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Malaysian Malays

Malaysian Malays

PRONUNCIATION: muh-LAY-zhun MAY-layz
LOCATION: Malaysia
POPULATION: 12,893,600 (2004)
LANGUAGE: Malay; Chinese; Tamil and other Indian languages; tribal languages; English
RELIGION: Islam

INTRODUCTION

Malay is a self referent term used by the people of the Malay Archipelago who have occupied the region since Prehistoric era. They are comprised of various ethnic, linguistic, and cultural variations, but all are speakers of the Austronesian group of languages. In Malaysia today, the term Malay is defined by the federal constitution to specify one who is Muslim and practicing Malay culture. The Malay comprise the largest group of indigenous peoples (bumiputera) and constitute 53% of the country's population. Although a homogenous group, differences exist between Malay subgroups in terms of territorial location, adat (customary) practices, lineage, and the kinship system. Examples of these subgroups are the Javanese, Bugis, Minangkabau, and several other groups who are descendants of interisland migrants of the Malay Archipelago who have settled in the peninsula since the early Malay kingdom.

One of the Malays' foremost successes in the early years in Malaya was the founding of Malacca Sultanate. It thrived in the 15th century as a popular trading port where traders from East (China) and West (India, Middle East, and Europe) met to trade commodities such as spices. Unfortunately, in 1511 Malacca was conquered by the Portuguese. It was then taken over by the Dutch in 1641, and in 1811 it was handed over to the British. The British, from Malacca, gradually expanded their influence to the rest of Malaya. By 1919 the entire Malay Peninsula had been brought under the British administrative system. They eventually occupied Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo by the late 19th century.

The 11 Malay states in the Malay Peninsula only gained independence from the British on 31 August, 1957. In 1963, the Malay Peninsula joined Singapore and Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo Island to form the Federation of Malaysia. However, Singapore left the federation two years later. Currently, Malaysia is made up of 12 states and a federal territory. Sultans rule nine of the states, and three are ruled by governors. While each state government is headed by a chief minister and the state Cabinet members, the Malaysian government is headed by the prime minister and his Cabinet ministers. Malaysia practices a constitutional monarchy similar to what is practiced in England. Unlike in Britain, however, the king is chosen as the head of state by nine Sultans once every five years. Elections are also called every five years to elect members of the parliament, which include the prime minister and his Cabinet ministers; and the state assemblies, which include the chief minister and the state Cabinet. Usually the leader of the victorious party in an election becomes the prime minister or the chief minister. Malaysia has been ruled continuously since independence by a coalition of political parties—the National Fronts—representing various ethnic groups. This coalition includes the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), representing the Malays; the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), representing the Chinese; and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), representing the Indians; along with a few other political parties representing other ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak. The Malays, making up about 53% of the country's population, have the most representatives in the parliament and state assemblies. Other than the Communist insurgency in 1948 through 1960, and the communal riot between the Chinese and the Malays on 13 May, 1969, Malaysia has been a calm and peaceful country.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

Malaysia consists of Peninsular Malaysia, which includes the states of Penang, Perlis, Kedah, Pahang, Kelantan, Terengganu, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, and Johor; the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan; and Sabah and Sarawak, which are situated on the island of Borneo. Malaysia has a land area of 329,758 sq km (127,320 sq mi), making it slightly larger than the U.S. State of New Mexico. More than half of its land area is covered with tropical rain forests. Unfortunately, large areas of these rain forests are being depleted by logging. Malaysia's climate is monsoon tropical with an average annual rainfall of about 240 cm (95 in). It is warm, sunny and humid throughout the year with temperatures ranging from 23° to 31°c (73° to 88°f).

