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Malaysian Semai people: To be modern, or not

03-13-2012 10:01 BJT

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To modernize, or not, it is a question for the Semai people. The tribe lives in the jungles of the Malaysian Peninsula. They are seeking a way to keep their cultural identity, as well as improving their living standard. Our reporter Xiao Xiaowai trekked into the jungle to find out about their everyday life.

This dance is called Sewang. It's not for welcoming guests or festival celebrations, but for calling on the Semai people's Guardian God to cure diseases. It is also performed when a villagers recovers.

The Semai people do not go to hospitals, instead ask their Bomoh, their witch doctor for help. 76-year-old Bah Aman is the oldest Bomho in the village. He has cured Syarni Saavi's leg injury.

Sysrni Saavi from Ulu Geroh said, "I believe my elder villager can cure me with a magical spell, chasing away evil spirits with our traditional ways. With my leg injury such as this, I've never been to a clinic, never been to a hospital, only my Atuk can cure me until I recover."

Ulu Geroh is a typical Semai village, with a population of more than 400. They lead quite a simple life, staying in traditional houses made of wood and bamboo. It's quite cool as it has three windows and a door on four sides.They stay on the first floor, leaving the ground floor for chickens and dogs. The only room of the house is a multiple purpose construction. It can be used as the bedroom, the sitting room and the kitchen. The villagers use fingers to eat their food. Forks and spoons are for portioning out the food when there are guests.

The tribe lives in the jungles of the Malaysian Peninsula.
They are seeking a way to keep their cultural identity, as
well as improving their living standard.

Besides slash and burn agriculture, they make a living by hunting and gathering forest products.

20-year-old Sani Boh Chidi collects rottan every day. On average, Sani earns 16 Ringgit, or 5 US dollars a day,by selling 8 rottan. But Sani said he would like a change if he has the chance.

Sani Boh Chidi from Ulu Geroh said, "I like most to stay in the city, because in the city, there are a lot of special things and we can earn money easily. We can get a lot of things that we like."

Older tribal members have different ideas from the young. Ngah Sidin Hamazah has been the chief of the village for 20 years. The 73-year-old says the village has changed a lot, even their apparel has been totally modernized in the past 30 years. He has called a village meeting that is aimed at remembering the old ways of life.

Ngah Sidin Hamazah, Ulu Geroh Village chief, said, "Like the Malay dance Joget, the Semai's Sewang, is also an old dance. When women are pregnant we never went to the hospital. We are beginning to practice this again."

CCTV's Xiao Xiaowai said, "To protect the traditional culture, or to modernize it, is a question of the Semai people. Currently eco-tourism is being used as a solution to deal with the clashes between nature, culture and civilization."

They guide tourists on treks to take in the abundant nature of their jungle, such as rafflesias, the largest flowers in the world, and the Rajah Brooke Birdwings, Malaysia's national butterfly. The villagers donate most of their guide payment to the Village Development Fund. In this way, they keep the jungle well with the gifts from the jungle.

However they never confine themselves in the mountains. Although most elders in the village do not have formal education, they send their kids to the outside world to study. Every morning at 6 o'clock, an old vehicle ferries the kids to the primary school 11 kilometers away and a secondary school 20 kilometers away. This is the hope of the new generation of the Semai people.


Editor:Liu Fang |Source: CNTV.CN

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