Main article: Culture of Malaysia

A cook making Murtabak, a type of pancake, in an outdoor stall. He is pictured leaning over his custom-made flattened wok filled with pieces of murtabak.

A cook making murtabak, a type of pancake mixed with eggs, small pieces of meat and onions, in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia has a multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multilingual society. The original culture of the area stemmed from indigenous tribes that inhabited it, along with the Malays who later moved there. Substantial influence exists from Chineseand Indian culture, dating back to when foreign trade began. Other cultural influences include the PersianArabic, and British cultures. Due to the structure of the government, coupled with the social contract theory, there has been minimal cultural assimilation of ethnic minorities.[241]

In 1971, the government created a “National Cultural Policy”, defining Malaysian culture. It stated that Malaysian culture must be based on the culture of the indigenous peoples of Malaysia, that it may incorporate suitable elements from other cultures, and that Islam must play a part in it.[242] It also promoted the Malay language above others.[243] This government intervention into culture has caused resentment among non-Malays who feel their cultural freedom was lessened. Both Chinese and Indian associations have submitted memorandums to the government, accusing it of formulating an undemocratic culture policy.[242]

Some cultural disputes exist between Malaysia and neighbouring countries, notably Indonesia. The two countries have a similar cultural heritage, sharing many traditions and items. However, disputes have arisen over things ranging from culinary dishes to Malaysia’s national anthem. Strong feelings exist in Indonesia about protecting their national heritage.[244] The Malaysian government and the Indonesian government have met to defuse some of the tensions resulting from the overlaps in culture.[245] Feelings are not as strong in Malaysia, where most recognise that many cultural values are shared.[244]

Fine arts

See also: Music of Malaysia and Malaysian literature

Making Malaysian batik

A batik craftsman making batik.Malaysian batik is usually patterned with floral motifs with light colouring.

Traditional Malaysian art was mainly centred on the areas of carving, weaving, and silversmithing.[246] Traditional art ranges from handwoven baskets from rural areas to the silverwork of the Malay courts. Common artworks included ornamental krisbeetle nut sets, and woven batik and songket fabrics. Indigenous East Malaysians are known for their wooden masks.[127] Each ethnic group have distinct performing arts, with little overlap between them. However, Malay art does show some North Indian influence due to the historical influence of India.[247]

Traditional Malay music and performing arts appear to have originated in theKelantanPattani region with influences from India, China, Thailand and Indonesia. The music is based around percussion instruments,[247] the most important of which is the gendang (drum). There are at least 14 types of traditional drums.[248] Drums and other traditional percussion instruments and are often made from natural materials.[248] Music is traditionally used for storytelling, celebrating life-cycle events, and occasions such as a harvest.[247]It was once used as a form of long-distance communication.[248] In East Malaysia, gong-based musical ensembles such as agung and kulintang are commonly used in ceremonies such as funerals and weddings.[249] These ensembles are also common in neighbouring regions such as in Mindanao in the Philippines, Kalimantan in Indonesia, and Brunei.[249]

A Malaysian wau

Wau bulan, originated from Kelantan, is one of Malaysia’s fine arts.[250]

Malaysia has a strong oral tradition that has existed since before the arrival of writing, and continues today. Each of the Malay Sultanates created their own literary tradition, influenced by pre-existing oral stories and by the stories that came with Islam.[251] The first Malay literature was in the Arabic script. The earliest known Malay writing is on the Terengganu stone, made in 1303.[127]Chinese and Indian literature became common as the numbers of speakers increased in Malaysia, and locally produced works based in languages from those areas began to be produced in the 19th century.[251] English has also become a common literary language.[127] In 1971, the government took the step of defining the literature of different languages. Literature written in Malay was called “the national literature of Malaysia”, literature in other bumiputeralanguages was called “regional literature”, while literature in other languages was called “sectional literature”.[243] Malay poetry is highly developed, and uses many forms. The Hikayat form is popular, and the pantun has spread from Malay to other languages.[251]


Main article: Malaysian cuisine

A glass of Teh tarik

Teh tarik.

Nasi lemak in a plate

Nasi lemak.

The national drink and national dish of the country.[252][253]

Malaysia’s cuisine reflects the multi-ethnic makeup of its population.[254] Many cultures from within the country and from surrounding regions have greatly influenced the cuisine. Much of the influence comes from the Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Javanese, and Sumatran cultures,[127] largely due to the country being part of the ancient spice route.[255] The cuisine is very similar to that of Singapore and Brunei,[150] and also bears resemblance to Filipino cuisine.[127]The different states have varied dishes,[150] and often the food in Malaysia is different from the original dishes.[202]

Sometimes food not found in its original culture is assimilated into another; for example, Chinese restaurants in Malaysia often serve Malay dishes.[256] Food from one culture is sometimes also cooked using styles taken from another culture,[150] For example, sambal belacan (shrimp paste) are commonly used as ingredients by Chinese restaurants to create the stir fried water spinach(kangkung belacan).[257] This means that although much of Malaysian food can be traced back to a certain culture, they have their own identity.[255] Rice is popular in many dishes. Chili is commonly found in local cuisine, although this does not necessarily make them spicy.[254]


