Johor has been influenced by trading visitors and tourists throughout history. The Arabs, Bugis and Javanese have had major influence on the region. The politics of Johor as well as Selangor, Terengganu and Pahang is strongly influenced by the Arab visitors. Wadi Hassan and Wadi Hana are some of the places that are named in Arabic. ‘Wadi’ is the Arabic term for ‘valley’. Such places are commoner in Arab-dominated areas from Yemen to Hadhramaut. Besides, art performances such as Hamdolok and Zapin as well as musical instruments such as gambus exhibit Arab influence.
Malay is the national language of Malaysia. It is originally based on Johor-Riau Malay, which is the local language in Johor and is originally spoken in Selangor, Malacca and Riau as well as in Singapore.
The city can be considered as a melting pot of different cultures with Indians, Chinese and Malays comprising a large percentage of its population. Different dialect groups of the Chinese are present in Johor Bahru which includes Teochew, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainanese, Cantonese and more. The Indian community primarily consists of Malayalees, Tamils, Punjabis and Telegus.
One of the designs in clothing that is worn today in Johor commemorates the shift of state capital from Teluk Belanga to Johor Bahru in 1886. It is a kind of collar design and named after the former capital – Teluk Belanga. Sultan Abu Bakar shifted the capital during his rule and later designed the collar to commemorate the move. It is a simple design in which hemmed round collar features stiff stitching and a loop to fit ‘kancing’ at its end. The special kind of stitching is called ‘eel’s spine’ or ‘tulang belut’. Teluk Belanga exposes neck in contrasts to the other collar design Cekak Musang, which is stiff raised collar with opening towards the chest. Cekak Musang collar ends feature matching holes for buttons. The two designs feature on only male garments.
Other dresses commonly worn in Johor are Belah Kebaya Panjang, Kurung Riau, Kurung Johor.
Dishes in Johor are influenced by Maritime Southeast Asian and Arabian cultures. Some recipes include ingredients that are not found elsewhere in Malaysia. There are even dishes that are so complex to prepare that they can be tasted only during state banquets and celebrations. Some of the popular dishes in Johor are:
Arisa: It is a rare and unique chicken dish that is, nowadays, served only to elites and royalties in Johor at formal celebrations and functions.
Penganan Kacau Keledek: Another dish that typically the monarchs and elites of Johor can enjoy. This dessert is made of sweet potatoes, tens of eggs, fresh coconut milk and ample sugar.
Other dishes that are popular in or unique to Johor are ABC, Burasak, Halwa Maskat, Ikan Masak Asam Pedas, Kacang Pol, Kerutup Ikan, laksa Johor, Lontong, Mee Bakso, Mee Bandung Muar, Mee Rebus, Mee Siput, Mee Soto, Nasi Beriani Gam, Otak-Otak, Pecal, Pendaram, Pisang Salai, Rojak Petis, Roti Kirai or Roti Jala, Satay, Tauhu Bakar and Telur Pindang.
Some of these dishes such as Laksa Johor and Roti Jala are prepared special Johor touch. On the other hand, Halwa Maskat is a direct lift from Oman.
Zapin Dance: It is a popular form of dance especially in Johor and generally in Malaysia. The Middle Eastern Muslim missionaries are believed to have introduced it in Johor in 14th century. Originally, it was performed exclusively in religious ceremonies only by males. However, iot gradually became a traditional form of entertainment and even females perform it nowadays. Zapin dance is performed in pairs while traditional music is played with dok, rebana, marwas, violin, accordion and gambus. On the basis on different styles of performance, Zapin dance is named as Zapin Lenga, Zapin Parit Master, Zapin Pulau, Zapin Tenglu, Zapin Pekajang and Zapin Melayu.
Kuda Kepang: It is a dance-cum-game that is performed especially by locals of Javanese descent. Kuda refers to a legless horse puppet that is made big enough to be straddled by performers. It is performed by troupes of ten to fifteen performers. There are various legends describing the origin of Kuda Kepang. Mempertahankan Diri, Perjuangan, Pucuk Rebung, Pak Tani, Selendang and Sola are the various dance patterns and rhythms. The band of musicians plays Bonang, Soron Kecil, Jidor, Kinong, Gong, Gendang and Angklong.
Hamdolok: It is a traditional theatrics that is originally influenced by the Middle Eastern Arabs and involves both Malay and the Middle Eastern characters. The musical recitation of poetry as performed by Bedouins in celebration of the birth of Muhammad – Messenger and Prophet of Islam – is an element of the performance too. Conga drums, Maracas, Tambourine and Gambus are the musical instruments played in Hamdolok.