The Malays are found in all 13 states of Malaysia. While most Malays live in traditional villages, an increasing number of them have moved to cities, especially since 1970. Malaysia is a multiracial country with a population of over 25 million people in 2004. Its multiethnic society consists of more than 70 ethnic groups. In Peninsular Malaysia there are four main groups: Malays, Chinese, Indians, and Orang Asli. Others include Eurasians, Chinese Peranakan, Chitties, Nepalese, and Sino-natives. In Sarawak, besides the Chinese and Malays, there are Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, and the Orang Ulu groups, which include the Kelabit, Lun Bawang, Kayan, Kenyah, Kajang, Bisaya, Penan, Sekapan, Lahanan, Punan Bah, Seping, Bemali, Beketan, Berawan, Buket, Lisum, Punan Busang, Saban, Sihan, Tabun, Tring, Tagal, Tanjong, Kanowit, and Tatau. In Sabah there are Bajau, Murut, Suluk, Iranum, Tidong, Bela-bak, Bonggi, Kagayan, Ubian, Orang Sungai, and many others. Also included in this ethnic diversity in Malaysia are the Cocos Islanders, Thais, Myanmars, Indonesians, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans, and Europeans. The Bumiputera, "sons of the soil" who include Malays and various ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak, make up 58% of the population. The Chinese account for about 30% of the total population and the Indians account for about 10%. Despite their linguistic, religious, and cultural differences, these ethnic groups live in harmony with one another.

Malays12,893,600
Chinese6,074,700
Other Bumiputera2,808,100
Indians1,806,800
Other Malaysians304,400
Non-Malaysian Citizens1,693,800
Total25,581,400

LANGUAGE

The Malays speak Malay, the Malaysian national language. The language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian language family. Since Malay is Malaysia's national language, it is widely understood by the other ethnic groups, though other languages such as Chinese, Tamil and other Indian languages, and numerous tribal languages are spoken widely too. Malay as the first language, and English as the second language, are taught in almost every school throughout Malaysia.

Although the Malay language is widely spoken in Malaysia, dialects vary between the states. Generally, words are pronounced the way they are spelled, thus it is a very easy language to learn. Malay also borrows heavily from Sanskrit, Portuguese, Persian, Arabic, and English.

Malay names are basically Arabic names, since Malays are Muslim. Malay names do not have surnames. Instead, a name consists of the person's given name, followed by bin (son of) or binti (daughter of) and the father's first or full name. For example, Helmy, the son of Ismail Nik Dali, would be Helmy bin Ismail or Helmy bin Ismail Nik Dali. The same principle applies to a woman's name, except that her given name is followed by binti. Some common women's names are Fatimah, Lattifah, Zaiton, Aminah, and Zaleha while some common men's names are Ahmad, Sulaiman, Jamalludin, Zakaria, and Ismail.

FOLKLORE

Traditionally, the Malays had a number of folk tales and myths, especially those associated with the Hindu belief that was prevalent before the coming of Islam in the 16th century. Even as late as the 1970s, some of these folk tales were evident in the Malay Muslim society. However, with Islamic revivalism in the late 1970s and the migration of many Malays to urban areas around the same time, these folk tales and myths were gradually abandoned, since they stand in conflict with Islam.

The Malays regard Hang Tuah from the old Malacca sultanate as their traditional hero. He was noted to be a courageous warrior who fought the Siamese attacks on Malacca, and also a symbol of loyalty. His loyalty to the throne was proved when he killed his best friend, Hang Jebat, who rebelled against his sultan.

Another famous folk tale is about Mahsuri, a princess from the island of Langkawai who was wrongly accused of adultery and was executed. Upon her death, Mahsuri spilled white blood and cursed the whole island for seven generations.

RELIGION

In the past, the Malays, like most other ethnic groups in Malaysia, were animists. They believed in the power of natural order. Trees, rivers, and caves were homes to penunggu (the vital force residing in a particular location) and the existence of se-mangat (the vital force in all living things). To respect these spirits, annual rites were performed during foods were offered to them. Important figures like Shamans, ritual specialists (pawang), and medicine men (bomoh) were the mediators between the spirit world and people. These animistic beliefs and practices have decreased among the Malays, largely because most Malays in Malaysia are now Muslim. This is because the Malaysia Constitution decrees that all Malays are born Muslim. Even though Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, other religions such as Buddism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Confucianism are given freedom to be practiced. Islam's influence on the Malays goes back to the late 15th century when a sultan of Malacca was converted to Islam. Islam at that time was mostly spread by traders from India and the Middle East.

