Featured article
11 September 2020

Celebrating Our Unique Malaysia

Malaysia is undeniably a melting pot of races, religions, and cultures. Home to Malays, Indians, Chinese, and many other ethnic groups, Malaysia is your one-stop for a unique multicultural travel experience as you travel between states. 

But, aside from our three main races, how many of us really understand and appreciate living in a multicultural country where each ethnic group makes up the uniqueness of Malaysia?

Here are 3 reasons to celebrate the diversity of Malaysian cultures.

1. We’re the Epitome of a Multilingual Nation

Aside from the English language, Bahasa Malaysia, and our respective mother tongue, many other variations of different languages have developed based on the different ethnic groups in Malaysia. This variation comes about due to the historical influences of the particular group. Though most of us would understand the rojak language we use daily, there are some languages that go unnoticed.

For instance, the Chetti Melaka community speaks Chetti Creole which is a combination of Malay, Tamil, and Chinese! During the reign of the Melaka Sultanate, many Tamil traders, who settled in Melaka, married local women of Malay and Chinese descent. Thus, giving birth to the Chitty also known as ‘The Indian Peranakans’.

Did You Know?

With less than 500 individuals who identify themselves as Chittis, many people are unaware of this culture that may disappear soon.

The Portuguese in Malaysia also have their own language — Portuguese. Now before you start rolling your eyes, the language spoken by Malaysian Portuguese is actually a variation of the language brought by the Portuguese that came way back in 1511. Papia Kristang, aka Kristang, is a creole language, passed down through generations, that has many local influences like the Malay, Hokkien, and Tamil language.

Did You Know?

Kristang is listed in UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

2. We’ll Bring You on a Gastronomical Adventure

When you have so many different ethnic groups in an area, there is no escape from having your traditions influenced by these other cultures. Food is no exception to this influence. With heavy influences from countries due to its geographical position or colonisation influence, the different styles of cooking varies from state to state even if it’s from the same ethnic group, making Malaysian both complex and diverse.

For instance, the Peranakan (or more commonly known as Nyonya), food is famous both in Penang and Melaka. However, due to geographical locations where Penang is closer to Thailand, the Peranakan food has more tangy and sour notes to its food compared to Melaka, which is sweeter and richer, due to its location being closer to Indonesia. 

In Sabah and Sarawak, aside from being influenced by different neighbouring countries, like Brunei and Indonesia, traditions from different ethnic groups within Malaysia have also diversified the cuisine there. In different parts of Sabah and Sarawak, you’d be able to get food cooked in bamboo, like Sarawak’s Manok Pansoh, which are traditionally done by the Ibans, Bidayuh, and Orang Ulu tribes, and even Sago worms or Butod, both available local delicacies of the Sabah’s Kadazan-dusun and Sarawak’s Melanau tribes.

Did You Know?

The Kadazan-dusun, that makes up Sabah’s largest ethnic group, is the unification of two indigenous tribes as a result of their similarities. It’s said that many of Sabah’s early inhabitants settled in the coastal areas but were forced to go inland because of other settlers. It’s believed that these people are today’s Kadazan-dusun.

3. We Work Hard and Party Hard Together

With many cultures comes great traditions, festivities, and celebrations. Whether it’s hanging out in the mall and enjoying the festive cheer, visiting friends who actually celebrate the particular festival, or even watching the different parades and shows on television, Malaysians are guaranteed to celebrate any occasion there is, regardless of whether we celebrate the season.

Even though many youths opt to move into urban areas, their traditions still live on. In Sabah, for instance, many Kadazan-dusun people head back to celebrate the Harvest Festival, or Kaamatan, to honour the Rice Spirit for a bountiful harvest. One of the main events is the Unduk Ngadau — a harvest festival beauty pageant. The pageant is held to honour the spirit of Huminodun, a beautiful mythological character who exchanged her life so that the community would have a bountiful harvest.

Similar to the Kadazan-dusun and their Unduk Ngadau, the Bajau Laut or Sea Gypsies, celebrate the Regatta Lepa annually where they pay homage to the unique nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors. There’d be many competitions including one where they pick the most beautifully decorated lepa (which means family) boat — bringing a whole new meaning to the term ‘showboating’.

On the other hand, the Bajau communities on the West Coast are known as the ‘cowboys of the west’  because of their expertise in riding, you guessed it, horses. You’ll get to see these Bajau ‘cowboys’ horse racing in colourful costumes, along with others from different ethnic groups, during the annual event, Tamu Besar.

At the end of the day, no matter how many different cultures, races, and religions, we’re all united by being Malaysians living together in this wonderfully diverse country. It’s time to make your Malaysia Day special by going out, experiencing, and really getting to know the different cultures, traditions, practices, and people that make up our nation. 


Happy Malaysia Day!

Ailyn Low