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Cultures have been meeting and mixing,people in communities accommodating and blending with each other in Malaysia since the very beginning of its history. More than fifteen hundred years ago, a Malay kingdom in Bujang Valley also known as Lembah Bujang welcomed traders from China and India. With the arrival of these traders,they also brought in with them gold and silks to trade.Nonetheless,the learning and practice of religion such as Buddhism and Hinduism came into Malaysia through traders as well.
A thousand years later, Arab traders arrived in Malacca and brought with them the principles and practices of Islam. By the time the Portuguese arrived in Malaysia, the empire that they encountered was more cosmopolitan and urbane compared to their own.
Malaysia's cultural mosaic is marked by many different cultures, but several in particular have had especially lasting influence on the country. The leader is the ancient Malay culture, followed by the cultures of Malaysia's two most prominent trading partners throughout history--the Chinese, and the Indians. These three groups are joined by a dizzying array of indigenous tribes, many of which live in the forests and coastal areas of Borneo. Although each of these cultures has vigorously maintained its traditions and community structures, they have also blended together to create contemporary Malaysia's uniquely diverse heritage.
One example of the complexity with which Malaysia's immigrant populations have contributed to the nation's culture as a whole is the history of Chinese immigrants. The first Chinese to settle in the straits, primarily in and around Malacca, gradually adopted elements of Malaysian culture and intermarried with the Malaysian community. Known as babas and nyonyas, they eventually produced a synthetic set of practices, beliefs, and arts, combining Malay and Chinese traditions in such a way as to create a new culture. Later Chinese, coming to exploit the tin and rubber industry, have preserved their culture much more meticulously. A city like Penang, for example, can often give one the impression of being in China rather than in Malaysia.
Another example of Malaysia's extraordinary cultural exchange is the Malay wedding ceremony, which incorporates elements of the Hindu traditions of southern India; the bride and groom dress in gorgeous brocades, sit in state, and feed each other yellow rice with hands painted with henna. Muslims have adapted the Chinese custom of giving little red packets of money (ang pau) at festivals to their own needs; the packets given on Muslim holidays known as hari raya Aidil Fitri, similar to the angpau except that it is in green colour, with Jawi or Arabic scripts printed on them.During the old days,in the kampungs,you can usually find Malay families,doing odd jobs or rubber tapping,while the Indians used to reside in the rubber estates.Chinese can be found in small little town operating their own small kopitiam businesses or working in mines.However,nowdays in cities like Kuala Lumpur, you'll find everyone in a grand melange. In one house, a Chinese opera will be playing on the radio; in another they're preparing for Muslim prayers; in the next, the daughter of the household preparing herself for classical Indian dance lessons.A muti-racial,multi-cultural country indeed.
Perhaps the easiest way to begin to understand the highly complex cultural interaction in Malaysia is to look at the open door policy maintained during religious festivals. Although Malaysia's different cultural traditions are frequently maintained by seemingly self-contained ethnic communities, all of Malaysia's communities open their doors to members of other cultures during a religious festival--to tourists as well as neighbours. Such inclusiveness is more than just a way to break down cultural barriers and foster understandings. It is a positive celebration of a tradition of tolerance that has for millennia formed the basis of Malaysia's progress.