Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia. It consists of thirteen states and three federal territories and has a total landmass of 329,845 square kilometres (127,354 sq mi). The capital city is Kuala Lumpur, while Putrajaya is the seat of the federal government. The population stands at over 28 million.
The country is separated by the South China Sea into two regions, Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo (also known as East Malaysia). Malaysia borders Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei. It is near the equator and has a tropical climate.
Malaysia's head of state is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong an elected monarch, and the head of government is the Prime Minister. The government is closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system.
Malaysia has a biodiverse range of flora and fauna, and is considered one of the 17 megadiverse countries.
EtymologyPrior to that, the name itself had been vaguely used to refer to areas in Southeast Asia. A map published in 1914 in Chicago has the word Malaysia printed on it referring to certain territories within the Malay Archipelago. Politicians in the Philippines once contemplated naming their state "Malaysia", but in 1963 Malaysia adopted the name first. At the time of the 1963 federation, other names were considered: among them was Langkasuka, after the historic kingdom located at the upper section of the Malay Peninsula in the first millennium of the common era.
In 1850 the English ethnologist George Samuel Windsor Earl, writing in the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, proposed naming the islands of Indonesia as Melayunesia or Indunesia. He favoured the former for the colonial reference.
Following his 1826 expedition in Oceania, the French Navigator Jules Dumont d'Urville invented the terms Malaisia, Micronesia and Melanesia, distinguishing these Pacific cultures and island groups from Polynesia. In 1831, he proposed these terms to The Société de Géographie (Paris, France), the world's oldest geographical society. For the name Malaisia, Dumont d'Urville had in mind a region including present day Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. At that time, it was thought that the inhabitants of this region could be designated by the encompassing term "Malay".
In a strict sense, however, the Malays are the people who speak the Malay language and live on the east coast of Sumatra, the Riau Islands, the Malay Peninsula and the coastline of the island of Borneo.
The Treaty of 1824 between the English and the Dutch resulted in a division of the Malay world. The term "Malaysian" is used to refer to Malaysia as a state, while the word "Malay" refers to the language, culture, and ethnicity, and thus covers a larger area. The term "Malay world", therefore, refers to the geographical area inhabited by the Malays.
The word Melayu itself is said to have originated from the Melayu Kingdom, a classical kingdom that existed between the 7th and the 13th century and was established around present-day Dharmasraya on Sumatera. It was founded by the society around the Batanghari river and the gold traders from the Minangkabau hinterland. The continental part of the country bore the name Federation of Malaya until 1963, when it federated with the territories of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern part of the island of Borneo, and Singapore. Singapore left Malaysia and became an independent country on 9 August 1965.
PrehistoryArchaeological remains have been found throughout peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. The earliest evidence of human habitation in the area dates back 40,000 years. These Mesolithic hunters were probably the ancestors of the Semang, an ethnic Negrito group who have a deep ancestry within the Malay Peninsula.
The Senoi appear to be a composite group, with approximately half of the maternal DNA lineages tracing back to the ancestors of the Semang and about half to later ancestral migrations from Indochina. Scholars suggest they are descendants of early Austronesian-speaking agriculturalists, who brought both their language and their technology to the southern part of the peninsula approximately 4,000 years ago. They united and coalesced with the indigenous population.
The Proto Malays have a more diverse origin. Although they show some connections with Maritime Southeast Asia, some also have an ancestry in Indochina around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 20,000 years ago. Anthropologists support the notion that the Proto-Malays originated from what is today Yunnan, China. This was followed by an early-Holocene dispersal through the Malay Peninsula into the Malay Archipelago. Around 300 BC, they were pushed inland by the Deutero-Malays, an Iron Age or Bronze Age people descended partly from the Chams of Cambodia and Vietnam. The first group in the peninsula to use metal tools, the Deutero-Malays were the direct ancestors of today's Malaysian Malays.
Early historyThe Malay Peninsula was known to ancient Indians as Suvarnadvipa or the "Golden Peninsula". It was shown on Ptolemy's map as the "Golden Khersonese". He referred to the Straits of Melaka as Sinus Sabaricus. Traders and settlers from India and China arrived as early as the first century of the common era. The Chinese and Indians established trading ports and towns in the area in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE— as many as 30, according to Chinese sources. Their influence on the local culture was strong. In the early centuries of the first millennium, the people of the Malay Peninsula adopted the Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the use of the Sanskrit writing system.
Among the earliest kingdoms known to have been based in what is now Malaysia is the ancient empire of Langkasuka, located in the northern Malay Peninsula around Tasik Chini. It was closely tied to Funan in Cambodia, which also ruled part of northern Malaysia until the 6th century. According to the Sejarah Melayu ("Malay Annals"), the Khmer prince Raja Ganji Sarjuna founded the kingdom of Gangga Negara (modern-day Beruas, Perak) in the 700s. Between the 7th and the 13th century, much of Peninsular Malaysia was under the Srivijaya empire, which was centered in Palembang on the island of Sumatra.
In 1025 and 1026 Gangga Negara was attacked by Rajendra Chola I, the Tamil emperor who is now thought to have laid Kota Gelanggi to waste. Kedah—known as Kedaram, Cheh-Cha (according to I-Ching) or Kataha, in ancient Pallava or Sanskrit—was in the direct route of the invasions and was ruled by the Cholas from 1025. The senior Chola's successor, Vira Rajendra Chola, had to put down a Kedah rebellion to overthrow other invaders. The coming of the Chola reduced the majesty of Srivijaya, an Indonesian kingdom which had exerted influence over Kedah, Pattani and as far as Ligor.
"Pattinapalai", a Tamil poem of the second century CE, describes goods from Kedaram heaped in the broad streets of the Chola capital. A 7th-century Sanskrit drama, Kaumudhimahotsva, refers to Kedah as Kataha-nagari. The Agnipurana also mentions a territory known as Anda-Kataha with one of its boundaries delineated by a peak, which scholars believe is Gunung Jerai. Stories from the Katasaritasagaram describe the elegance of life in Kataha. The Buddhist kingdom of Ligor took control of Kedah shortly after. Its king Chandrabhanu used it as a base to attack Sri Lanka in the 11th century, an event noted in a stone inscription in Nagapattinum in Tamil Nadu and in the Sri Lankan chronicles, Mahavamsa.
After the fall of Srivijaya, the Java-based Majapahit empire had influence over most of Indonesia, Peninsular Malaysia, and the coasts of Borneo island.
