LESSON 8 MULTIRACIAL SOCIETY 1.0 Introduction In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Malaysia is a country with many ethnic groups. The major races are Malays, Chinese and Indians. Do you know that there are around 60 ethnic groups in Malaysia? Each ethnic group has its own characteristics such as way of life, language, religion, culture and ideologies that make each ethnic group different from one to another. The Malays comprise 54% of the total population, Chinese 26%, Indians 8% and 12% of other indigenous races including those in Sabah and Sarawak. In this topic, you will be exposed to the composition of the country’s population, its historical development and learn the efforts of the government to create unity and stability by considering the ethnic diversity.
2.0 Learning Outcomes
By the end of the lesson, students should be able to:
Discuss the structure and the scenario of the Malaysian society before independence
Identify the factors that that cause differences among races in the country
List of Topics
The Development of Multiracial Society in the Country
The Malays, Chinese, Indians, Indigenous communities of Sabah and Sarawak and the Aborigines
Religion, Beliefs, Culture and Customs of each community
4.0 Terminologies 4.1 Divide and Rule Policy
A policy which is intended to keep someone in a position of power by causing disagreements between people who might otherwise unite against them. The policy implemented the segregation of the three races, Malay, Chinese and Indian; in term of location and economic resources.
An open-air fire lit to burn rubbish or as a celebration.
5.1 The Development of Multiracial Society in the Country
For your information, before the era of colonization up to the early of (19th Century), the Malays constituted 90% of the population in Malaysia and Singapore. There were Chinese who had come as traders and Indians labourers who worked in coffee and sugarcane plantations but their number was very small. However, in the middle of 19th Century, when the British colonized the country, the country had witnessed a huge immigration of Chinese and Indians to the country. This was due to the British government policy of bringing them to work in the economic sector especially in tin mining activities and estates. The immigration of those races continued till the outbreak of World War II. The huge immigration of those races had created a multiracial society and created various lifestyles. It also changed the original population structure in the country. The ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British had caused the identification of races based on economic function. Under the policy, the races were separated into separate location. The Chinese were located in town and involved in trade and tin mines, the Malays were located in rural areas and became farmers, while the Indians were located in estates and worked as labour. The policy had caused a decline of the Malays participation in the main economic activities.
If you want to know more other races that constitute the composition of the multiracial society in this country, you may read Table 8.1 of the master text book from page 140.
The Malays, Chinese, Indians, Indigenous communities of Sabah and Sarawak and the Aborigines
The Malays are the original inhabitant of Malaysia. Their number is greater today due to the immigration of various Malay groups from other countries such as Indonesia. Before the colonization era, the Malays dominated the economic activity that was trade. The trade took place along the main rivers in the Malay states. There were also Malays who engaged in fishing and farming. In general, the Malay economy was based on trade and self-sufficing economy like farming, fishing, livestock and collecting forest produce.
However, their domination in economy declined during the British colonization. Do you know what the reasons of the decline are? The reasons are:
The policy of the British to bring in the Chinese and Indians to work in the economic sector became the main reason of the decline. The mass immigration of those races had altered the economic structure of the Malay community.
The British policy to ensure the Malays remained in self-sufficing economy like farming, fishing and others. The Malays were not encouraged to involve in modern economy. The British also alleged that the Malays were lazy and reluctant to work under supervision of others.
In politics, the Malays are strong in the political sense. The Malays are the prime movers in politic. UMNO and PAS are the main political parties that represent the Malays. However, both parties are rivals to each other.
In economy, the Malays are weak. Many of them are still under poverty rate. However, the poverty among the Malays is connected to the British policies. First, the British left the Malays in rural areas and engaged in traditional economic activities. Second, the British denied the Malays from involving in modern economic activities but let the immigrants to engage in the modern economic activities.
The Chinese are originally immigrant. The majority of the Chinese in Malaysia today are descendents of the Chinese immigrants. Before the colonization era, there was small number of Chinese who had come to the country as trader before the colonization and resided here. During the era of Malacca Kingdom, the ties between Malacca and China had brought small number of them to the country.
