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The Semang are a Negrito ethnic group of the Malay Peninsula.[4][5] They are found in Perak, Pahang, Kelantan[6] and Kedah of Malaysia.[7]

Semang
Negrito / Pangan / Ngò' Pa
Pagan races of the Malay Peninsula (1906) (14781589525).jpg
A group of Semang men in Gerik, Perak, Malaya, 1906
Total population
Approximately 4,596
Regions with significant populations
Malay Peninsula:
 MalaysiaApproximately 2,000-3,000[1]
 Thailand300[2]
Languages
Jedek language,[3] Batek language, Lanoh language, Jahai language, Mendriq language, Mintil language, Kensiu language, Kintaq language, Ten'edn language, Malay language
Religion
Animism and significant adherents of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism
Related ethnic groups
Negritos (Andamanese, Aeta people), Orang Asli (Cheq Wong people)

They have been recorded to have lived here since before the 3rd century. They are ethnologically described as nomadic hunter-gatherers. See also Bajaus and Aetas.[8]

The Semang are grouped together with other Orang Asli tribes. Historically they preferred to trade with the local populations, but at other times they were subjected to exploitation, raids and slavery by Malays or forced to pay tribute. For more than one thousand years, some of the Negritos from the southern forests were enslaved and exploited until modern times, whilst others remain in isolation.[9]

Contents

Name and statusEdit

In Malaysia they are officially called Negrito (Orang Negrito in Malay) or Semang (Orang Semang in Malay). The first term has an outright racial context, as Negrito in Spanish language means "little negro". In the past, eastern groups of Semang people have been called Pangan. Lowland Semang tribes are also known as Sakai, although this term is considered to be derogatory by the Semang.[10]

Malaysian Semang are included as part of the Orang Asli; where various groups of indigenous peoples of the country that still maintain a tribal way of life. Orang Asli includes 18 officially recognized tribes that are divided into 3 groups namely the Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay (Aboriginal Malay). The group of Negrito consists of 6 tribes that are known as the Kensiu people, Kintaq people, Lanoh people, Jahai people, Mendriq people and Batek people. All Orang Asli are under the care of the state government, namely the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jabalan Kemajuan Orang Asli, JAKOA); whose goal is to integrate indigenous populations into the wider Malaysian society.

The three category division of the indigenous population was inherited by the Malaysian government from the British administration of the colonial era. It is based on racial concepts, according to which the Negrito were seen as the most primitive race leading the vagrant way of life of hunter-gatherers. The Senoi were considered more developed, and the Proto-Malay were placed at almost the same level with the Malaysian Malay Muslims.

In Thailand, the term Orang Asli is not used. There the Negrito people are usually called Sakai or Ngopa (Ngò 'Pa or Ngoh Paa, which literally means "curly/frizzy (haired) people").[11] The first term is negatively perceived by the Semang themselves, it has a Malay language origin and used to refer the Semang and other Orang Asli groups as savages, subjects or slaves.[11] In Malaysia, this term has been denied.

The Thai government does not recognize the Semang people; just like the rest of the other national minorities, the indigenous people of the country who are considered as Thais. However, the existence of the Sakai people, is an exception, and are recognized at the official level. This is due to the fact that this small ethnic group is under the personal protection and patronage of the royal family of Thailand. The Thais perceive the Semang as primitive and a backward group of the population.

Racial featuresEdit

 
A Semang man in Malaya, 1906.

The Semang differ from their neighbouring ethnic groups not only in terms of lifestyle, but also in terms of anthropological grounds. They belong to the so-called Negrito race, where the main features of which are such as short stature of growth (150 cm in men and about 140 cm in women), dark skin (the color varies from dark color of copper to black), curly hair, wide nose, thick lips, round eyes and low cheekbones.[12][13] Other representatives of this race are the indigenous inhabitants of the Andaman Islands in India and the Aeta people in the Philippines.[14]

Tribal groupsEdit

The Semang are an ethnic group that are only conventionally united on the basis of racial and cultural characteristics. They do not have a sense of common ethnic identity.[15]

In total there are at least ten tribal groups of the Orang Asli ethnic group that are classified as "Semang" in Malaysia (not all of them are officially recognized by the Malaysian government):-

A few smaller groups of Semang people live in the southern provinces of Thailand. These nomadic groups mentioned under the names such as Tonga, Mos, Chong and Ten'en. They call themselves Mani people[25], but their linguistic affiliation remains uncertain.

