Malaysia is known throughout the world for its multi-cultures society. It has proven to be attractive to people from everywhere. As house to multiple ethnic groups, many countries regard Malaysia as the great example of peaceful co-existence regardless of race and creed. At the end of the day, you'd be hard pressed to find another country that can offer you the same heady mix of colours, culture, food, festivities and inspiration as the ones you'd find in Malaysia.
All the ethnic groups in Malaysia co-exist in harmony and enrich the country's cultural lifestyle. Malaysia consists of a collective blend of food, traditions, clothing and customs. Local cuisines can range from hot and spicy Indian and exotic Mediterranean to Western and popular Chinese dishes.
The multiculturalism has not only made a gastronomically paradise, it's also made Malaysia home to hundreds of colourful festivities. Malaysians love celebrating, and socializing too in fact, where their laid back, warm and friendly mannerisms make them as approachable as you can imagine.
Geographically, Malaysia is as diverse as its culture. Cool hideaways can be found in the highlands, while those who have a sunnier disposition will be able to kick back and chill at warm, sandy beaches and rich, humid mangroves.
2.0 Main Ethnic Groups in Malaysia
Malaysia is a multi-racial nation. There's many races in Malaysia, 3 of them were considered as the main races in Malaysia. They are Malay, Chinese and Indian. Each group has different cultures and different art, yet still they are able to live harmony in one place. Malay is recognised as the largest ethnic group in Malaysia due to its population, Chinese is the second largest whereas Indian is the smallest main ethnic groups.
3.0 Malay Dance
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 Hindustan 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 mannerism and rich arts heritage. Traditional Malay dance in Malaysia can be classified into 3 primarily categories. Court Dance, Folk Dance of the West Malaysia and East Malaysia are widely practiced in Malaysia.
Court Dance started as entertainment for the Royal Households of Malaysia. The style is very graceful and the movements are slow, sustained and controlled. Most of the Court dances begin in seated position then slowly to a kneeling or standing position. Such dances used to be performed for the public in many places. As for Folk Dance, these dances are always associated with joyous occasions for the community. Folk Dance is popular but the origins are unclear. Most of the dances use hand-held props that are easily recognisable. Some of these dances can be traced to animistic beliefs and rituals. Since the 15th century, Malaysia had tremendous influx of traders and missionaries that brought with them their own culture, tradition and beliefs. Folk Dance is quite alive in eastern Malaysia. These dances are simply yet beautiful. The style appears to be without tensions or muscular action and fairly relaxed. The dance movement often depicts nature, life in jungle, movement of birds and others. The major differences of Folk Dances in East and West are the dancers, musicians and musical instruments. Dancer's costumes are very ornate and often with an elaborate headgear and other accessories in the East. Primarily a 4 stringed, elongated guitar for the Sarawakian Dance and the Kulintantan for the Sabahan Dance. These instruments are mostly handmade and very artistic. They are many Malay Dances; Joget, Silat and Dikir Barat are some examples.
During the warly 16th century Joget, also known as Ronggeng was introduced to Malays in Malacca. Branjo and Farapeirra are the two popular Portugues folk dances. The both were flash backed from the dawning of Joget. The joget has been known as a quick-paced famous dance throughout Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo and the Riau Archipelago. It redeems a catchy beat and cheerful combination of both hands and legs moving at a fast pace.
A portion of the Malay Archipelago, the Joget was known as the Rentak Lagu Dua meaning interaction between couples in portraying song with aliveness and cheerfulness.
Joget music and dance portrays a hybrid character. Tambur its name is derived from the Portugues is an instrument used during a joget performance. Violins and framed drums are others examples of instruments used during the performance. Other textures such as the gong and pantun(a malay poetry) and the basic techniques are indigenous. Some examples of Joget music are Joget Asam Kana, Joget Istan Lukut and Joget Songkok Mereng.
Silat was first practiced when it was ruled by the kingdom Sirivijaya. Most of the silat techniques are derived from the Indian martial arts such as silambam and thigh slapping. It also has a Chinese influence such as illustrating warriors with double edged sword.
There are many legendary stories on how the silat was formed but archeologically proved that silat was indeed created in Sumatra and flourished after it was spread to Java. Silat was already highly refined during the 15th century. It too has the similarities of martial arts from the Japan like Karate. It uses tessenjutsu and bojutsu as weapon arts. After the Dutch colonization, silat was widely spread to Holland by the Indonesian immigrants. In Netherlands, silat was still remained as one of the most renowned martial arts.
