Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Semai are the largest of the central Malay Peninsula Senoi peoples. They live in areas ranging from mountain rainforest to urban suburbs in the states of Pahang and Perak. Most Semai subsist by means of hunting, fishing, swidden cultivation, gathering and trading of forest products such as durian, petai, and rattan, or work as day laborers in nearby towns. The Semai are recognized as one of the original 17 aboriginal peoples of Malaysia, who call themselves Orang Asli. They descend from people who originally arrived on the peninsula around 8000-6000 BC.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Asia --Southeast Asia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The main ethnographers of the Semai are Dentan, who did his fieldwork in 1962-1963, and Robarchek, who did his fieldwork ten years later. Dentan’s published dissertation (Dentan 1976, no. 21) provides the basic community study and ethnography of the Semai. He has also written briefer cultural summaries (Dentan 1964, no. 1; 1968, no. 17), including one on Semai identity (Dentan 1975, no. 15). The apparent passivity of the Semai attracted numerous psychological studies by Robarchek (1977, no. 12; 1978, no. 4; 1979a, no. 13; 1987, no. 8), as well as, an article by him on dispute management (1979b, no. 28). Dentan’s contribution to the subject looks at child-rearing practices (Dentan 1978, no. 16; 2001, no. 29). Other studies focus on diet (Dentan 1965, no. 7; 1991, no. 30), medicine (Dentan 1968, no. 24), kinship (Dentan 1970, no. 25), and dreams (Domhoff 1985, no. 10). Fix (1972, no. 6) did a genetic study of the Semai to define the local breeding group. Gomes (2004, no. 26) wrote on the household economy. Dentan (2008, no. 27) pushes the ethnographic envelope in a passionate account of the historical shaping of Semai psychology.

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

bcaraa –dispute settlement council– Use INFORMAL INGROUP JUSTICE ( 627)

durian –fruit– Use ABORICULTURE ( 245) and COLLECTING ( 222)

hal –conflict, dispute, affair– Use INGROUP ANTAGONISMS ( 578)

liaaw –adolescent or young adult– Use ADOLESCENT ( 883)

petai –fragrant flower– Use COLLECTING ( 222)

punan –supernatural danger– Use AVOIDANCE AND TABOO ( 784)

slamaad –desired state of peace– Use ADJUSTMENT PROCESSES ( 154)

srngloo’ –letting someone down– Use SEX AND MARITAL OFFENCES ( 684)

tnghaan –evil deeds, desire, lust– Use AVOIDANCE AND TABOO ( 784)

towkay –trader and wholesaler– Use WHOLESALE MARKETING ( 442)

waris –egocentered kindred– Use KINDREDS AND RAMAGES ( 612)

Indexing Notes by

Ian Skoggard

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