Because of the small number of some of these Semang people groups, they are on the verge of disappearance.

Settlement areasEdit

 
Map from Pagan Races of the Malay Peninsula (1906). Blue = Semang; yellow = Sakai tribe; red = Jakun people.

The Semang live mainly in the lowlands and foothills within the primary and secondary wet tropical jungles of the northern Malay Peninsula. Only the Jahai people live at higher altitudes.[26]

In the past, the territory of the Semang settlement was wider, but neighbouring ethnic groups pushed them into hard-to-reach areas. Kensiu people now live in the northeast of Kedah, the Kintaq people of which are settled in the adjoining areas of Kedah and Perak, the Jahai people are in the northeast of Perak and in west of Kelantan, the Lanoh people in the northeast of Perak, in the north-central Perak, the Mendriq people in the south-east of Kelantan, and the Batek people in the northwestern of Terengganu, northeastern of Pahang and southern Kelantan.[27]

A significant part of these tribes live in permanent settlements, but traditionally separate groups of different time periods go into the jungle for the harvesting of jungle produce. Most often of such cases take place during the end of the fall on the maturation of wild fruit season. Because of this tradition, they are often designated as nomads, although the Semang people in Malaysia at present are no longer leading a nomadic way of life.[28]

Today, among the Semang people; as part of the Orang Asli group, they also live in urban areas of Malaysia, mixed with members of other ethnic groups.

Several isolated Semang groups reside in the jungles of the southern provinces of Thailand. So far in the north, there are two groups in Trang Province and one in Phatthalung Province live for several kilometers apart from each other. For many kilometers, in the southern direction, there is another very small group of Semang in the southern part of the Satun Province, near the Malaysian border.[29]

The remaining groups of Thai Semang can be found living in the Yala Province. In the upper part of the valley, in the Than To District of this province;[30] about 2 km from the Thai-Malaysian border, there is a village in which is the only settled Semang group that lives in Thailand.[31] There is another group of nomad Semang who live along the border with Malaysia in the Yala Province. Both nomadic and settled groups maintain close contacts with Malaysia. The border here has only political significance, and nothing prevents the Semang from freely crossing it.[32]

The closest neighbours of the Semang people are the Malay people. This applies not only to Malaysian Negrito people but also to groups living in Thailand. The extreme south of this country is ethnically predominantly Malay, although the Malay people there are officially called Thai Muslims.

PopulationEdit

Dynamics of the Negrito (Semang) population after the declaration of independence of Malaysia:-

Year 1960[33] 1965[33] 1969[33] 1974[33] 1980[33] 1996[33] 2000[34] 2003[34] 2010[35]
Kensiu people 126 76 98 101 130 224 254 232 280
Kintaq people 256 76 122 103 103 235 150 157 234
Lanoh people 142 142 264 302 224 359 173 350 390
Jahai people 621 546 702 769 740 1,049 1,244 1,843 2,326
Mendriq people 106 94 118 121 144 145 167 164 253
Batek people 530 339 501 585 720 960 1,519 1,255 1,359
Total 1,781 1,273 1,805 1,981 2,061 2,972 3,507 4,001 4,842

Distribution of Negrito Orang Asli subgroups in Malaysia by states (1996):-[33]

Kedah Perak Kelantan Terengganu Pahang Total
Kensiu people 180 30 14 224
Kintaq people 227 8 235
Lanoh people 359 359
Jahai people 740 309 1,049
Mendriq people 131 14 145
Batek people 247 55 658 960
Total 180 1,356 709 55 672 2,972

The population of Semang in Thailand was estimated at 240 people (2010).[36]

LanguageEdit

Semang languages belonged to the Aslian languages branch of the Austroasiatic languages. These languages are also spoken by their neighbouring Senoi people. The language affiliation genetically distinguishes these groups from the surrounding population of the Malay and Thai people.

