The Batek of Malaysia

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The Batek of Malaysia
Orang Asli (Original People)

The Batek people of Malaysia are a part of the last Orang Asli, Malay for original people, existing on peninsular Malaysia. They are peaceful people, with little to no conflict engagement. They are encountering encroachment from the outside world, through deforestation, but have not allowed that to change their ways of life…Yet. These people have lived, loved, foraged, transitioned, sustained, and withstood through generations, holding to their cultural ideals. The Batek are a nomadic people that rely on the earth to sustain them. Their culture is entirely egalitarian. Their leaders are not chosen, but ascend. They do not fight the environment, but bend to its whims. Gender, social and kinship equality are the threadwork of their culture. Many cultures view the sexes in many different ways. Gender roles, marriage roles, and societal roles between the sexes can be very different across cultures. Nowak & Laird (2010) outline a few cultures. American society purports to strive for equality for all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, or race. We do not always achieve this goal, and we can still see many inequalities in our society, particularly between men and women. Endicott (1984) stated the Batek have always enjoyed equality between the sexes. In fact they do not see much difference between the two genders, besides a few physiological differences. Men and women perform day to day activities side by side. Men do most of the hunting, but that is not because women are not allowed, or encouraged to hunt. The same holds true for foraging. The women do most of the gathering of tubers and other plant materials, but men are not restricted from this activity. Men and women engage in child-rearing and interaction equally. The Batek have very few distinctions between the sexes. One such distinction is in their creation story. It suggests that men and women are created from the same elements but have a slightly different shape. It gives no order of importance to either gender. The Batek do consider some differences between men and women. They acknowledge that men are intrinsically physically stronger; their muscles are bigger and their breath is stronger than that of the women. This is why men are better hunters, because they can reach their prey higher up in the trees and climb higher to retrieve it. For this reason the young boys are the focus of the hunting training. The Batek hunt by blowing poison darts through a blowpipe, using their mouths to blow air through the pipe. This does not limit the women to foraging fruits and forest vegetation. Women hunt prey closer to the ground and are not afraid to climb, or swing in the trees. The women hunt on a recreational basis, as do the younger male and female children, and the group does not rely on their efforts to sustain them, but that is not because it is prohibited. Because protein, obtained from meat, and plant materials are equally important in a person’s diet, the food gathering of women is viewed with as importance to the group. If a day’s hunt does not yield any meat, the group must rely on the food gathered by the women to feed its people. According to Endicott, K. (1991)., after hunting monkeys and other meats in the forest, the Batek take advantage of what they can, with emphasis put on whatever food staples consist of the most caloric intake. This includes wild fruit and honey, traded foods, and tubers. Hunting takes skill and training, as does plant gathering. Just as hunters must track and kill prey, foragers must have the knowledge to locate the vegetation, and how to harvest it. As in many hunter-gathering societies, the women may take babies in slings on their gathering ventures. Elderly members and slightly older children also help to watch the babies while the adults gather food. (Nowak & Laird, 2010)

There are obvious differences between women and men. Women...
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