MelakaParameswara, a prince from Palembang in the former Srivijayan empire, established a dynasty and founded what would become the Malacca Sultanate. Conquest forced him and many others to flee Palembang. Parameswara in particular sailed to Temasek to escape persecution. There he came under the protection of Temagi, a Malay chief from Patani who was appointed by the king of Siam as regent of Temasek. Within a few days, Parameswara killed Temagi and appointed himself regent. Some five years later he had to leave Temasek, due to threats from Siam. During this period, a Javanese fleet from Majapahit attacked Temasek.
Parameswara headed north to found a new settlement. At Muar, Parameswara considered siting his new kingdom at either Biawak Busuk or at Kota Buruk. Finding that the Muar location was not suitable, he continued his journey northwards. Along the way, he reportedly visited Sening Ujong (former name of present-day Sungai Ujong) before reaching a fishing village at the mouth of the Bertam River (former name of the Melaka River). Over time this developed into modern-day Malacca Town. According to the Malay Annals, here Parameswara saw a mouse deer outwitting a dog resting under a Malacca tree. Taking this as a good omen, he decided to establish a kingdom called Melaka (Malacca). He built and improved facilities for trade.
At the time of Melaka's founding, the emperor of Ming Dynasty China was sending out fleets of ships to expand trade. Admiral Zheng He called at Melaka and brought Parameswara with him on his return to China, a recognition of his position as legitimate ruler of Melaka. In exchange for regular tribute, the Chinese emperor offered Melaka protection from the constant threat of a Siamese attack. The Chinese and Indians who settled in the Malay Peninsula before and during this period are the ancestors of today's Baba-Nyonya and Chetti community.
According to a theory, Parameswara became a Muslim when he married a Princess of Pasai and he took the fashionable Persian title "Shah", calling himself Iskandar Shah. Chinese chronicles mention that in 1414, the son of the first ruler of Melaka visited the Ming emperor to inform them that his father had died.
Parameswara's son was then officially recognised as the second ruler of Melaka by the Chinese Emperor and styled Raja Sri Rama Vikrama, Raja of Parameswara of Temasek and Melaka and he was known to his Muslim subjects as Sultan Sri Iskandar Zulkarnain Shah or Sultan Megat Iskandar Shah. He ruled Melaka from 1414 to 1424. Through the influence of Indian Muslims and, to a lesser extent, Hui people from China, Islam became increasingly common during the 15th century. Melaka's position as the most prominent kingdom in the peninsula allowed the faith to spread to neighbouring states. By the start of the 16th century it had become the dominant religion among Malays.
In 1511, Melaka was conquered by Portugal, which established a colony there. The sons of the last Melakan ruler established two kingdoms elsewhere in the peninsula — the Perak Sultanate to the north, and the Johor Sultanate (originally a continuation of the old Melaka sultanate) to the south. After the fall of Melaka, three powers struggled for the control of Melaka Strait: the Portuguese (in Melaka), Johor, and Aceh. This conflict went on until 1641, when the Dutch (allied to Johor) gained control of Melaka.
British arrival (1786)Penang to the British East India Company by the sultan of Kedah. In 1824, the British took control of Melaka following the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 which divided the Malay archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands, with Malaya in the British zone.
In 1826, Britain established the crown colony of the Straits Settlements, uniting its four possessions in Malaya: Penang, Melaka, Singapore and the island of Labuan. The Straits Settlements were initially administered under the East India Company in Calcutta, before first Penang, and later Singapore became the administrative centre of the crown colony, until 1867, when they were transferred to the Colonial Office in London.
During the late 19th century, many Malay states decided to obtain British help in settling their internal conflicts. The commercial importance of tin mining in the Malay states to merchants in the Straits Settlements led to British government intervention in the tin-producing states in the Malay Peninsula. British gunboat diplomacy was employed to bring about a peaceful resolution to civil disturbances caused by Chinese and Malay gangsters employed in a political tussle between Ngah Ibrahim and Raja Muda Abdullah.
The Pangkor Treaty of 1874 paved the way for the expansion of British influence in Malaya. By the turn of the 20th century, the states of Pahang, Selangor, Perak, and Negeri Sembilan, known together as the Federated Malay States (not to be confused with the Federation of Malaya), were under the de facto control of British Residents appointed to advise the Malay rulers. The British were "advisers" in name, but in reality, they exercised substantial influence over the Malay rulers.
The remaining five states in the peninsula, known as the Unfederated Malay States, while not directly under rule from London, also accepted British advisers around the turn of the 20th century. Of these, the four northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu had previously been under Siamese control. The other unfederated state, Johor, was the only state which managed to preserve its independence throughout most of the 19th century. Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor and Queen Victoria were personal acquaintances, and recognised each other as equals. It was not until 1914 that Sultan Abu Bakar's successor, Sultan Ibrahim accepted a British adviser.
On the island of Borneo, Sabah was governed as the crown colony of British North Borneo, while Sarawak was acquired from Brunei as the personal kingdom of the Brooke family, who ruled as white Rajahs.
Following the Japanese Invasion of Malaya and its subsequent occupation during World War II, popular support for independence grew. Post-war British plans to unite the administration of Malaya under a single crown colony called the Malayan Union foundered on strong opposition from the Malays, who opposed the emasculation of the Malay rulers and the granting of citizenship to the ethnic Chinese. The Malayan Union, established in 1946 and consisting of all the British possessions in Malaya with the exception of Singapore, was dissolved in 1948 and replaced by the Federation of Malaya, which restored the autonomy of the rulers of the Malay states under British protection.
During this time, rebels under the leadership of the Malayan Communist Party launched guerrilla operations designed to force the British out of Malaya. The Malayan Emergency, as it was known, lasted from 1948 to 1960, and involved a long anti-insurgency campaign by Commonwealth troops in Malaya. Although the insurgency quickly stopped there was still a presence of Commonwealth troops, with the backdrop of the Cold War. Against this backdrop, independence for the Federation within the Commonwealth was granted on 31 August 1957.
Post independence (1963)
In 1963, Malaya along with the then British crown colonies of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore, formed Malaysia. The Sultanate of Brunei, though initially expressing interest in joining the Federation, withdrew from the planned merger due to opposition from certain segments of its population as well as arguments over the payment of oil royalties and the status of the Sultan in the planned merger. The actual proposed date for the formation of Malaysia was 31 August 1963, to coincide with the independence day of Malaya and the British giving self-rule to Sarawak and Sabah. However, the date was delayed by opposition from the Indonesian government led by Sukarno and also attempts by the Sarawak United People's Party to delay the formation of Malaysia. Due to these factors, an 8-member United Nations team had to be formed to re-ascertain whether Sabah and Sarawak truly wanted to join Malaysia.
The early years of independence were marred by the conflict with Indonesia (Konfrontasi) over the formation of Malaysia, Singapore's eventual exit in 1965, and racial strife in the form of race riots in 1969. The Philippines also made an active claim on Sabah in that period based upon the Sultanate of Brunei's secession of its north-east territories to the Sulu Sultanate in 1704. The claim is still ongoing.
