ANT.101, WK5 As1 Final DRAFT SEMAI CULTURE, Tarasha Hickson-Smith
ANT.101, WK5 As1 Final DRAFT SEMAI CULTURE, Tarasha Hickson-Smith
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Date Created: 11/13/15
Running Head: THE PEACE WITHIN UNDERSTANDING THE PEACE WITHIN THE SEMAI SOCIETY Tarasha HicksonSmith ANT. 101 Professor Rachel Grabner August 1, 2011 THE PEACE WITHIN 2 UNDERSTANDING THE PEACE WITHIN THE SEMAI SOCIETY Throughout history anthropologist have done much research both ethnographically and ethnologically to enlighten people about the surrounding societies and their cultures. The one particular culture that seems to be peculiar to many that study them is the Semai from the Orang Asli tribe located the peninsula of Southeast Malaysia. They are the have largest community of the 19 tribes within the Orang Asli group. The points expressed in this document will be from an etic pointofview, attempting to further analyze how the peaceful character of Semai communities plays a part in its subsistence that affects them in three different aspects; their beliefs and values, their social organization, and their economic organization. While the Semai culture is based on keeping the peace using nonviolent tactics to counteract negative forces that they feel are ubiquitous, their actions seem to be counterproductive for the sustainability of their society in today’s economy (Nicholas, 1992). Semai Beliefs and Values The Semai society has a distinguished way of life that is built on the foundation of their peaceful nature. 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 (Alternative to Violence and War, n.d). The Semai believe in placing a high value on group solidarity, mutual dependence, and peace; these values are reaffirmed often during bcaraa’ proceedings to settle internal disputes (Alternative to Violence and War, n.d). They also practice THE PEACE WITHIN 3 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 (Denton, 2008). Social Organization 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. The Orang Asli people believe they are the direct and last decedents of the first man, Adam. The name Orang Asli means Original People in the Malayan language (Alternative to Violence and War, n.d). 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 (Alternative to Violence and War, n.d). 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 gender specific tasks but equal participation is of the utmost 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 (Denton, 2008). 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). As mentioned before, there are headmen in charge to perform certain ceremonies that foster peace. This is believed to create balance between their society and nature to encourage continued success spiritually, socially and economically. Initially it takes the whole group to provide sufficient needs for the entire community. Considering their semi sedentary habitation they must work together as a THE PEACE WITHIN 4 family sharing the labor as well as the fruits of their labor. Although the Semai have minimal wants they still enjoy the social commodity of participating as a family. Being direct descendants of Adam they believe they must do all they can to maintain the original guidelines given by the creator and the character of a man reveals his ability to have selfcontrol also reflecting his value for his heritage and culture. Economic Organization The Semai egalitarian social system also supports the system of operating in a moral economy. In the Malayan rainforest there is an exotic variety of fruits trees and animals that the Semai use for their food supply. In addition they learned to cultivate rice used to compliment the fruit and meat that was hunted and gathered (Nicholas, 1992). By the Semai people being mainly hunters and gatherers in such a rich environment they discovered more than one way of subsistence in their leisure time. They used the left over products from gathered goods to produce useful accessories such as; water containers, wicker baskets, amongst other things (Nicholas, 1992). This would change their bracket of subsistence from just being hunters and gatherers to being extensive horticulturalist. However, because they did not possess a means of storage for the overflow of goods they would distribute the goods equally amongst one another using a system of immediate return. After coming from the fields they would divide their shares and crops before preparation of the meals and even after to assure no one was left out. Their multitalented efforts of subsistence would soon catch the attention of others wishing to capitalize on their unified mode of the collection and production of tradable goods and products. THE PEACE WITHIN 5 Economic Change Over the past decade, according to cultural anthropologist Colin Nicholas (1985) observation the Semai is increasingly involved in producing simple commodities for cash return. This is a direct influence of a state forcing or coercing them into capitalism, while not fully submersed in capitalist mode. Since their civilization and conversion to capitalism they have a diverted gathering system. Rather than their usual gathering of petai (tropical fruit), durain (spiny stinky fruit), and rattan (switch from climbing palm trees) they now also gather bamboo (used to manufacture furniture accessories), gaharu (incensewood), resins, and jelutong ((used to manufacture chewing gum) (Nicholas, 1992, p. 75). They also have learned to produce rubber and palm oil that is also sold and traded for cash. It is said that the transformation of the economy caused another shift of their economy eventually resulting in reorganization of production as well as a slave raid which may have been presented as a means for advancement of their society by way of enculturation. Eventually this was not considered slavery but rather unequal exchange and surplus appropriation. According to Nicholas (1992) he notes, “The Semai simple commodity producers still retain possession of their means of production and are generally not employed as wagelabourers(sic). Semai production is therefore determined by commodity relations and organized along the lines of simple commodity production not by capitalist relations (Nicholas, 1992).” Conclusion Even though the Semai did not express the need for this change to occur there persistence to remain peaceful during the compromising invasions that led to their current economic position THE PEACE WITHIN 6 caused yet another shift. They both could have benefited from this new economic system of exchange; however, it was fear of the evitable that lead to surrender. Like most tribes they could have fought to preserve the integrity of their traditional way of life and subsistence but their choice of nonviolence may have saved the lives of those not in agreement and willing to go to war to fight for the right to be autonomous. Even in Denton’s ethnographies showing a display of skillful avoidance of labeling the Semai people as saccharine as he witnessed the countless appearances of defeat, he recognized them to be highly intelligent to acknowledge and accept their strength to remain peaceful against such antagonizing adversity making the enemy appear weak for attempting to resort use unnecessary force (Denton, 2008). The Semai people may have been misunderstood concerning their nonviolent tactics to counteract negative forces but even in counter production they preserved the sustainability of their society in addition to gaining extra skills all while remaining their integrity of being peace keepers. As advocates for peace the Semai have shown evidence that it takes a special person to continue to support efforts to counteract war with peaceful resolutions. The original belief system may have been altered or adjusted over time but the Semai have never lost its core values of remaining a people of peaceful nature. Maybe by adopting some of their cultural values it may be possible to achieve world peace with communication, not complication. THE PEACE WITHIN 7 Works Cited Alternative to Violence and War. (n.d). Retrieved July 13, 2011, from Peaceful Societies: www.peacefulsocieties.org/society/Semai Bonta, B. D. (1996). Conflict Resolution among Peaceful Societies: The Culture of Peacefulness. In Journal of Peace Research (Vol. 33, pp. 403-420). Denton, R. K. (2008). Responding to Terror: Intellectually, Emotionally, Spiritually. In Overwhelming Terror: Love, Fear, Peace, and Violence among Semai of Malaysia (pp. 65-87, ). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. . Lin, C. Y. (2006). Autonomy Re-constituted: Social and Gendered Implications of Dam Resettlement on the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia. In Gender Technology and Development (Vol. 10, pp. 77-99). Nicholas, C. (1992). MERCHANT CAPTIAL AND THE SIMPLE REPRODUCTION SQUEEZE IN SEMAI SOCIETY. Illmu Masyarakat. Nowak, B., & Laird, P. (2010). Social Organization: Forms of Marriage. In CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY (pp. chap 3.7, para. 4). San Diego, California: Bridgepoint Education.
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