Malays are devout but tolerant Muslims. Most, especially the elderly and those in villages, pray five times a day, fast in the month of Ramadan, and perform the pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims believe in only one God, Allah, and in Muhammad as his last messenger. While the basic beliefs are similar to those of Muslims in the Middle East, some Malay culture and Hindu influence has blended with the practices of Islam in Malaysia.

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Being a multiethnic society, there are various religious and secular holidays celebrated in Malaysia. There are three differentNew Year's celebrations and holidays: Muslim New Year, Christian (Roman) New Year, and the Chinese New Year. The Malaysians celebrate other religious holidays such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Id ul-Fitr) and Aidil Adha (Id ul-Adha) for the Muslims, Wesak Day for Buddhists, Deepavali for Hindus, and Christmas for Christians. Both government and private offices are closed on these days. All Malaysians also celebrate Independence Day, which falls on August 31, during which large-scale parades are held in cities throughout Malaysia.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri is a celebration to mark the end of the fasting month (Ramadan). Its celebration includes a two-day official holiday for all Malaysians. This is a time for joy and happiness after an exhausting month of fasting. It involves a lot of eating and a variety of special foods are prepared for the occasion. This is also a time for family reunions where children who are working in the cities visit their parents. It is also an occasion where relatives, friends, and acquaintances are invited for a visit during the Open House. The Open House is a time and day that is set aside for a person to invite her or his relatives, friends, and acquaintances to the Hari Raya celebration. Special food and drinks are prepared and served to the visitors. Hari Raya Aidilfitri provides an opportunity for Muslims to ask for forgiveness for all wrongs done the previous year.

While Hari Raya Aidilfitri marks the end of the fasting month, Hari Raya Aidil Adha commemorates the pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca and is celebrated the same way as Aidilfitri, albeit on a smaller scale.

RITES OF PASSAGE

There are some important rites of passage in traditional Malay society. After birth, a baby and a mother are in a confinement period (dalam pantang) of 44 days. Two common ceremonies during the infant years are naik buaian, a ceremony to introduce the baby to his or her cradle; bercukur jambul, an event when a seven-day-old boy's head is shaved to "cleanse" him; and bertindik telinga (ear-piercing) for a baby girl.

One very important rite of passage for a Malay male is the circumcision ceremony. It is an elaborate event where relatives and villagers are invited to share the occasion. Circumcisions are performed on boys when they reach puberty between the ages of 7 and 12. Circumcisions are performed on girls when they are still infants, but the event is not as elaborate as that for boys. Traditionally, or even today in the villages, the circumcision was performed with a knife by a mudim, a person who specializes in performing circumcision ceremonies. A boy is carried around his house to the accompaniment of traditional kompang (small drum) music and is then seated on a banana tree trunk where the circumcision is performed. Usually it would take about two to three weeks for the wound to be healed. Unlike the traditional method, circumcisions in urban areas are now performed by physicians in hospitals, and the ceremonies are not as elaborate as those of traditional circumcisions.

Marriage is perhaps the biggest event in a Malay person's life. Although close family friends still arrange marriages, the couple involved must give their full consent. A boy is expected to be married when he reaches the age of 25 to 28, while a girl is a few years younger. Once a couple agrees to get married, a certain amount of preparation has to be done by both families.

