An analysis of the Semai people of the Malay Peninsula Your name Name of course Name of professor Name of school/college Month, year An analysis of the Semai people of the Malay Peninsula The Semai are a tribe of people who live in the Malay Peninsula. In popular culture, they are famous for the peaceful ways that they adopt in their ways of living…
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In the case of the Semai too, this is true. Their unique model of a society is based mostly on the needs of their mode of subsistence. The unique manner in which modern society has permeated the society of the Semai having left untouched certain features of their value systems is astonishing. The Semai people have not become a part of the Malay society; there are however, intermarriages that lead to the descendants leaving the community sooner or later. The importance of the Semai for most anthropologists lie in the position that they occupy within the debate as to whether humans are innately violent or not. People on either side of the barrier, especially during the time of the Vietnam War, appropriated the customs and beliefs of the Semai people to argue their beliefs. With an increasing emphasis on Freudian analyses in the twentieth century, the peaceful Semai’s ways began to be scrutinized more closely. The peaceful modes of their living were seen as an instance of repression. The violent tendencies that were supposedly repressed over centuries through a cultural system could apparently burst forth any minute according to certain commentators. The instances where they have indulged in violence have been sporadic and exceptional. Even though both sides of the spectrum are not free of tendencies to exoticize the Semai, the fact remains that they are a peace-loving tribe that lives a life that is unique and in many ways, unaffected by the ways of modern societies and economies (Robarchek and Dentan, 1987). Many ways of saying the same story have led, according to certain commentators, to distortions in the way that the Semai have been perceived. This is mostly done for the purposes of the people in power at any given point of time (Rawski and Ngah, 1998). Since the Semai do not enter into the process of representation and its politics, the representations of the west are the ones that dominate. The reason for this peaceful organization of society can be traced to the commitment that the Semai demonstrate towards their mode of subsistence-horticulture. They mostly employ the methods of slash and burn agriculture. This refers to a mode of agriculture where a particular space in the forest is cleared by cutting down the trees in that area. The place is then burnt. This results in the production of a great amount of ash that can assume the function of the fertilizer. Following this preliminary preparation of the field, sowing of the grain is done. Both women and men are a part of the process of cultivation. This also reveals the gender relations in the society of the Semai. Both men and women are considered to be equal in this society and they are both a part of the decision-making processes of the society. Since women are a part of the process of the production of food, they are also entitled to a say in other matters as much as men are. Women also perform domestic chores such as cooking and fetching water. The important thing to note in this regard is that women are not forced to do these activities and they can also be done by the men of the society. No work is considered to be the exclusive field of members of a particular sex. This is a refreshing change from patriarchal societies that exist in most parts of the world. Food is also acquired through the process of hunting, trapping and fishing, with most of these activities
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