The Batek of Malaysia

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The Batek of Malaysia
The Batek of Malaysia
The Batek have been one of the indigenous groups of Malaysia and the name Batek means the 'original people of Malaysia'. The people of the Batek community were documented back in 1878, being the earliest evidence of them in written form. A Russian by the name Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai was the one who wrote about the Batek community. They are the native people of Malaysia and dominated the rainforest found in the Peninsular of the country. They boast of their own distinct language, a rich culture, well-preserved traditions, and signature architecture style. Throughout the research paper, we shall discuss the social organization, gender roles, and the influence of social change on the preservation of their culture.
Social Organization

The Batek who are inhabitants of the rainforest have built in villages where each village has an approximately a dozen huts on stilts, and the plan of the huts is rectangular. The raising of the huts allows for proper movement of air and not because they have settled or constructed their huts conveniently along the river. The area is sandy and man seems to have cleared it. Endicott (1984) explains more that various factors such as the roof-span are limited and the widths of the palms determine the shape of the huts and their size. The frame of the huts comes from an assortment of hardwood, bamboo makes the walls of the huts, and pitched roofs of the huts are in a way that they overhang the walls.

According to Endicott (1984), the Batek people live in harmony with one another and have the communal spirit in them and even through the way; they carry out their day-to-day activities. In the villages that they have constructed, one end has a hut that is open on one side, which the Batek community uses to shelter themselves from the sun or rain, and there is a massive bamboo dining table for communal use. Everything among them especially food is shared, which after acquisition is shared first among the immediate family members then the extra portion is handed over to the extended families. However, the portions are not similar for all families as they are adjustable depending on the size of the family. It is with keen observation that this act is not out kindness but out of necessity. The reason behind all this is that the Batek believe that food belongs to the rainforest and if they share, it is a way of avoiding punishment by the supernatural.

The Batek do not have definite religious beliefs and revere the jungle and the river as spirits. These are the spirits behind the practice of the Batek people moving to another village when one of them dies. The use of hut is to keep dead person, which is fifty meters high and is left with their possessions and some food reserved for the spirits. They have no sense of land ownership hence they move with leisure. They however come back to that particular village after three years when they come to the hut where they laid the deceased. As a signal for the rest of the people to return to the village they take one skeletal bone then burry it.

Gender Relations
Endicott (2008) explains that the men in the Batek community have their well-defined roles such as they are responsible in making the structures of the huts and even the walls of the huts but not the roofs. They also make the blowpipes, which to some is a work of art. Hallowing is from trunks of young palm by tying a money bone on to a rattan. On hallowing it, there is use of a cane piece to make the barrel smooth and resin help to seal the mouthpiece. There is making of darts in such a way that when there is use of blowpipes to blow them they hit the target accurately. There is dipping of the tips of the darts in a poison that is found naturally in the rainforest with believe to kill a person or even paralyses. The accuracy of these men is to an astounding distance of thirty meters from the target.

The men are also responsible to hunt the game found in the rainforest in some instances like the monkeys. Men organize themselves in a hunting party and on hunting an animal, they eat the tail and the offal first as they can be cooked very fast even in the forest, then they head back home with the rest for sharing. The men also have the role of mating with their women who are from within the village. It is believed that the more children a man has the more hardworking he is and any man with children less than eight is considered a lazy person. When a family expands, there is no expansion of the huts to accommodate everyone but rather a new one as it only takes a day to do so.

Endicott (2008) points out that the women of the Batek community who spend most of their time indoors are the ones with the sole responsibility of making the roofs for the huts from an early age. The roof thatching makes the roof where there is removal of the leaves on the plant and is sown again into a tile. The women are also responsible in gathering the fruits, vegetables and the other foodstuffs from the rain forest and cook for their families. Women observe beauty in that they do not share their hair comb with men, which is a personal belonging as the blowpipe is to a man.

Social Change
The practice of hunting and gathering affect the lifestyle of the Batek people as deforestation of the rain forest is a threat in which they would hunt for animals and even gather fruits. Wawrinec (2010) expounds that some of the rainforests buffer zones are known to have very rich timbers and this is leading to logging companies rush to such areas in search of high quality timber. Once they cut the trees, there will be very little cover for the soil in the areas and since such parts of Malaysia are popular in floods, there will be siltation in the rivers and this will hinder the sustenance it used to provide for the Batek people.

Another development that is going to change the social ways of the Batek people is because Malaysia is a large producer of palm oil in the world. This is affecting the Batek people in the areas they greatly inhabit which are the Taman Negrara National Park and the palm oil plantations around them.
According to Wawrinec (2010), the Batek people are greatly afraid to integrate with the rest of the people in the society so that they can assimilate. The government of Malaysia is trying its level best to educate the Batek by putting up a boarding school that is about two hours away when driving from their villages. The school saw an enrollment of twelve children and this could have been the fear of the Batek people if their children go to school and forget their rich culture. It is common where a Batek woman will willingly send only one child to school and let the others continue with the activities of the tribe. Some children also drop out of that school because other children make fun of them for attending school late or because they do not look like all the other students. Some Batek children udergo home sick and opt to go back home or it interferes with their learning and some cannot read as well since they enroll to school at a much older age.

On the other hand, the rich heritage of the Batek people does not receive the attention it deserves by the government. The policy of the government only strives to integrate the Batek with the mainstream communities in society and overlooks the fact that they need recognition. This makes them uncomfortable and they even retaliate in demanding they want to be lead by people who have the indigenous knowledge as much as the level of education of the people set out to lead them.

As urbanization is spreading the individual traditions and lifestyles of the Batek and the mainstream society are always against each other. The Batek community has a sparse population in the forest and they continue to battle with the question of whether it is safe for them to integrate or accept assimilation.

Endicott, K.M & Endicott, K.L (2008). The headsman was a woman: The Gender Egalitarian Batek of Malaysia.
Endicott, K. L (1984). The Batek De' of Malaysia. Cultural Survival, Quartely 8(summer), 6-8
Wawrinec, C. (2010). Tribality and indigeneity in Malaysia and Indonesia. The Stanford journal of East Asian Affairs.