3.3 Dikir Barat
Dikir barat can be defined as a musical form that involves singing in groups almost always without instrunmental accompanied. It was at first debatatle where it was originated from, either from Malaysia or Thailand but Malaysian government actively promotes it's a part of Malaysian national culture.
During a competition both groups will be on the stage at the same time. There are two segments in a dikir barat performance where the tok juara the person who is responsible to train the group will take lead during the first round. During the first the segment, more complex musical arrangements are performed. The leader of the dikir barat group is known as tukang karut. Tukang karut may be a former tok juara. The second session is more to the conclusion part where the tukang karut sings patuns which is related to their occasion of performance.
Dikir barat can also address social issues, legal matters, animal's lifestyle, government regulations, and human foibles. Tones may be sarcastic or humours.
4.0 Chinese Dance
Chinese cover 25% of the population in Malaysia; it's the 2nd biggest ethnic group. Most of the Chinese's descendants migrate to Malaysia (known as Tanah Melayu in the past) during 19th century. Their sharp business sense and diligence are well known around the globe. There are all sorts of dialect in Chinese's language. The three major dialect groups migrated into Malaysia are Cantonese, Hokkien and Mandarin. In Penang, Hokkien is the predominant; In Kuala Lumpur, Cantonese is the predominant; In Johor, Mandarin is the predominant.
4.1 Fan Dance
Chinese Fan dances start out as ceremonial rituals whereas the dance moves haven't changed, the dance uses have. Fan dances represent beauty, grace, skill, tradition, delicacy and history. They also express feelings of joy and fans are recognized as good luck charms and expressions of generosity. Even all these years, fan dances are still used at ceremonies and Chinese celebrations (such as Moon Cake Festival, Chinese New Year). Now, it even transformed into unique modern workouts. Fan dance consists constant changing of rhythms and body positions. The feather fans and silk fans are used in the dance that began since the Han Dynasty, c. 206 BC.
History of the Chinese fan dance and the fan itself dates back to the Neolithic Yangshao culture, 4,000 B.C. It's approximately 6,000 years ago. There are two types of fan dance developed, for civilian and the military. Fan was originally used as shelter from the blazing sun and a shield to blowing sand. There's hundreds of fan developed since its beginning, e.g. folding, feather and silk.
The Chinese fan was sold to America, Japan and Europe where it influences the palace and local fan manufacturer. China was called as "kingdom of fans". Bambon, jade, bird feathers, ivory, plant leaves and other materials were used to create fans. Fans were known as "Shelter from the Sun" in ancient China and also "Cool Friends" by the literati.
Fans are produced by knotting, weaving, calligraphy, mounting, poker-work, carving and et cetera. If the fan is produced by a skilful craftsman, painter or writer, the price of a common fan will raise a lot! Fans consist of a lot functions. They can be a tools for artistic performance (e.g. pingtan, art of Suzhou City), dance, drama and folks arts rather than just chilling off in the summer. Dancers in the ancient times hold fans while dancing, thus the preference passed down till present. It has become a dancing art with distinctive Chinese characteristics.
4.2 Fan Dance Moves
Get Chinese fans made of cloth or silk as different material gives different way of air movement and hold them in both hands while bending your knees a little. After doing so, held your arms out to each side. First of all, fluttering the fans while raising them above your head and lowering to the side, this step will bring out a little a flower-shaped pattern. This step may be repeated throughout the choreography by facing different directions or including walking steps and to give different kinds of act. As the choreography varies, the specific techniques of opening, closing and fluttering the fans remains to show the continuous flower-shape.
After lowering the arms while fluttering the fans, slowly bring your hand towards the front to show another pattern. With a count of 8, open and close the fans by turning your wrists. Repeat the steps for another 8 counts. After that, continue the dance by tilting your upper body to one side while raising one side of your arm overhead while the other arm to the side, remember to keep fluttering the fans throughout the arm and torso position changes to maintain a particular pattern of movement. Lower arms back to the start position with arms to the side.
