Arts And Cultures

Malaysia Arts & Cultures

Come & Experience The Heritage Of All…

Greetings any visitor to Malaysia is an amazing diversity of local faces and global races. A legacy born since the days when this realm that straddles the Asian continent and the Malay Archipelago became a historic crossroads of peoples and cultures of seafarers and traders. From the age of ancient kingdoms culminating in the fabulous 15th century Malacca Sultanate came a legacy of trade that brought people from China, India, Persia and Arabia, and from the 16th century a succession of Europeans Portuguese, Dutch and British. Over time all the groups intermingled, natives and newcomers, weaving a rich heritage that evolved to become the multi-ethnic yet harmonious nation it is today. Thus to experience the heritage of Malaysia is to share in an ancient and modem mix of the cultures in all of Asia, and beyond.


Ethnic & CustomsGames & PastimesHandicraftsTraditional Music & Dance

Malaysia Ethnic & Customs

In Malaysia, visitors will be surprised to find all of Asia’s main ethnic groups living together in harmony. Indeed, all the world’s major religions are also represented here. An interesting sight in major towns is the proximity of mosques, temples and churches to each other.

This social phenomenon has enriched the shared character, cultural mosaic and vision of the nation. Mingle wit the country’s over 25 million people, consisting of the majority Malays and other indigenous groups including the Orang Asli, Dayaks, Kadazan Dusun, Melanau, Murut and more. Joining them are the Chinese, Indians, group of mixed descent such as Baba-Nyonyas and Eurasians of Portuguese and other European ancestry as well as more recent immigrants from Asian Countries.

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. Many of their origins are Millennia-old and represent Asia’s entire fashion heritage. The traditional attire of Malaysia began with the native bark costumes and beads and by the time of the ancient kingdoms had evolved to hand-loomed fine textiles and intricate Malay batik motifs. As foreign trade, influence and immigrants increased, costumes worn across the Malaysian landscape became more diverse with Chinese silks, Indian pulicat and Arabian jubbah. Today traditional attire, from Malay Kebaya Labuh and locally inspired Muslim women’s fashions to Indian saree and Chinese cheongsam are still in vogue.



Malay Ethnic

From more than half of the population, profess Islam as their religion and speak Bahasa Melayu, from which comes the national language. Formerly an agrarian society, Malays are known for their gentle mannerisms and cultural refinement. Growing Islamic awareness gave rise to the more modest yet elegant baju kebaya long sleeve blouse with sarong and the baju kurung, a longer dress over a tailored kain. A variety of fashionable headscarves accompany the observant lady. For men, the trouser baju Melayu, coupled with a ]up wrap remains the time-honored traditional dress, with the handcrafted baju batik shirt popular with all Malaysians. Hand-printed or drawn batik, woven songket and embroidered tekat are some of the popular Malay textiles.



Chinese Ethnic In Malaysia

The second largest ethnic group in Malaysia, accounting for just over a quarter of the population. Comprising severaldialect groups from mostly southern China (Hokkien, Hakka, Cantonese, Teochew, Hockchew and others), most are descendants of 19th century immigrants and are renowned for their industriousness and business acumen.

Chinese textiles and costumes, especially silks and fine embroideries are known worldwide. The traditional cheongsam or ‘long dress’ worn by ladies is a popular contemporary fashion in all its exciting variations. The dress is easy to slip on and comfortable to wear. Its neck is raised, with a closed collar. Sleeves may be short, medium or full length. The dress has a loose chest usually buttoned on the right side, a fitting waist and slits on either one or both sides of the costume. Traditional male costumes, such as the Ming robe however, are less ubiquitous.



Indian In Malaysia

Originally came from the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century to work in plantations, estates and railroads. Today, they make up slightly less than a tenth of the population. The largest subgroup are Tamil speakers, followed by a sizeable Punjabi community, as well as groups speaking Malayalam and Hindi / Urdu. Malaysia is a home to a remarkable number of indigenous groups. Indian fashion is synonymous everywhere with the elegant saree. Likewise in Malaysia, the saree is a long unstitched length of fabric draped around the body in various styles or folds, which traditionally could be used to indicate the social status of the wearer. Considering the variety of materials, textures and designs that are employed in saree usage, it is truly a fascinating fruit of the loom. The kurta on the other hand, is associated with Indian male attire. There is also the trouser salwar kameez or the ‘Punjabi costumes’ it is originally associated with Sikh ladies.



Sarawak Ethnics

The major groups in Sarawak are the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu, sometimes collectively called Dayaks. Malaysia’s largest state also has numerous tribal costumes unique to each ethnic groups. Using different clothing designs and organically curved native motifs, common materials would be hand-loomed cloths, tree bark fabrics, feathers, woven hats and also beadwork especially for Orang Ulu tribes. Among internationally known Sarawak textiles are the Iban woven pua kumbu and Sarawak Malay songket as well as colourful bead accessories., traditional jewellery and head adornments.



