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12 Organisations Promoting Cultural Diversity In Colourful Malaysia

As more and more Malaysians become more well-travelled, it is increasingly important to have a firm footing in our cultural roots. A man who does not understand his own culture cannot fully embrace his identity and can never hope to understand others’ cultures.

With a population of around 31,809,660 individuals, Malaysia is a country rich in cultural diversity. In fact, our country has been at the forefront of celebrating cultural diversity long before the first World Day for Cultural Diversity on May 21st 2002.  

For more than 50 years, Malaysia boasted of the diverseness of its people, standing tall and proud with more than 15 different races, 137 languages and at least seven different religions and faiths. We are unique because we are strengthened by that diversity. Because we complement each other, Malaysia is a rich tapestry of cultures and customs.

Held every year on 21st May, UNESCO leads the celebration of World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. It illustrates the importance of intercultural dialogue for sustainable development and peace in the world.

We’re highlighting 12 organisations doing their best to promote our country’s cultural diversity to ensure we truly live as Malaysians.

(From left) Steffi Ann Tabari, Louis Uding and Nancy Puyang are part of the Warisan Borneo Dancers. — ART CHEN/The Star

#1: Dancing for Diversity: Warisan Borneo Dancers

Founded in 2017, the Warisan Borneo Dancers is a non-profit dance group set up by a group of church-going friends from Sabah and Sarawak who work or study in the Klang Valley. The group aims to spread awareness of their home states’ cultural heritage.

Consisting of about 30 members, aged between 20 and 35, the dancers perform mostly at community events for free.

However, they gratefully accept any appreciation tokens for their efforts.

Warisan Borneo Dancers president Sandra Tagal, 46, said the youths came up with the idea to showcase their culture to Peninsular Malaysia.

They also wanted to share their culture with each other as this enables them to have a better understanding of their own culture. They choreograph the dance steps and perform a mix of Sabah and Sarawak cultural dances. – Sandra Tagal, Warisan Borneo Dancers president[1]

Sandra, who hails from Ba’kelalan in the Limbang Division of Sarawak, said most people on the peninsula know about the Iban and Kadazandusun who are the majority in Sarawak and Sabah respectively[1].

But, she said, there are also the Lun Bawang ethnic group from Lawas, Sarawak; Rungus from Kudat, Sabah; Melanau from Mukah, Sarawak and Pisaya from Limbang, Sarawak. There are about 30 major ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak with many smaller ones with their own unique culture and heritage, she highlighted[1].

Louis Uding, 31, who is of Iban and Bidayuh ancestry from Bintulu, Sarawak, revealed that he did not know how to dance before joining the group[1].

Nor did I know my own traditional dances.

But after joining this group, we have come so far in learning, understanding and spreading our culture through dance. I am proud to be able to share this knowledge with others, especially our audiences.

Many come to speak to us personally after a performance. – Louis Uding, a traditional dancer[1]

Source: The Vibes

#2: Let the Lion Roar: Khuan Loke Lion Dance and Dragon Association

Lion dance is a staple of Chinese New Year. No one can forget the loud drum bangs and the death-defying performances of the lion dancers.

Keeping this tradition alive is the Khuan Loke Dragon & Lion Dance Association.  The association trains the next generation of lion dance acrobats, cymbalists and drummers.

There is no retirement age for a lion dance performer as long as one remains passionate about the art. In addition, one is physically able to keep pace. This is according to lion dance veteran and co-founder and chief instructor of the association, Albert Fong Kong Yip. He says that the desire to learn and persistence to train are the most important qualities if one wants to be part of a troupe[2].

Fong, 47, has been lion dancing for 34 years, starting at 13.

I started my lion dance journey because of my father Fong Tin Low, who is the founder of this troupe. We have about 50 local members and 20 international members.

