INTRODUCTION ABOUT MALAYSIA

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 can also be obtained from the Malaysian government's official portal, www.malaysia.gov.my.

 

FAST FACTS

Country
The Federation of Malaysia comprises of Peninsular Malaysia, and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

Geographic Location 
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.

Area
329,758 square km

Population
27.56 million

Capital City
Kuala Lumpur

People
Malays comprise 57% of the population, while the Chinese, Indian and Bumiputeras and other races make up the rest of the country's population.

Language
(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.

Religion
Islam is the official religion of the country, but other religions are widely practised.

Government
Malaysia follows the bicameral legislative system, adopting a democratic parliamentary. The head of the country is the King or the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, a position which is changed every five years among the Malay Sultanates. The head of government is the Prime Minister.

Weather
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.

Main Holidays
New Year*, Hari Raya Aidiladha*, Federal Territory Day **, Chinese New Year *, Awal Muharam*, Maulidur Rasul*,  Labour Day*, Wesak*, King's Birthday*, National Day* Deepavali# Hari Raya Aidilfitri* Christmas*
Note: (*) - National Holidays (**) - Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur & Labuan only (#) - except Labuan & Sarawak

Economic Profile
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.

Distance to  Malaysia
London, United Kingdom to Kuala Lumpur : 6,557 miles (10,552 km)
Paris, France to Kuala Lumpur 6,483 miles (10,432 km)
Rome, Italy to Kuala Lumpur : 6,038 miles (9,716 km)
Stockholm, Sweden to Kuala Lumpur : 5,812 miles (9,353 km)
Berlin, Germany to Kuala Lumpur : 5,979 miles (9,622 km)
Madrid, Spain to Kuala Lumpur : 6,885 miles (11,079 km)
New York, USA to Kuala Lumpur : 9,400 miles (15,126 km)
Los Angeles, USA to Kuala Lumpur : 8,790 miles (14,144 km)
Vancouver, Canada to Kuala Lumpur : 7,944 miles (12,783 km)

 

Currency
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.

Banking Hours
Most states: Monday- Friday: 9.30 am to 4.30 pm. Saturday & Sunday: Closed (Some banks and its branches are opened Saturdays). Kelantan & Terengganu: Sunday - Wednesday :9.30 am to 4.30 pm. Thursday :9.30 am to 4.00 pm. Friday/Saturday*/Public holiday: Closed

 

Post Office
Opening hours from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm daily, except for the first Saturdays of the month, Sundays, and public holidays when it is closed. In Kelantan and Terengganu the post office operates at the same time, but is closed on Fridays and public holidays.

Time
Eight hours ahead of GMT and 16 hours ahead of U.S Standard Time.

Electricity
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.

Telephone

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.

Accommodation
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.

 

PEOPLE

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 colourful 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.

MALAY
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.

CHINESE
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.

INDIAN
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
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.

SABAH

The largest indigenous ethnic groups of Sabah's population are the Kadazan Dusun, the Bajau and the Murut.

Kadazan Dusun
The largest ethnic group of Sabah, the Kadazan Dusuns 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.

Bajau
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 the Omboh Dilaut 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 annual Tamu Besar festival at Kota Belud.

Murut
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.

ARCHITECTURE

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 ARCHITECTURE

Malay
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.

Chinese
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 Hoon Teng 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.

Indian
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.

Portuguese
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.

Dutch
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.

British
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 & PASTIMES

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.

 

 

Silat
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.

Sepak Takraw
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 sepak takraw: 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. Sepak takraw jaring is the modern version in which the ball is passed across a court over a high net.

Wau
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.

Gasing
A gasing 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.

Wayang Kulit
Wayang kulit 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 Tok Dalang, wayang kulit usually dramatises ancient Indian epics.

Congkak
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.

Chingay
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.