After the 13 May race riots of 1969, the controversial New Economic Policy—intended to increase proportionally the share of the economic "pie" of the bumiputras ("indigenous people", which includes the majority Malays, but not always the indigenous population) as compared to other ethnic groups—was launched by Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak. Malaysia has since maintained a delicate ethno-political balance, with a system of government that has attempted to combine overall economic development with political and economic policies that promote equitable participation of all races.
Between the 1980s and the mid-1990s, Malaysia experienced economic growth under the premiership of Mahathir bin Mohamad. The period saw a shift from an agriculture-based economy to one based on manufacturing and industry in areas such as computers and consumer electronics. It was during this period, too, that the physical landscape of Malaysia changed with the emergence of numerous mega-projects.
Notable amongst these projects were the construction of the Petronas Twin Towers (at the time the tallest building in the world, and, as of 2010, still the tallest twin building), KL International Airport (KLIA), the North-South Expressway, the Sepang International Circuit, the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), the Bakun hydroelectric dam and Putrajaya, the new federal administrative capital.
In the late 1990s, Malaysia was shaken by the Asian financial crisis as well as political unrest caused by the sacking of the deputy prime minister Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim. In 2003, Dr Mahathir, Malaysia's longest serving prime minister, retired in favour of his deputy, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. In November 2007, Malaysia was rocked by two anti-government rallies. The 2007 Bersih Rally, with 40,000 participants, was held in Kuala Lumpur on 10 November, campaigning for electoral reform. It was precipitated by allegations of corruption and discrepancies in the Malaysian election system that heavily favoured the ruling political party, Barisan Nasional, which had been in power since Malaysia achieved its independence in 1957.
Another rally was held on 25 November in the Malaysian capital led by HINDRAF. The rally organiser, the Hindu Rights Action Force, had called the protest over alleged discriminatory policies which favoured ethnic Malays. The crowd was estimated to be between 5,000 and 30,000.In both cases the government and police tried to prevent the gatherings from taking place. In 16 October 2008, HINDRAF was banned when the government labelled the organisation as "a threat to national security".
Government and politics
Malaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy. The federal head of state of Malaysia is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commonly referred to as the King of Malaysia. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected to a five-year term among the nine hereditary Sultans of the Malay states; the other four states, which have titular Governors, do not participate in the selection.
The system of government in Malaysia is closely modelled on that of the Westminster parliamentary system, a legacy of British colonial rule. Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has been governed by a multi-party coalition known as the Barisan Nasional (formerly known as the Alliance Party).
Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures. The bicameral parliament consists of the lower house, the House of Representatives or Dewan Rakyat (literally the "Chamber of the People") and the upper house, the Senate or Dewan Negara (literally the "Chamber of the Nation").
The 222-member House of Representatives is elected for a maximum term of five years from single-member constituencies, which are defined based on population. All 70 Senators sit for three-year terms; 26 are elected by the 13 state assemblies, 2 represent the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, each of the federal territories of Labuan and Putrajaya has 1 Senator, with the remaining 40 appointed by the king.
Besides the Parliament at the federal level, each state has a unicameral state legislative chamber (Malay: Dewan Undangan Negeri) whose members are elected from single-member constituencies. Parliamentary elections are held at least once every five years, with the last general election being in March 2008.
Registered voters of age 21 and above may vote for the members of the House of Representatives and, in most of the states, for the state legislative chamber. Voting is not compulsory.
Executive power is vested in the cabinet led by the prime minister; the Malaysian constitution stipulates that the prime minister must be a member of the lower house of parliament who, in the opinion of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commands a majority in parliament.The cabinet is chosen from among members of both houses of Parliament and is responsible to that body.
State governments are led by Chief Ministers (Menteri Besar in Malay states or Ketua Menteri in states without hereditary rulers), who are state assembly members from the majority party in the Dewan Undangan Negeri. In each of the states with a hereditary ruler, the Chief Minister is required to be a Malay-Muslim, although this rule is subject to the rulers' discretion.
Foreign relations and armed forcesAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and participates in many international organisations such as the United Nations. As a former British colony, it is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.It is a member of the Developing 8 Countries Malaysia has diplomatic relations with many countries but does not recognise the State of Israel.
Malaysian defence requirements are assigned to the Malaysian Armed Forces (Angkatan Tentera Malaysia-ATM). The armed forces has three branches, the Royal Malaysian Navy (Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia-TLDM), Malaysian Army (Tentera Darat Malaysia-TD), and the Royal Malaysian Air Force (Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia-TUDM). The Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia operates both American and Russian manufactured fighter aircraft.
Administrative divisionsAdministratively, Malaysia consists of 13 states (11 in peninsular Malaysia and 2 in Malaysian Borneo) and 3 federal territories. Each state is further divided into districts (daerah or jajahan in Kelantan) and a subdivision of a district is called mukim. As Malaysia is a federation, the governance of the country is divided between the federal and the state governments.
Malaysia is the 43rd most populated country and the 66th largest country by total land area in the world, with a population of about 28 million and a land area of over 320,000 km2 respectively. It is comparable in population to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, and is roughly similar in size to Norway and Vietnam.
The two distinct parts of Malaysia, separated from each other by the South China Sea, share a largely similar landscape in that both West and East Malaysia feature coastal plains rising to often densely forested hills and mountains, the highest of which is Mount Kinabalu at 4,095.2 metres (13,436 ft) on the island of Borneo. East Malaysia, like most of the island of Borneo, was traditionally covered with Borneo lowland rain forests although much has been cleared, with wildlife retreating to the upland rain forests inland. The local climate is equatorial and characterised by the annual southwest (April to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons.
Tanjung Piai, located in the southern state of Johor, is the southernmost tip of continental Asia. The Strait of Malacca, lying between Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia, is arguably the most important shipping lane in the world.
Kuala Lumpur is the official capital and largest city of Malaysia. Putrajaya is the federal administrative capital. Although many executive and judicial branches of the federal government have moved there (to ease growing congestion within Kuala Lumpur), Kuala Lumpur is still recognised as the legislative capital of Malaysia since it houses the seat of the Parliament of Malaysia. It is also the main commercial and financial centre of the country.
Other major cities include George Town, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Miri, Alor Star, Malacca Town, Kuala Terengganu, Kota Bharu, Kuantan and Petaling Jaya.
EconomySoutheast Asia has been a centre of trade for centuries. International trade, facilitated by the adjacent Strait of Malacca shipping route, and manufacturing are both key sectors of the country's economy.
