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Malaysian literature


Malaysian literature is the collection of literary works produced in the Malay peninsula until 1963 and in Malaysia thereafter. Malaysian literature is typically written in any of the country's three main languages: Malay, English and Chinese. It portrays various aspects of Malaysian life and comprises an important part of the culture of Malaysia.

The earliest works of Malaysian literature were transmitted orally, in the absence of writing scripts. Oral literature encompasses a variety of genres of Malay folklore, such as myths, legends, folk tales, romances, epics, poetry, proverbs, origin stories and oral histories. Oral tradition thrived among the Malays, but continues to survive among the indigenous people of Malaysia, including the Orang Asli and numerous ethnic groups in Sarawak and Sabah.

Early Malay literature was influenced by Indian epics, such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which later included other traditions that now form the Malay literary heritage, such as the Hikayat Mara Karma, Hikayat Panca Tanderan and Hikayat Gul Bakawali. Malay romantic tales were also sourced from the Panji cycle of Hindu Java. There were also several forms of Malay poetry, which still remain popular until today.

For the Orang Asli, literature was and still is constituted by accounts of actual events. Different ethnic groups have different versions of the same story, although there are several recurring themes and elements in every tale.

The cultural practices of the indigenous people in Sarawak are shaped in part by oral traditions. Themes like the relationship of the people to their past, particularly their ancestry, and the spirit world, including its influence on the production of food and health are the primary themes of the oral literature of various ethnic groups in Sarawak. The recitation of oral literature is often accompanied by rituals.

The oral traditions of Sabah encompass folk tales and legends, such as creation myths, that have been preserved by the ethnic groups in the state. This oral literature is recited during ceremonies conducted by priestesses, who serve as ritual specialists, faith healers and spirit mediums.

By the 19th century, oral literature on the Malay peninsula was superseded by written literature. This was attributed largely in part to the introduction of Islam to the Peninsula by the 15th century and the adoption of the Jawi script. This tradition was influenced both by earlier oral traditions and Islamic literature from the Middle East. Works during this time ranged from theological literature and legal digests, to romances, moral anecdotes, popular tales of Islamic prophets and even animal tales, which were written in a number of styles ranging from religious to the Hikayat form.

The literary traditions of the Malay sultanates were distinct in that scribes were hired to record the significant events of the time. One important work of this period was Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals), which was written during the era of the Malacca Sultanate, rewritten in 1536 and revised in 1612.

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