist festival which is celebrated on a national scale is the birthady of the Buddha or Wesak Day which is a public holiday. The weeks preceding Wesak Day are marked by various events including visits to charitable institutions, children parties and cultural shows. The climax is Wesak Day itself when gatherings are held at Buddhist temples throughout the country. The celebrations on the largest scale are naturally in Kuala Lumpur.
Virtually every day is a Hindu festival, but amongst Malaysian Indians there are three major festivals, Deepavali, Thaipusam and Thai Ponggal.Deepavali/Diwali or Festival of Lights is one of the most widely celebrated of Hindu festivals It falls when the moon has waned in the Hindu month of Kartik which corresponds to a period in October/November.
There are two main festivals which are observed by all Christians. The first is Christmas, i.e. the bisthday of Jesus Christ, which is a public holiday throughout the country and is marked by the traditional Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, a family occasion.On Christmas day (25 December) itself the devout go to church and after that it is open house. The traditional Christmas is marked by the exchange version of an old tradition), carol singing and Christmas trees.
The two major Sikh festivals are the birthady of Guru Nanak, the religion’s founder, on 22 December and Vasakhi, the Sikh New Year which falls on 13 April. Both occasions are marked by prayers at the temple and the reading of the Granth, the Sikh Holy Book. In Vasakhi, blood donations (Janngar) and ritual baptism are also features of the occasion.
Thease are naturally identified with the various ethnic groups. The main features of each are outlined below :
There are two systems of social organisations – the Adat Temenggung which is patrilineal and the more pervasive, and the Adat Perpatih which is matrilineal and confined to the State of Negeri Sembilan and parts of Melaka. Malay adat istiadat or customs and traditions include the adat resam which covers birth and death and the other major events of life, and the adat istiadat diraja or royal customs and traditions which apply to the royal courts.
Dress – On ceremonial occasions the men wear Malay dress consisting of a baju (loose shirt) and a pair of long trousers. A sarung is wrapped around the waist and is left to hang halfway over the trousers.The head-dress consists of a black songkok. A tanjak or tengkolok is used on grander occasions.
The women usually wear baju kurung consisting of a loose fitting blouse and a sarung or the baju kebaya, a tight-fitting blouse and a sarung.
Food – The staple food is rice with accompaniments of meat, fish and vegetables. Coconut milk is an essential ingredient in most preparations with each state having its own specialities. Islam forbids the eating of pork and the flesh of predatory animals and birds, rodens, reptiles, worms and the flesh of dead animals or animals offered as sacrifice. Slaughthering of animals for food must be according to Islamic rites.
The majority of Chinese in Malaysia today are local born but all of them have their origins in China. Their main dialects are Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka and Hainnanese. They brought to Malaysia not only their native skills and industries but also their culture. The Chineses are mainly Buddhists. Some of them are Christians and Muslims.
Dress – Basically, dressing is very informal among the Chinese.Increasingly, the preference is for western styles of dressing.A few conservative Chinese women, however, still wear thw samfoo – a jacket and trousers combination. The traditional cheongsam for women, once rarely seen except during ceremonies and special functions, is now making a comeback.
Food – The staple food is rice with accompanishments. The main kinds of cuisine are Cantonese, Hokkiean and Szechuan. However, northern (Shanghai,Peking) food is becoming increasingly popular too.
The majority of Indians in Malaysia are Tamils. They originated from South India. The main India dialects spoken here are Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi and Telegu. Most of the Indians in Malaysia are Hindus; some are Christians and Muslims.
Dress – Traditional wear is still common among the Indians here. The sarim is still popular with the women. It is a piece of material six yards long warn draped around the body.
Food – Indian food is hot and spicy.The Indians have as their staple diet either rice or bread (capati, parratta, puri) which they eat with varios curries. Hindus do not eat beef. This is in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Courtney from Study Moose
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