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The People of Malaysia, Way of Life

The people of Malaysia have a variety of lifestyles. Important among ethnic Malays are respect and obedience toward parents and elders, community self-help, and, in rural areas, the maintenance of law and order through cooperation and respect for the village headman. Marriages, burial customs, and other aspects of Malay life conform to Islamic law. In general, religion plays a major role in each group’s way of life. Wedding ceremonies of ethnic Indians, for example, follow Hindu traditions, whereby the wedding takes place on a day and hour prescribed by a Hindu astrologer. Traditional Chinese family structure is patrilineal and patriarchal; as in China, sons are preferred over daughters in order to maintain the family surname through descent. Kinship ties among the extended Chinese family are very strong and carry into the business environment. Because ethnic Chinese own many Malaysian businesses, these ties hinder occupational mobility among Malays.

Rural ways of life differ significantly from urban lifestyles. In East Malaysia, about three-quarters of the population is rural. Many indigenous ethnic groups, including the Iban (Sea Dayaks), Bidayuh (Land Dayaks), and Kadazan, practice shifting cultivation (also known as slash-and-burn agriculture). In this type of agriculture, trees and grasses are burned from an area so a crop may be planted; after several seasons, the land is abandoned and a new area is burned for planting. These groups live mostly in single-family housing units, but many indigenous people in East Malaysia live in longhouses, a traditional dwelling of Borneo.

 

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