It is believed that Aslian languages were brought to the Malay Peninsula from the north, from the territory of modern Thailand. The ancestors of the Semang people lived on the peninsula long before this. It is clear that they would have once spoken other, unknown, languages. However, no direct lexical evidence of this has yet been obtained.[37]

Aslian languages are divided into four main divisions: the Northern Aslian languages, Central Aslian languages, Southern Aslian languages and the Jah Hut language, which occupies a separate position.

Among Semang in Malaysia, there are further extended languages and dialects such as Kensiu language, Kentaq Bong dialect, Kintaq Nakil dialect, Jahai language, Minriq language, Bateg Deq language, Mintil language, Bateg Nong language, Semnam language, Sabüm language, Lanoh Yir dialect, Lanoh Jengjeng dialect. Most of them form the Northern Aslian languages group of the Aslian languages, only the languages of the Lanoh language (with the dialects of its subfamilies and Semnam language close to it) belong to the Central Aslian languages group. Very few Semang languages have been studied in Thailand, most likely in Kensiu language or Jahai language.[24]

A characteristic feature of the Semang languages is that they do not have clear boundaries. This is a typical phenomenon for languages whose carriers are mostly small nomadic groups, of whom the usual situation is when representatives of different ethnic groups live together in the same temporary camp settlement. Thus, all the Northern Aslian languages together form a large continuous network of languages, interconnected by constant contacts. A similar but smaller network form the languages of the Lanoh language.[36]

Not all Semang languages have survived to this day, some of the dialects are already completely extinct. This danger also threatens some of the existing dialects, including Sabüm language, Semnam language and Mintil language. At the same time, the situation with most Semang languages remains stable; regardless of the small number of their speakers, their language are not threaten with disappearance.

Most Semang, in addition to their own language, also speak Malay. There are also many Malay loanwords in all Semang languages. In addition, some Aslian languages contain many loanwords from each other. Another source of loanwords is the Thai language, which is noticeably predominantly in the Kensiu language, in the north of the peninsula. In Thailand, most of the settled Semang also speak Thai.

HistoryEdit

It is considered that Semang people had been living on the Malay Peninsula for at least 25,000 years. They are associated with the early carriers of the archaeological culture of the Mesolithic Age of Hòa Bình, which was distributed in Southeast Asia from contemporary Vietnam, to the north eastern part of Sumatra in the 9th-3rd millennium BC. The livelihood of the Hoabinhian people was generally in line with the Semang, historically as Hunter-gatherers. However, this does not mean that modern Orang Asli physically resemble of those ancient settlers. Carriers of the Hoabinhian culture were medium in height and had massive skulls with very short, wide faces. Further reduction of the growth of the Malay Peninsula inhabitants and the formation of their more gracile skulls are associated with adaptation to environmental conditions.[38]

Approximately 4,000 years ago, the practice of Slash-and-burn farming came to the Malay Peninsula, but nomadic hunting and harvesting continued to exist.[39] New migrants also brought to the peninsula Aslian languages, which now speak modern Senoic languages and Semang languages. It is believed that the ancestors of the Senoi people became farmers, and the ancestors of the Semang people continued to engage in harvesting, sometimes supplementing it with trade and agriculture. A stable social tradition, which made it impossible for marriages between these groups, contributed to the delineation of these two racial types.

After 500 BC, maritime trade was already developed and the Malay Peninsula became a crossroads that bound India with China.[40] On the coast there are settlements, some of them subsequently turned into large ports with permanent populations, consisting of foreign traders who maintained constant ties with China, India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. The Semang become suppliers of jungle produce, which was in high demand in other countries such as aromatic woods, camphor, rubber, rattan, rhino horns, elephant tusks, gold, tin and so on. They also played the role of jungle guardians.

