Malaysia is a Southeastern Asian country that is multiracial, with many different ethnic groups living in the country. These include Malays, Chinese, Indians, and other indigenous Bumiputra groups. The demographic composition in the country are as follows. 50.1% of the population are Malay, 22.6% are Chinese, 11.8% are indigenous Bumiputra groups other than the Malays, 6.7% are Indian, and other groups account for 0.7%. Non-citizens account for 8.2% of Malaysia’s resident population. This multicultural context makes Malaysia a highly rich society, with diverse religions, foods, culture, and customs.
Accounting for 50.1% of the Malaysian population, the Malays are the largest ethnic group in the country. Indigenous to the country, the Malays are generally Muslim and practice Malay culture. This means that Muslims of any race are counted as Malays provided they practice Malay culture. The largest community in the country, with their language, Malay, being the national language, Malays are dominant in the political landscape of Malaysia. Their culture is influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, and animism. Aspects of their culture which portray these elements have however been banned or abandoned since the 1980s and 1990s due to the efforts of the "Islamization" Movement.
Accounting for 22.6% of the Malaysian population, Chinese Malaysians are the second largest ethnic group in the country. Chinese people have been in Malaysia for centuries, with the peak of this immigration in the Nineteenth Century. Chinese Malaysians dominate business and trading in the country. At their arrival, the Chinese worked in railway construction and tin mining, and later they began to own businesses. These businesses are today large conglomerates. Their religion is mainly Taoism or Buddhism. They continue to have strong ties with China. The Chinese have over the years absorbed elements of Malaysian culture, intermarrying with the indigenous groups, which have led to the development of a syncretism of practices and beliefs, a new culture consisting both Malay and Chinese tradition.
Non-Malay Bumiputra and Other Indigenous Groups
11.8% of the Malaysian population is comprised by other non-Malay indigenous groups who have also been given Bumiputra status. These tribes include the Dayak, the Iban, the Biyaduhs, the Kadazan, and various aboriginal groups. Other Bumiputras include the Burmese, the Chams, Khmers, and the Malaysian Siamese.
Indian Malaysians account for 6.7% of the Malaysian population. Indian subgroups include Tamils, Telugus, and Punjabis. Tamils, who account for 86% of Malaysian Indians, began arriving in the 18th and 19th Centuries during the colonial era. Indian laborers were brought to the country to construct railways, to work in plantations, and in rubber and oil palm estates. Tamils from Ceylon (today Sri Lanka who were English-educated worked as teachers, clerks, public servants, doctors, hospital assistants, and other white collar jobs. Most Punjabis were enlisted in the Malaysian army. Their religions are Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism, with more than 86% practicing Hinduism. Some of the Muslims of South Asian (Indian) ancestry have intermarried with the Malay Muslims and become integrated in Malaysia.
Other Ethnic Groups
Other groups collectively account for 8.8% of the Malaysian population. These include Malaysians of European or Middle Eastern ancestry, the Madhesi Nepalese, Filipinos, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Chinindians. Eurasian Malaysians are often descendants of British, Portuguese, and Dutch colonists. Chinindians are the offspring of intermarriage between Chinese and Indians a growing group, they have not yet been recognized as an official category. Having so many ethnic groups has made Malaysia a multicultural and multilingual society, contributing to diversity and richness of Malaysian national culture.