-->WRITING in The Malays - A Cultural History, the British administrator Richard Winstedt observed: "A faculty that has always made for the Malay's progress has been his power to accept the new and adjust it to the old."
The culture of the Malays has been distinguished mainly by its experience of evolution. The various communities that comprise the Malay race have, through the ages, accommodated themselves to the separate historical and cultural influences that have come its way.
Yet, much of the culture of these communities was also defined by its experience of migration.
This is especially prominent in the Malay peninsula where Malay communities settled in specific areas which beckoned the nature and characteristics of those particular communities.
Examples would be the Minangkabau of Negeri Sembilan, the Javanese and Bugis in Johor and Selangor, the Achenese in the northern states of Kedah and Penang, and the indigenous Malay communities of the north-eastern states of Kelantan and Terengganu.
Other minor communities such as the Rawa and Mandailing in such states as Perak also beckon with their cultural traditions. The cultural traditions of the communities allowed for the evolution of a social structure which was founded on the practice of adat which, albeit to a lesser degree, prevails till today.
Among the most unique forms of adat is that which is practised by the Minangkabau of Negeri Sembilan. The adat perpatih (matrilineal) tradition governs that all aspects of inheritance and finance is to be administered by women and that a particular family line is defined by the female ancestry.
Female dominance in the economy is also prominent in the state of Kelantan where women are perceived to be the main breadwinners in traditional Kelantanese society.
The dominant form of adat in the Malay peninsula is, however, the adat temenggong (patrilineal) tradition, the sources of which can be traced to the classical digests of Malacca, Pahang and Kedah. The most important aspect of adat and other forms of cultural practice among the Malays is the deep sense of community that it inspires. While this sense of community predates the coming ofIslam, its expression has been enhanced further by the Islamic concept of the umat, or sense of community.
In recent times, much of the Malays' cultural practice have ceased to have any legal binding on a particular community, yet the continuity of many traditions among Malay communities is still perceived to be essential to the expression of the Malay spirit. As such, cultural practices ranging from birth rites and ritualsto celebrations of weddings and engagements are practised according to traditional customs.
These customs, however, are defined according to strict Islamic practice. In the instance of marriages, for example, it is the kadi who serves as the principal mediator between both families.
Smaller communities such as the Mandailing, meanwhile, have even attempted to revive the royal line complete with coronation rituals and rites. Over in the East Coast, cultural practice as expressed in the arts remains an especially vivid example of the distinctness of the culture of that region.
Such art forms as the Wayang Kulit, Mak Yong, Main Pateri and Manora possess a deep social significance and are performed for purposes of healing and for fostering a deeper sense of community.
Cultural differences among the Malays do not only extend to practice and belief but also to all other areas of life. Differences in language, dress and cuisine are also dominant distinguishing factors. All these differences distinguish separate historical experiences and serve as symbols of particular cultural identities which can be recognised upon hearing a particular dialect or observing a particulardress.
As it has always been with the various Malay communities, the process of evolution, transformation and renewal continues, putting to test, yet again, the Malay world's ability to "... accept the new and adjust it to the old..."
* Text taken from page 10 and 11 of "Soul Of Our Nation" under Malay Community.
A mother dresses her son up in the Baju Melayu for the Hari Raya Aidil Fitri festivities. The attire which is not usually worn except during special occasions consists of a shirt worn over loose pants.
A kain samping (a knee-length sarong usually of songket material) tied around the waist and a songkok (velvet cap) complete the outfit.
A Minangkabau man lights up a pelita buluh (bamboo lanterns) to decorate the compound.
Small lanterns are popular decorative accessories during festivals such as Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, one of the main religious events celebrated by Muslims in Malaysia.
Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, is gaily celebrated by Malays throughout the country.
Playing with fireworks and getting new clothes and presents in the form of duit raya are the highlights of the celebration where children are concerned.
A guest snips off a lock of hair from a newborn's head as the proud father carries him during the bercukur jambul (hair snipping) ceremony. The custom of snipping a baby's hair is common in many Malaysian communities.
Among the Minangkabaus in Negri Sembilan, this custom is done seven days after the birth of the baby and is usually accompanied by prayers.
A Malay lady uses the old fashioned method of preparing kuih bahulu, a type of cake favoured not only by the Malays but by other Malaysians as well.
