Malaysia


Figure 1.--Here we see Malay boys wearing tradtional clothes during the British colonial period. This photograph was probably taken in the 1920s. The boys areeating durian fruit. Yhe fruit is unknown in the West, but in Southeast Asia, especially malaysia and Indonesia, is regarded as the 'king of fruits'. It is distinctive for its large size, strong odor, and formidable thorn-covered husk.

Malaysia is a federation of the former British colonies located on the Malsy Peninsula and Borneo. It is thus divided by the South China Sea. Singapore another former British colony on the Malay Peninsula decided to persue an independent future. Malaysia is one of the successful Asian countries referred to as the Asian Tigers. Geography is a major factor in Malysia. The Malsay Peninsula is a giant roadblock impedong East-Erst trade and challeing it into the Straits of Malacca. It is a ethnically diverse country consisting of Malays, Chinese, and Indians. It is allso diverse religiously, with faith communities generally paralleling ethnic communities. It is a country that thanks to the British has important democratic traditions. It is thus a laboratory addressing the question of whether democracy is possible in a Muslim majority country. There is some hope for optimism given both the tradition of Brotish law and the relstive moderate version of Islam practiced in the country.Boys clothing styles differ based on their ethnic backgrond. The Malay community wear what they consider to be modest dress.

Backgroud

Maylasia is a former British colony. The colonial arrangements were somewhat complicated. There was not one centrally organized colony

Geography

Malsaysia is primarily defined by the Malay Peninsula. The bulk of the population is found there and is generaly describes as Peninsular Malaysia. The areas of eastern Borneo which comprise the country are less heavily populated are are described as Insular Malaysia. The large island of Borneo is divided along borders established during the colonial period. In addition to the eastern area controlled by Malaysia, the island is shared with Brunei and Indonesia. The South China Sea separates peninsular Malaysia from East Malaysia on Borneo.

History

From prehistoric times, geography has played a key role in Malaysian history. Geography ditected the first wave of humans out of Africa following the coast of southern Asia down the Malasian Peninsula. These were same people that migrrated on to New Guinea and Australia and are the ancestors of modern Australian aboriginees. Traves of these original people were subsequently wiped out by a larger wave out of Africa which moved into the Middle East and Central Asia before populating China and Southeast Asia. The country's recorded history begins with tomb stones found in Bujang Valley and Merbok Valley in the state of Kedah (1st century BC). Geography has fashioned Malaysia as a maritime crossroad between East and West introducing cultural and religious ideas. Hindu influences reached Malaysia from India and Buddhist influences from China. Islamic inqfluence reached Malaysia during the Melaka Sultanate spread by traders from both the Middle East and India (15th century). The Sultan of Melaka adopted Islam and played an important role in spreading the religion. The Sultanate also helped expand trade ties with China. The Portuguese also guide by geography were the first Europeans to reach Malaysia. Seeking to dominate the spice trade, the Portuguese attacked the Sultanate (1511). The Portuguese introduced Catholic Christianity. to the locals. The Dutch seized Melaka (1641). The British who through the Industrial Revolution emerged as the dominant world naval power. They began to play an important rfole (late-18th century). The British founded crown colony states which became known as the Straits Settlements. They also interbened in the affairs of the small independent states bon the Peninsula. The British also competed with the Dutch on East Malaysia (Borneo). Sabah was made a British protectorate under the Chartered Company, British North Borneo. The Brooke family came to rule Sarawak as the so-called White Rajah for 100 years. The Japanese after Pearl Harbor landed on the Malay Peninnsula (December 1941). They shocked the world by rapidly moving south against inefectual British resistance and ultimstel seized Singapore which had been considered invulnerable (February 1942). This was important because most of world' rubber supply came from Malaya and rubber was a critical material. Malaya and Singapore remained in Japanese hands until the Japanese surrender to the Americans (August 1945). The British recoccupied Malaya (September 1945), but their colonial role was weakened by the War which gave rise to a nationalist movement. The British defeated a Communist insuregency (1948). The British granted independence to the Malay States of Malaya (1957). Tunku Abdul Rahman became the country's first Prime Minister. Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak joined to form Malaysia (1963). Largely Chinese Singapore seceded and decided to go its own separate and ultimately highly successful way (1965). Independence Malaysia has had five Prime Ministers namely, Tunku Abdul Rahman (known as Father of Independence), Tun Razak (Father of Development), Tun Hussein Onn (Father of Unity), Tun Dr Mahathir (1981- ) has been the the longest serving primeminister. The current primemminister is Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Economy