We are happy to teach the art to anyone, including schoolchildren of any age, as long as they are willing to learn. The most crucial qualification in the lion dance is being physically strong and passionate about the art form. So, anyone who fulfils that is more than welcome to join our troupe. – Albert Fong Kong Yip, lion dance veteran and co-founder and chief instructor of the Khuan Loke Dragon & Lion Dance Association[2]

Over the years, the lion dance tradition has seen more female performers. When it was first brought to Malaysia through martial arts schools by Chinese migrants, lion dancing was dominated by men. However, over time, more females became interested[2].

And in multi-racial Malaysia, non-Chinese are also performing in lion dance troupes. 

While lion dances are most visible during Chinese New Year, Fong said his troupe also keeps busy at other times of the year, as they are invited to perform at housewarmings and company launches[2].

Location: Performing Arts Group in Sungai Way Free Trade Industrial Zone

212 Level 2 Plaza Seri Setia Jalan SS9/2, Sungai Way Free Trade Industrial Zone, Petaling Jaya, Selangor

Contact: 018-290 5245

#3: A Golden Heritage: Peranakan Baba Nyonya Association of Kuala Lumpur & Selangor

Peranakan culture offers a fascinating insight into Malaysia’s multicultural blend. The Peranakans, or Straits-Chinese, are an ethnic group descended from Chinese settlers who came to Southeast Asia in the 15th to 17th century. They are also descended from the local Malay community. As such, everything from their clothes to their food, language and heritage is inherently distinctive in that it takes from both cultures and adapts to local customs.

There are many societies and associations dedicated to preserving and promoting Peranakan culture, one of which is the Peranakan Baba Nyonya Association of Kuala Lumpur & Selangor.

The idea of forming a Baba Nyonya Association in the Klang Valley was initiated when two strangers in the form of the late Madam Doris Chee and Madam Patricia Teh Siew Cheng met at the launch of the late Datin Endon Mahmood’s ‘The Nyonya Kebaya – a showcase’ Exhibition and Symposium in the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur on 23rd February 2003.

Together with six other enthusiasts, they became ‘The Initiators’ of the present Association.

Since its founding, the Association has held many events promoting Peranakan heritage. They’d also published a cookbook “Our Mama’s Recipes” that aims to preserve an important chunk of Chinese Peranakan culture in this book.

​More than a recipe book, Our Mamas’ Recipes highlights aspects of Baba-Nyonya culture through the stories of the featured Nyonya matriarchs and the dishes they cooked for certain occasions.


#4: Bringing Romania To Our Doorsteps: Romanian Association of Malaysia

Most Malaysians don’t think of Romania as part of our multicultural heritage. But the Romanian Association of Malaysia (RAM) hopes to change that view.

RAM is a non-profit, charitable organisation established and managed by Romanians living in Malaysia. It has an interest in promoting Romanian heritage and maintaining relationships with other Romanians located in the country.

Its stated mission is to promote, support and develop the interests of the Romanian community, the folklore and heritage, the language, the culture and the Romanian traditions throughout Malaysia.

Location:72A Levenue, 52200 Desa Park City, Kuala Lumpur.

Source: World of Buzz

#5: We Are A Rojak Nation: Rojak Projek

The ROJAK PROJEK is an initiative by TRP CREATIVES, a social enterprise that focuses on creating positive understanding and awareness of Malaysia’s unity, culture, and diversity through creativity.

Beginning as an idea in 2014 at a time of heightened cultural uncertainty following negativity surrounding Malaysia over the past couple of years, the project gained steam throughout 2015 as more and more people were brought on. These efforts were finally launched in 2016 with the goal of showing Malaysians diversity’s beauty.

Since those humble beginnings, the Rojak Projek has conducted many groundbreaking events and activities to raise awareness of racial diversity. These include Rojak Nation and #ROJAKSTORIES.

We believe our generation has its part to play in bridging the gaps that exist within our Malaysian society. Thus, the purpose of the movement is to inspire and encourage Malaysians to take the initiative to mix around and collaborate with each other in ways that lend a voice to unheard, underrepresented fellow Malaysians. – Faye Lim TRP Creatives co-founder[3]

In 2019, the Rojak Projek collaborated with RIUH to exhibit and spotlight art pieces created by the Orang Asli people. These pieces were created using natural elements such as soil and various plants. The aim was to showcase their artwork and exhibit their closeness to nature and the earth[3].