Most of the Chinese came from Fukien, Kwangtung and Kwangsi of South China. They entered the country through contract system arranged by agents. The Chinese are of various clusters. The main clusters are Hokien, Hakka, Teochew and Hailam. They have different dialect, customs, economic specialization and living place. They are even hostile towards one another.
The British government had encouraged the Chinese to migrate to Malaya to become labours here by approving several related laws. For an instance, in 1877, the British had approved the Chinese Immigrants and the Crimpling Ordinance.
Historically, most of the Chinese became merchants, businessmen and craftsmen. They were recognized as people most actively involved in business. This business minded remains until today in the mind of the most Chinese. No wonder, the Chinese are strong economically.
In politics, the Chinese also play a very important role. They form several political parties but the main is Malaysian Chinese Party (MCA).
At the beginning, most Indians who came to Malaya were from Tamil Nadu of the South India. During the era of Malacca Kingdom, they came to Malacca as traders and Muslim missionaries. At that time also, Tamil-Islam group played important roles in the ruling system. When the British occupied Penang Island in 1786, Indian labourers migrated to the island to work in sugar cane plantations and as domestic help.
The huge number of Indian immigrants came to Malaya when coffee plantations were opened in 1880s in Malaya. The Indians came to Malaya in many ways. Some were brought in by the Contract Labour System in which they had to work for periods ranging from one to three years. Later, the contract system was changed to Kangany System in which supervisors of plantations brought in Indians from their village in India. Under the system, there was no contract that bound the labourers but they had to pay back the expenses of bringing them to Malaya. There were also Indians who came to Malaya in individual arrangement.
The Indians are of various ethnicities. The largest is the Tamils with 90% of the Indian population, 7% Malayalees and 4% is Telegu. Most of them worked as labourers in estates. There were also Indians who worked with government departments in the early 20th century. Towards 20th century, Sikhs from Punjab started migrating to Malaya. They initially worked in the police force and railway service as well as security guards.
Economically, the majority of Indians have low income and living in estates and plantations. However, today many of them succeed in other fields such trade and business. In fact, one of the richest men (millionaire) in Malaysia is an Indian. Do you know who is he? Check it out!
The Indigenous Races of Sabah and Sarawak
From Lesson 7, you have come across a brief discussion on the indigenous races of Sabah and Sarawak. In Sabah and Sarawak, the population is also varied. In Sabah, there are 23 tribal communities; the largest groups are Kadazan-Dusun (18.4%), Bajau (17.3%), Malays (15.3%), Murut, Sulu and Brunei people. While in Sarawak, there is also diversity of tribal communities. Among the well-known tribes are Malays, Melanau, Iban, Bidayuh, Penan and Kelabit. 70% of the population is Bumiputras. The largest group is the Iban followed by Bidayuh.
Beside all the above races, there also group of people known as the aborigines. They can be divided into three groups i.e Senoi, Negrito and Orang Asli. From these three groups, there are 18 tribal communities with 12 different languages. Their economic activities are still based on subsistence and agriculture. Most of them engage in farming activities such as growing paddy, millet, tapioca, banana and others. They also engage in hunting animal and fishing.
Find out the details about the races and their communities above by referring to the tables from page 145 -155 of the text book:
Table 8.8 (Malay)
Table 8.9 (Chinese)
Table 8.10 (Indian)
Table 8.11 (Sabah)
Table 8.12 (Sarawak)
Table 8.13 (Aborigines)
Religion, Beliefs, Culture and Customs of Each Community
As being mentioned before, all races have their own religions, beliefs, cultures and customs which are different from one another. All the differences form the multiracial society in Malaysia.
All Malays are Muslims but not all Muslims are Malays. The majority of Malays live in villages. They have strong social ties and strict social control. However, this characteristic seems to be loose today especially the Malays who live in urban areas (town). Normally, in the villages, the family unit is not small. They have a system of extended family. Family is regarded as important institution for social security. Generally, the Malays are regarded as humble people. They are said to be even-tempered and able to control themselves. They seldom show their angers towards others and avoid being frank. As a result, their feelings are difficult to be understood and it always leads to misunderstanding.
