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Culture & Heritage of Malaysia

Posted by on May 1st, 2007
Filed Under: About Malaysia

The mix of cultural influences in Malaysia is the result of centuries of immigration and trade with the outside world, particularly with Arab nations, China, and India. Early groups of incoming foreigners brought wealth from around the world, plus their own unique cultural heritages and religions. Further, once imported, each culture remained largely intact; that is, none have truly been homogenized. Traditional temples and churches exist side by side with mosques.

Likewise, traditional art forms of various cultures are still practiced in Malaysia, most notably in the areas of dance and performance art. Chinese opera, Indian dance, and Malay martial arts are all very popular cultural activities. Silat, originating from a martial arts form (and still practiced as such by many), is a dance performed by men and women. Religious and cultural festivals are open for everyone to appreciate and enjoy. Unique arts and traditions of indigenous people distinguish Sabah and Sarawak from the rest of the country.

Traditional Malaysian music is very similar to Indonesian music. Heavy on rhythms, its constant drum beats underneath the light repetitive melodies of the stringed gamelan (no relation at all to the Indonesian metallophone gamelan, with its gongs and xylophones) will entrance you with its simple beauty.

Bergendang (Drumming)
In the traditional musical performances of the Malay community in Sarawak, it is the womenfolk who play the gendang or drums. Seated behind a screen, they drum out their beats in rhythm to songs sung by young maidens and dances performed by men.

Wayang Kulit (Shadow Play)
Wayang Kulit is a traditional theater art-form using puppets and shadow-play to tell the epic tales of the Ramayana. The puppets are made of buffalo hide and mounted on bamboo sticks. There may be as many as 45 puppets – handled entirely by a single master puppeteer, known as the Tok Dalang.

Maggagong (Gong Ensembles)
Brass or bronze gong ensembles form an inherent part of Sabah’s ethnic music. The melody varies from district to district. The Kadazan Dusun group include six songs and a drum called the sopogogungan (Penampang) in their musical composition while the Bajau from Kota Belud add kulintangan, a set of kettle-bedded gongs.

Bunga Malai (Garland Making)
Flowers form an integral part of the cultural heritage of Malaysian Indians for religious occasions, weddings, moving house, or welcoming an important guest. Flowers, holy basil, and the leaves of the margosa or mango tree are strung together to form a malai or garland. They are done in different styles to suit each particular occasion.

Sumpit (Blow Pipe)
The tribal people of Sarawak are known for their magnificent hunting skills. They are aided by the sumpit, a six-foot long wooden blowpipe with a poisoned or a barbed tip. One quick puff sends the dart (sometimes twenty-yards away) to the victim, usually a wild pig, deer, or bird.

Silat (The Malay Art of Self defense)
Silat, the Malay art of self-defense combines a series of supple movements, which enables a person to defend himself under provocation. The aim of silat is to instill confidence in oneself in the face of adversity. Occasionally, a keris (small dagger) may be used.

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2 Responses »

  1. […] countries to visit in Asia. It’s buoyant and wealthy, and has moved towards a pluralist culture based on a vibrant and interesting fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous cultures and […]

  2. Not all Malaysian cultures are similar with Indonesian. ONLY in most of Sumatra Island’s ethnics are simillar with Malaysian. Your website MUST NOT said “traditional Malaysian music is very similar to Indonesian music.”
    GAMELAN-GONG, SUMPIT and WAYANG KULIT is FAR from Melayu ethnic (that Malaysian claim as “serumpun” with Indonesian).

    *GAMELAN-GONG and WAYANG KULIT are belong to Javanese’s (red: The Javanese are an ethnic group native to the Indonesian island of Java)
    *SUMPIT is from Dayak ethnic (an ethnic group native to the Indonesian island of Kalimantan). It is true that Malaysia also has teritory in Kalimantan island, but the has that teritory after their independence day, so Malaysian don’t have the right to claim SUMPIT as their cultural heritage.