In the 17th century, porcelain and spices were found in several Malay states and were actively traded. Later, as the British started to take over as administrators of Malaya, rubber and palm oil trees were introduced for commercial purposes. Over time, Malaysia became the world's largest producer of tin, rubber, and palm oil.These three commodities, along with other raw materials, firmly set Malaysia's economic tempo well into the mid-20th century.
Instead of relying on the local Malays as a source of labour, the British brought in Chinese and Indians to work in the mines and plantations and provide professional expertise. Although many of them returned to their respective home countries after their agreed tenure ended, some remained in Malaysia and settled permanently.
As Malaya moved towards independence, the government began implementing economic five-year plans, beginning with the First Malayan Five Year Plan in 1955. Upon the establishment of Malaysia, the plans were re-titled and renumbered, beginning with the First Malaysia Plan in 1965.
In the 1970s, Malaysia began to imitate the four Asian Tiger economies (Republic of Korea (South Korea), Republic of China (Taiwan), then British Crown Colony of Hong Kong and the Republic of Singapore) and committed itself to a transition from being reliant on mining and agriculture to an economy that depends more on manufacturing. With Japanese investment, heavy industries flourished and in a matter of years, Malaysian exports became the country's primary growth engine. Malaysia consistently achieved more than 7% GDP growth along with low inflation in the 1980s and the 1990s.
During the same period, the government tried to eradicate poverty with the controversial New Economic Policy (NEP), after the 13 May Incident of racial rioting in 1969. Its main objective was the elimination of the association of race with economic function, and the first five-year plan to begin implementing the NEP was the Second Malaysia Plan. The success or failure of the NEP is the subject of much debate, although it was officially retired in 1990 and replaced by the National Development Policy (NDP). Recently much debate has surfaced once again concerning the results and relevance of the NEP. Some have argued that the NEP has indeed successfully created a Middle/Upper Class of Malay businesspeople and professionals. Despite some improvement in the economic power of Malays in general, the Malaysian government maintains a policy of discrimination that favours ethnic Malays over other races—including preferential treatment in employment, education, scholarships, business, access to cheaper housing and assisted savings. This special treatment has sparked envy and resentment amongst non-Malays.
The ethnic Chinese control of the locally owned sector of the country's economy, meanwhile, has been ceded largely in favour of the bumiputra/Malays in many essential or strategic industries such as petroleum retailing, transportation, agriculture and automobile manufacturing. The rapid economic boom led to a variety of supply problems, however. Labour shortages soon resulted in an influx of millions of foreign workers, many illegal. Cash-rich PLCs and consortia of banks eager to benefit from increased and rapid development began large infrastructure projects. This all ended when the Asian Financial Crisis hit in the fall of 1997, delivering a massive shock to Malaysia's economy.
As with other countries affected by the crisis, there was speculative short-selling of the Malaysian currency, the ringgit. Foreign direct investment fell at an alarming rate and, as capital flowed out of the country, the value of the ringgit dropped from MYR 2.50 per USD to, at one point, MYR 4.80 per USD. The Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange's composite index plummeted from approximately 1300 points to around 400 points in a matter of weeks. After the controversial sacking of finance minister Anwar Ibrahim, a National Economic Action Council was formed to deal with the monetary crisis. Bank Negara imposed capital controls and pegged the Malaysian ringgit at 3.80 to the US dollar. Malaysia refused economic aid packages from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, surprising many analysts.
In March 2005, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published a paper on the sources and pace of Malaysia's recovery, written by Jomo K.S. of the applied economics department, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. The paper concluded that the controls imposed by Malaysia's government neither hurt nor helped recovery. The chief factor was an increase in electronics components exports, which was caused by a large increase in the demand for components in the United States, which was caused, in turn, by a fear of the effects of the arrival of the year 2000 (Y2K) upon older computers and other digital devices.
However, the post Y2K slump of 2001 did not affect Malaysia as much as other countries. This may have been clearer evidence that there are other causes and effects that can be more properly attributable for recovery. One possibility is that the currency speculators had run out of finance after failing in their attack on the Hong Kong dollar in August 1998 and after the Russian ruble collapsed. (See George Soros)
Regardless of cause and effect claims, rejuvenation of the economy also coincided with massive government spending and budget deficits in the years that followed the crisis. Later, Malaysia enjoyed faster economic recovery compared to its neighbours. The country has recovered to the levels of the pre-crisis era – as an example, the KLCI Composite Index hit an all time high of 1,386 on 20 June 2007 which is approximately 100 points higher than the pre-crisis record of 1,275 in 1993.
While the pace of development today is not as rapid, it is seen to be more sustainable. Although the controls and economic housekeeping may or may not have been the principal reasons for recovery, there is no doubt that the banking sector has become more resilient to external shocks. The current account has also settled into a structural surplus, providing a cushion to capital flight. Asset prices are generally back to their pre-crisis heights, despite the effects of the global financial crisis. Malaysia is also the world's largest Islamic banking and financial centre.
The fixed exchange rate was abandoned in July 21, 2005 in favour of a managed floating system within an hour of China announcing the same move. In the same week, the ringgit strengthened a percent against various major currencies and was expected to appreciate further. As of December 2005, however, expectations of further appreciation were muted as capital flight exceeded USD 10 billion. According to Bank Negara's published figures, Malaysia's foreign exchange reserves increased steadily since the initial capital flight, from USD75.2 billion as at 15 July 2005 (just before the peg was removed) to peak at USD125.7 billion as at 31 July 2008, a few months before the global credit crisis that started in September 2008. As at 29 May 2009, the reserves stood at USD88.3 billion.
In September 2005, Sir Howard J. Davies, director of the London School of Economics, at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, cautioned Malaysian officials that if they want a flexible capital market, they will have to lift the ban on short-selling put into effect during the crisis. In March 2006, Malaysia removed the ban on short selling. It is interesting to note that some of the measures taken by the Malaysian government in response to the Asian crisis, such as the ban on short selling, were swiftly adopted by the very countries that had previously been critical of the Malaysian response.
Malaysia is also one of the region's leading education and healthcare providers. Malaysia is recognised as a newly industrialised country. In 2008, GDP per capita (PPP) of Malaysia stands at US$14,215, ranking it 48th in the world, and 3rd in Southeast Asia (after Singapore and Brunei).
Transportation and energyTransportation in Malaysia started to develop during British colonial rule, and the country's transport network is now diverse and developed. Malaysia's road network is extensive, covering 63,445 km, including 1,630 km of expressways. The main highway of the country extends over 800 km, reaching the Thai border from Singapore. The network of roads in Peninsular Malaysia is of high quality, whilst the road system in Sabah and Sarawak is not as well developed. Malaysia also has six international airports. The official airline of Malaysia is Malaysia Airlines, providing international and domestic air service alongside two other carriers. The railway system is state-run, and covers a total of 1798 km, in West Malaysia only. Popular within the cities is Light Rail Transit, which reduces the traffic load on other systems, and is considered safe, comfortable and reliable.