In the villages, wedding feasts are usually attended by all the villagers, including friends and relatives. A wedding is usually a two-day affair; on the first day it is held at the bride's home, and the following day at the groom's house. Friends, relatives, and villagers normally help with the preparation. At about noon, the groom and his entourage arrive at the bride's house with a group of kompang musicians. A bersanding ceremony, which is open to the public, is held in which the bridal couple sit on a raised dais (pelamin). Two attendants (equivalent to the bridesmaid and best man) stand next to the bridal couple to attend to their needs. The same ceremony will be held again at night for family members, close friends, and relatives. At this ceremony, the couple receives blessings from their parents and relatives. This is done through the scattering of scented leaves and scented flower petals (bunga rampai) onto the open palms of the bride and groom. A similar feast and ceremony is repeated at the groom's house on the second day. Nowadays among the affluent in Malay society, weddings are held in hotels or large community halls.

Death is a very somber and religious affair in a Malay community. Visitors are expected to show respect to the dead and his or her family by dressing appropriately. The time between a death and the funeral is very minimal, since Islam requires the deceased to be buried as soon as possible. Before burial, the body of the deceased is placed in the center of the living room to give everyone a chance to offer prayers and pay their last respects. The deceased is then wrapped in white cloth and carried to the graveyard to be buried. The normal mourning period is 100 days, although special prayers are held only on the first three nights, on the seventh day, the fortieth day, and on the hundredth day.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

The common Malaysian Malay greeting when meeting friends in public is, "Where are you going?" The answer is, "For a stroll" or "Nowhere of importance." However, many urban Malays greet each other with "How are you?"(Apa khabar?)

Shaking hands is the most common way of greeting among Malays, but with some restrictions. It is not customary for men and women to shake hands with each other. Ideally, a Malay woman can only shake hands with a man if she covers her hand with a cloth. A Malay man normally greets another man with a handshake without grasping the hands. He offers both hands to touch lightly the other man's outstretched hands, then brings his hands to his breast, meaning "I greet you from my heart." This is done with both hands to show respect to older people. A Malay woman may use a similar form when greeting another woman.

While pointing at a place, object, or a person with the right forefinger is considered rude among the Malays, pointing with the thumb of the right hand by folding the four fingers into the palm is considered polite. It is also considered polite to bend over slightly from the waist, extend the right hand in front of you, touch the right wrist with the fingers of the left hand, then say "May I please pass," when crossing in front of another person.

Upon arrival at a Malay home, shoes must be removed before entering, for religious purposes. Shoes are considered "unclean" and may soil the living room floor, making it unsuitable for prayers (Muslims pray on a mat laid out on the floor). When visiting relatives or friends, it is appropriate to bring food or fruit as gifts.

Public displays of affection between people of the opposite sex are discouraged, even between husbands and wives. Th is is particularly true among conservative Malay Muslims. In the villages, one can only visit one's lover's house when the parents are around. Unlike in the villages, Malay dating practices in urban areas are quite similar to those in the United States.

LIVING CONDITIONS

During the 1990s, the standard of living in Malaysia increased tremendously because of an economic boom. Between 1990 and 2002, Malaysia made remarkable progress in eradicating poverty. The number of poor households decreased by 25.6%. This spectacular success was credited to the New Economic Policy (NEP), which aims to reduce the economic gap between different communities in the country and has uplifted the quality of life for all Malaysians. The per capita income increased from rm775 in 1957 to rm7,000 in 1992, and from rm15,819 in 2004 to almost rm22,345 in 2007. Strong economic growth has reduced the unemployment rate to 4%, a figure considered to signify full employment. Malaysia is now rated as an upper-middle-income country. Much of the infrastructure and many of the services found in developed countries are now common in Malaysia, particularly in urban areas.

Historically, the Chinese dominated the urban areas. However, in the 1970s, many Malays migrated from the kampungs (villages) to urban areas, resulting in a better ethnic balance of city residents. In 2000 slightly more than 62% of Malaysia's population lived in urban areas, compared to 51% in 1991 and 34% in 1980. Meanwhile the rural population decreased from 66% of total population in 1980 to 39% in 2000. Both in the urban and rural areas, the kampung is the center of Malay life. It is a tightly knit community united by ties of kinship, marriage, or neighborliness, where consensus, compromise, and traditional values reign supreme.