#6: Safeguarding The Telugu Heritage: Telugu Association of Malaysia

Telugu people are among the many Indian ethnolinguistic groups in Malaysia. Named for their primary language, the need to preserve and promote the Telugu Language and Culture. In addition, they need to live in harmony with other cultures and ethnic groups sharing this country with them.

It was this goal that led to the founding of the Telugu Association of Malaysia (TAM), a non-profit and non-governmental organisation of people of Telugu origin residing in Malaysia. The protem (temporary) committee was initiated in Bagan Datoh, Perak in 1955 which subsequently led to the registration with the Registrar of Societies on the 17th of February 1956 as “The Andhra Association of Malaya” vide Registration Number 631.

On the 16th of December 1963, it was renamed “Malaysia Andhra Sangamu”. This was then renamed as “Telugu Association of Malaysia” on the 22nd of October 1983.

To date, TAM has established 30 branches nationwide and represents approximately 500,000 Telugus in Malaysia.

One of its premier educational centres is the Telugu Academy of Malaysia. As an icon of TAM’s mission, it serves as a place for Telugus to learn Telugu Language, Culture and Fine Arts. The Academy not only caters to Malaysian Telugus but is also built as a hub to serve all Telugus in the South East Asian Region.

Location: Wisma Telugu, 9-3A, Udarama Complex, Jalan 1/64A, Off Jalan Azlan Shah, 50350,  Kuala Lumpur

#7: Preserving Our Heritage: Badan Warisan Malaysia

Badan Warisan Malaysia (The Heritage of Malaysia Trust) is the leading national heritage NGO with a reputation for excellence in heritage conservation services spanning over 30 years. As an independent registered charity, its role is to raise awareness of heritage issues and advocate for a conservation-friendly environment in Malaysia.

Founded in 1985 by the late Tan Sri Dato Harun M. Hashim, the late Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard, the late Ar Chen Voon Fee and Prof. Dr Ar. Jimmy Cheok-Siang Lim, BWN has since undertaken various building conservation projects, many of which have won accolades and awards locally and internationally.

It has been involved in cultural heritage tourism and heritage walks and tours. As well as in the integrated and sustainable management of heritage sites in Malaysia. At present, BWN operates two heritage properties – the Heritage Centre and Rumah Penghulu Abu Seman at No 2 Jalan Stonor in Kuala Lumpur.

Location: Badan Warisan Malaysia 198301009532 (104789-A),The Heritage of Malaysia Trust, 2 Jalan Stonor, 50450 Kuala Lumpur

Source: Youth Bernama

#8: Standing With Ukraine: Ukrainian Cultural Association

With the Ukraine war still ongoing , many Ukrainian expatriates in Malaysia worry about their friends and family in their home country getting caught up in the crossfire of the war.

We are trying to stay very supportive. Unfortunately, with the distance, it is not easy. A lot of our people in Malaysia have families in Ukraine, their parents and relatives. – Lidiya Murugan, president of the Ukrainian Cultural Association in Malaysia[4]

The Ukrainian Cultural Association (UCA) in Malaysia, together with the Embassy of Ukraine in Malaysia, have been supporting Ukrainians affected by war by sending financial donations for humanitarian or relief efforts in Ukraine.

The UCA is an active non-profit organisation dedicated to guiding and enhancing awareness of Ukrainian culture, art and heritage in overseas communities.

This may surprise you, but there are various Ukrainian-themed events taking place in Malaysia regularly including celebrations, exhibitions, fashion shows, traditional food festivals, and social gatherings. These activities aim to introduce Malaysians to Ukraine’s culture, history, and traditions.

Among these celebrations is the Ukrainian Independence Day on August 24th. In 2019, the UCA organised a themed “Merdeka Day of Ukraine and Malaysia” wellness event at the Perdana Botanical Gardens to celebrate that year’s independence day[5].

