Essay on Culture: Agriculture and Egalitarian Social Structure

Submitted By snookie13
Words: 873
Pages: 4

The Semai culture
Malisa Waugh
Ant. 101
Mr. Patel
January 23, 2012

The Semai culture In the central mountains of the Malay Peninsula, Malaysia, southeast Asia lives the Semai, also known as the Orang Asli. The Malay word “ Orang Asli” means literally, “ original people,” and implies “the original inhabitants of the land” ( Rawski,1998). They are the largest community of the tribes within the Orang Asli group. They are widely known for their nonviolent nature and speak Semai, which is a Mon-Khmer language. The Semai are horticulturalists which is “a nonmechanized, nonintensive form of plant cultivation performed nonrepetitively on a plot of land; in contrast, agriculture is intensive cultivation using irrigation, fertilizers, and possibly plows repetitively on a plot of land. Whereas foragers are food collectors, horticulturalists and pastoralists (people who domesticate animals) are food producers. Horticulturalists differ from foragers in their dependence on domesticated plants for most of their food energy. Horticulturalists may still collect wild foods and hunt even as they cultivate, but by and large their sustenance depends on domesticated plants” (Nowak & Laird, 2010). The Semai are a unique and proud culture with traditions and values that have been passed on throughout their history. The Semai “Live close to, or within forested areas where they engage in hill rice cultivation and do some hunting and gathering. These communities also trade in petai, durian, ratten and resins to earn cash incomes” (Thaddeus, 2006). The Semai society has a distinguished way of life that is built on the foundation of their peaceful nature. I believe the peacefulness of the Semai communities plays a part in their subsistence that effect’s them in their beliefs and values, social organization, and economic organization. The origin of their peaceful demeanor comes from the unique values passed down through generations. The traditional belief system of the Semai people is to maintain a state of general peace called Slamaad at all times and practice animism. This means that everyone must keep their emotions hidden on the inside, except for fear and love that is said to counteract conflict, as well as keeping the peace with the spirits of those hunted and gathered( ). The Semai believe in placing a high value on group solidarity. They also practice animism and believe that if the spirits of the animals, plants, or nature are not please then they will not have success in hunting, gathering, or farming ( ). As hunters and gatherers their beliefs and values also support their system of sharing to support the egalitarian social structure and the subsistence oriented economy. It is said that they migrated from the original land to Southeast Asia to escape the violence occurring in the mother land therefore settling in the secluded rain forest of the Malay Peninsula, in Malaysia( ). Their primary moral values of avoiding violence and sharing food is a huge factor in the reason they have an egalitarian social structure. This means the whole community participates holistically to maintain the subsistence of their society. There are no specific tasks, but equal participation is of importance for group solidarity to remain top priority. When a couple is first declared married the nuclear family alternates residency between each of their family’s homes until they settle in one of their choice. Since there is no exchange of bride wealth or dowry before or after marriage the alternation in residency must represent their form of bride service to each family so that production is gained and not lost (Nowak & Laird, 2010). There…