Sepak Manggis
Sepak manggis 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 bunga manggis 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

 

HANDICRAFTS

FASCINATING HANDICRAFTS GALORE

Malaysia boasts a delightful variety of traditional handicrafts. Choices range from priceless authentic antiques to exquisite modern hand-made crafts.

As most artisans are Muslims, Malaysian handicraft designs are heavily influenced by Islam. The religion prohibits the depiction of the human form in art. Hence, most designs are based on natural elements such as the interlacing of leaves or vines, flowers and animals.

EARTHENWARE

Popular items of traditional design include Perak's labu sayong, geluk, belanga, Chinese dragon kiln ceramics and Sarawakian tribal motif pottery. Contemporary items include vases, flower pots, decorative pottery, sculpture and kitchenware.

Labu sayong
Labu Sayong is a black-coloured gourd-shaped clay jar typically used to store and cool water. The state of Perak is renowned for this type of pottery.

Belanga
Found in many rural Malaysian homes, The belanga is often characterised by a round base and wide rim. It is often used to cook curries, as it is believed that its round base allows heat to be distributed more evenly.

Terenang
This angular-shaped jar is popularly used for storing water in the states of Pahang and Terengganu. It has a concave neck and a convex body.

Wood Crafts
Blessed with an abundance of timber in boundless tropical forests, Malaysia is renowned for an assortment of distinctive wood crafts. Traditionally, whole houses were built from elaborate hand-carved timber. Today, antique Malay-styled engraved panels, keris dagger handles, Chinese containers, unique Orang Asli spirit sculptures, intricate walking sticks, kitchen utensils and carved scented woods are among the wide range of exotic decorative items found in Malaysia.

Metal Crafts
Popular since the early days, traditional brass casting and bronze working are still used to make an array of utensils. More recently in the 19th century, with the discovery of tin in Malaysia, pewter has become increasingly popular. Metal craft products include modern decorative items, kitchen ware and traditional artifacts like tepak sireh sets, rose-water instruments and keris blades.

Hand-woven Crafts
Marvel at the creative hand-woven crafts of Malaysia. Local plant fibres and parts from bamboo, rattan, pandan and mengkuang leaves are coiled, plaited, twined and woven to produce items such as bags, baskets, mats, hats, tudung saji and sepak raga balls.

 

TEXTILES

Colourful and captivating, Malaysia's traditional textiles are much sought after worldwide. Varieties include batik, songket, pua kumbu and tekat. These textiles are made into all sorts of decorative items, from haute couture clothes to shoes, colourful curtains and delicate bed linen.

Batik
Referring to the process of dyeing fabric by making use of a resistant technique; covering areas of cloth with wax to prevent it absorbing colours. The colours in batik are much more resistant to wear than those of painted or printed fabrics because the cloth is completely immersed in dye.

Songket
Utilising an intricate supplementary weft technique where gold threads are woven in between the longitudinal silk threads of the background cloth. In the past, this rich and luxurious fabric demonstrated the social status of the Malay elite.

Pua Kumbu
Made from individually dyed threads on a back strap loom. Its supernatural motifs are inspired by dreams and ancient animist beliefs. The patterns that emerge are a fusion of the real and surreal. And each weave is distinctive of its maker's hand.

Tekat
The art of embroidering golden thread onto a base material, generally velvet, was traditionally used to decorate traditional Malay weddings regalia.

 

JEWELLERY & COSTUME ACCESSORIES

Enticing hand-crafted accessories abound in Malaysia. Choose from leather-crafted goods, beadwork necklaces from Borneo or finely made gold and silver jewellery adorned with gems.

Kerongsang
A three-piece brooch set traditionally used to pin the lapels of the baju kebaya together. Kerongsang usually comes in sets of three. The typical three-piece set comprises of a kerongsang ibu (mother piece) which is larger and heavier. The other two are called the kerongsang anak (child pieces) and are worn below the kerongsang ibu.

Cucuk Sanggul
A traditional hairpin used to secure hair in a bun at the back of women's heads. Typically made of gold or silver, these hairpins are normally worn in graduated sets of three, five or seven by brides and traditional dancers.