The Malays in urban areas possess consumer items such as cars, television sets, VCRs, and refrigerators. They have access to good, economical, and well-maintained public transportation, such as express buses, trains, and light-rail transits. Th ey also have access to higher standards of basic amenities such as water supply, sanitation, and electricity in comparison to those who live in the villages. In the villages, some Malays still have to rely on kerosene for light, and wells and rivers for water supply.

FA M I LY LI FE

The Malays regard marriage and raising a family (keluarga) as the most important aspects of life. The familyis an autonomous unit in which the husband-father is the head. The unit promotes responsibility to family, friends, and the community takes precedence over the accumulation of profit and material goods. The average family size of urban Malays is smaller in than that of Malays in rural areas. This is partly because of the nature of professions and occupations, which keep them away from their families. In the past, it was quite common for a couple to have more than six children. Today, the average number of children is four.

In Malaysia, where the welfare system is almost nonexistent except for extreme cases, e.g., extreme poverty or disability, the extended family is still a vital unit of society. Family members are expected to care for each other, particularly those who are poor, sick, and old. Children are expected to look after their parents.

Cats, fish, and sometimes singing birds are reared as pets by Malay families. Dogs are considered "unclean" by Muslims and, therefore, are not usually kept as pets by Malays in Malaysia.

CLOTHING

Traditional Malay dress for men and women is based on a simple rectangle of batik cloth, wrapped and worn as a skirt. However, the style of wrapping is different for men and women. The women wear the skirt with a long blouse, while the men go shirtless but wear a tied headcloth.

Nowadays, since Malays are Muslim, they have a strict dress code. The women's customary dress covers the whole body, except for their face, hands, and feet. They usually dress in the baju kurung, a long-sleeved, loose blouse worn over an ankle-length skirt, and they cover their heads with a scarf as a sign of humility and modesty. A married woman may oftenwear a baju kebaya, a close-fitting lace blouse over an ankle-length skirt. While Malay women wear baju krung or baju kebaya, Malay men wear baju Melayu, long-sleeved shirts over an ankle-length sarong or pants. A Malay man who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca usually wears a white skull-cap, and a woman who has made the pilgrimage wears a white scarf.

Some Malays dress in Western-style clothing. However, they are discouraged from wearing shorts, miniskirts, or strapless or sleeveless tops. This is particularly true for Malay women.

FOOD

Rice is the Malaysians' staple food and is eaten at least once a day. Malays eat rice with fish or meat curry and vegetables cooked in various ways. It is absolutely forbidden for Muslims to eat pork in any form as it is considered unclean. Muslims, for religious reasons, are also prohibited from eating any meat that has not been slaughtered by a Muslim.

Malays usually eat with their fingers. Therefore, hands are always washed before and after meals. This is done by using the kendi, a water vessel that is either put on the table or passed around from person to person. While meals are always eaten with the right fingers, the serving spoons provided for all the dishes can only be used with the left hand. The left hand is also used for passing dishes of food and for holding a glass.

One of the Malays' popular breakfasts is nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk and served with hot and spicy sambal (shrimp or anchovy paste), fish, eggs and vegetables.

EDUCATION

Malaysia has a literacy rate of 92%. It is mandatory for all Malaysians to attend school until the age of 15. Therefore, many Malaysians have gone to school at least up to Form Th ree, which is equivalent to the ninth grade in the United States. Because of greater educational opportunities under New Economic Policy, the number of Malays that have obtained degrees from local and foreign universities has increased over the last 30 years. Many of them were sent on government scholarships and loans to universities in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

Since education is seen as a means to raise a family's reputation, parents always encourage and expect their children to do well in school. They will do whatever is necessary to ensure that their children are able to receive a formal education.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

Traditional Malay music is normally aired during special occasions such as the grand annual festival of Hari Raya, wedding celebrations (bersanding), and makan selamat or kenduri (thanksgiving meal). One of their most popular musical ensembles played during such occasions is the gamelan. It is an instrumental ensemble or orchestra containing drums, xylo-phones, metallophones, tuned gongs, and bamboo flutes. An ensemble can be small or large, and its music can cover a wide range of styles, from slow and stately, to sad and haunting, to lively and cheerful. It is played either as an instrumental ensemble purely for listening, or as an accompaniment to dance.

