The Orang Asli are the indigenous people of Malaysia, with the majority of the indigenous population living in suburban and remote areas of Peninsular Malaysia (Terengganu and Kelantan).
Like Malaysia’s majority ethnics – the Malays, Chinese, and Indians – the Orang Asli still continue to practice their own traditions that are as unique as it is intriguing.
Here are 10 interesting cultural facts about the Orang Asli:
1. The Orang Asli is one of the world’s largest matrilineal societies, in which properties such as land and houses are inherited through the female lineage.
2. Boys from Muslim tribes often leave home at the age of 7 and live in a surau (a prayer house & community centre) to learn religious and cultural teachings.
3. Due to their culture that stresses the importance of learning, the Orang Asli people are represented in the educational professions, with many of them being teachers, scholars, and doctors.
4. The Orang Asli community has a lot of customs, ceremonies, and festivals. Their festivals include Turun mandi, baby blessing ceremony; Baralek – wedding ceremony; Batagak pangulu – clan leader inauguration ceremony; Manyabik – harvesting ceremony and many more.
5. Traditional Orang Asli music includes saluang jo dendang which consists of singing along with a bamboo flute, and talempong gong-chime music. Dances include the tari piring (plate dance) and tari payung (umbrella dance).
6. Randai is a folk theatre tradition which incorporates music, singing, dance, drama, and the silat martial art. It is usually performed for traditional ceremonies and festivals.
7. The Orang Asli villages specialise in producing handicrafts such as woven sugarcane and reed purses, gold and silver jewellery using filigree and granulation techniques, woven songket textiles, wood carving, embroidery, and pottery.
8. Orang Asli culture has a long history of oral tradition which involves ceremonial orations performed by clan chiefs at formal occasions such as weddings, funerals, adoption ceremonies, and inaugurations. These ceremonial orations consist of many forms including aphorisms, proverbs, religious advice, parables, and similes.
9. The Orang Asli traditional houses are called Rumah gadang (big house). The architecture, construction, internal and external decoration, and the functions of the house reflect the culture and values of the Orang Asli. It is usually owned by the women of the family who live there and is passed from mother to daughter.
10. Orang Asli traditional folktales (kaba) consist of narratives which present the social and personal consequences of either ignoring or observing the ethical teachings.
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