Kuih bahulu used to be served only during certain occasions such as weddings or Hari Raya in the past but it is now available every day.
Stalls run by Malays in Kota Baru market, Kelantan. A large number of Malays have moved from their traditional agriculture based occupation to run business enterprises in which both men and women are involved.
In this market, for instance, majority of the entrepreneurs are women.
Dressed in a simple baju kurung with a sarong wrapped around her head to keep off the heat of the day, a lady minds her little stall in the market.
Modern versions of the baju kurung have become popular fashion attire among other races in Malaysia.
A Malay lady cooks sticks of lemang over the fire. Lemang basically consists of glutinous rice cooked in bamboo segments which are lined with banana leaves inside. It is usually served with curry or rendang and is very popular during Hari Raya.
Day of sacrifice, Hari Raya Aidil Adha or Raya Korban, is marked by the solemn sacrifice of animals, normally a cow or buffalo.
The sacrifice is a community affair which is carried out in the vicinity of a mosque or surau. The meat is later distributed to the poor in the community.
For all Malaysians, festivals offer the rare occasion for family members to get together. Many Malaysians now live away from their place of birth due to employment or studies.
When the occasion arises, such as during long holidays and cultural or religious festivals, there is often a rush to go home (balik kampung). For the Malays, this is usually during Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.
A family exchanges solemn greetings on the morning of the first day of Hari Raya Aidil Fitri. This usually takes place after the men come back from the mosque and is the act of asking forgiveness usually by the young from the old, and between husbands and wives.
It is more of a cultural practice which inculcates respect for elders and ensures the young will not forget them, no matter where they are.
Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, and an important influence in the daily lives of the Malays who are Muslims. Devout followers answer the call to prayer five times a day.
Throughout the holy month of Ramadan, the umat in Kelantan gather in specially set up tents to perform the Terawikh prayers.
Muslim men and women perform their prayers separately. The women here are reciting the Terawikh prayers, a prayer specially performed throughout the holy month of Ramadan.
A family keeps the memory of a departed member alive by visiting the grave to offer prayers. Such visits are also part of the rituals observed during both Hari Raya Aidil Fitri and Hari Raya Aidil Adha.
A few days before the end of the holy month of Ramadan, Malay villages take on a festive air in preparation for the coming Raya celebration.
Lamps are lit and placed in the compounds of houses. In the old days, villagers used to try to outdo one another to have the brightest lit courtyard.
Lighting tittle tin lanterns is a ritual that children look forward to on the 27th day of the holy month of Ramadan.This cultural practice adds to the merriment and anticipation of the approaching Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.
He is dressed in black, a colour which symbolises strength as it cannot be tainted. The tradition of electing a king to preside over the dispersed Mandailing clans was revived recently after a 150-year hiatus.
There are close to 500,000 Mandailings in Malaysia of which 150,000 are in Perak Unlike the Javanese, Bugis and Minangkabau whose cultures and practices are well known, the Mandailings are still somewhat of a mystery. The clan ancestors came from Tapanuli Selatan in northern Sumatra.
According to oral tradition, the Mandailings originated from the Munda district in Central India. They were banished from their original homeland by the Aryans from Iraq.
They travelled through the Himalayan Range through Mandalay, the ancient Burmese capital, from which their name is derived.
The Mandailing king and his queen during a mengapu-apu ceremony in which prayers and offerings are made to ensure their good health and longevity.
A colourful five-tier mat which is made specially for the Mandailing royal couple and their clansmen. The mat is used during traditional ceremonies.
Kris, weapons used by Malays in traditional times. Nowadays, men only use the kris as accessories with their ceremonial costumes during occasions such as weddings.
Malay weddings are steeped in pageantry. Here, the groom (in white Baju Melaytt) walks to the bride's house escorted by his entourage of family and friends. Close relatives carry the hantaran (wedding gifts) for the bride and all are dressed in their festive best.
The akad nikah in which the bride and groom solemnise their marriage.lt is the most important part of the wedding ceremony and is presided over by a kadi, a religious official who conducts marriage ceremonies.
This completed the section on Malay community.
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Soul Of Our Nation - The Book
Soul Of Our Nation - Malay Community
Soul Of Our Nation - Chinese Community
Soul Of Our Nation - Indian Community
Soul Of Our Nation - Other Communities