0 The Malaysia Manual – Part 4: History & Festivals

Fast Facts:

Area: 329,847 sq km (127,355 sq miles)
Population: 28.3m (2010 estimate)
Capital City: Kuala Lumpur (population: 1.5m); Putrajaya (Administrative Capital)
People: Bumiputra (mostly Malays) (66%), Chinese (25%), Indians (8%), Others (1%)
Languages: Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) is the national language. Other languages include Chinese, Tamil and Iban. English is widely used.
Geography: Malaysia is divided into West Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia) and East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo) and three Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya in West Malaysia and Labuan in East Malaysia. 11 of the 13 states are in West Malaysia, namely Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Perak, Perlis, Penang, Terranganu, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca and Pahang. The states of Sabah and Sarawak are a part of East Malaysia
Currency: Ringgit Malaysia (RM)


Malaysia’s strategic sea-lane position brought trade and foreign influences that fundamentally influenced its history. Hindu and Buddhist cultures imported from India dominated early Malaysian history. Although Muslims had passed through Malaysia as early as the 10th century, it was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that Islam first established itself on the Malay Peninsula. The adoption of Islam by the 15th century saw the rise of number sultanates, the most prominent of which was the Melaka (Malacca). Melaka is a UNESCO World Heritage City. On the 7th. July 2008, Melaka and Georgetown were listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Cities List under "Historic Cities in the Straits of Malacca". If you’re a history and culture buff make sure to make a day trip (or two) to Melaka and Georgetown. Both cities will be hosting special celebrations on 7th July 2012 in honor of their status as UNESCO World Heritage Cities.


Melaka is one of Malaysia’s most sought-after destinations, the small city-state of Melaka (Malacca) lures droves of visitors to its historic port city, from home and abroad, where they are quickly steeped in an intoxicating multicultural world of heritage architecture and the alluring aromas of distinctive local cooking.

Under the Melaka sultanates, the city was a wealthy centre for trade with China, India, Siam (Thailand) and Indonesia, owing to its strategic position on the Straits of Melaka. The Melaka sultanates were the basis for Malaysia as it appears today. Nevertheless, Melaka remains one of Malaysia’s most rewarding tourist experiences. Proud of its multicultural heritage, plentiful museums and assorted cultural attractions, Melaka is a tourist habitat with something for everyone. Beyond the city, there are worthwhile beach excursions to Pulau Besar and Tanjung Bidara, plus the wildlife and theme-park attractions of Ayer Keroh.


Georgetown is the capital of the State of Penang. Named after Britain's King George III, George Town is located on the north-east corner of Penang Island. Georgetown is a bustling, colourful and largely Chinese city, full of tumbledown shophouses, impressive colonial architecture and countless trishaws ferrying tourists and locals alike around the maze of broad streets and narrow lanes. Ancient trades such as rattan weaving, joss-stick making, woodcarving and fortune-telling still go on, in scenes which probably haven’t changed in a century, while the soaring skyscrapers of modern Georgetown gleam blankly overhead.
Chinese and Indian temples, neoclassical reminders of the Raj and a plethora of old-fashioned little shops sprinkled across the city make Georgetown a fascinating place to wander. Most visitors to the island stay in the city, which has countless hotels, restaurants and all the usual urban facilities. Those looking for the beach (such as it is) head to Batu Ferringhi or the less developed Teluk Bahang, a little further west.


Festivals in Malaysia

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is the most important in the Chinese calendar; the Spring festival held at the time of the second new moon after the winter solstice Malaysia is not content with just one New Year festival. The conventional one starts on Dec 31 each year.The second one -- the Chinese Lunar New Year comes a little later.


The Malaysian people call diwali as Hari Diwali. This festival is celebrated during the 7th month of the Hindu solar calendar. The south Indian traditional of oil bath precedes the festivities. The celebration includes visits to temples and prayers at household altars. Small lamps made from clay and filled with coconut oil and wicks are a common sight to signify the victory of Lord Rama, the hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana, over the demon king Ravana. Diwali is celebrated almost all over the Malaysia except in Sarawak & the Federal Territory of Labuan.


Christmas in Malaysia is a public holiday and it is still very much a religious one at that. To prepare themselves spiritually, the Christian community here, who constitute about 7% of the population, observe Advent, the four-week period Urban places such as the capital city of Kuala Lumpur and the greater Klang Valley come to life during the Yuletide, with vibrant colorful lights and decorations sprucing up homes and business premises, displaying a festive atmosphere. Shopping malls try to outdo each other and their opponents by competing to attract more customers by investing in more sophisticated decorations every year.

Hari Raya

After a month of fasting during the month of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the first day of Syawal which is the tenth month of the Muslim calendar with joyous enthusiasm. This is a major festival for Muslims and they usher in the day with prayers in mosques and remembering their departed loved ones. It is also the time for family reunion when members of the family from different parts of the country get together. The festival mood is with joyous enthusiasm. Special festival dishes are served for festivals and friends during "open house".

Tadau Kaamatan

Tadau Kaamatan is a harvest festival celebrated in Sabah and Labuan. The festival marks the end of the harvesting season and the beginning of a new season. Visitors can watch traditional dances, musical performances and participate in other interesting activities.

King's Birthday. Ceremony will be held at Dataran Merdeka

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the head of state of Malaysia. The office was established in 1957 after the British left the Federation of Malaysia.The King's birthday is officially celebrated as a national holiday on the first Saturday of June, regardless of the officeholder's actual birthday.The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is one of the few elected monarchs in the world.

Gawai Dayak (harvest festival celebrated by Iban and Bidayuh in Sarawak)

Gawai Dayak is a harvest festival celebrated by the state of Sarawak’s indigenous people, particularly the Ibans and Bidayuhs, in their traditional costumes. Ceremonial offerings of various local traditional delicacies and home-made rice wine are made to the gods of rice and prosperity. This unique festivity is a 'must-see' occasion for local and foreign tourists alike.

Merdeka Celebration

Hari Merdeka (Independence Day) is the national day of Malaysia commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaya from British colonial rule in 1957, celebrated on August 31 each year. It is not to be confused with the formation of Malaysia. August 31 of 1957 is designated as the formation of Malaya which does not include the states of Sabah and Sarawak

Malaysia Day

Malaysia Day is held on September 16 every year to commemorate the establishment of the Malaysian federation on the same date in 1963. Beginning year 2010, September 16 is a federal public holiday. It coincides with the birthday of the Yang di-Pertua of Sabah.

Lantern Festival (full moon celebration of Chinese Calender, held in Central Market KL)

The Mid Autumn Festival also known as the Chinese Lantern Festival dates back over 3,000 years to moon worship in China’s Shang Dynasty. In Malaysia it is also sometimes referred to as the Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival. The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake, of which there are many different varieties across different countries. For visitors who are keen to know about the culture and traditions of the Chinese, the Chinese History Museum in Sarawak offers a fascinating insight.

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