The following step is to again bend your knees, moving up and down, while fans are held close together and arms are outstretched in front of you to show a waving pattern, turn your torso to the right and left too. After that, raise your arms abruptly overhead while crossing one fan in front of the other. Hold this position for a few seconds as this pose represents power. The dance will either continue with new positions or repeat the positions introduced earlier.
4.3 Lion Dance
Lion Dance is a traditional Chinese dance. It mimics the movements of a lion in a lion costume. Lion dance is operated by 2 persons. One controls the head, one control the body. The lion is believed to be a guardian creature.
5.0 Indian Dance
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 oldest classical dance of India is Bharatanatyam, the fifth Veda, which is from Tamil Nadu India. Bharatanatyam is usually danced with classical Indian music. This dance has its inspirations from the sculptured of the ancient temple of Chidambaram. There are certain meaning of the name of this dance:
Bharatanatyam is well known because of its grace, purity, tenderness, and sculptures que poses. It's now one of the most popular dance performances. It's unique styles is being practiced all over the world. Some ancient sculptures in Hindu temples are based on Vharatanatyam dance postureskaranas. Who dances Bharatanatyam is said to be the celestial dancers, apsara's. They are depicted in many sculptures. In the most essential sense, a Hindu deity is revered royal guest in temple or abode. It's to be offered the "Sixteen hospitalities" among which are music and dance. This is why many Hindu temples are traditionally maintained complements of trained musicians and dancers.
Bhakti (devotion) is the center of most arts in India. Therefore, Bharatanatyam as a dance form and carnatic music set to it are deeply grounded in Bhakti. Bharatanatyam is the embodiment of music in form of visual, a ceremony, even an act of devotion. It has three distinct elements. They are Nritta (rhythmic dance movements), Natya (mime, dance with a dramatic aspect), and Nritya which is the combination of both Natya and Nritta.
5.2 Bharatanatyam Dance Moves
Dancing Bharatanatyam needs to emphasize on many techniques such as elaborate neck and eye movements. Natya Shastra contains the most number of the movement and it is the most detailed descriptions. AbhinayaDarpanam for instance, has defined only 9 head movements, 4 neck movements and 8 eye movements compare with 36 of NatyaShastra which are used extensively throughout the dance.
Head Movements (Shirobhedas): Sama, Udhvahita, Adhomukha, Alolita,Dhutam, Kampitam, Paravruttam, Utkshiptam and Parivahitam.
Neck Movements (Grivabhedas): Sundari, Tirashchina, Parivartita, Prakampita
Eye Movements (Drishtibhedas): Sama, Alolita, Sachi, Pralokita, Nimilite, Ullokita, Anuvritta, Avalokita
5.3 Kolattam Folk Arts
Kolattam is an art originated from Andhra Pradesh. It is performed by using a kind of stick of an arms length. Kolattam is a dance form in which two such sticks are used for producing rhythmic sounds while in motion. The performers sing songs and at the same time moves while beating the two sticks. This art was originally played by the female dancers in a temple hall, but it is now even performed by the male dancers as a folk art form.
This art has got no any age barriers and all the participants can belong to any community. Kolattam performances are arranged in an wide open place. The participants wear clothes of uniform colour , coloured ribbons around their heads and anklets on their feet. Performances of this form are mostly seen on the occasion of festivals such as Sri Rama Navami. Back in good olden times, this ancient village art will only be performed for 10 days, starting with Amavasai or Newmoon night till the Festival of Light called Deepavali. Now, Kolattam performances are given during all seasons. But in the rural areas, these performances are common during the summer season. Songs with other themes and contexts are also written and sung for Kolattam.
The kolas or better known as sticks are prepared by the participants themselves. The sticks are uniquely carved in such way that they are stout at one end and taper to a thin size at the other end. The stout ends are held in the hands of the performers and the thin ends are beaten one against the other to produce rhythmic sound. Usually the participants will stand in a circle while performing with the Kolas in their hands. Their guru or tutor stands in the centre of the circle. While their guru sings the song, the dancers repeat the song along with him or her and beat the Kolas and turn around with rhythmic steps and move forward. In this manner the performance goes for one or two hours.
Traditional dances in Malaysia are very different in the way it's performed. However, all of them are joyful dances and filled with spirit. Every dance represents all kind of elements, such as beauty, grace and delicacy. In Malaysia, even with multi-culture, different dances move yet those are the ones that bring our country together.