Pending
A large, intricately ornamented belt buckle worn around the sampin, a skirt-like cloth worn by men, to complement their baju melayu, the traditional attire for men. Traditionally, the pending is a sign of wealth and status for men.

 

TRADITIONAL ATTIRE

A DAZZLING TAPESTRY OF ASIAN TRADITIONS

From magnificent tribal head-feathers with bark body-covers to antique gold-woven royal songket fabric, the array of Malaysia's traditional costumes and textiles are stunningly diverse and colourful.

In the early days, the aboriginal tribes wore native bark costumes and beads. With the advent of the ancient kingdoms, hand-loomed fine textiles and intricate Malay batik were used by the Malay royalty. As foreign trade flourished, costumes and textiles such as Chinese silk, the Indian pulicat or plaid sarong and the Arabian jubbah a robe with wide sleeves were introduced to the country.

Today, traditional attire such as the Malay baju kebaya, Indian saree and Chinese cheongsam are still widely worn.

Malay
Before the 20th century, Malay women still wore kemban, just sarongs tied above the chest, in public. As Islam became more widely embraced, they started wearing the more modest yet elegant baju kurung. The baju kurung is a knee-length loose-fitting blouse that is usually worn over a long skirt with pleats at the side. It can also be matched with traditional fabrics such as songket or batik. Typically, these traditional outfits are completed with a selendang or shawl or tudung or headscarf.

The traditional attire for Malay men is the baju melayu. The baju melayu is a loose tunic worn over trousers. It is usually complemented with a sampin - a short sarong wrapped around the hips.

Chinese
Comfortable and elegant, the traditional cheongsam or 'long dress' is also a popular contemporary fashion choice for ladies. Usually, it has a high collar, buttons or frog closures near the shoulder, a snug fit at the waist and slits on either one or both sides. It is often made of shimmering silk, embroidered satin or other sensual fabrics.

Indian
The saree is the world-renowned traditional Indian garment. A length of cloth usually 5-6 yards in width, the saree is worn with a petticoat of similar shade and a matching or contrasting choli or blouse. Typically, it is wrapped around the body such that the pallau - its extensively embroidered or printed end - is draped over the left shoulder. The petticoat is worn just above or below the bellybutton and functions as a support garment to hold the saree. Made from a myriad of materials, textures and designs, the saree is truly exquisite.

Popular with northern Indian ladies is the salwar kameez or Punjabi suit; a long tunic worn over trousers with a matching shawl.

The kurta is the traditional attire for men on formal occasions. It is a long knee-length shirt that is typically made from cotton or linen cloth.

Baba Nyonya
Chinese immigrants who married Malay partners wore the elegant kebaya that can be described as traditional haute couture.

Hand-made with great skill using sheer material, its intricate embroidery is equivalent to the best Venetian lacework. The pièce de résistance is a delicate needlework technique called tebuk lubang - literally to punch holes. This involves sewing the outlines of a floral motif on the fabric and cutting away the insides. When done correctly, the end result is fine lace-like embroidery on the collar, lapels, cuffs, hem and the two triangular front panels, which drape over the hips, known as the lapik.

Portuguese-Eurasian
Descended from Portuguese settlers of the 16th century, Melakan Portuguese-Eurasian's traditional attire reflect their heritage. Dominated by the colours black and red, men wear jackets and trousers with waist sashes whilst ladies wear broad front-layered skirts.

Sarawak
With its diverse ethnic groups, Malaysia's largest state, Sarawak, has a plethora of unique tribal costumes. Using a variety of designs and native motifs, common materials for the Orang Ulu or upriver tribes are hand-loomed cloths, tree bark fabrics, feathers and beads. Sarawak is known for the woven pua kumbu of the Iban tribe, songket of the Sarawak Malay, colourful beaded accessories, traditional jewellery and head adornments.