The Malay Srivijaya empire came in contact with the Negrito. In the year 724 AD, two Negrito pygmies were among the tribute gifts to Malay rulers. Negrito pygmies from the southern forests were enslaved and exploited until modern times.[41]

At the end of the 14th century, on the coast of the Strait of Malacca, the first trading settlements were founded by Malay settlers from Sumatra.[42] The main center was Malacca. At the beginning of the 15th century, the ruler of Malacca embraced Islam. Malay settlers began to slowly move upstream deeper into the peninsula, while some were subjugated to the Malays, most of the Orang Asli retreated into the interior regions. During the early years of contact, the Semang peacefully interacted and traded with the Malays, but with the strengthening of the Malay states, the relationship between them began to deteriorate. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Semang and other indigenous people groups became slave trade victims of Malay raiders.[43] In response to attempts to capture slaves, the Semang developed a tactic of avoiding contact with outsiders. As a way of preserving their autonomy, they would immediately destroy their shelters if an outsider intruded and they would remained hidden or "closed" in the jungle.[44]

 
A Semang man, 1899.

The more the Semang were isolated from the surrounding peoples, the more surprising they were perceived by others. Many peoples of Southeast Asia considered the jungle as home to magical creatures, among those that assented are the Negritos. These people were endowed with magical qualities, and with various legends associated with fairy tales. Among the Malaysian sultans and rulers of the southern provinces of Thailand, it was once regarded as prestigious to keep Negritos in their yards as part of collections of amusing jungle beings.[45][46] In the first decade of the twentieth century, the king of Thailand, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) visited the southern regions of his country and met with the Semang people. In 1906, an orphan Semang boy named Khanung was sent to the royal court, where he was perceived as the adoptive son of the ruler.[47] From this event, it has led to the patronage of the Semang by the royal court.

The British colonial government banned slavery at the end of the nineteenth century and introduced a protection policy for the Orang Asli. The British perceived the indigenous people as noble savages, who lead an idealized and romantic existence and need protection from the devastating actions of modern life.[46]

Attention to the aborigines drew only during the Malayan Emergency in Malaysia in the 1950s.[48] In order to bring them to the government's side in the confrontation against the communist rebels, a special department was established, the Department of Orang Asli Affairs (Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli, JHEOA); which was to provide education, health and economic development of the Orang Asli. A comprehensive control of indigenous communities was then introduced.[48] Similar actions on the neutralization of the Negritos, albeit on a smaller scale, were also carried out by the Thai government in response to the transfer of communist soldiers into Thailand's territory.

The proclamation of Malaysia's independence in 1957 and the cessation of the Malayan Emergency in 1961 did not bring about significant changes in the state's policy towards the Orang Asli. In the 1970s, the Department of Orang Asli Affairs began to organize for the Semang settlements, which were meant to relocate several nomadic groups.[49] Approximately by the end of 1980, the widespread development of jungle harvesting and the replacement of jungles for plantations, it has severely damaged the lives of most tribes of the Semang people.[49] Much of the Kintaq people, Jahai people, Batek people and Lanoh people now live in villages built by the state, surrounded by secondary jungles and plantations, as well as villages whose populations do not belong to the Orang Asli. They were forced to give up their livelihood and to some extent became accustomed to small farming.[50]

In 1966 (according to some sources, 1973),[51] in order to improve their lives, a Sakai Village was established in Thailand. The state laid a rubber plantation for them. In the early 1990s, it was decided to turn this village into a tourist centre, where the Semang in a theatrical form began to demonstrate to tourists features of their traditional way of life.

