Lesson 9: Malaysia

This week in music class we go to Malaysia–a country that is engaged in several balancing acts at once. Geographically, Malaysia balances two distinct regions separated by the South China Sea: Peninsular Malaysia/West Malaysia, which is the populated, urban hub of the nation, and Malaysian Borneo/East Malaysia whose many, many animal species help make Malaysia one of the world’s few megadiverse countries. Religiously, Malaysia balances its Muslim majority (60% of Malaysians–only Sunni Islam is allowed) with its Buddhists (20%) and other religious minorities. Ethnically, Malaysia is exceedingly conscious about balancing the rights and privileges of indigenous Malaysian people, known as the “bumiputra,” (60% of the population) with those of Chinese Malaysians (25%) and others. (The distinction of “bumiputra” includes ethnic Malays as well as several non-Malay indigenous groups. Being considered bumiputra is very important in Malaysia. More about about that below.) Because of all this balancing Malaysia can baffle a Western visior. Sometimes it’s a country that feels so modern, so familiar, so easy to understand. Then, not too far beneath the surface, one runs up against a legally enforced cultural law or a public religious requirement, and the Malaysia we thought we knew disappears….


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