Malaysia currently has approximately 13 gigawatts (GW) of electric generation capacity, of which 84% is thermal and 16% is hydroelectric. In 2000, Malaysia generated around 63 billion kilowatthours of electricity. The Malaysian government expects that investment of $9.7 billion will be required in the electric utility sector through 2010. Much of that amount will be for coal-fired plants, as the Malaysian government is promoting a shift away from the country's heavy reliance on natural gas for electric power generation. In recent developments, Tenaga Nasional Bhd, the main state-owned utility, began in 1999 to divest some of its power generation units. Eventually, Malaysia expects to achieve a fully competitive power market, with generation, transmission, and distribution decoupled, but reform is still at an early stage and the exact process of the transition to a competitive market has not been decided. The issue is still under study, and many observers have voiced caution in light of the experiences of other deregulated utility systems.
In an effort to diversify the economy and make Malaysia’s economy less dependent on exports the government has pushed to increase tourism in Malaysia. As a result tourism has become Malaysia’s third largest source of income from foreign exchange. The majority of Malaysia's tourists come from its bordering country, Singapore. In 1999, Malaysia launched a worldwide marketing campaign called “Malaysia, Truly
Asia” which was largely successful in bringing in over 7.4 million tourists. The extra revenue recently generated by tourism helped the country’s economy during the economic crisis of 2008. However, it is mainly Malaysia’s heavy government regulation of the economy which enabled it to be barely affected by the recent 2008 global economic crisis. In recent years tourism has been threatened by the negative effects of the growing industrial economy. Due to the large amounts of air and water pollution along with deforestation, tourism has decreased in affected areas.On 20 May 1987, the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism (MOCAT) was established and TDC moved to this new ministry. TDC existed from 1972 to 1992, when it became the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB), through the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board Act, 1992.
Tourism Malaysia has grown, with its focus on promoting Malaysia at the domestic and international levels. It aims to market Malaysia as a premier destination of excellence in the region. Its vision is to make the tourism industry a prime contributor to the socio-economic development of the nation. The growth of world tourism, and Malaysia's potential as a tourism destination, has contributed to the change and focus in the country's tourism sector. It has helped generate substantial foreign exchange earnings and employment. Tourism Malaysia now has 34 overseas and 11 marketing representative offices.
Natural resourcesMalaysia is well endowed with natural resources in areas such as agriculture, forestry and minerals. In terms of agriculture, Malaysia is one of the top exporters of natural rubber and palm oil, which, together with sawn logs and sawn timber, cocoa, pepper, pineapples and tobacco, dominate the growth of the sector. Palm oil is also a major generator of foreign exchange.
Logging only began to make a substantial contribution to the economy during the 19th century. Today, an estimated 59% of Malaysia remains forested. The rapid expansion of the timber industry, particularly after the 1960s, has brought about a serious erosion problem in the country's forest resources. However, in line with the Government's commitment to protect the environment and the ecological system, forestry resources are being managed on a sustainable basis and accordingly the rate of tree felling has been on the decline.
In addition, substantial areas are being silviculturally treated and reforestation of degraded forestland is being carried out. The Malaysian government provides plans for the enrichment of some 312.30 square kilometers (120.5 sq mi) of land with rattan under natural forest conditions and in rubber plantations as an inter crop. To further enrich forest resources, fast-growing timber species such as meranti tembaga, merawan and sesenduk are also being planted. At the same time, the cultivation of high-value trees like teak and other trees for pulp and paper is also encouraged. Rubber, once the mainstay of the Malaysian economy, has been largely replaced by oil palm as Malaysia's leading agricultural export.
Tin and petroleum are the two main mineral resources of major significance to the Malaysian economy. Malaysia was, at one time, the world's largest producer of tin prior to the collapse of the tin market in the early 1980s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, tin played a predominant role in the Malaysian economy. In 1972 petroleum and natural gas took over from tin as the mainstay of the mineral extraction sector. Meanwhile, the contribution by tin has declined. Petroleum and natural gas discoveries in oil fields off Sabah, Sarawak and Terengganu have contributed much to the Malaysian economy. Other minerals of some importance or significance include copper, bauxite, iron-ore and coal together with industrial minerals like clay, kaolin, silica, limestone, barite, phosphates and dimension stones such as granite as well as marble blocks and slabs. Small quantities of gold are produced.
In 2004, a minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Mustapa Mohamed, revealed that Malaysia's oil reserves stood at 4.84 billion barrels (769,000,000 m3) while natural gas reserves increased to 89 trillion cubic feet (2,500 km3). This was an increase of 7.2%. As of January 2009, Malaysia has proven oil reserves of up to 4 billion barrels.In January 2008, the Malaysian natural gas reserves holds up to 14.67 billion barrels of oil equivalent.
The government estimates that, at current production rates, Malaysia will be able to produce oil for up to 18 years and gas for 35 years. In 2004, Malaysia is ranked 24th in terms of world oil reserves and 13th for gas. 56% of the oil reserves exist in the Peninsula, while 19% exist in East Malaysia. The government collects oil royalties of which 5% are passed to the states and the remainder retained by the federal government.
Science and technology
In 2001 MNSA started a plan for scientific development in collaboration with JAXA. In early 2006, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor and three other finalists were selected for the Angkasawan spaceflight program. This program came about when Russia agreed to transport one Malaysian to the International Space Station as part of a multi-billion dollar purchase of 18 Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighter jets by the Royal Malaysian Air Force.
Military engineeringThe rejection of requests for weapons and technologies from abroad, arms sanctions and massive rearmament of the Asian countries prompted Malaysia to develop a broad-based, indigenous arms industry. The Malaysian Armed Forces relies heavily on local military technology and high-tech weapons systems designed and manufactured by foreign countries.
Health sciencesMalaysia has an advanced infrastructure of medical and pharmaceutical research and bioengineering capabilities. Biotechnology, biomedical, and clinical research account for over half of the country's scientific publications, and the industrial sector has used this extensive knowledge to develop pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and treatment therapies.
Malaysia's population comprises many ethnic groups, with the Malays making up the majority at 50.4%; and other bumiputra at 11% of the population. By constitutional definition, Malays are Muslims who practice Malay customs (adat) and culture. Therefore, technically, a Muslim of any race who practices Malay customs and culture can be considered a Malay and allocated privilleged status in the form of the Bumiputra rights stipulated in the constitution.