BeliefsEdit

In terms of religion, the Semang are animists.[52] They believe that not only people, but all natural objects have souls.[53]

The land of the Semang people are imagined in the form of a disk that lies on a huge snake or turtle floating underground. The earth is connected with the sky with one or several stone pillars. The world is filled with numerous immortal supernatural beings, spirits living on the sky, in stone pillars and underground. Skyline is a paradise filled with flowers and fruit trees. Supernatural beings have created rain forests to meet the needs of people on earth. Some of them in the past lived on the ground as ordinary people and now from time to time come back here, appearing in people in dreams.[54]

Most supernatural beings have no names, they are often associated with certain natural phenomena or objects, such as wind or fruit trees. Others have their names and individual attributes. Most of the Semang people are afraid of three natural phenomena; thunder, floods and storms.[55] The main deity in them is the god of thunder Karey. He is not loved and very afraid, he is considered cruel and evil. Karey, according to local beliefs, carries out an important moral function, imposing punishment on violators of taboo. It can cause death, injury or illness through lightning strikes or wildlife attacks.[56]

In each group there is a shaman called a hala. He acts as an intermediary between the visible world of people and the invisible world of spirits. Shamans perform rituals and magic rites, practice magic, anticipate the future, cure illnesses, and define a safe place for camp placement. Treatment of diseases is carried out using different herbs and magic spells. Semang believe that their shamans in a state of trance communicate with supernatural beings, can express them gratitude, as well as learn from them the way to treat a serious illness.[57]

Shamans can be both men and women. There are big and small hooks. Small hawks are ordinary mortals who know some ways of treating. For the treatment of diseases, they use certain songs, massage, herbal medicine and spells. Sometimes during the healing ceremony, they are part of the trance. Great noises, according to the Semang, are people with supernatural abilities. Not only do they communicate with spirits through dreams or trance, they themselves are supernatural beings, for example, they can turn into tigers and drive away from wildlife people. Big and small hooks get their knowledge from the spirits through dreams or from another hook. The best way is to wait on the grave of the deceased shaman until he appears in the likeness of the tiger, and then he will turn to the person and begin to teach the beginner.

Special rites accompany important events in life, such as birth, disease, death, there are also various rituals of economic orientation.[58] When rituals are carried out, animist symbols are used.

The Malaysian government is pursuing a policy of conversion of the Orang Asli to Islam. A certain demographic of the Semang people was considered Muslim by the end of the 20th century. The statistics are as follows:-[33]

Кensiu Кintaq Jahai people Lanoh people Меndriq Batek people
Muslims Negritos (1997) 108 67 292 94 61 710
Total population (1996) 224 235 1 049 359 145 960

CultureEdit

 
A Batek man is seen with scarification on his arms.

Scarification is practised.[59] Young boys and girls are scarified in a simple ritual to mark the end of their adolescence.[60] The finely serrated edge of a sugarcane leaf is drawn across the skin, then charcoal powder rubbed into the cut.[61]

They have bamboo musical instruments, a kind of jaw harp, and a nose flute.[62] On festive occasions, there is song and dance, both sexes decorating themselves with leaves.[63][64]

The Semang bury their dead on the same day itself with the corpse wrapped in mat and the personal belonging of the deceased kept in a small bamboo rack placed over the grave.[65] Only people of great importance, such as chiefs or great magicians are given a tree burial.[66]

They have used Capnomancy (divination by smoke) to determine whether a camp is safe for the night.[67]

Traditional way of lifeEdit

Traditionally, the Semang people have been living a vagrant lifestyle of jungle hunter-gatherers.[68] Each group occupies a certain customary territory, which was a territorial subsistence for them. Within this territory they are constantly moving from place to place in search for new food resources. The Semang people are not hunter-gatherers in the literal sense, as they constantly change their livelihood depending on what is currently beneficial for them. As soon as one source of edible resources is exhausted, they turn to another.[69]

This way of life has been steadily maintained for a millennia due to the specific social structure of their society. Separate families in Semang community are completely autonomous;[70] where they can gather together in temporary camps, then diverge, each in their direction, and then gather together with other families in new camps. Exogamy in such a society has an extreme level, which leads to large-scale family ties.[50] Such model for the society ideally corresponds to the nomadic way of life and is unacceptable for the settled population. It served as a barrier that divided the populations that have been living together for a millennia.

