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CULTURE - Malaysia

CULTURE - Malaysia

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual society, consisting of 65% Malays and other indigenous tribes, 25% Chinese, 7% Indians. The Malays, which form the largest community, are all Muslims since one has to be Muslim to be legally Malay under Malaysian law. The Malays play a dominant role politically and are included in a grouping identified as bumiputera. Their native language is Malay.

In the past, Bahasa Melayu was written widely in Jawi, a script based on Arabic. Over time, romanized script overtook Jawi as the dominant script. The largest indigenous tribe in terms of numbers is the Iban of Sarawak, who number over 600,000. The Bidayuh (170,000) are concentrated in the south-western part of Sarawak. The largest indigenous tribe in Sabah is the Kadazan. They are largely Christian subsistence farmers. The Orang Asli (140,000), or aboriginal peoples, comprise a number of different ethnic communities living in Peninsular Malaysia. The Chinese comprise of about a quarter of the population. They are mostly Buddhists (of Mahayana sect), Taoists or Christian, and speak a variety of Chinese dialects including Hokkien/Fujian, Cantonese, Hakka and Teochew. The Indians account for about 7% of the population. They are mainly Hindu Tamils from southern India, speaking Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Hindi, living mainly in the larger towns on the west coast of the peninsula.

Eurasians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and indigenous tribes make up the remaining population. Malaysian traditional music is heavily influenced by Chinese and Islamic forms. The music is based largely around the gendang (drum). The country has a strong tradition of dance and dance dramas, some of Thai, Indian and Portuguese origin.