Many Malay families today have their ancestries traced to Javanese, Bugis, and Minang sailors who originated in Indonesia, during the 17th to early 20th century. Bumiputra status is also accorded to certain non-Malay indigenous peoples, including ethnic Thais, Khmers, Chams and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. Non-Malay bumiputra make up more than half of Sarawak's population (of which 30% are Ibans), and close to 60% of Sabah's population (of which 18% are Kadazan-Dusuns, and 17% are Bajaus). There also exist aboriginal groups in much smaller numbers on the peninsula, where they are collectively known as Orang Asli.
23.7% of the population are Malaysians of Chinese descent, while Malaysians of Indian descent comprise 7.1% of the population. While Peranakan ("straits-born") Chinese and Indian families have resided in Malaysia since as far back as 15th century Melaka, the majority of Malaysia's Chinese and Indian populations are descended from migrants who arrived during the colonial period. Indians began migrating to Malaysia in the early 19th century.The majority of the Indian community are Tamils but various other groups are also present, including Telugus, Malayalis, Punjabis, Sindhis, Bengalis and Gujaratis.
Europeans and Middle Easterners, who first arrived during the colonial period, assimilated through inter-marriage into the Christian and Muslim communities respectively. Most Eurasian Malaysians trace their ancestry to British, Dutch or Portuguese colonists, and there is a strong Kristang community in Melaka.
The Nepali population numbers little over 600 and lives in Rawang, Selangor. Originally brought by the British as bodyguards and security personnel, they come from the Rana, Chettri, Rai and Gurung clans. Other minorities include Filipinos and Burmese. A small number of ethnic Vietnamese from Cambodia and Vietnam settled in Malaysia as Vietnam War refugees.
The population distribution is highly uneven, with some 20 million residents concentrated on the Malay Peninsula, while East Malaysia has about 7 million people. Due to the rise in labour intensive industries, Malaysia has 10% to 20% foreign workers, the exact figure being uncertain due in part to the large number of illegal workers. There are a million legal foreign workers and perhaps another million unauthorised foreigners. The state of Sabah alone had nearly 25% of its 2.7 million population listed as illegal foreign workers in the last census. Sabah NGOs estimate that out of the 3 million population, 2 million are illegal immigrants.
Additionally, according to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Malaysia hosts a population of refugees and asylum seekers numbering approximately 155,700. Of this population, approximately 70,500 refugees and asylum seekers are from the Philippines, 69,700 from Burma, and 21,800 from Indonesia.The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants named Malaysia as one of the Ten Worst Places for Refugees on account of the country's discriminatory practices toward refugees. Malaysian officials are reported to have turned deportees directly over to human smugglers in 2007, and Malaysia employs RELA, a volunteer militia, to enforce its immigration law.
Islam is the largest and official religion of Malaysia, though it is a multi-religious society. According to the Population and Housing Census 2000 figures, approximately 60.4 percent of the population practised Islam; 19.2 percent Buddhism; 9.1 percent Christianity; 6.3 percent Hinduism; and 2.6 percent practise Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions. The remainder was accounted for by other faiths, including animism, folk religion, and Sikhism while 0.9% either reported having no religion or did not provide any information.
All ethnic Malays are considered Muslim by Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia. Most Malaysian Chinese follow a combination of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and ancestor-worship but, when pressed to specify their religion, will identify themselves as Buddhists. Statistics from the 2000 Census indicate that 75.9% of Malaysia's ethnic Chinese identify as Buddhist, with significant numbers of adherents following Taoism (10.6%) and Christianity (9.6%), along with small Hui-Muslim populations in areas like Penang.
The majority of Malaysian Indians follow Hinduism (84.5%), with a significant minority identifying as Christians (7.7%), Muslims (3.8%) and over 150,000 Sikhs. Christianity is the predominant religion of the non-Malay Bumiputra community (50.1%) with an additional 36.3% identifying as Muslims and 7.3% follow folk religion.In addition to Christian missionaries from overseas, there are ongoing efforts by the government and NGOs to convert the animist communities to Islam, especially amongst the peninsular tribes who are not entitled to bumiputra status.
The Malaysian constitution guarantees religious freedom. Muslims are obliged to follow the decisions of Syariah courts in matters concerning their religion. The Islamic judges are expected to follow the Shafi`i legal school of Islam, which is the main madh'hab of Malaysia. The jurisdiction of Shariah courts is limited only to Muslims in matters such as marriage, inheritance, apostasy, religious conversion, and custody among others. No other criminal or civil offences are under the jurisdiction of the Syariah courts, which have a similar hierarchy to the Civil Courts. Despite being the supreme courts of the land, the Civil Courts (including the Federal Court) in principle cannot overrule any decision made by the Syariah Courts, as ratified by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the late 1980s.
Islamic religiosityIn all probability, Islam was first brought to Malaysia around the 13th century by Indian traders in the area of the straits of Malacca.Since then the religion has become the predominant religion of the country and is recognised as the state's official religion. Despite the recognition of Islam as the state religion, the first 4 prime ministers have stressed that Malaysia could function as a secular state. This has had a profound impact on Malaysia.
Many factors have contributed to the establishment of a stricter form of Islam, which previously was plural with much influence from Hinduism and animist customs. Attributed to the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, religious observance among Muslims soared significantly in the 80's and 90's in tandem with many Muslim-majority countries across the globe. The Islamic headscarf has since been ubiquitous. Another aspect of growing Islamic conservatism is Tun Dr Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim's Islamic policies which have further fuelled the Islamisation process. Sectarianism in Malaysia has given Islamic identity a boost in this multi-religious and seemingly plural Malaysia. Many ethnic Chinese have become irreligious despite the surge of Christianity. Agnostics and atheists are widespread in this community though rarely disclosed.
Regulation of sexual activities among the Muslim population is strict, with laws prohibiting unmarried couples from occupying a secluded area or a confined space, to prevent suspicion of acts considered islamically immoral.
Education system of Malaysia features a non-compulsive kindergarten education, followed by six years of compulsory primary education and five years of secondary education. Most Malaysian children start schooling between the ages of three to six, in kindergarten.
Primary educationChildren begin primary schooling at the age of seven for a period of six years. Primary schools are categorised into two categories, the national primary school and the vernacular school. Vernacular schools (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan) use either Chinese or Tamil as the medium of instruction, whereas national primary school uses Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction for subjects except English, Science and Mathematics.
Before progressing to the secondary level of education, pupils in Year 6 are required to sit for the Primary School Achievement Test (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah, UPSR). A programme called First Level Assessment (Penilaian Tahap Satu, PTS) taken during Primary Year 3 was abolished in 2001.
