HistoryMalaysia as a unified state did not exist until 1963. Previously, a set of colonies was established by the United Kingdom from the late-18th century, and the western half of modern Malaysia was composed of several separate kingdoms that kept fighting each other. This group of colonies was known as British Malaya until its dissolution in 1946, when it was reorganized as the Malayan Union. Due to widespread opposition, it was reorganized again as the Federation of Malaya in 1948 and later gained independence on 31 August 1957. Singapore, Sarawak, British North Borneo, and the Federation of Malaya joined to form Malaysia on 16 September 1963. The early years of the new union were marred by an armed conflict with Indonesia and the expulsion of Singapore on 9 August 1965. The Southeast Asian nation experienced an economic boom and underwent rapid development during the late-20th century. Rapid growth during the 1980s and 1990s, averaging 8% from 1991 to 1997, has transformed Malaysia into a newly industrialised country. Because Malaysia is one of three countries that control the Strait of Malacca, international trade plays a large role in its economy. At one time, it was the largest producer of tin, rubber and palm oil in the world. Manufacturing has a large influence in the country's economy. Malaysia has a biodiverse range of flora and fauna, and is also considered one of the 18 megadiverse countries.
DemographyMalays form the majority of the population of Malaysia and all of them are defined as Muslims (Islam is the national religion). There are sizable Chinese and Indian communities as well. Malay is the national language of the country, but English is widely spoken in major towns and cities across the country. The Chinese population in Malaysia are somewhat similar to the Japanese: most Chinese do little more than give lip service to religion for most of their lives—a typical Chinese wedding tends to be more like a Western wedding than a traditional Chinese wedding. The Chinese community in Malaysia speaks a wide variety of Chinese dialects, including Mandarin Chinese, Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, and Teochew. A majority of the Chinese in Malaysia, especially those from the larger cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Ipoh, Klang, and Penang speak decent English as well. An increasing number of the present-generation Chinese consider English as their first language. The Chinese have historically been dominant in the Malaysian business and commerce community. The Indians in Malaysia are mainly Hindu Tamils from southern India whose native language is Tamil. There are also other Indian communities which speak Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi, living mainly in the larger towns on the west coast of the peninsula. Many middle to upper-middle class Indians in Malaysia also speak English as a first language. A vigorous 200,000-strong Tamil Muslim community also thrives as an independent subcultural group. There are also prevalent Tamil Christian communities in major cities and towns. Most Indians originally migrated from India as traders, teachers or other skilled workers. A larger number were also part of the forced migrations from India by the British during colonial times to work in the plantation industry. There is also a sizable Sikh community in Malaysia of over 100,000. The Sikhs were brought to Malaya to work as police, soldiers and jagas (security guards). Eurasians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Thais, Bugis, Javanese and indigenous tribes make up the remaining population. A small number of Eurasians, of mixed Portuguese and Malay descent, speak a Portuguese-based creole, called Papiá Kristang. There are also Eurasians of mixed Filipino and Spanish descent, mostly in Sabah. Descended from immigrants from the Philippines, some speak Chavacano, the only Spanish-based creole language in Asia. Cambodians and Vietnamese are mostly Buddhists (Cambodians of Theravada sect and Vietnamese, Mahayana sect). Thai Malaysians have been populating a big part of the northern peninsular states of Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Kelantan and Terengganu. Besides speaking Thai, most of them are Buddhists, celebrate Songkran (Water festival) and can speak Hokkien, but some of them are Muslim and speak the Kelantanese Malay Dialect. Bugis and Javanese make up a part of the population in Johore. In addition, there have been many foreigners and expatriates who have made Malaysia their second home, also contributing to Malaysia's population.
CultureChinese and Islamic forms heavily influence Malaysian traditional music. The music is based largely around the gendang (drum), but includes other percussion instruments (some made of shells); the rebab, a bowed string instrument; the serunai, a double-reed oboe-like instrument; flutes, and trumpets. The country has a strong tradition of dance and dance dramas, some of Thai, Indian and Portuguese origin. In recent years, dikir barat has grown in popularity, and the government has begun to promote it as a national cultural icon. Other artistic forms were also shared with and influenced by neighbouring Indonesia, include wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), silat (a stylised martial art) and crafts such as batik, weaving, including the ceremonial cloth pua kumbu, and silver and brasswork. Malaysian politics is a mess of power-plays, murder, racism, and dirty dealing; the party currently in power, the Barisan Nasional (lit. "National Front"), is composed of the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), and the MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress), and has been in power since 1973, though in the March 2008 elections, opposition parties managed to gain legislature over five states. The Malaysian Prime Minister has always been from UMNO. While the ruling party is generally elected through elections, accusations of gerrymandering and ghost-voting have surfaced extremely frequently—and of course the accusers are often squashed by the government. Malaysia has a "king", the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which is really just a fancy name given to any one of nine royal heads of "the Malay states" (Sultans, or in one state, the Yang di-Pertuan Besar) whose number to become the royal figurehead of the country for the next five years has come up (Yes, there are in fact nine separate royal families, each associated with a state). This practice is actually fairly new, having only been introduced in 1957 to succeed the line of British royals that also precided over the colonies during British rule; prior to the introduction of the Agong, the royal heads lacked any central representative. ...oh, and "Malaysia Boleh!", a Catch Phrase developed by the government some years back that means "Malaysia Can!" and has become the way to explain everything in Malaysia that doesn't make sense to the locals.