Traditional Malay dances are sometimes performed on festive occasions, accompanied by the gamelan. These dances are usually ensemble dances for men only, for women only, and for men and women together. This includes dances such as Kuda Kepang (a trance dance), joget (a courtship dance), ghazal (a dance based on Middle Eastern music that is performed by young women for the enjoyment of sultans and other members of the royal houses), and mak yong (a dance-drama performed by actors and actresses in imitation of heroic tales of sultans and princesses of olden times). Unfortunately, traditional dance is something of a dying art among the Malays in Malaysia. Nevertheless, a number of young choreographers have attempted to revive these dances in order to create Malay modern dances.

Unlike most indigenous people in Malaysia, the Malays have a good collection of literature written about their community going back to the 16th century. The oldest of these literatures is Sejarah Melayu (Malay Chronicle), a history of the kingdoms of the Malay Peninsula, with an emphasis on Malacca. Other works include Hikayat HangTuah (Hang Tuah's Life Story) and Hikayat Abdullah (Abdullah's Life Story). These works describe the old Malay society.

WORK

Traditionally, the Malays dominated government and agriculture, while playing a relatively small role in commerce and industry. In the rural areas they were likely to be farmers, tending vegetable farms or small holdings of rubber or oil-palm trees. Others were fishers. Since the late 1970s, however, many Malays have migrated to the cities upon completing high school and college in search of jobs in the manufacturing and service sectors. This is a result of direct government economic policies that aim to encourage Malay involvement in business at various professional levels. Consequently, they are often civil servants, laborers, transport workers, or industrial workers. Many also have risen to the national elite, holding high-level posts in the government and military. Many others are holding posts in institutions and corporations like MARA, PERNAS, PETRONAS and HICOM, which have been set up to establish opportunities for the Malays in employment, business, capital accumulation and corporate participation.

SPORTS

A large number of Malaysian populations regularly take part, as players or spectators, in both Western and traditional Malay sports and games. One of the Malays' popular native games is sepaktkraw, or kickball. It is played with a round ball made of rattan that must be kept in the air as it is kicked around or across a net (like volleyball played with the feet) by a group of players standing in a circle. A point is lost whenever the ball touches the ground.

The most popular spectator sport among Malaysians is soccer, known as football in Malaysia. The country has an annual semiprofessional soccer league, involving a team from each state in Malaysia plus Brunei. This league attracts large crowds for matches in major cities. In addition to that, there are other soccer leagues played at the regional level, and even in the smallest town. It is a common sight everywhere in Malaysia to see youngsters and adults flocking to the soccer fields either to play or to watch a soccer game.

Another popular sport among the Malays is badminton. In fact, badminton is a national passion in Malaysia, where top Malaysian players are usually among the contenders for world badminton championships. Other Western sports such as volleyball, field hockey, basketball, rugby, squash, and cricket are played not only by the Malays, but also by all the other ethnicgroups in Malaysia. These sports are played both for casual recreation and in organized competitions.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

There is a vast difference between the forms of entertainment and recreation in rural and urban areas in Malaysia. The Ma-lays in rural areas still relish the traditional music such as gamelan (musical ensemble), kompang (small drums), serunai (flute) and others; traditional dances; and traditional pastimes such as kite-flying and gasing (spinning tops). Kite-flying is particularly popular among people in coastal villages. Kites are flown mainly as recreation, but sometimes competitions are organized to see who can fly their kites the highest. Spinning tops is a popular pastime, particularly in Kelantan and Trengganu. These tops are made of wood and can spin for hours. The person whose top spins the longest wins.