The Malays speak Malay language and Jawi is the original writing scripts that had been influenced by the Arabic writing scripts. The customs practiced are Adat Perpatih (Negeri Sembilan only) and Adat Temenggong (other states).
Most of the Chinese are Buddhists. There are also Christians-Chinese and Muslim-Chinese. Among the famous beliefs among the Chinese are Taoism and Confucianism. Taoism means “The Way”. Its teaching leans towards a love of nature and peace. It had enriched Confucianism and helped expanding the teaching of Buddha. Confucianism is teaching about social and moral philosophies as well as code of conduct that based on care, love, peace, harmony, humanity, wisdom, courage and loyalty.
Among the cultures and customs of the Chinese are Chinese calendar, the desire to have a male first born, insistence on education and funeral rituals. The Chinese calendar has 12 months and known by certain animals, begins with rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and pig. The desire to have a first male born is crucial in retaining the family’s name and the son is responsible to conduct rituals for dead parents. In education, they strongly believe that no matter how poor a person is, he or she deserves equal opportunities for education. Through education, one is able to improve his family and assist relatives in the future. During funeral, the Chinese often have processions when there are many deaths and it is very costly. Normally, music and bands accompany the procession. Those who celebrate 60th birthday are qualified to join the ‘Coffin Association” in which they are required to pay a monthly fee in order to have a good coffin.
As mentioned earlier, the Indians also have various groups. The religions of the Indians in Malaysia range from Hinduism to Sikhism, Christianity and Islam. However, 90% of Indians are Hindu and they speak Tamil. Thus, Tamil culture is more prevalent in Malaysia. The Indians celebrate Thaipusam (in Penang & Kuala Lumpur), Sithrapatuvam (Perak) as well as punggal )New Year Ferstival).
Indigenous People in Sabah
The indigenous people of Sabah also have many cultures and customs. For example, within the Kadazan-Dusun society, the funeral ceremony involves the entire members of the community. Fire is burnt in open air to chase away ghosts and evil spirits. There are also several other practices during the funeral as follows:
Mihad : crying for the corpse
Memojok : bathing the corpse
Menguman : decorating & clothing the corpse
Lobong : grave
Penukup : feast
There is also tradition of naming newborn babies in which discussion will be carried out with family members and neighbours. They have a custom of touching the babies’ feet on the ground which is called “mintuhun”.
In your opinion, does Malaysia gain benefits from the multiracial society that it has? Discuss.
6.0 Lesson Summary From the discussion, we have seen the uniqueness of Malaysia that has many ethnic groups with different language, dialect, lifestyle, religion, culture and customs. The differences have created a colourful Malaysia and make Malaysia famous around the world. The diversity also has contributed to the development of the economy and politics of the country. Even though there is diversity and variety among the population, history has proven that they live in unity. However, once in a while, there is conflict happened but the existence of a stable Constitution that governs the action of its citizens and the spirit of compromise and tolerance among the people, the conflicts were settled down in good manner.
Which of the following is wrong about the Malaysian population before the era of colonization?
The Malays constituted 90% of the population in Malaysia and Singapore
The Chinese and Indian immigrants who came to Malaya worked in tin mines
The entry a huge number of immigrants had decline the dominance of the Malays in the economy
The British brought in the Chinese to work at tin mines
The following are true about the races in Malaysia except ___________
The Malay economy was based on trade and self-sufficing economy
Most of the Chinese became merchants, businessmen and craftsmen
The majority of Indians in Malaysia are Tamils
Iban, Kadazan and Penan are the three main division of the aborigines
TRUE & FALSE Write in the blanks either TRUE or FALSE
Divide and Rule policy of the British government had brought harmony to the country. ______
One of the reasons of the Chinese immigrants’ entry to Malaya is the encouragement by the British government. ____________
In Malaysia, all Muslims are Malays. _____________
The famous beliefs among the Chinese are Taoism and Confucianism. ________
Thaipusam and Sithrapatuvam are the religious festival of Iban.