Sabah
Like Sarawak, Sabah is also blessed with a rich mix of ethnic groups. Each group adorns attire, headgears and personal ornaments with distinctive forms, motifs and colour schemes characteristic of their respective tribe and district. However, culturally different groups who live in close proximity may have similarities in their traditional attire. Notable hats and headdresses include the Kadazan Dusun ladies' straw hats, the Bajau woven dastar and the headdress of the Lotud man, which indicate the number of wives he has by the number of fold points.

Orang Asli
Traditionally living in the deep jungles of Malaysia, the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia wore clothing made from natural materials such as tree barks like the terap, and grass skirts. Ornaments include skillfully woven headbands with intricate patterns that are made from leaf fronds.

 

TRADITIONAL MUSIC

AN EXOTIC ENSEMBLE OF ENCHANTING EXPERIENCES

Malaysia's multi-cultural and multi-racial heritage is most prominently exhibited in its diverse music and dance forms. The dances of the indigenous Malay, Orang Asli and different ethnic peoples of Sabah and Sarawak are truly exotic and enchanting. As the Chinese, Indians and Portuguese settled in Malaysia, the traditional dances of their homelands became a part of Malaysia's culture and heritage.

DANCE

Malay Mak Yong
Originating from Patani in Southern Thailand, Mak Yong was conceived to entertain female royalty, queens and princesses, when their men were away at war. Combining romantic drama, dance and operatic singing, tales of the golden age of the Malay kingdoms are dramatised in enchanting performances.

Kuda Kepang
Kuda Kepang is a traditional dance brought to the state of Johor by Javanese immigrants. Dramatising the tales of victorious Islamic holy wars, dancers sit astride mock horses moving to the hypnotic beats of a percussion ensemble usually consisting of drums, gongs and angklungs.

Zapin
Islamic influence on Malaysian traditional dance is perhaps most evident in Zapin; a popular dance in the state of Johor. Introduced by Muslim missionaries from the Middle East, the original dance was performed to Islamic devotional chanting to spread knowledge about the history of the Islamic civilisation.

Joget
Malaysia's most popular traditional dance, is a lively dance with an upbeat tempo. Performed by couples who combine fast, graceful movements with playful humour, the Joget has its origins in Portuguese folk dance, which was introduced to Melaka during the era of the spice trade.

Tarian Lilin
Also known as Candle Dance, it is performed by women who do a delicate dance while balancing candles in small dishes.

Silat
One of the oldest Malay traditions and a deadly martial art, Silat is also a danceable art form. With its flowery body movements, a Silat performance is spellbinding and intriguing.

Chinese Lion Dance
Usually performed during the Chinese New Year festival, Lion Dance is energetic and entertaining. According to the legend, in ancient times, the lion was the only animal that could ward off a mythological creature known as Nian that terrorised China and devoured people on the eve of the New Year. Usually requiring perfect co-ordination, elegance and nerves of steel, the dance is almost always performed to the beat of the tagu, the Chinese drum, and the clanging of cymbals.

Dragon Dance
The dragon is a mythical creature that represents supernatural power, goodness, fertility, vigilance and dignity in Chinese culture. Typically performed to usher in the Chinese New Year, the Dragon Dance is said to bring good luck and prosperity for the year to come. Usually requiring a team of over 60 people, this fantastic performance is a dazzling display of perfect co-ordination, skill and grace.

Indian Bharata Natyam
This classical Indian dance is poetry in motion. Based on ancient Indian epics, this highly intense and dramatic dance form uses over 100 dance steps and gestures. As mastery requires many years of practice, some children begin learning the dance form at the age of five.

Bhangra
Bhangra is a lively folk music and dance form of the Sikh community. Originally a harvest dance, it is now part of many social celebrations such as weddings and New Year festivities. Typically centred around romantic themes with singing and dancing driven by heavy beats of the dhol, a double-barreled drum, the bhangra is engagingly entertaining.

