Malaysia has a population of 25 million today with a growing rate of 2.5% per year. When the previous Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir announced that Malaysia will become an industrial country by 2010, this implied that the country needs a strong supply of man power besides preparing for a larger domestic market. To achieve this, he suggested that the population should rise from the 17 million in 1990 to 70 million by year 2010. The target date was then revised to year 2095. There are approximately 927,000 population in year 2004 in Terengganu on which 95% are Malays, 5% are Chinese and the remainder shared among Indian and other ethnics.
The Malays are Terengganu largest ethnic group, accounting for over 95% the population. The Malay people in Malaysia were probably immigrated from Sumatra especially during the golden era of Sultanate of Melaka. With the oldest indigenous peoples they form a group called bumiputera, which translates as “sons” or “princes of the soil”.
Almost all Malays are Muslims, though Islam here is less extreme than in the Middle East. Due to the strong religion hold, man in a typical Muslim family is always the bread winner and decision maker for the family, Malay female especially from the villages or rural area always remain the house, taking care of the family. However, situation is of little different where you might notice that there are more female trader than male in certain areas such as the centre market in Kuala Terengganu. This is simply because as the bread winner, males are always the fishermen or farmers which involve greater physical strength.
Partly because of their nature, most of the Malays earn their living in fishing and farming industries, this explains to why they are the majority in Terengganu state where there are still numbers of traditional and typical villages here while the other part of the country has already had skyscraping buildings standing as a sign of development.
Traditional Malay culture centers around the kampung, or village, though today one is likely to find Malays in the business and in public sectors. Therefore you can still see Malay man in their sarong and songkok fishing in a wooden sampan in any of the rivers or chatting while having cup of coffee in a road side coffee shop. General speaking, the Malays are always warm-hearted, easy-going and very relaxed.
Various records show that the Chinese traded with Malaysia for centuries, then settled in number during the 19th century when word of riches in the Nanyang, or "South Seas," spread across China. Besides the tremendous immigrants arrived in the east coast on their trading route from China to South East Asia, it is also believed that when the Admiral Cheng Ho from China first arrived in Kuala Terengganu, there were approximately 20,000 officers and crews landed here and this later become the permanent communities in Kuala Terengganu.
The Chinese communities settled in Terengganu comprise of Hokkien, Hainanese, Teow Chew and Cantonese. Among these, Hokkien and Teow Chew are the major clans because most of them rely their living on fishing and trading and will traveled thousand miles for this reason.
Perhaps it is a stereotype, the Chinese are regarded as Malaysia's businessmen, having succeeded in many industries. This can be seen from the stroll of shophouses along China town on Jalan Bandar, Kuala Terengganu with back entrances and jetties for loading and uploading good from boats in those days.
Terengganu's Chinese community is small, about 50,000 people or 5 per cent of the state's population, but they are keen to maintain their distinct traditions On a quiet afternoon, you can still see elderly people huddled around a mahjong table (a form of gambling, and a pastime particularly popular with the Chinese). Some of the elder generation remains their very typical China ascent in the dialect used.
The most colourful piece of Chinese’s cultural mosaic is the inter-ethnic among the Chinese community in Terengganu: Peranakan or the Strait Chinese which is resulted from the intermarriage between the China Chinese and Malays during the Melaka Sultanate time. Most of them settled in Kuala Terengganu. Although the culture of Peranakan in Terengganu is gradually disappearing, some of the older female Peranakan are still wearing the sarong and kebaya and more interesting the traditional Nyonya food are still serving in some family especially during festival season.
Indians had been visiting Malaysia for over 2,000 years from South India, fleeing a poor economy and some were shipped from South India by the British. Most of them were put as coolies on the roads and railways construction as well as rubber tappers, while others as administrators and small businessmen. Because of lack of economy earning sources and reasons, Indians are consider the minority group in Terengganu where they only consist of less than 1% of the total population in Terengganu state and most of them sided in the interior of Terengganu such as Kemaman.
The Orang Asli (Aborigines)
Beside the three major races, there are also the Orang Asli or aborigines who are the Peninsula's oldest inhabitants. Aboriginal Malays or better known as the (Orang Asli) began moving down the Malay Peninsula from South-Western China about 10,000 years ago.
Among the many tribes found in the Peninsular of Malaysia, Bateq or Batek tribe, one of the branches from the Negrito group, is found in the interior of Terengganu. They stay mainly in the southern of Terengganu bordering with the Taman Negara of Pahang. Bateq have dark-skinned and frizzy-hair. They are primarily adherents of traditional religions, but a number have been converted to Islam.
Although most of the Bateq have given up their nomadic and shifting agriculture techniques and have been absorbed into modern society particularly when some of the jungles has used for other purposes, some of them stay in some resettlement villages provided by the government. Even so, most of them hunt for food and gather fruits as well as forest products for medical use and also in exchange for other necessities. Only a few live in urban areas and engaged in both waged and salaried jobs.