The Malay Peninsula is a extended road block imdedding occean commerce between east and west. As a result, the Straits of Malacca are a major chokepoint in East-West trade. This was the case well before the Europeans era. Thus piracy from an early time was an important economic activity. The importance of the Malay Peninsula in trade drew Chinese merchants and the need to combat piracy drew the British to Malaya. The British established a major base at Singapore at the tip of the Peninsula and the eastern terminus of the Straits. Once there the British searched for resources to exploit. And they eventually found that the climate was perfect for rubber. British-contolled Malaya became the major world producer of rubber. The strategic importance of Singapore and the rubber are why the Japanese placed Malaya in the Southern Resource Zone (SRC) they sought to conquer during the Pacific War. There were also important mineral resources, including oil and tin. Malaysia at the time of independence (1957) still had an economy largely based on agriculture and the export of raw materials. This gradually began to change after the War and the British defeated the Communist insurgency. At the time Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan were emerging as the Asian Tigers. The growth in Malaysia was not as spectacular as in the other Asian Tigers, but it was still impressive. There are several factors involved in Malaysia's economic success, including free-market capitalism, British legal traditions, moderate Islam permitting democratic rule and communal peace, and valuable natural resources. The economic dynamism of Singapore was another important factor. The Asian Tigers unlike countries like Burma, China, Indonesia, and India were unburned by failed, costly experiments in socialist economics. A major problem faced by Malaysia was that the large Malay population was not only undeucated, but suspious of Western-style secular education--especially for girls. Malsaysia gradually developed a vibrant multi-sector economy. A series of government plans have aided economic growth. The country’s natural resources (agriculture, forestry and mining) helped provide needed funding and investment capital. Geography, especially the Strait of Malacca made ther country an important international shipping crossroad. The developmernt of an important manufacturing sector is particularly notable. Agriculture today involves only a small part of the population. Most Malaysians work in the industry and sevices sectors.

Ethnicity

Malaysia has a diverse ethnic population. Ethnicity is the primary determinent of religion and other cultural matters suh as clothing and fashion. Malaysia is over 50 percent ethnic Malay, almost all Muslim. The Malays are the primary indigenous population. They are also the fastest growing populastion group. Malays dominate the Bumiputras which is a legal term describing the indigenous people. Malaysia is over 50 percent ethnic Malay, almost all Muslim. The Malays are the primary indigenouds population in a legal sence. They are also the fastest growing population group. Malays dominate the Bumiputras which is a legal term describing the indigenous people. Malaysian law theoretically allows a Muslim of any race who practices Malay customs and culture to gain Malay stastus and eligible for Bumiputra rights as stipulated in the country's constitution. While legally Bamiputras, many Malay families are relatively recent arrivals. Other Bamiputras constitute over 10 percent of the population. While a relastively small part of the populatrion, these other Bamiputras are tribal people and thev were the actual indeginenous people of Malaysia, bothe Peninsular and Insulasr areas. They are collectively known as the "Orang Asal". They are about 20 percent of the Bamiputras and 5 percent of the overall population. The Chinese began emigrating before the British colonial era, primarily involved in commerce. They are mostly Christian or Taoist. The separation of Singapore substantially reduced the Chinese population in Malaysia. The ethnic Chinese (mostly Christian or Taoist) come from many different areas of China. They constitute over 25 percent of the population. The Indians (South Asians) arrived during the British colonial period as indentured labor. Thery are mostly Hindu Tamils. They are about 7 percent of the population. There are small populations of other ethnic groups. The populations of the various groups are relatively small.

