There is a reason why Malaysia’s tag line for tourism is “Malaysia Truly Asia”. It is a multi-racial country with 52% Malay and other indigenous tribes, 30% Chinese and 8% Indians. There are also a lot of foreigners contributing in diversifying our local culture as well.
Being a Muslim country, it comes as no surprise that the Malays are the more predominant race and they are identified as Bumiputera’s (prince of the land). Their native language is Bahasa Melayu and thus it has become the national language as well. Together with the Malays, many indigenous tribes share the identity of Bumiputera. These tribes are found in East Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak) and amongst some of the larger tribes are the Iban, Kadazan and Bidayuh.
The more interesting people are the Chinese because of their wide variety of dialects and religions. Malaysian Chinese adopt either the Buddhist, Taoist or Christian religion. Most of them would speak English as their first language but amongst themselves they would converse in dialects such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Teochew and many more. It is interesting to see them in conversation as a mixture of all the different dialects, English and Bahasa Melayu can be heard in one sentence.
The Indians in Malaysia are mainly Hindus from Southern India and they converse in Tamil. Many middle/upper class Indians would be able to converse well in English and would use it as their first language.
With so many different races, religions and languages, Malaysia is a potpourri of cultures. They celebrate festivals such as Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Wesak Day, Thaipusam and many more. Each holiday is given the same amount of priority as the next and big celebrations are held to commemorate them. Traditions are abundant with many different dances, costumes, food and art forms. It will not be surprising to see a Chinese wearing a Sari or an Indian wearing a Baju Kebaya. The people share and embrace each other’s culture with open arms.
The Malaysian people are generally very friendly people. They are polite, friendly and helpful. There are a select few that might have an ulterior motive (beware the touting taxi drivers) but with that aside, they are generally sincere. So if you’re planning to visit Malaysia, be prepared to experience the many different flavours the country has to offer. All are unique and interesting. Be assured that you’ll have many stories to tell the relatives and friends back home.