Malaysia Culture


According to animalerts, holidays and celebrations are the leitmotif in the life of a large part of the Malaysian population. The main events are the religious ones dictated by Islam; these are accompanied by seasonal / agricultural celebrations, such as Gawai Dayak, the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chingay, for the arrival of spring; institutional ones, such as the Chinese New Year, Her Majesty’s birthday or the Merdeka Day Celebration, Independence Day. These are the occasions when it is easier to meet many people who still wear traditional long dresses, different in fabrics, colors and names, depending on the ethnic groups: the baju kebaya, for the Malaysians, the saree Indian and, for the residents of Chinese origin, the cheongsam. A characteristic feature of Malaysian culture is, as has been said, the pleasure of hospitality, of sharing time, of joviality. From this point of view, traditional games and pastimes are still practiced today, by adults and children: the sepak takraw, a kind of football, the silat, halfway between martial art, dance and contemplative discipline, the wau, a type of Eagle. The central market of Kuala Lumpur, located in an Art Deco building, together with the wau, the market of Kelantan, represent the hub of the country’s crafts: from fabrics (batik, songket, pua kumbu) to ceramics, from clay objects to those, peculiar ones, in wood, to jewels. The Sarawak Cultural Village, known as a “living museum” and located a few kilometers from Kuching, the regional capital, is one of the best places in Malaysia to get in touch with the most pristine local reality: daily habits, relationships among the residents, the celebrations and rites, the foods, are the most authentic the country can offer. In the gastronomic field, Malaysian cuisine expresses the best of the oriental traditions that have come together here. With infinite local varieties, the most popular and appreciated dishes are based on rice, chicken, fish, with exotic fruits and spices, such as coconut and curry.


The twentieth century saw the emergence of different and parallel currents within the movement of the visual arts. The tendency towards abstractionism of the 1950s and 1960s was clearly of American derivation (Abstract Expressionism), fitting into the broader paradigm of modern Western art. To this was added, progressively, the search for one’s roots, for the truest Malaysian identity, through art forms that have gradually widened the spectrum of means of expression: painting and sculpture, therefore, but also video art, performance. and installations. Among the architects of these researches, we remember Chuah Thean Teng (b. 1914), Redza Piyadasa (b. 1939), Bayu Utomo Radjikin (b. 1969). The cultural amalgam resulting from the alternation of conquests and dominations and the coexistence of different peoples and customs, finds one of the highest expressions in the architectural mosaic present in Malaysia. Depending on the region, in fact, the Malay style prevails, as in the Istana Kenangan palace (1926), in Kuala Kangsar, Chinese architecture, especially in many of the temples scattered throughout the country or in the traditional houses of Pinang and Malacca, that of the Indian, as in the Sri Mahamariaman Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur, or the local one, in the typical longhouses of the indigenous villages of Sabah and Sarawak. To these are added the buildings built during the colonial period by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, and, as a result of the modernization and economic development of the twentieth century, the industrial and post-industrial architecture, especially in urban centers, whose symbol is represented by the grandeur of the capital’s Petronas Towers.


The first Malaysian film known in the West (at the 1957 Berlin Film Festival) was called Hang Tuah, named after a legendary warrior and diplomat from the golden century (the 15th) of the Malacca Empire, and was produced in Singapore by Shaws Malay Film Productions of Run Run Shaw (see Hong Kong, cinema). The same production had La rupe che devora (1959), set in the era of great superstitions, J. Sulong’s first work. The birth of the national producer company Perfima, on the other hand, dates back to the 1970s. The public, however, prefers Indonesian films, 80% monopolized by two large distribution companies. Among the authors who emerged in the last glimpses of the twentieth century, Tsai Ming-liang (b.1957), an internationally renowned filmmaker whose works dig into the folds of the characters’ emotions, often unexpressed, and who was awarded in Venice in 1994 for Vive L’Amour, and in Berlin for The River (1997) and The taste of watermelon (2005). Two young directors also stood out between the end and the beginning of the new millennium: Tan Chui Mui (b.1978), director of Mo shi mo wang (Love Conquers All, 2006) and producer of other films such as Nian ni ru xi (Before We Fall in Love Again, 2006), both awarded at international festivals, and Yasmin Ahmad, director of Mukhsin (2006), winner of two awards in Berlin.

Malaysia Culture

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