Ethnics In Sabah

The largest group in Sabah are the Kadazan Dusun, Bajau and Murut, while smaller communities include the Bisayah, Iranun, Suluk and Bonggi. Traditionally, they live in the many water villages found along the coastal areas.

The many different ethnic group in Sabah exhibit various traditional costumes that are unique to the state. Each group adorns attire, headgear and personal ornaments that have distinctive forms, motif and colour schemes characteristic of their respective tribe and district.



Orang Asli

As the Aboriginal groups, referred to as Orang Asli, come in over 18 ethno linguistic communities, broadly categorised under Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay subgroups, there is also a good diversity in their attire. Nonetheless, being traditionally forest dwellers the clothing of deep jungle Orang Asli from ages past are made from natural materials, from example bark of trees such as the terap as well as grass skirts. Ornaments include headbands woven from leaf fronds skillfully made in intricate patterns.



Baba & Nyonya

Also called ‘Straits Chinese’ and ‘Peranakan’, the Baba-Nyonya descendants of Chinese nobles who married Malays adopted much of Malay culture into their Chinese heritage. As many were merchant families, they could afford refined clothing’s that were taken from both communities. The elegant women’s Kebaya Nyonya embroidered dress is one such legacy, as well as expensive brocade shoes and Nyonya heirloom Jewellery.



Portuguese In Malaysia

Descended from Portuguese settlers of the 16th century, their traditional attire comes from the Portuguese-European heritage. Men wear jackets and trousers with waist sashes, ladies wear broad front-layered skirts. There is a preponderance of black and red colours. Otherwise ladies also like to wear the kebaya.


Silat Melayu

This fascinating Malay martial art is not just for self-defense, but is also a recognized as international sport. It is also a dance form engaging the flowery movements originally meant to mesmerize opponents. Silat has been known in the Malay Archipelago for centuries . In this art of self defense, the practitioner also develops spiritual strength that is in accordance with Islamic tenets, and is popular with Malay youths. Silat is also performed at Malay weddings and cultural festivals, where it is often accompanied by drums and gongs. There are various different types of Silat which serves different function for example Pencak Silat is the formal martial art of self defense whereas.

Seni Silat is the aesthetic martial art and is commonly played in certain occasion such as wedding and is called Silat Pulut. The performer is always in dark colour costume with a turban tie on the head and there is always background percussion orchestra along the performance. Two performers will be involve in a Silat section which both of them will normally start the fighting in a slow motion in their gentle martial steps together with the hand gesture. Occasionally, a Keris (small dagger) may be used. Although it looks slow and gentle, one can be killed by this martial art.



Sepak Raga | Takraw

In this traditional ball game, also called Sepak Takraw a ball about the size of an open hand and made of woven strips of buluh bamboo or even rattan is kicked about with the legs or any part of the body except the lower hands. There are two main types the original form is Sepak Raga Bulatan or a circle where the team tries to keep the ball aloft as long as possible. The modern Sepak Raga Jaring or net court form is now played in international competitions. The players will gather in a circle and game will begin with one of the player throw the rattan ball to another participant who stands opposite of him. Receiver can either kick, head or chest the ball for several time before sending it to another player as he wishes. It will be more interesting when any of the players able to keep the ball for a longer time without falling to the ground.




Congkak is a game of wit played by womenfolk in ancient times. This game is usually played by 2 girls sitting face to face on the ground, using rubber seeds, saga or small marbles as the seeds. Seeds are points for the players. Total seed used depends on the number of pit in the congkak set. Say, if there are 5 pits, the total seed in each pit will be five and so on. The left most is the Home for the player. To start the game, player chooses to take all the seeds from one pit and place one at a time into another pit including the player’s Home, moving in clockwise. Seeds are not to be put in opponent’s Home. The game will carry on till all the pits on one side are empty. The winner is the player who captured the most seeds. If the last seeds in a play is placed in the player’s Home, she will be granted another turn on the other hand, if the last seed is placed in an empty pit on her side of the board, she will capture the seeds in the opposite pit and place in her own Home.



Wayang Kulit

The Malay traditional shadow play theatre is performed by casting animated puppet shadows on a white cloth screen. The puppet characters and stories were usually taken from ancient Indian epics. The figures used are artistically made from buffalo hide and mounted on bamboo sticks. One person, a Tok Dalang or master storyteller, usually conducts the whole show from behind the screen as he recites the tale with appropriate sounds and movements.



