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Negrito / Pangan
Pagan races of the Malay Peninsula (1906) (14781589525).jpg
A group of Semang men in Gerik, Perak, Malaysia, 1906.
Total population
(c. 4596)
Regions with significant populations
Malaysia Malaysia 429
Thailand Thailand 300[1]
Batek, Lanoh, Jahai, Mendriq, Mintil, Kensiu, Kintaq, Ten'edn, Malay
Animism and significant adherents of Christianity, Islam or Buddhism,Hinduism.
Related ethnic groups
Australoids (especially Negritos), Orang Asli

The Semang are a Negrito ethnic group of the Malay Peninsula. They are found in Perak, Kedah and Pahang of Malaysia.[2] During the colonial British administration, Orang Asli living in the northern Malay Peninsula were classified as Sakai.[3]

Lowland Semang tribes are also known as Sakai, although this term is considered to be derogatory by the Semang people.[4] They have been recorded to have lived here since before the 3rd century. They are ethnologically described as nomadic hunter-gatherers. See also Bajaus and Aetas.[5]

Semang Ethnic Groups[edit]

Orang Asli ethnic groups that are classified as "Semang" by the Malaysian government.


A Malaysian Semang man.

The Semangs live in caves or leaf-shelters that form between branches. A loincloth for the men, made of tree bark hammered out with a wooden mallet from the bark of the terap, a species of wild bread-fruit tree, and a short skirt of the same material for the women decorated with segments of bamboo in patterns to magically protect its wearer from disease, is the only dress worn;[6] some go naked.[citation needed]

Scarification is practised.[7] Young boys and girls are scarified in a simple ritual to mark the end of their adolescence.[8] The finely serrated edge of a sugarcane leaf is drawn across the skin, then charcoal powder rubbed into the cut.[9]

They have bamboo musical instruments, a kind of jaw harp, and a nose flute.[10] On festive occasions, there is song and dance, both sexes decorating themselves with leaves.[citation needed]

The Semang bury their dead on the same day itself with the corpse wrapped in mat and the personal belonging of the deceased kept in a small bamboo rack placed over the grave.[11] It is only people of importance such as chief or great magicians are given tree burial.[12]

They have used Capnomancy (divination by smoke) to determine whether a camp is safe for the night.[13]

In 1906 the Thai King Chulalongkorn adopted a Semang orphan boy named Khanung.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kensiu in Thailand". Joshua Project. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  2. ^ Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (1998). The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History, Volume 4. Archipelago Press. ISBN 981-3018-42-9. 
  3. ^ Ooi Keat Gin (2009). Historical Dictionary of Malaysia. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-6305-7. 
  4. ^ Hajek, John (June 1996). "Unraveling Lowland Semang". Oceanic Linguistics. 35 (1): 138–141. JSTOR 3623034. doi:10.2307/3623034. 
  5. ^ Fix, Alan G. (June 1995). "Malayan Paleosociology: Implications for Patterns of Genetic Variation among the Orang Asli". American Anthropologist, New Series. 97 (2): 313–323. JSTOR 681964. doi:10.1525/aa.1995.97.2.02a00090. 
  6. ^ C. Daryll Forde (2013). Habitat, Economy and Society: A Geographical Introduction to Ethnology. Routledge. ISBN 1-136-53465-2. 
  7. ^ Wilfrid Dyson Hambly (1925). The History of Tattooing. Courier Corporation. ISBN 0-486-46812-7. 
  8. ^ Julian Haynes Steward (1972). Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-00295-4. 
  9. ^ Alan Caillou (2000). Rampage. iUniverse. ISBN 0-595-09143-1. 
  10. ^ Terry Miller & Sean Williams, ed. (2011). The Garland Handbook of Southeast Asian Music. Routledge. ISBN 1-135-90154-6. 
  11. ^ Joachim Schliesinger (2015). Ethnic Groups of Thailand: Non-Tai-Speaking Peoples. Booksmango. ISBN 1-63323-229-8. 
  12. ^ Robert W. Williamson (2010). The Mafulu Mountain People of British New Guinea. ISBN 1-4092-2652-2. 
  13. ^ Scott Cunningham (2003). Divination for Beginners: Reading the Past, Present & Future. Llewellyn Publications. ISBN 0-7387-0384-2. 
  14. ^ Woodhouse, Leslie (Spring 2012). "Concubines with Cameras: Royal Siamese Consorts Picturing Femininity and Ethnic Difference in Early 20th Century Siam". Women's Camera Work: Asia. 2 (2). Retrieved 8 July 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bernatzik, H. A., & Ivanoff, J. (2005). Moken and Semang: 1936–2004, persistence and change. Bangkok: White Lotus. ISBN 974-480-082-8
  • Gomes, A. G. (1982). Ecological adaptation and population change: Semang foragers and Temuan horticulturists in West Malaysia. Honolulu, Hawaii (1777 East-West Rd., Honolulu 96848): East-West Environment and Policy Institute.
  • Human Relations Area Files, inc. (1976). Semang. [Ann Arbor, Mich: University Microfilms.
  • Mirante, Edith (2014) "The Wind in the Bamboo: Journeys in Search of Asia's 'Negrito' Indigenous Peoples" Bangkok, Orchid Press.
  • Rambo, A. T. (1985). Primitive polluters: Semang impact on the Malaysian tropical rain forest ecosystem. Ann Arbor, Mich: Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan. ISBN 0-915703-04-1

External links[edit]