Story: Malaysians and Singaporeans

Page 3. Malaysian culture

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Languages and religions

As Malaysia is a multicultural society, migrants often speak several languages. Among Malays and Malaysian Chinese, English is the most frequently spoken language. The second most common language for Malays is Malay, while Northern Chinese (Mandarin) is often spoken by Chinese Malaysians.

Religions are also diverse. In Malaysia the state religion is Islam, but Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and traditional Chinese religions are also practised. In New Zealand, the most common religions are Buddhism and Christianity for Malaysian Chinese, and Islam for Malays.


In the 2010s there were Malaysian societies in Auckland and Canterbury, as well as Malaysian students’ associations in universities. All provided support for new arrivals and celebrated major cultural festivals such as Deepavali (or Diwali, the beginning of the Hindu New Year) and Chinese New Year.

Another focus for the Malaysian community is the High Commission in Wellington, which was set up in 1969, 12 years after New Zealand and Malaysia established diplomatic relations.

Malaysians gather annually to celebrate their national day on 31 August.

Sepak takraw

The first student sports tournament featured the Malay game sepak takraw (like volleyball, but using feet instead of hands to propel the ball). In the 2000s the Malaysian High Commission in Wellington set up a sepak takraw court in its car park.


Sport is a favoured recreation, for young people in particular. Most 1960s students had little time for activities outside study, but some excelled at sports such as badminton. Raymond Yap, a Malaysian at Massey University in the early 1970s, was instrumental in introducing and popularising the martial art taekwondo in New Zealand. In 1974 Malaysian students also organised their first sports tournament. These became annual fixtures and typically ended with a malam kebudayaan (cultural night), which included dancing, singing and musical renditions. In the 2010s Malaysian students’ associations take turns to host the annual Bersatu Games.


Malaysian cuisine has become perhaps the most prolific and visible aspect of the culture in New Zealand. Dishes such as curry laksa and roti canai (Malay bread) have proven very popular, and Malaysian restaurants thrive nationwide.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Malaysians and Singaporeans - Malaysian culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005, reviewed & revised 1 Oct 2015