Semang people consider their customary territories free for use by all members of the local group. Western Semang recognize their human right to possess poisonous trees and perennial fruit trees that they have planted or found in the jungles. Other groups consider such trees to be free for everyone.[71]

Claims of exclusive rights to a particular area in a dispute with other groups of Semang or with other peoples are usually not put forward and in any case are not valid. The Malaysian government does not at all recognize any rights of Semang to customary lands or resources.[71]

Although they are commonly referred to as the inhabitants of the deep jungle areas, Semang actually occupy a transition zone between tropical jungles and agricultural districts. The resources here are very diverse and abundant. They can also collect valuable wood and maintain trade with neighbors. In the deep jungle they can only hunt small animals living among the trees, as valuable vegetation resources are practically absent from there.[72]

In state villages, the Department of Orang Asli Development is trying to attract Semang to agriculture. On cleared jungle areas, the state organizes the planting of rubber trees, durian, rambutan, oil palms and bananas. The Semang people are forced to adapt to new conditions, but agricultural activity requires long term waiting results, which contradicts their world view. At different times of the day, a group of Semang may send a whole group or individuals to harvest forest products, trade them, get hired in casual paid jobs from Malay farmers, go fishing or simply beg or live off of gifts left by visitors.[73]

With this in mind, JAKOA provides the people with grocery kits so they do not leave their work. But, when there is a delay with the release of these rations, the Semang immediately stop agricultural activity, and some even return to live in the woods. The harvesting of jungle produce for sale still remains a priority for them, followed by work for money, settled agriculture and horticulture.[74]

Basic livelihoodEdit

 
A Semang man shoots an arrow from his blowgun. The bamboo quiver at his side contains the strongly poisoned arrows. 1937.

The main livelihood of the Semang has traditionally been gathering, hunting and fishing in a wandering lifestyle. They should add barter trade. Only in the 20th century some groups, the Lanoh people and Batek people in particular, began to practice Slash-and-burn farming.

For daily consumption, the roots and fruits of wild plants are collected in the jungle. The basis of gathering is wild yams (Dioscorea), of which at least twelve species can be found in relative abundance throughout the year. Other wild foods include bamboo shoots, nuts, seasonal fruits, mushrooms and honey. Apart from this list, there is also a range of medicinal herbs.[73]

Different jungle produce are used by the Semang for various economic purposes. Bamboo is used for housing construction, it is used for the production of blowguns, darts, fish traps, kitchen utensils, water containers, combs, mats, rafts and ritual items. From the wood, they produce handles and sheaths for knives, and cutting boards for slicing meat. Pandan is used to make mats and baskets, tree barks for baskets and also clothing,[75] and rattan for rope, baskets, ladders and belts.

The Semang spend a lot of time and effort on harvesting jungle produce intended for sale or for exchange with neighbouring Malay villages. These includes wild fruits, as well as rattan, rubber, wax, honey, and herbs. The most popular fruits are petai (Parkia speciosa), kerdas (Archidendron bubalinum), keranji (Dialium indum), jering (Archidendron pauciflorum) and durian (Durio pinangianus). Petai and durian are collected from August to November, kerdas during February to May, and keranji from October to January. Money that the Semang receive from the sale of these goods are then used to buy rice, oil, tobacco, salt, sugar and other food products, as well as clothing, fabrics, knives and other provisions.[76]

Hunting is done with spears, rifles, slings, but the main weapon is blowgun that is used to hunt small game (squirrels, monkeys, bats and birds). Hunting with bronze guns using poison dart supplies provides most of the meat that these people eat. Guns and spears are used to hunt large animals such as wild pigs, goats, deer and tapirs. Occasionally hunting traps are set. Slingshots of wood and rubber are used mainly by young men to capture birds, bats and other tree dwelling animals.[73] Some of the Semang in the past used bows and arrows, arranging a collective hunting group, but this practice disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century.[77]

Fish in the rivers are caught using special traps made of bamboo, spears, hooks and fishing rod.[73]

The produce obtained are shared with everyone in the camp.[78]

Most of the Semang groups from time to time have long been growing a certain number of cultivated plants (Upland rice, caviar, corn, sweet potatoes, vegetables). Primitive manual farming was practiced on small scorched areas of the jungle. The resulting of the harvest is the property of the married family that has planted in their backyard, but after harvesting, the foods are distributed to all as a rule.