Unlike rural Malays, in urban areas the Malays watch Western (Hollywood), Hindi, and Chinese movies and theater, besides watching Malay movies that are locally produced. Besides movies and theater, other forms of entertainment and recreation, found in urban areas in the United States can be found in Malaysia's urban areas as well. Malaysia has three basic television channels, which are monitored by the government.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

The Malays of Malaysia have various folk arts and crafts. One of their most exotic folk arts is the wayang kulit, a traditional shadow-puppet show. These puppets are made of water-buffalo hide, stiffened by a central spine of buffalo horn, and they have movable arms manipulated by a dalang, the puppeteer, with thin rods. The puppets are seen only as shadows cast by an oil lamp upon a screen of stretched-cotton cloth. The dalang both recites the narrative of the play, and speaks the parts of each character. The show is usually accompanied by a small gamelan (musical ensemble).

Malays are renowned for their refined and delicate wood-carvings. These artistic carvings can be seen on their fishing boats and house panels and walls. In the past, the Malays were dependent on the sea for their food and livelihood. Boats were built for fishing and for long sea journeys. These boats were decorated and carved with ornamental embellishments not solely for elegance, but also to fulfill the Malays' aesthetic needs and to equip the boats with spiritual power. Traditional Malay houses have rich decorations and carvings, primarily as decorative pieces on doors, windows, and wall panels.

The weaving of kain songket is another fine handicraft made by the Malays. It is made from yarn, formerly silk but now usually cotton, and is woven using a shaft treadle loom made from wood. The loom is about 2.5 m (8 ft) long, and 1.5 m (5 ft) high. The making of kain songket involves seven long and complicated stages. These stages are the preparation of the yarn (spooling), warping process, winding of the warp thread on the warping board, inserting the warp thread through the reed, making string loops for the long wooden rods called heddles, making the songket pattern, and weaving.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Even though Malaysia is a democratic country, it still retains its Internal Security Act (ISA), which provides for detention without trial for individuals deemed detrimental to the harmony of the nation. Therefore, Malaysia has received criticisms

from human-rights activists for its political actions against individuals who were alleged to be a threat to Malaysia's racial and religious harmony. Other than the ISA, Malaysians basic human and civil rights are virtually secured by the constitution. Women are allowed to vote, work, and hold high positions in the professional field.

Since Islam forbids its followers from drinking alcohol, alcoholism is not a major problem among the Malays.

GENDER ISSUES

As in most countries, there are more males than females in Malaysia. There is a ratio of 103 men for 100 women of the total population. There are equal opportunities for education and professional careers for men and women in Malaysia. As a result, there are a number of women who hold high positions in professional fields. Nonetheless, certain aspects of the traditions that govern relations between men and women are still maintained among the Malays. For instance, women must sit apart from the men in the main portion of the mosque, and are not allowed to mix casually with men or to eat with them. Women give deference and respect to their husbands, and love and compassion to their children. On the other hand, a Malay husband plays as much of a role in rearing his children as does his wife.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Craig, JoAnn. Culture Shock: What Not to Do in Malaysia and Singapore, How and Why Not to Do It. Times Books International, 1979.

Hood Salleh, 'Introduction' In Hood Salleh (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, Peoples and Tradtions. Kuala Lumpur: Editions Didier Millet, 2006 (pg. 100 -101).

Husaini, Siti Zaharah Abang Haji. "Kain Songket and Selayah." In Sarawak Cultural Legacy: A Living Tradition, edited by Lucas Chin and Valerie Mashman. Kuching, Malaysia: Society Atelier Sarawak, 1991.

Ibrahim, Odita. "Traditional Malay Woodcarving." In Sarawak Cultural Legacy: A Living Tradition, edited by Lucas Chin and Valerie Mashman. Kuching, Malaysia: Society Atelier Sarawak, 1991.

Major, John S. The Land and People of Malaysia and Brunei. HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

Tan, Raalene. Indian and Malay Etiquette: A Matter of Course. Singapore: Landmark Book Pte Ltd., 1992.

—by P. Bala

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