Sabah & Sarawak Ngajat
The Warrior Dance is a traditional dance of Sarawak's Iban people. This dance is usually performed during Gawai Kenyalang or 'Hornbill Festival'. Reputedly the most fearsome of Sarawak's headhunters, the tribe's victorious warriors were traditionally celebrated in this elaborate festival. Wearing an elaborate headdress and holding an ornate long shield, the male warrior dancer performs dramatic jumps throughout this spellbinding dance.

Datun Julud
The Hornbill Dance is a traditional dance of Sarawak's Kenyah women. Created by a Kenyah prince called Nyik Selong to symbolise happiness and gratitude, it was once performed during communal celebrations that greeted warriors returning from headhunting raids or during the annual celebrations that marked the end of each rice harvest season. Performed by a solo woman dancer to the sounds of the sape, beautiful fans made out of hornbill feathers are used to represent the wings of the sacred bird.

Sumazau
Sumazau is a traditional dance of Sabah's Kadazan people. Usually performed at religious ceremonies and social events, it is traditionally used to honour spirits for bountiful paddy harvests, ward off evil spirits and cure illnesses. Male and female dancers perform this steady hypnotic dance with soft and slow movements imitating birds in flight.

Bamboo Dance
Another highly popular and entertaining traditional dance is Bamboo Dance. Two long bamboo poles are held horizontally above the ground at ankle-height. They are clapped together to a high-tempo drumbeat. Requiring great agility, dancers are required to jump over or between the poles without getting their feet caught.

Orang Asli
The traditional dances of the Peninsular Malaysia's Orang Asli are strongly rooted in their spiritual beliefs. Dances are commonly used by witch-doctors as rituals to communicate with the spirit world. Such dances include Genggulang of the Mahmeri tribe, Berjerom of the Jah-Hut tribe and the Sewang of the Semai and Temiar tribes.

The Portuguese of Melaka Farapeira
The Farapeira is a fast, cheerful dance usually accompanied by guitars and tambourines, performed by couples dressed in traditional Portuguese costumes.

Branyo
Favoured mainly by the older Portuguese generation, compared to the Farapeira the Branyo is a more staid dance. Male dancers dressed in cowboy-like costumes and female dancers dressed in traditional baju kebayas with batik sarongs sway to the steady rhythm of drums and violins.

 

MUSIC

Orchestra
Malaysia has two traditional orchestras: the gamelan and the nobat. Originally from Indonesia, the gamelan is a traditional orchestra that plays ethereal lilting melodies using an ensemble of gong percussion and stringed instruments. The nobat is a royal orchestra that plays more solemn music for the courts using serunai and nafiri wind instruments.

Musical Instruments

Rebana Ubi
In the days of the ancient Malay kingdoms, the resounding rhythmic beats of the giant rebana ubi drums conveyed various messages from warnings of danger to wedding announcements. Later, they were used as musical instruments in an assortment of social performances.
 
Kompang
Arguably the most popular Malay traditional instrument, the kompang is widely used in a variety of social occasions such as the National Day parades, official functions and weddings. Similar to the tambourine but without the jingling metal discs, this hand drum is most commonly played in large ensembles, where various rhythmic composite patterns are produced by overlapping multiple layers of different rhythms.

Gambus
Brought to Malaysia by Persian and Middle Eastern traders, the gambus or Arabian oud is played in a variety of styles in Malay folk music, primarily as the lead instrument in Ghazal music. Carefully crafted with combinations of different woods, this instrument produces a gentle tone that is similar to that of the harpsichord.

Sape
The sape is the traditional flute of the Orang Ulu community or upriver people of Sarawak. A woodcarving masterpiece with colourful motifs, the sape is made by hollowing a length of wood. Once played solely during healing ceremonies within longhouses, it gradually became a social instrument of entertainment. Typically, its thematic music is used to accompany dances such as the Ngajat and Datun Julud.

 

 

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