Wau | Kite

A vent or local kite is known for its creative shapes and features. The bamboo frame of the wau usually measures 2 to 3.5 meters in length and is artistically decorated with local motifs in coloured paper. The most popular shape is the Wau Bulan (moon kite), where the tail of the kite is curved in a shape of a crescent moon. What used to be a post-harvest pastime among farmers, is now an international kite festival which draws participants from around the world.



Gasing | Top Spinning

A traditional game requiring physical dexterity, timing and sometimes strength, or Malay top is made of metal or timber weighing as much as 5.5 kg and sometimes can be as big as a dinner plate. It is launched into a spin by quickly unfurling a rope wrapped around the body after which it is scooped off the ground using a wooden bat and transferred onto a low post with a metal receptacle. In competitions, skilful spinners can launch the Gasing to spin for hours, outlasting their opponents.

Exotic Malay Handicrafts

You will find all kinds of textiles and accessories, wood crafts, ceramic and clay ware, crafts made of precious or common metals and of superb workmanship.

Malaysia boasts a delightful variety of traditional hand-crafted objects. Choices range from priceless authentic antiques to modem hand-made crafts so exquisite that they are in fact heritage-inspired objects d?art. Just name the craft and there are locally available items of the type, as Malaysia hosts every aspect of craft heritage in Asia. They can be wearable materials or functional household items to purely eye-pleasing decor objects. You will find all kinds of textiles and accessories, wood crafts, ceramic and clayware, crafts made of precious or common metals and of superb workmanship. There are also artistic weavings or simply lovely paintings and artworks that are a joy to behold. Best of all, they are of excellent comparative value and well worth acquiring.



Malay Wood Crafts

As a land of great forests and timber diversity, Malaysia has long been a source of wood crafts. Even whole traditional houses were built in exquisitely hand carved timber. Today, antique Malay panel carvings or keris dagger handles, Chinese containers and unusual Orang Asli spirit sculptures. as well as molded walking sticks, kitchen utensils or even decorative scented woods are among the wide range of useful things to adorn your home.



Malaysia Textiles - Songket

The origins of the many different colourful and beautiful traditional textiles are lost in antiquity. But they are still used and are famous worldwide, with exotic names like batik (hand printed or drawn types), songket woven with gold thread, loom weavings such as the pua kumbu of Sarawak or tekat velvet embroideries of Perak and Baba-Nyonya handiwork. Find these textiles in clothing’s of all fashions; sarongs. pareos, beachwear and headgear, shoes, beddings, cushion or table covers, bags and fans, or just one-off fabrics of unique designs fashioned into a host of decor pieces.



Costume Accessories - Handicra

Choices galore can be found in clothing accessories. ranging from crafted leather goods and belts to Borneo beadwork necklaces or bangles, hats and beaded carriers made in traditional styles with local spirit or tree of life motifs.



Malaysia Handicrafts - Jewellery

Traditional jewellery are heirlooms in Malaysia. Browse around and you will find some truly handsome antique Malay craft pieces in the form of kerongsang brooches, kalung necklaces, even pending belt buckles or the exotic kembang goyang hairpiece to highlight your hair. The art of goldsmithing, silver filigree and gemworking live on in Malaysia, where you can ogle over the seductive designs of rings, bracelets, earrings and other precious items.



Tepak Sireh Tembaga - Malay Handicrafts

Staying popular through the ages are traditional brass casting and bronze working for all kinds of useful utensils. A notable newer heritage is pewter craft made from tin, hugely important since the late 19th century, the search of which gave birth to Kuala Lumpur. Metal craft products include decorative items, vases, small furniture pieces, kettles and cookery items, serving trays, bowls. tepak sireh sets, candelabras, incense burners, rose-water sprinklers, gongs and musical instruments, keris blades, wind chimes and even lamps.



Earthenware - Clay / Ceramic

Clay earthenware and ceramics have a long history in Malaysia, with even prehistoric pieces found. Today, antique as well as modem attractive Malay pottery such as Perak labu sayong or buyung gourd-shaped vessels as well as geluk and belanga, Chinese dragon kiln ceramics or Sarawak tribal motif pottery are all popular. Find them in decorative vases or flower pots. stylish pottery, sculpture and even kitchen accessories.



Malaysia Handicrafts - Weaving & Woven ware

This is where one could go wild marveling at ingenious traditional weaving skills and products. Local plant fibers and parts from bamboo, rattan, pandan and mengkuang leaves are coiled, plaited, twined and woven to produce comely bags and basketry of all kinds, colourful mats or tikar, hats and tudung saji, as well as the sepak raga ball.