Pottery and weaving among the Semang people are absent.[79] Steel knives and axes are obtained either through trade or by the processing of steel waste from spearheads, arrows, and blades from knives. Individual specialization is practically absent, except for the religious sphere.

The division of labor by gender among the Semang also does not exist.[80] They usually work together although, mainly women are engaged in harvesting and farming, and men mainly go hunting.[78]

LifestyleEdit

Until recently, most of the Semang led a nomadic way of life. They lived in temporary camps consisting of a group of primitive shelter structures. Typically, these are simple palm straw shields that are tilted, such that one edge stands on the ground, and the other is based on two or three supporting sticks. This design is a temporary accommodation that provides people with protection from wind and rain. In each of these shelters lived a spouse, a widow or widower, or a group of unmarried young men or girls.

Western groups of Semang sometimes put their lean-to in two rows facing to each other. Thus, a long common communal hut was formed in the form of a tunnel with exits at each of its ends.[71]

The Semang people live in caves or leaf-shelters that form between branches. Sometimes Semang erect circular dwellings with the center space being used as a meeting place, dancing and ceremonial rituals. For short stays they would take shelter in caves, rocky overhangs or groups of trees overnight.[81]

Settled Semang live in small bamboo or straw huts on stilts. Residential groups built by the state under the RPS (Rancangan Pengumpulan Semula, meaning "Regrouping Schemes" in English) have typical Malay-style of wooden huts.[71] RPS villages are provided with basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity, water supply, children's and medical institutions and elementary schools.

Traditionally, the Semang tribes place their homes very close to each other. A negative remnant of a nomadic way of life is that they habitually spill garbage around their huts.[82] Previously, Semang people simply left their waste and went further. Now, these two factors together lead to people living in constant contact with their own waste, and this harms their health. Before that, they also use water from the polluted waters of their own.

Traditionally, Semang people had a minimum of household items and tools, because all their treasure should have been carried with them. Their habitation, utensils and tools were made mainly for single use.

Semang people in Thailand make traditional household items for sale, but tourists buy them only for the sake of financial aid to Negritos. Their aesthetic value does not meet the requirements of mainstream society and is considered too primitive.[citation needed]

Traditional clothing of the Semang is loincloth for men and skirts with processed bast for women. A loincloth for the men, made of tree bark hammered out with a wooden mallet from the bark of the terap, a species of wild bread-fruit tree, and a short skirt of the same material for the women decorated with segments of bamboo in patterns to magically protect its wearer from disease, is the only dress worn;[75] some go naked although not customary.[83] Women also tattoo and paint their faces.

SocietyEdit

 
A group of Negrito people, British Malaya, 1905.

Semang people lived in small family groups of 15-50 people without a strict tribal organization. The jungle can not feed a large mass of people. Semang do not have associations with fixed membership, there are no related groups and no affiliation by ideology. Many camps consisted of one or more extended families, but these were only temporary formations.[84]

The only stable association in the Semang community is the nuclear family, consisting of a man, a wife and their children.[85] The family usually occupies an individual home, adult children can put up their own housing, located next to the hut or shelter of their parents. The family is engaged in farming together, and at the same time adults teach children the basic skills of management and cultural values of the group.