FestivitiesMalaysians observe a number of holidays and festivities throughout the year. Some holidays are federal gazetted public holidays and some are public holidays observed by individual states. Other festivals are observed by particular ethnic or religion groups, but are not public holidays. Generally, because the major holidays of every major religion and ethnic group are celebrated, the Malaysian working year is decidedly shorter than that of other places. The most celebrated holiday is the Hari Kebangsaan (Independence Day), otherwise known as Merdeka (Freedom), on 31 August commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaya in 1957. Malaysia Day was only celebrated in the state of Sabah on 16 September to commemorate the formation of Malaysia in 1963, until it was made the publie holiday in year 2010. Hari Merdeka, as well as Labour Day (1 May), the King's birthday (first Saturday of June) and some other festivals are federal gazetted public holidays. Muslims in Malaysia celebrate Muslim holidays. The most celebrated festival, Hari Raya Puasa (also called Hari Raya Aidilfitri) is the Malay translation of Eid al-Fitr. It is generally a festival honoured by the Muslims worldwide marking the end of Ramadan, the fasting month. The sight of the new moon determines the end of Ramadan. This determines the new month, therefore the end of the fasting month. In addition to Hari Raya Puasa, they also celebrate Hari Raya Haji (also called Hari Raya Aidiladha, the translation of Eid ul-Adha), Awal Muharram (Islamic New Year) and Maulidur Rasul (Birthday of the Prophet). Chinese in Malaysia typically celebrate festivals that are observed by Chinese around the world. Chinese New Year is the most celebrated among the festivals which lasts for fifteen days and ends with Chap Goh Mei (十五瞑). Other festivals celebrated by Chinese are the Qingming Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival. In addition to traditional Chinese festivals, Buddhists Chinese also celebrate Vesak. The majority of Indians in Malaysia are Hindus and they celebrate Deepavali, the festival of light, while Thaipusam is a celebration which pilgrims from all over the country flock to Batu Caves. Apart from the Hindus, Sikhs celebrate the Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year. Other festivals such as Good Friday (East Malaysia only), Christmas, Hari Gawai of the Ibans (Dayaks), Pesta Menuai (Pesta Kaamatan) of the Kadazan-Dusuns are also celebrated in Malaysia.
FoodPart of the defining quality of Malaysian life is the variety of food available; street hawker stalls, food courts, restaurants, and travelling ice-cream vendors are found everywhere. In the older parts of Malaysia there may even be the roti man (lit. "bread man"), who rides a motorcycle carrying about five times his volume in bread and bags of keropok (fried foods—potato chips and the like). Notable Malaysian foods include the durian, which has become notable as Foreign Queasine to first-time visitors for its pungent smell and squishy texture; the mangosteen, which is much less notable but Needs More Love; nasi lemak (lit. "rice with fat"), which is rice cooked with coconut milk and served with anchovies, roasted nuts, cucumbers, egg, or sambal (a kind of chilli paste); roti canai (similar to the Indian paratha); and teh tarik (lit. "pulled tea"), which even spawned a short-lived competition to see who could pull their tea most stylishly. It is sometimes said of Malaysia that the three hardest daily decisions are what to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Notable people/things MalaysianOther notable things typically Malaysian:
Malaysia in Fiction:
Also known as the Jalur Gemilang ("Stripes of Glory"), the flag's fourteen alternating red and white stripes symbolize the thirteen states of Malaysia — Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Penang, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor and Terengganu — as well as the federal territories of the capital Kuala Lumpur, the offshore financial state of Labuan, and the center of government in Putrajaya; the blue canton symbolizes the Malaysians; the crescent symbolizes Islam, and the fourteen-pointed star symbolizes the unity of Malaysia's political divisions — both are colored yellow to symbolize the royal families.