Malaysia Traditional Music & Dance

Among Malaysia’s many cultures, music and dance are almost inseparable. Where there is one, the other is present. True to Malaysia’s mixed heritage, the music and dances vary greatly and have evolved the enchanting and complex art forms that are enjoyed today.

Eventually the drumbeats evolved into entertaining accompaniments. Drums then complimented the gamelan, an exotic orchestra with its ensemble of gong percussion and stringed instruments shared with Indonesia, with its otherworldly lilting melodies. Another ensemble was the nobat, solemn court music with its serunai and nafiri wind instruments. As with other things, foreign musical influences found fertile ground in Malaysia. Over the centuries, Persian, Arab, Indian and Chinese music and instruments made Malaysia their adopted home and contributed to the nation’s rich musical heritage. The musical instruments used in the traditional Malay music are always classified into four categories. Aerofons are wind instruments which consists of Serunai; Chordophones are stringed instruments which are either plucked or bowed, eg Gambus; Idiophones are percussive instruments which are struck or shaken, Canang and Drum or Rebana Ubi in Membranofons, the largest group, are the drums and get their name from the skin or membrane which is stretched over the instrument to produce its sound when struck. Long before the invention of modern telecommunication devices, drum or rebana were used as a way to convey massages from one area to another area. Today these instruments are used not only to convey the messages from the soul and heart, it is also a medium to reflect the daily life and belief of the people.



Malay Traditional Music & Dance

There is so much variety in Malay dance. Yet the oldest may not even have begun as a dance, but as the deadly martial art of Silat. With flowery hand and body movements to mesmerise and confuse opponents, silat evolved into a danceable art form. The various Joget dances, one of Malaysia’s most popular cultural dance forms, have lively movements with an upbeat tempo performed by couples. The Tarian Lilin candle dance is one of the most enthralling and beautiful performances. Female dancers hold saucers containing a candle each and move in graceful turns without extinguishing the delicate flames, entrancing spectators. Zapin was inspired by the Arabs and originally performed by male dancers. Today, females also perform it in covered attire. Boria mixes song and dance, with a lead who sings solo and those behind singing the chorus while dancing in unison. Kuda Kepang dance-drama performers ride two-dimensional hide or rattan horses in vigorous moves to re-enact the early Islamic battles for survival, accompanied by hypnotic music from exotic instruments such as angklungs and gongs.



Chinese Traditional Music & Dance

Although the Chinese only contribute a very small percentage to the overall population of the state, Chinese culture is another element that is somehow making the art and culture of the state more colourful. The traditional Chinese Lion dance is usually part of festivities such as during the Chinese New Year or launching ceremony of a business. It is believed to bring happiness and luck simply because lion is a holy animal and should be seen as a spirit that has its own place in Chinese Mythology. Accompanied features are fireworks (usually crackers) and sometimes also the Dragon apart from a few other instruments necessary to make the music that comes along with lion dancing: a large drum, cymbals and a gong and the music matches the movement of the lion. The dance always starts with the deifying hits from the drum for a few seconds before the lion start its movements. The lion is animated by 2 performers who are normally Kung Fu practitioners, as these dancing require suppleness, flexibility, fitness, strength and good balance. In most of the performance, a bunch of lettuce will be hang on a string and the lion is required to reach the lettuce and grab between its jaws then tear the lettuce and throw it to the audience as a symbolic of luck.



Indian Traditional Music & Dance

Among the popular Indian dances in Malaysia are the Bharata Natyam and Bhangra. The former is a classical style characterized by fast and complex dance moves that tell a story. This classical dancing combines about 100 steps and gestures, choreographed into dance dramas from ancient Indian epics. Classical dancers are initiated early, by the age of five, in order to master the intricate movements. The Bhangra dance is very much a colourful feature of the Malaysian Sikh community. Originally a harvest dance, it integrates a host of lively turns and stunts by the dancers in turbaned headdresses, making it vibrant and raucously cheerful. It is accompanied by a medley of folk songs, clapping, drums and tambourines.



Sarawak Traditional Music & Dance

The Datun Julud and Ngajat are among the popular dances of Sarawak. Datun Julud illustrates the age-old tradition of storytelling in dance, relating the legend of a prince’s happiness when blessed with a grandson. The dance became widespread among the Kenyah tribe. The sape, the native guitar of Sarawak, renders the dance beats accompanied by singning and hand-clapping.



Sabah Traditional Music & Dance

An exotic dance found only in Sabah is the Sumazau, performed by two rows of men and women who face each other and move with a steady hypnotic rhythm. Their hand gestures imitate the fight of great birds. Another dance in both Sabah and Sarawak requires dancers to perform with bamboo poles moving back and forth in between their feet. This requires great agility to avoid their feet being trapped as the beat accelerates.

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