Malaysia Reflects It’s Rich, Varied Heritage

MEETING POINT AND MELTING POT: We stand unique as a confluence of the great cultures of the world
Cultural Dance Performance. Courtesy of Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia.

Cultural Dance Performance. Courtesy of Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia.

SINCE ancient times, Malaysia has been a meeting point and melting pot of peoples from both the East and West.

China and the Indo-Chinese region of Vietnam and Cambodia, especially, appear prominent in the peopling of Malaysia. Contacts and interchange with India, Persia, the Arab world and Europe also have profoundly fashioned the country’s attributes.

Nowhere else in the region has such a cultural confluence, interaction, integration and conflict been represented in a visible and vibrant form as in Malaysia. This has invariably impacted on Malaysia’s diplomacy and the formulation of its foreign policy and conduct of its external relations.

Malaysia’s ethnological, cultural, social and political attributes are distinctly mirrored in the challenges encountered in national integration policies and efforts since its birth as a nation state.

A glimpse into the country’s historic past would help to understand and appreciate the country’s thinking, attitude, ethos and the nature and substance of its statecraft. Since ancient times, Peninsular Malaysia formed an important land bridge between continental Asia and insular Southeast Asia by which successive waves of the peoples of Melanesia, Indonesia, and Australasia migrated southwards from their original homes in China.

multi-racialchildrenmalaysiaThe indigenous Malays, who constitute the dominant ethnic element of the population of Malaysia, are identified with the Mongoloid stock. Their origin is traced to Tibet and the Yunnan Plateau located in South China.

From around 2500 BCE Mongoloid tribes are believed to have migrated southwards to South China, and gradually, into continental Southeast Asia. Between 300 BCE to 100 CE the last of these early waves of migrants moved from Indo-China and along the Vietnamese coastline into Malaysia.

They introduced an advanced bronze culture referred to as the Dongson Culture.

This is evidenced in the stylistically similar bronze drums, artefacts, armoury and household utensils, originating from the Indo-China region, that were discovered in the east coast of the peninsula.

Later waves of migrants, referred to by historians as Proto-Malays, primarily inhabited Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

They controlled much of the coastal areas and river systems in the region. Inter-marriage between them and the Indian, Chinese and Thais, who had migrated earlier or conducted maritime trade in the region, resulted in the evolution of the Deutero-Malay. From around 200 CE to 1400 CE a further admixture between the Deutero-Malays with similar anthropological stocks, this time from the South from insular Southeast Asia, who had already advanced considerably in culture, paved the way for the emergence of contemporary Malay societies.

The ethnological profile of Sabah and Sarawak is somewhat complex. Successive waves of migrations of peoples into the region, over the past two thousand years, resulted in their control of the coastal and major riverine areas.

They displaced the earlier inhabitants who were forced to move into the hinterland and form new settlements.

Over prolonged periods of isolation, different ethnic groups developed independently of one another into a mosaic of autonomous indigenous ethnic groups.

The more prominent amongst them are the Dayaks, Ibans and Melanau who settled in Sarawak and the Kadazans in Sabah.

Thus, Malaysia’s inner wisdom, outlook and world view are very much a synthesis of great civilisations.

From its early Hindu heritage came the concept of permanence within constant shifts and changes of phenomena; from Buddhism came the principle of non-violence, tolerance and accommodation as enshrined in the teachings of Impermanence and Ahimsa or the non-killing of or injury to all forms of life that have been encapsulated in Pancha Sila; from Confucianism came the ideals of political stability, filial piety, scholarship, bureaucratic responsibility and integrity; through Islam the concept of brotherhood among human beings was promoted.

From the Malay world came the hallowed tradition of musyawarah of free and open discussion in order to arrive at a collective decision and the entrenched practice of muafakat or consensual agreement. Malaysia’s rich tapestry of cultural confluence has held the country in good stead in the conduct of its diplomacy and foreign relations in the turbulent and highly unpredictable regional and international environments.

Given this rich and varied heritage, there is every confidence that the country will continue to successfully play its role among the community of nations for generations to come.

 Author: DATUK DR ANANDA KUMASERI
Source: the News Straits Times
Publication Date: November 2, 2012
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