Main article: Media of Malaysia

Malaysia’s main newspapers are owned by the government and political parties in the ruling coalition,[258][259] although some major opposition parties also have their own, which are openly sold alongside regular newspapers. A divide exists between the media in the two halves of the country. Peninsular-based media gives low priority to news from the East, and often treats the eastern states as colonies of the Peninsula.[260] The media have been blamed for increasing tension between Indonesia and Malaysia, and giving Malaysians a bad image of Indonesians.[261] The country has Malay, English, Chinese, and Tamildailies.[260]

Freedom of the press is limited, with numerous restrictions on publishing rights and information dissemination.[262] The government has previously tried to crack down on opposition papers before elections.[259] In 2007, a government agency issued a directive to all private television and radio stations to refrain from broadcasting speeches made by opposition leaders,[263] a move condemned by politicians from the opposition Democratic Action Party.[264]Sabah, where all tabloids but one are independent of government control, has the freest press in Malaysia.[260] Laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act have also been cited as curtailing freedom of expression.[265]

Holidays and festivals

Main article: Public holidays in Malaysia

Temple at night illuminated with light from decorations

Southeast Asia’s largest Buddhist templeKek Lok Si in Penang—illuminated in preparation for theLunar New Year.

Malaysians observe a number of holidays and festivities throughout the year. Some are federally gazetted public holidays and some are observed by individual states. Other festivals are observed by particular ethnic or religion groups, and the main holiday of each major group has been declared a public holiday. The most observed national holiday is Hari Merdeka (Independence Day) on 31 August, commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaya in 1957.[127] Malaysia Day on 16 September commemorates federation in 1963.[266] Other notable national holidays are Labour Day (1 May) and the King’s birthday (first week of June).[127]

Muslim holidays are prominent as Islam is the state religion; Hari Raya Puasa(also called Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Malay for Eid al-Fitr), Hari Raya Haji (also calledHari Raya Aidiladha, Malay for Eid ul-Adha), Maulidur Rasul (birthday of the Prophet), and others being observed.[127] Malaysian Chinese celebrate festivals such as Chinese New Year and others relating to traditional Chinese beliefs. Hindus in Malaysia celebrate Deepavali, the festival of lights,[221] whileThaipusam is a religious rite which sees pilgrims from all over the country converge at the Batu Caves.[267] Malaysia’s Christian community celebrates most of the holidays observed by Christians elsewhere, most notably Christmas and Easter. East Malaysians also celebrate a harvest festival known asGawai,[268] and another one known as Kaamatan.[269] Despite most festivals being identified with a particular ethnic or religious group, celebrations are universal. In a custom known as “open house” Malaysians participate in the celebrations of others, often visiting the houses of those who identify with the festival.[190]


Main article: Sport in Malaysia

A woman and a man in black outfits with red belts practising the martial art of Silat Melayu

Traditional sports such as the martial art style Silat Melayu persist alongside modern sports.

Popular sports in Malaysia include footballbadmintonfield hockeybowls,tennissquashmartial artshorse ridingsailing, and skate boarding.[190]Football is the most popular sport in Malaysia and the country is currently studying the possibility of bidding as a joint host for 2034 FIFA World Cup.[270][271] Badminton matches attract thousands of spectators, and since 1948 Malaysia has been one of four countries to hold the Thomas Cup, the world team championship trophy of men’s badminton.[272] The Malaysian Lawn Bowls Federation was registered in 1997.[273] Squash was brought to the country by members of the British army, with the first competition being held in 1939.[274] The Squash Racquets Association Of Malaysia was created on 25 June 1972.[275] Malaysia has proposed a Southeast Asian football league.[276]The men’s national field hockey team ranked 13th in the world as of December 2015.[277] The 3rd Hockey World Cup was hosted at Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, as well as the 10th cup.[278] The country also has its own Formula Onetrack–the Sepang International Circuit. It runs for 310.408 kilometres (192.88 mi), and held its first Grand Prix in 1999.[279] Traditional sports includeSilat Melayu, the most common style of martial arts practised by ethnic Malaysin Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore.[280]

The Federation of Malaya Olympic Council was formed in 1953, and received recognition by the IOC in 1954. It first participated in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. The council was renamed the Olympic Council of Malaysia in 1964, and has participated in all but one Olympic games since its inception. The largest number of athletes ever sent to the Olympics was 57 to the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.[281] Malaysian athletes have won a total of six Olympic medals, five in Badminton, one in Platform diving.[282] The country has competed at the Commonwealth Games since 1950 as Malaya, and 1966 as Malaysia, and the games were hosted in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.[283][284] The most common martial arts are Silat Melayu and kickboxing or tomoi.