Regions

Malsaysia has two main components--West Malasia (Peninsular Malaysia) and East Malasia (northwestern Borneo). There are six regions, four in the West on the Peninsula and two in the East on Borneo. West Malaysia is the southern portion of the Malay Peninsula and nearby islands which border Thailand and Singapore. The West consists of a Northern Region (Perlis, Kedah, Penanbg, and Perak), Eastern Region (Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang), Central Region (Selangor, N. Sembilan, and Melaka) and Southern Region (Johor which borders on the island of Singapore). East Malasia is the northeastern portion of Borneo. It shares Borneo with Brunei and with the Kalimantan region of Indonesia. It consists of Sabah and Sarawak. Borneo like New Guinea was divided by colonial poweres, the British in rge west and the Dutch in the east. The Sahah and Sarawak were Islamic Caliphates which became associated with Britain like the Caliphates on the Peninsula.

Religion

Malaysia is also divderse relgiously. Islam is the dominant faith and practiced by about 60 percent of the population. The rest of the population is divided among: Buddhism (20 percent), Christianity (10 percent), and Hindu (5 percent). The division is interesting because of all the Mudslim majority countries. Malaysia is the country where the Muslims are a relatively small majority. In other Muslim majority countries, Muslims are commonly 80 percent or more of tre population. It is also a country that thanks to the British has important democratic traditions. It is thus a laboratory addressing the question of whether democracy is possible in a Muslim majority country. There is some hope for optimism given both the tradition of Brotish law and the relstive moderate version of Islam practiced in the country. If democracy does not work in Malasysia, it is unlikely it will function in ay Muslim country.

Arts

Malay arts are primarily dance and music. We know little about the visual arts or drama. Malay music was primraily a performance genre. What is now seen as traditional Malay music as well as other performance art, primarily dance, appear to have first appeared in the Kelantan-Pattani region (northeastern Malaysia and neighboring southeastern Thailand). This area was in contact to related South China Sea communities. Acadenics note Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Indonesian influences. The music and dance as far as we acn tell is non-Islanic, probably reflecting the generlly less austere version of Islam prevalent in southeast Asia. The music is mostly built on percussion and to a lesser extent string instruments. The most important instrument the gendang (drum). There some 15 types of drums used, often fashioned by the musicians themselves using loclly available natural materials. Besides the drums, there are other percussion instruments, several made with shell. One popular instrument is the rebab (a bowed string instrument). Wind instruments include the serunai (a double-reed oboe-like instrument), the seruling (flute), and trumpets. Music and dance is commonly combined with storytelling, often celebrating a variety of life-cycle events. Several were part of harvest festivals. There are substntil differences between the east and west close, underlying the impotance of maritime commerce and communication. Along the east coast we see links with the other people of the South China Sea, gong-like instruments are used by musical ensemble such as agung and kulintang. They are often seen in important ceremonies like funerals and weddings. Similar ensembles can be seen in neighboring regions with cultural and ethnic afinities like the southern Philippines, Indonesia (Kalimantan), and Brunei. The Malays of of the west coast have substantial ethnic and culturl dfference. Here the Mlays were in contact with the people of Southeast Asia and largely Buddhist and Hindu influences. One intrestig aspect of Mlay artsare the connection with silat, a martial art. We know of no similar link in other cultures. And with Wetrn colonization came Western instruments. Modern Malaysian forms, inclusing popular music as well as contemporary classical music are essentially Western styles with varying Malay elements. P. Ramlee played a key role in creating a modern Malay musical genre that mixed trditional folks songs with Western dance rhythms as well as west Asian music.

Schools

Formal education in Malaysia seems tgo have begun with the arrival of Islam. Sekolah Pondok (hut schools), madrasahs and other Islamic schools are the earlist known schools in Malaysia. The curruculm was basically religious and focused heavuily on menorizing Koranic verses. Secular education bergan with the arrival of the Briyish (19th century). Thedse schools were mostly founded in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Melaka, and Singapore. The oldest English-language school is the Penang Free School (1816). It wasn't until after World War II, however, that the Malaysians began to build a modern public eduvation system. The country's economic success has enabled it to build a fine public school system. An achievement which in turn has been a factor in the country's economic growth. Today the country has reduced iliteracy to low levels and has made ebormous progress in pub;ic education, including the education of girls.

Garments

We have very little information about Malasian boys clothing at this time. Until after World War II, traditional garments were very commonly worn. Hopefully a Malaysian reader will provide some basic information. We do have a page on tights.






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Created: July 27, 2001
Last updated: 6:51 AM 3/15/2017