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The Batek Of Malaysia Essay

3009 words - 13 pages

The Batek
The Batek are one among a dozen diverse cultural groups of the Orang Asli people of central Malaysia. They are an indigenous people who live in the rainforest of peninsular Malaysia. The name Batek means ‘original people’ and is assumed to be first used by Austronesian-speaking settlers who arrived by boat from the islands of Southeast Asia. They now largely inhabit the Taman Negara National Park, as a result of intrusion. They are nomadic hunters and gatherers and so the exact locations of their settlements change within the general confines of the area where they inhabit. The Batek have survived for centuries as a nomadic foraging-gatherer society and have managed to create and ...view middle of the document...

In many occasions, the camp may have a large amount of food because of the hunting and butchering of meat. The Batek has formal and ritualistic way of dividing it. For example if a monkey is caught the members of the hunting party eat the offal and tail, and then the cooked meat is divided to portions adjusted according to the size of the family so that each family in the camp gets almost equal share. For the Batek sharing of resources is not an act of kindness as they believe that the person who happens to be in possession of food items which is owned by the forest, has a moral obligation to share it. Their dwellings are not made with much storing capacity as they don’t hoard food without others knowing about it. Somebody who is hungry can take food from another members’ place, as it is not considered as an action of theft.

It is documented that the primary means of subsistence of the Batek was hunting and gathering. They also used to trade forest products for agricultural products and manufactured goods. They shared their territory with Malay farmers who lived along the major rivers between the late 1800s and the end of World War II. During the 1970s a number of Batek families moved to Post Lebir, a federal resettlement project sponsored by the Malaysian Department of Aboriginal Affairs because of the threat of the Communist guerillas then operating in the remote jungle areas. Since the 1950s the Batek have been the only permanent inhabitants of this area. Although these lands are their traditional homes, they do not have any legal title or control over them. Legally, the land belongs to the state, and the Batek are only unlawful tenant. However they have been allowed to occupy state land when it was not being used.

At Post Lebir they joined a small number of Batek of other dialect groups who were already settled there. About 160 Batek were living there by 1981 at least part of the time. The Government has built a school, medical post, and other facilities at Post Lebir and has supplied the settlers with seeds and facilities for growing rubber trees and food crops. The Government agency has also provided a small herd of cows as a start for a different life style. The Batek settled at Post Lebir now derive a portion of their subsistence from their crops and a part from rations and wages given by the Government. Still most of their income comes from the collection and trade of forest produce. Batek mostly collect rattan and gaharu wood used in making perfume and incense. Many of the men from Post Lebir spend at least half of their time collecting forest produce. Some Batek women also engage in collection of forest products. The remainder of the Batek has continued to lead a fully nomadic subsistence in the upper reaches of the Lebir, Aring, and Relai rivers. They are also engaged in the collection of rattan and gaharu wood. They also depend on purchased foods such as rice and flour for their subsistence. But their major...

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