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Malaysian Lifestyle


"A Malaysian runs into a clinic, blood pouring from his head.  He inquires after the doctor's and his family's health, not omitting grandma.  After a few remarks about the weather he admits he's had a little bother with a brick falling off a building ..."

This exaggerated story has a germ of truth in it: Malaysians are a reserved people, given to ceremonious politeness that seems pointless to an outside observer.  Rules of behavior must be carefully observed within the family and one's own circle of friends although "people we don't know" are, somehow, outside this framework.

There are personal disagreements between parents and children from time to time, but nobody seriously doubts that the elders' blessing, however formalized, is necessary for congratulatory formula.  Malay boys and girls kiss their parents' hands and beg forgiveness on Hari Raya, the end of Ramadan.  Chinese children kneel before their elders on Chinese New Year.

The whole performance seems incredibly embarrassing to foreigners while the parties involved see nothing strange in it.


Malay boys and girls kiss their parents' hands and beg for forgiveness on Hari Raya, the end of Ramadan.

  Strong Family Ties
  Traditionally, most Malaysians lived within easy reach of their close relatives.  Villagers were likely to marry within their own or a neighboring community; any joyous or sad event was shared with a big crowd of cousins, aunts and uncles.  However small a house, there is always room for a relative to stay for a few days...or a few weeks...or a few years!

It never fails to astonish Malaysians when foreign friends casually admit that they do not know all their own second cousins.  A Malaysian certainly does --- and he knows what to call them: elder cousin, younger cousin, eldest aunt, youngest uncle.  Names are not much used within the family context;  everybody has a "status name."  Baby is called "worm" or something similar to protect it from the jealousy of evil spirits.

Recent immigrants have kept up their family connections with the "old country", be it China, India, Sumatra or wherever.  Some conservative Indian parents make sure their children marry into a suitable family by contacting a matchmaker in the Indian subcontinent to arrange a match for a son or daughter.  These arrangements do not always come to fruition: the young people may have different ideas, though they usually feel bad about disobeying their parents on so vital a point.

Birth -  Rites and Taboos
Malaysian women share a deep concern for their married daughters' and grandchildren's welfare.  Pregnant women and newborn babies are guarded against all harm.  The father-to-be has to watch his step too.  Among some communities he is not allowed to kill anything, not even a snake, because the unborn baby would be marked if he did!

Two things pregnant or newly delivered mothers of all races are kept away from are "cold" and "wind".  "Cold" foods like vegetables and fruit are out; as for iced drinks, forget them!  The mother's head is swathed in cloth to keep the "wind" out.  Chinese mothers are fed on chicken soup with wine and herbs for forty days to keep them warm, and they cannot shampoo their hair for the duration --- never mind how hot and sticky they feel.  No newborn baby may be taken outside --- "wind" would be bad for him.  Some modern women refuse to be hampered by such taboos.  They put up with the soup for a week or so, then get a conniving friend to smuggle fresh fruit into the house.

Malay babies have their heads ceremonially shaved when they are forty days old, at the time the mother's confinement ends.  Some are also taught to "tread the ground" at this age.  Of course, they are far too small to walk so tiny feet are made to touch the ground, or a handful of earth is carefully held against pink soles.




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Last modified: August 31, 2012      Copyright © 2001 - 2012  All Rights Reserved.