The kinship account is carried out both on paternal and on the maternal line. For the Semang, there is no difference between relatives and cousins and siblings, but they differentiate their age categories by dividing their brothers and sisters from the elder and the younger.[86]

Young people usually choose their own spouses, as parents have little influence on these processes. Theoretically, a future husband must ask for permission of marriage from a girl's parents, but this does not always happen. The marriage ceremony is as simple as possible and limited to the participation of the actual married couple, who often arranges a small holiday for themselves. Some groups have been set up so that the groom brings some gifts to the young parents, and the groom handed over handmade items to the bride's parents. Marriage is considered concluded when the young spouse begins to live together.[87]

The general groups are exogamous.[50] For the Semang, marriages between blood relatives and close people (persons related through marriage) are not allowed. These rules require the search for marriages among distant groups, thus creating a large-scale network of social ties.[88]

The rules for avoiding physical contact with the opposite sex, backed up by appropriate taboos, make it impossible for sexual relations outside the family. Polygyny and polyandry are allowed, but they are rare. Instead, divorce is commonplace in most Semang groups, especially if the couple have no children. The procedure is very simple, the couple just ceases to live together. Sometimes there are sharp conflicts on this ground, but in the majority of cases everything is peaceful, and the former spouses remain friendly, staying in the same camp. Little children of divorced couples usually stay with their mother; older children make their own choices and often move alternately from one parent to another. The fathers and stepmother usually refer to the children from the previous marriage as their own.[87] Just as in the case of a divorce or death of a wife, a Semang man may marry again and again but remain monogamous.[89]

The nucleic family is also the main economic unit of the Semang society. Features of the complex economy of nomadic groups are caused by low fertility. A woman plays an important role in the traditional economy, providing the family with food, spending a lot of time harvesting fruits from the jungle and fish from rivers. A pregnant woman or a woman with a baby is not able to fully perform their work, besides, she becomes less mobile. In addition, taking care of children takes a lot of time and requires more food. Children in the Semang community do not have "economic value". Most of the time during the day they would simply play, simulating the activity of adults of the respective gender. In addition to the simple awareness of the "economic value" of children, in the society Semang people also adhere to certain restrictions and taboos on sexual contacts.[90]

Characteristically, with the transition to a sedentary lifestyle, the birth rate among the Semang is rapidly increasing.[91] Labor, oriented mainly for future times, requires more working labors; women are no longer faced with the problem of caring for their children. In addition, the food stamps that children receive at school and bring them home have become a significant factor in family life and have changed the perception of children in society.

Semang society is egalitarian.[80] People are interconnected by ties of kinship and friendship. Social classes do not exist. No adult has any authority over any other adults. There are no means of coercion. Individual autonomy is highly respected. Antisocial behavior is discouraged, an act generally condemned.[87] People believe that violations of the norms will be punished by supernatural forces. Semang in general despise violence. Disputes are resolved through public discussion on the basis of a consensus decision. Individuals who do not get along with one another cannot be in the camp at the same time. In the event of a conflict that involves third parties, the Semang, as a rule, would simply go where they cannot be found.

Individuals of charismatic personality, men and women, may have some influence on others, hence become informal leaders in certain situations, but they have no real power.[87] Such a leader is called penghulu, a Malay term.[92] Some penghulu, exclusively for men, are senior members appointed by the Department of Orang Asli Development, but they only act as mediators between the group and outsiders and they do not have any power within the group.[87] A penghulu receive wages from the department. Formally, they are elected by a group of men, specifically for this purpose as organized by the authorities.[93] No direct consultations with women are held, although they do express their views on this. The main quality, which is paid attention at the elections, is judged by the voters. Usually the position of the penghulu is inherited by the eldest son, although there are exceptions. If the current penghulu does not suit the JAKOA, the department pressures on the group to make a replacement.

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  •   "Semang" . New International Encyclopedia. 1905.

BibliographyEdit

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Further readingEdit

  • Human Relations Area Files, inc. (1976), Semang, Ann Arbor, Mich: University Microfilms
  • Mirante, Edith (2014), The Wind in the Bamboo: Journeys in Search of Asia's 'Negrito' Indigenous Peoples, Bangkok, Orchid Press

External linksEdit