Secondary educationSecondary education in Malaysia is conducted in secondary schools (Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan) for five years. National secondary schools use Malay as the main language of instruction. The only exceptions are Mathematics and Science and languages other than Malay, however this was only implemented in 2003, prior to which all non-language subjects were taught in Malay. At the end of Form Three, which is the third year, students are evaluated in the Lower Secondary Assessment (Penilaian Menengah Rendah, PMR).
In the final year of secondary education (Form Five), students sit the Malaysian Certificate of Education (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, SPM) examination, which is equivalent to the former British Ordinary or 'O' Levels. The government has decided to abandon the use of English in teaching maths and science and revert to Bahasa Malaysia, starting in 2012.
Malaysian national secondary schools are sub-divided into several types: National Secondary School (Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan), Religious Secondary School (Sekolah Menengah Agama), National-Type Secondary School (Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan) (also referred to as Mission Schools), Technical Schools (Sekolah Menengah Teknik), Residential Schools and MARA Junior Science College (Maktab Rendah Sains MARA).
There are also 60 Chinese Independent High Schools in Malaysia, where most subjects are taught in Chinese. Chinese Independent High Schools are monitored and standardised by the United Chinese School Committees' Association of Malaysia (UCSCAM). However, unlike government schools, independent schools are autonomous. It takes six years to complete secondary education in Chinese independent schools. Students will sit a standardised test conducted by UCSCAM, which is known as the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) in Junior Middle 3 (equivalent to PMR) and Senior Middle 3 (equivalent to A level). A number of independent schools conduct classes in Malay and English in addition to Chinese, enabling the students to sit the PMR and SPM additionally.
Tertiary educationBefore the introduction of the matriculation system, students aiming to enter public universities had to complete an additional 18 months of secondary schooling in Form Six and sit the Malaysian Higher School Certificate (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia, STPM); equivalent to the British Advanced or 'A' levels. Since the introduction of the matriculation programme as an alternative to STPM in 1999, students who completed the 12-month programme in matriculation colleges (kolej matrikulasi in Malay) can enrol in local universities. However, in the matriculation system, only 10% of the places are open to non-Bumiputra students while the rest are reserved for Bumiputra students.
There are a number of public universities established in Malaysia. Private universities are also gaining a reputation for international quality education and students from all over the world attend these universities. In addition, four reputable international universities have set up their branch campuses in Malaysia since 1998. A branch campus can be seen as an ‘offshore campus’ of the foreign university, which offers the same courses and awards as the main campus. Both local and international students can acquire these identical foreign qualifications in Malaysia at a lower fee. The foreign university branch campuses in Malaysia are: Monash University Malaysia Campus, Curtin University of Technology Sarawak Campus, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus and University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.
Students also have the option of enrolling in private tertiary institutions after secondary studies. Most institutions have educational links with overseas universities especially in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, allowing students to spend a portion of their course duration abroad as well as getting overseas qualifications. One such example is SEGi University College which partnered with University of Abertay Dundee.
In addition to the Malaysian National Curriculum, Malaysia has many international schools. These schools mainly cater to the growing expatriate population in the country.
HealthcareThe Malaysian government places importance on the expansion and development of health care, putting 5% of the government social sector development budget into public health care—an increase of more than 47% over the previous figure. This has meant an overall increase of more than RM 2 billion. With a rising and aging population, the Government wishes to improve in many areas including the refurbishment of existing hospitals, building and equipping new hospitals, expansion of the number of polyclinics, and improvements in training and expansion of telehealth. Over the last couple of years, the Malaysian Health Ministry has increased its efforts to overhaul the system and attract more foreign investment.
The country generally has an efficient and widespread system of health care. It implements a universal healthcare system, which co-exists with the private healthcare system. Infant mortality rate – a standard in determining the overall efficiency of healthcare – in 2005 was 10, comparing favourably with the United States and western Europe. Life expectancy at birth in 2005 was 74 years.
The Malaysian health care system requires doctors to perform a compulsory three years service with public hospitals to ensure that the manpower in these hospitals is maintained. Recently foreign doctors have also been encouraged to take up employment in Malaysia. There is still, however, a significant shortage in the medical workforce, especially of highly trained specialists; thus, certain medical care and treatment are available only in large cities. Recent efforts to bring many facilities to other towns have been hampered by lack of expertise to run the available equipment.
The majority of private hospitals are in urban areas and, unlike many of the public hospitals, are equipped with the latest diagnostic and imaging facilities. Private hospitals have not generally been seen as an ideal investment—it has often taken up to ten years before companies have seen any profits. However, the situation has now changed and companies are now exploring this area again, corresponding with the increased number of foreigners entering Malaysia for medical care and the recent government focus on developing the health tourism industry.
CitizenshipMost Malaysians are granted citizenship by lex soli.Citizenship in the states of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo are distinct from citizenship in Peninsular Malaysia for immigration purposes. Every citizen is issued a biometric smart chip identity card, known as MyKad, at the age of 12, and must carry the card at all times.
Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual society. Figures from 2007 show the population consisting of 62% Bumiputeras (including indigenous people), 24% Chinese, 8% Indians, with other minorities along with foreigners (mostly semi-skilled workers). Ethnic tensions have been evident in recent months in parallel with the rising temperature of the political scenario in the country.
The Malays, who form the largest community, play a dominant role politically and are included in a grouping identified as bumiputra. Their native language is Malay (Bahasa Malaysia), which is the national language of the country. Malays of Minang, Bugis or Javanese origin may additionally speak their ancestral tongue. However, English is also widely spoken in major towns and cities across the country.
In the past, Malays wrote in Pallava or using the Sanskrit-based alphabet of Kawi. Indian Muslims later introduced Jawi, an Arabic-based script, which became popular after the 15th century. Until then reading and writing were mostly the preserve of scholars and nobility, while most Malay commoners were illiterate. Jawi was taught along with Islam, allowing the script to spread through all social classes. Nevertheless, Kawi remained in use by the upper-class well into the 15th century. The Romanised script was introduced during the colonial period and, over time, it came to replace both Sanskrit and Jawi. This was largely due to the influence of the European education system, wherein children were taught the English alphabet as it was perceived to be easier to learn.
Whilst Malays are defined by the constitution as Muslim, Malay culture shows strong influences from Hinduism, Buddhism and animism. Since the Islamisation movement of the 1980s and 90s, these aspects are often neglected or banned altogether. Because any Malay-speaking Muslim is entitled to bumiputra privileges, many non-Malay Muslims have adopted the Malay language, customs and attire in the last few decades. This is particularly the case with Indian Muslims from the peninsula and the Kadayan of Borneo.