More than 25 participants from Ukraine, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Poland and Russia attended the event. The event was led by a Ukrainian fitness trainer in Kuala Lumpur. Well-known internationally for its athletes, Ukraine’s history has deep roots dating back more than a thousand years to the Kyivan Rus with the capital city of Kyiv[5].

#9: Spreading The Love For The Arts: Kakiseni

From dancing to shadow puppetry, the arts are a significant part of our cultural heritage. And one of the many non-profit platforms working to promote local artists, build a sustainable arts industry in Malaysia and improve people’s access to arts and culture is Kakiseni.

Since 2001, Kakiseni has been behind programmes that enrich artists, cultivate audience appreciation, and award excellence with the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards.

Among its programmes is Hikayat. Co-published by Kakiseni and MPH Publishing, Hikayat aims to capture the allure and magic of local traditional art by weaving them into stories for children to kindle their – and their parents – interest in Malaysian traditional art such as shadow puppetry and dance-dramas.

#10: Foundation Of Malaysian Chinese Culture: Malaysian Chinese Cultural Society

The 1970s was a critical time in Malaysia which saw the Government intending to vigorously and resolutely implement assimilation policies. It was a crisis period where Chinese cultural activities were subjected to various restrictions.

Lee San Choon, who was then the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA for Short ) President, immediately proposed the “Five Major Projects” concrete action plan, including the founding of the Malaysian Chinese Cultural Society (MCCS).

The goal of the MCCS is to study, preserve and develop Chinese culture so that it becomes an important part of Malaysian national culture and to foster intercultural communication and understanding by serving as an important bridge connecting Chinese culture and the culture of other communities, facilitating the creation of a just, harmonious and glorious Malaysian culture.

Since its formation, the MCCS now has branches in 11 states of Peninsular Malaysia: Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Johore, Pahang, Perak, Penang, Selangor, Melaka, Terengganu, Kedah,Perlis and Wilayah Persekutuan.

#11: Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur

The Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur (JFKL), established in 1972, is Japan’s only institution dedicated to comprehensive international cultural exchange programmes worldwide.

The Kuala Lumpur office known as The Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur Liaison Office was established on 3 October 1989. It was the third liaison office in Southeast Asia following Jakarta and Bangkok.

Since its establishment more than 30 years ago, JFKL has been working on various projects to develop mutual understanding between people through culture and language, facilitates and supports various organisations as well as individuals,including collaborating with the Malaysian government through certain ministries.

JFKL conducts events highlighting Japanese performing arts, visual arts, films and other related activities.

Location: 18th Floor, Northpoint Block B, Mid-Valley City, No. 1, Medan Syed Putra,

59200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

#12: Alliance Française

The leading centre for French language, French culture and francophone resources across the world, Alliance Française has had a foothold in Malaysia since 1961.

Alliance Française is not only a unique language centre whose reputation is firmly established but also an exceptional social and cultural environment offering multiple events throughout the year and aiming at gathering French and Malaysian people as well as fostering exchanges between these two cultures.

It currently has two locations in Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

In KL specifically, AFKL has branches in two locations: Lorong Gurney (main centre) (15 Lorong Gurney KL 54100) and Bangsar (2F, 14 Jalan Telawi 2 Bangsar Baru 59100).


Explore our sources:

  1. S. Sri Priya. (2022). Dancing for diversity. The Star. Link.
  2. S. Sivasankar. (2023). Lion dancing for anyone with the passion and willingness to train. The Vibes. Link.
  3. Renushara. (2019). The ‘Rojak Projek’ Highlights Malaysians Categorised Under ‘Lain-Lain’ in Beautiful Art. World of Buzz. Link.
  4. R. Cheng. (2022). Ukrainians in Malaysia helpless, praying for families from afar. The Vibes. Link.
  5. Bernama. (2019). Ukrainian community in Malaysia marks independence day with fitness event. Link.

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