Malaysia is a multicultural
society, with Malays, Chinese and Indians living side by side. The Malays
are the largest community. They are mostly Muslims, but there are
Christians and Hindus amongst them. The Malays speak Bahasa and are largely
responsible for the political fortunes of the country. The Chinese
comprise about a third of the population. They are Buddhists and Taoists,
speak Hokkeen, Hakka and Cantonese, and are dominant in the business
community. The Indians account for about 10% of the population. They are
mainly Hindu Tamils from southern India, they speak Tamil, Malayalam, and
some Hindi, and live mainly in the larger towns on the west coast of the
peninsula. There is also a sizeable Sikh community. Eurasians and
indigenous tribes make up the remaining population. Despite Bahasa
Malaysia being the official language, when members of these different
communities talk to each other, they generally speak English, which was
recently reinstated as the language of instruction in higher education.
The main indigenous tribe is
the Iban of Sarawak, who number 395,000. They are largely longhouse
dwellers and live along the Rejang and Baram rivers. The Bidayuh (107,000)
are concentrated on Sarawak's Skrang River. The Orang Asli (80,000) live
in small scattered groups in Peninsular Malaysia. Traditionally nomadic
agriculturalists, many have been absorbed into modern Malaysia
Today, the Malays, Malaysia's largest ethnic group, make up more than 50% of the population. In Malaysia, the term Malay refers to a person who practices Islam and Malay traditions, speaks the Malay language and whose ancestors are Malays. Their conversion to Islam from Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism began in the 1400s, largely influenced by the decision of the royal court of Melaka. The Malays are known for their gentle mannerisms and rich arts heritage.
The second largest ethnic group, the Malaysian Chinese form about 25% of the population. Mostly descendants of Chinese immigrants during the 19th century, the Chinese are known for their diligence and keen business sense. The three sub-groups who speak a different dialect of the Chinese language are the Hokkien who live predominantly on the northern island of Penang; the Cantonese who live predominantly in the capital city Kuala Lumpur; and the Mandarin-speaking group who live predominantly in the southern state of Johor.
The smallest of three main ethnic groups, the Malaysian Indians form about 10% of the population. Most are descendants of Tamil-speaking South Indian immigrants who came to the country during the British colonial rule. Lured by the prospect of breaking out of the Indian caste system, they came to Malaysia to build a better life. Predominantly Hindus, they brought with them their colourful culture such as ornate temples, spicy cuisine and exquisite sarees.
The different types of religion in
Malaysia reflects the variety of races living there. Islam is the
official religion but Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity
and other religions are practiced freely. Islam is practiced predominantly by the
Malays. Most of the Chinese believe in Buddhism and Taoism but others
are Christians. Hinduism is mostly practiced by the region's Indian
population. Many indigenous people have converted to Christianity but
others still practiced animism.
Malaysian Ringgit is equivalent to 100 cents (sen). In local trading,
the currencies of neighbouring countries are often accepted, in
particular, the Singapore dollar, the Thai baht and the American dollar.
exchange rates from different world currencies are quoted by the
national bank (Bank Negara) as well as by other private banks. Apart
from the banks, many money changers are located throughout the city area
(especially at Beach Street, the commercial hub) to trade in smaller
road system is extensive and is among the finest in Asia. It covers a
distance of 63,445 km. Excellent local and long distance bus, taxi cab
and tourist coach services operate throughout the country. The total
number of vehicles, registered at the end of 1990 was about 5.2 million.
interurban North-South Expressway, New Klang Valley Expressway (NKVE)
and the Federal Highway Route 2 (FHR2) are the largest road
transportation infrastructure in Peninsula Malaysia. The 848 km
expressway links major industrial areas and urban centers in the country
commencing from Bukit Kayu Hitam in the northern Kedah State to Johor
Bahru in the state of Johor in the south.
East-West Highway serves as part of the Asian Highway System linking
Thailand with Malaysia. The completed portion covers 115 km.
government is focussed on the further development of an efficient and
integrated public transport system. Currently, buses, taxis, trains and
airplanes represent the major modes of transportation, be it inter or
intra city/towns. The number of buses have increased from 29,929 in 1993
to 41,912 in 1997 while the number of taxis, hire and drive cars
increased from 44.040 in 1993 to 66,573 in 1997. To improve the quality,
efficiency and reliability of the bus and taxi services, several
measures have been taken, such as amalgamation of transport companies,
route rationalisation, provision of supporting facilities such as
terminals, depots, signages and route information system.
passenger traffic, namely the intercity passenger services, was 6.5
million in 1993. But this decreased to 5.4 million in 1997 due to the
availability of other modes of faster transport services. The total
number of air passengers however increased from 22.8 million in 1993 to
30.5 million in 1997, partly accounted for by domestic and regional
expansion of services.
facilitate intercity transportation, the rail has also been developed as
an alternative regional commuter system. This includes the KTM commuter
for regional operations and LRT II for metropolitan operations.