The largest indigenous tribe is the Iban of Sarawak, who number over 600,000. Some Iban still live in traditional long houses along the Rajang and Lupar rivers and their tributaries, although many have moved to the cities. The Bidayuhs, numbering around 170,000, are concentrated in the southwestern part of Sarawak. The largest indigenous tribe in Sabah is the Kadazan. They are largely Christian subsistence farmers. The 140,000 Orang Asli, or aboriginal peoples, comprise a number of different ethnic communities living in peninsular Malaysia. Many tribes, both on the peninsula and in Borneo, were traditionally nomadic or semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, including the Punan, Penan and Senoi. However, their ancestral land and hunting grounds are commonly reclaimed by the state, usually forcing the tribes to sedentarise and settle in longhouses or modern bungalows.
The Chinese community in Malaysia speak a variety of Chinese dialects including Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, and Teochew. A large majority of Chinese in Malaysia, especially those from the larger cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Ipoh, Klang and Penang speak decent English as well. There has also been an increasing number of the present generation Chinese who consider English as their first language. The Chinese have historically been dominant in the Malaysian business and commerce community.
The Indians in Malaysia are mainly Tamils from southern India whose native language is Tamil. There are also other Indian communities which are Telugu-, Malayalam- or Hindi-speaking, living mainly in the larger towns on the west coast of the peninsula. Many middle to upper middle class Indians in Malaysia speak English as a first language. A Tamil Muslim community of 200,000 also thrives as an independent subcultural group. Most Indians originally migrated from India as traders, teachers or other skilled workers. A large number were also part of the migrations from India forced by the British during colonial times, to work in the plantation industry.Punjabis were originally brought in as police, guards and soldiers.
A small number of Eurasians, of mixed Portuguese and Malay descent, speak a Portuguese-based creole, called Papiá Kristang. There are also Eurasians of mixed Filipino and Spanish descent, mostly in Sabah. Descended from immigrants from the Philippines, some speak Chavacano, the only Spanish-based creole language in Asia.
Of the remaining minorities, Malaysian Siamese, Khmers, Chams and Burmese live mostly in the northern peninsular states of Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Kelantan and Terengganu. Along with the Malays, they were historically paddy or dry rice farmers. In addition to speaking their mother tongue and the national language, most are fluent in a northern dialect of Malay. Some of the younger generation living in urban areas have taken to learning Hokkien, especially in the Chinese majority state of Penang.
Traditional Malay music and performing arts appear to have originated in the Kelantan-Pattani region with influences from India, China, Thailand and Indonesia. The music is based largely around the gendang (drum), but includes other percussion instruments (some made of shells): the rebab (a bowed string instrument), the serunai (a double-reed oboe-like instrument), the seruling (flute), and trumpets. The country has a strong tradition of dance and dance dramas. Most of the older Malayan-Thai performing arts have declined in popularity due to their Hindu-Buddhist origin, most notably mak yong. Since the Islamisation period, the arts and tourism ministry have focused on newer dances of Portuguese, Middle Eastern, or Mughal origin. In recent years, dikir barat has grown in popularity, and the government has begun to promote it as a national cultural icon.
Malaysia shares some forms of art with neighbouring Indonesia, including wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), silat (a stylised martial art), craft techniques such as weaving and metallurgy.
LanguagesThe Malay language is the official national language of Malaysia. English was, for a protracted period, the de facto, administrative language of Malaysia, though its status was rescinded later. Despite that, the English language remains an important second language regnant among the urban population and hence the upper echelon of society. Malaysian English is a form of English used and spoken in Malaysia. Another form of English, known as Manglish or Street English, a portmanteau of the word Malay and English is also widely spoken. Tamil is widespread within the Indian community, while the Chinese Malaysians speak a total of more than six dialects alongside Mandarin. The Dayaks who constitute the majority population of Malaysian Borneo have their own distinctive languages, Iban and Kadazandusun. This diversity of languages is reflective of Malaysia's plurality.
Malaysians observe a number of holidays and festivities throughout the year. Some holidays are federally gazetted public holidays and some are public holidays observed by individual states. Other festivals are observed by particular ethnic or religion groups, but are not public holidays.
The most celebrated holiday is the "Hari Kebangsaan" (Independence Day), otherwise known as "Merdeka" (Freedom), on 31 August commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaya in 1957, while Malaysia Day is only celebrated in the state of Sabah on 16 September to commemorate the formation of Malaysia in 1963. Hari Merdeka, as well as Labour Day (1 May), the King's birthday (first Saturday of June) and some other festivals are public holidays.
Muslims in Malaysia celebrate Muslim holidays. The most celebrated festival, Hari Raya Puasa (also called Hari Raya Aidilfitri) is the Malay translation of Eid al-Fitr. It is generally a festival honoured by the Muslims worldwide marking the end of Ramadan, the fasting month. The sight of the new moon determines the end of Ramadan. This determines the new month, therefore the end of the fasting month. In addition to Hari Raya Puasa, they also celebrate Hari Raya Haji (also called Hari Raya Aidiladha, the translation of Eid ul-Adha), Awal Muharram (Islamic New Year) and Maulidur Rasul (Birthday of the Prophet).
Malaysian Chinese typically celebrate the same festivals observed by Chinese around the world. Chinese New Year is the most celebrated among the festivals, lasting for fifteen days and ending with Chap Goh Mei (十五瞑). The Vietnamese new year, or Tết, falls on the same day. Other festivals celebrated by Chinese are the Qingming Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Malaysian Buddhists celebrate Vesak or Wesak, the day of Buddha's birth.
Hindus in Malaysia celebrate Diwali/Deepavali, the festival of light, while Thaipusam is a celebration in which pilgrims from all over the country flock to Batu Caves.
Punjabi Malaysians celebrate the Sikh new year or Baisakhi. Because it falls during the month of Vaisakh, the occasion is more commonly known as the Vaisakhi festival. Other Indian and Indochinese communities observe their new year celebrations at around the same time, such as Pohela Boishakh of the Bengalis and Songkran (water festival) of the Thais. Thai Malaysians in the northern states also celebrate Loy Kratong.
Malaysia's Christian community celebrates most of the holidays observed by Christians elsewhere, most notably Christmas and Easter. Good Friday, however, is only a public holiday in the two Bornean states. East Malaysians also celebrate the harvest festivals of Gawai in Sarawak and Kaamatan in Sabah.
Despite most of the festivals being identified with a particular ethnic or religious group, all Malaysians celebrate the festivities together, regardless of their background. The term Kongsi Raya (which means "sharing the celebration" in Malay) was coined for years when Hari Raya Puasa and Chinese New Year because of the similarity between the word kongsi and the Chinese New Year greeting of Gong xi fa cai. Similarly, the portmanteau Deepa Raya was coined when Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali coincided.