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For the "Sakai people" (Orang Sakai) of the Indonesian Minangkabau people branch, see Sakai people.
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 4296
Thailand Thailand 300
Batek, Lanoh, Jahai, Mendriq, Mintil, Kensiu, Kintaq, Ten'edn, Malay
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.[1] During the colonial British administration, Orang Asli living in the northern Malay Peninsula were classified as Sakai.[2] Lowland Semang tribes are also known as Sakai, although this term is considered to be derogatory by the Semang people.[3] 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.[4]

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 for the women, is the only dress worn; some go naked.[citation needed]

Scarification is practised. The finely serrated edge of a sugarcane leaf is drawn across the skin, then charcoal powder rubbed into the cut.[citation needed]

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

The Semang bury their dead simply,[clarification needed] and place food and drink in the grave.[citation needed]

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

In 1906 the Thai King Chulalongkorn adopted a Semang orphan boy named Khanung.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (1998). The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History, Volume 4. Archipelago Press. ISBN 9-8130-1842-9. 
  2. ^ Ooi Keat Gin (2009). Historical Dictionary of Malaysia. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-6305-7. 
  3. ^ Hajek, John (June 1996). "Unraveling Lowland Semang". Oceanic Linguistics 35 (1): 138–141. doi:10.2307/3623034. JSTOR 3623034. 
  4. ^ 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. doi:10.1525/aa.1995.97.2.02a00090. JSTOR 681964. 
  5. ^ 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