The Semai are a permanent people living in the center of the Malay Peninsula in South Asia. They are a population of around 15, 000, 00 people. The settlements are scattered along the valleys of the Malay Peninsula. Each village exploits a defined territory and subsists by swidden cultivation of manioc and hill rise supplemented by hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering. A tiny hamlet of four houses and sixty five men, women and children. The Semai have a strongly nonviolent image of them. They proclaim themselves to be nonviolent people who do not get angry or hit others. The Semai value peacefulness, which is reflected in the way they raise their children and how they interact with kin as well other groups of people. Globalization in retrospect may have an affect of the Semai; it’s likely that their core beliefs remain unaltered. Values and beliefs of the Semai, economic organization and gender relations will be addressed. Semai people are believers in individual spirits that inhabit natural objects and phenomena. But some are also believers in Christianity. The group that profess Christianity hold on to the old beliefs which is based in witchcraft. The Semai hold a festival called Genggulang.
This festive ritual is to appease land spirits for a good harvest. In this festival, the spirits are offered sacrificial chickens, flowers and unhusked rice. As stated the Semai people are a peaceful group. Violence is not part of their way of life. If a kin has an issue in the village the situation is resolved informally. Such strategies such as separation, gossip or shaming the particular individuals that the community believed were responsible for causing the problem. Another way of dealing with discord in the group would be to hold a formal meeting. This meeting is called a bcaraa to settle disputes. I headman will give a lecture on the importance of group solidarity, mutual dependence and peace. If no one has anything else left to say after the meeting which could last hours the headman will conclude the bcaraa. Smalls fines make incur due to the disruptive behavior. All elders are respected. It is the job of the headman to maintain stability with the homesteads of the group. The decision making is something that the men and women can participate in. The women of the Semai feel embarrassed and most of the time does not have a comfortably level in this arena.
Older men have the most influence in making decisions. The Semai are known for their peaceful and nonaggressive ways of resolving conflict. But in 1950 when the Semai men were called upon to fight in the British army, they proved to be aggressive fighters. When the men returned to their villages, they were able to adapt to the peaceful lifestyle that they are accustomed to. The fact that they fought in this war was not something that they considered bragging rights for. This is not something that the Semai men would like to be a part of again. The village even though peaceful and nonviolent as they may be, is not exempt from murder. As the growth of guns and drugs grew, this affected the way of life for this culture. With these changes the Semai would rather remain without violence. They would rather inflect death upon themselves then cause harm to another. Semai children are never forced to do something they chose not to do or forced against their will. If the parent asks the child to do a task and the response is “I do not want to do that” the matter is dropped.
In order to create some sort of authority over the child, the parent will use fear as a way of discipline. For example lightning and thunderstorms are a source of fear for the Semai. By the age of two years old the Semai children have to learn proper behavior. The mother of the child will stop the nurturing process toward the child. If a child has a tantrum or cries continuously will be ignored by the village not only the parents. This is a vast difference of the rearing of a child in the American culture. The child is taken care of until the age of 18 years. The parents are solely responsible for the well being of the child and all that comes with it. This is in regards to monatry, emotional and economic. The Semai of Malaysia resides within the rainforests and mountain ridges. If there is confusion or discord in the village, they will move on to another area to regain peace among their people. The Semai are a horticultural people. Horticulturalist is defined as cultivation of the earth for consumption. It is used on a personal level in a garden up to the activities of a national level.
It is very different in its use, incorporating plants for food such as fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, culinary herbs and non-food crops flowers, trees and shrubs, turf-grass, hops, medicinal herbs. This also includes plant conservation, landscape restoration, horticultural therapy, and much more. This range of food, medicinal, environmental, and social products and services are all fundamental to developing and maintaining human health and well-being. Horticulturists apply the knowledge, skills, and technologies used to grow intensively produced plants for human food and non-food uses and for personal or social needs. Their work involves plant cultivation with the goal to improve plant growth, yields, quality and nutritional value. They work as gardeners, and growers of horticulture. Using these techniques to supply food for the village. To cultivate, they slash and burn trees. The ashes are used to enhance the soil for their crops. There is not a particular task that is given to the men or the women. The men will hunt and fish to provide food gathering. The women and children carry water, harvest rice and weave baskets. Both the men and the women plant the crops and grain.
The Semai people with pull all their food together after a long day of hunting and harvesting. The divide the food up equally through the camp. In this culture thanking one another is considered an insult as they all work for a common goal. Monetary exchanges amongst the Semai people are considered an embarrassment. It is an insult to come to ones home and try to negotiate. The conversation will start out with trading of hunting stories and or gossip. The Semai live in villages and most of the structures are built with wood, bamboo and palm leaves. The Homes do not have distinct bedrooms, more notably the children. The children sleep in the main hallway. For the adult chambers of the home, curtains made from batik cloth are placed along the entry of the room. If the curtains are drawn back to make an opening, this means one can enter the chambers. If the curtain is closed, entry is forbidden and one has to ask permission to enter. If entry is taken without permission, transgression and disciplinary action is taken.
The Semai use bilateral descent. They do not acknowledge relationships based upon gender. Both the relatives of the husband and of the wife are recognized. The Semai are also matrilocal. This means that the husband will live with the family of the bride for some time. Ones gender is not placed over the other in the Semai culture. Wedding ceremonies are not given in the village. If the man and woman live together and sleep together they consider the couple together. When the couple discontinues from eating and sleeping together, they are considered separated. In American culture marriage is acknowledged by a ceremony and vows being exchanged. It is presented and signed documents indicate that the couple is married. If the couple would like to separate, court documents must reflect this. If a couple in America lives together for over 6 months it is considered common law marriage. Is the separation process of a common law marriage may not be as hard in comparison to a legal marriage, but it has its own burdens.
It is concerning if the Semai will continue to hold true to their beliefs as the world around them begins to impact their lives and their environment. As seen from history to present day, it is unlikely that the Semai’s belief system will become affected and change who they are as a culture. When ever referring to a culture that is strong and unwavering, the Semai people are a great example of this. The strong will is present because of the fear that they have toward the outside world. Discussed in this paper were the values and beliefs, economic organization and the gender relation in the Semai culture. Even with the changes of the world and the things around the Semai have changed, they village stands together and is unmoved.
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