● 200 colour photographs
● Over 150 festivals
● Index of festivals month by month
● Diverse coverage of Malaysia’s festivals
Keith Hockton started researching the festivals of Malaysia when he returned to live in Penang early in 2010. Living in Northwest Malaysia, he was lucky enough to witness some amazing festivals, seemingly on a weekly basis. However, when he asked his Malay, Chinese and Indian friends what a particular festival was about, more often than not he was met with “You know, I’m not really sure.”
Malaysia is a diverse and complex country, and the festivals of many communities are layered and contested. Over the centuries, countless groups have settled here, including Portuguese, Chinese, Indians, Armenians, British, Germans, to name but a few. Some have moved away, while others grew and changed, but each has left its mark on the country.
Whether still resident or departed, rich or poor, each group has its stories, stories that are celebrated in the various festivals that take place in Malaysia throughout the year. These festivals preserve, celebrate, challenge and frame community identity and, for the most part, they are public celebrations that anyone in Malaysia might encounter.
Some very important festivals, however, have no public audience. They take place in the privacy of the home, witnessed only by the family and invited guests, and the question for the writer was whether to include them or not. In the end, he decided that some of these festivals were so important that they had to be recorded, so even if you never see them, you’ll now have an understanding of what takes place. For these rare opportunities, the writer acknowledges the families who were kind enough to include him in their celebrations, and for inviting him into their homes so that he could see and experience them for himself.
The legends and stories behind the festivals are what make them interesting and some are over 5,000 years old. Over time, and sometimes far from where they originated, those conducting the ceremonies and celebrating the festivals have developed subtly different understandings and practices. So little about each festival and its rituals is rigidly ﬁxed. Almost every person interviewed, even if they were from the same religious group, had different interpretations of the same festival. In the end, their stories, their understanding and all the richness and diversity that their stories entail were woven into Festivals of Malaysia.