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Negrito / Pangan / Ngò' Pa
Pagan races of the Malay Peninsula (1906) (14781589525).jpg
A group of Semang men in Gerik, Perak, Malaya, 1906
Total population
c. 4,596
Regions with significant populations
Malay Peninsula:
 MalaysiaApproximately 2,000-3,000[1]
Batek, Lanoh, Jahai, Mendriq, Mintil, Kensiu, Kintaq, Ten'edn, Malay
Animism and significant adherents of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism
Related ethnic groups
Negritos, Orang Asli (Cheq Wong people)

The Semang are a Negrito ethnic groups of the Malay Peninsula.[3][4] They are found in Perak, Kedah and Pahang of Malaysia.[5]

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.[6]

Name and status[edit]

In Malaysia they are officially called Negrito (Orang Negrito in Malay language) or Semang (Orang Semang in Malay language). The first term has an outright racial context, as Negrito in Spanish language means "little negro". In the past, eastern groups of Semang people have been called Pangan. Lowland Semang tribes are also known as Sakai, although this term is considered to be derogatory by the Semang people.[7]

Malaysian Semang people are included as part of the Orang Asli; where various groups of indigenous peoples of the country that still maintain a tribal way of life. Orang Asli includes 18 officially recognized tribes that are divided into 3 ethnic groups namely the Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay (Aboriginal Malay). The group of Negrito consists of 6 tribes that are known as the Kensiu people, Kintaq people, Lanoh people, Jahai people, Mendriq people and Batek people. All Orang Asli are under the care of the state government, namely the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jabalan Kemajuan Orang Asli, JAKOA); whose goal is to integrate indigenous populations into the wider Malaysian society.

The three category division of the indigenous population was inherited by the Malaysian government from the British administration of the colonial era. It is based on racial concepts, according to which the Negrito were seen as the most primitive race leading the vagrant way of life of hunter-gatherers. The Senoi were considered more developed, and the Proto-Malay were placed at almost the same level with the Malaysian Malay Muslims.

In Thailand, the term Orang Asli is not used. There the Negrito people are usually called Sakai or Ngopa (Ngò 'Pa or Ngoh Paa, which literally means "curly/frizzy (haired) people").[8] The first term is negatively perceived by the Semang people themselves, it has Malay origin and used to refer the Semang people and other Orang Asli groups as savages, subjects or slaves.[8] In Malaysia, this term has been denied.

The Thai government does not recognize the Semang people; just like the rest of the other national minorities, the indigenous people of the country who are considered as Thais. However, the existence of the Sakai people, is an exception, and are recognized at the official level. This is due to the fact that this small ethnic group is under the personal protection and patronage of the royal family of Thailand. The Thais perceive the Semang people as primitive and a backward group of the population.

Racial features[edit]

A Semang man in Malaya, 1906.

The Semang people differ from their neighboring ethnic groups not only in terms of lifestyle, but also in terms of anthropological grounds. They belong to the so-called Negrito race, where the main features of which are such as short stature of growth (150 cm in men and about 140 cm in women), dark skin (the color varies from dark color of copper to black), curly hair, wide nose, thick lips, round eyes and low cheekbones.[9][10] Other representatives of this race are the indigenous inhabitants of the Andaman Islands in India and the Aeta people in the Philippines.[11]

Ethnic groups[edit]

Map from Pagan Races of the Malay Peninsula (1906). Blue = Semang; yellow = Sakai tribe; red = Jakun people.

Semang people is an ethnic group that are only conventionally united on the basis of racial and cultural characteristics. They do not have a sense of common ethnic identity like the Semang or Negrito people in Malaysia or Sakai in Thailand.

In total there are at least ten tribal groups of the Orang Asli ethnic group that are classified as "Semang" in Malaysia (not all of them are officially recognized by the Malaysian government):-

A few smaller groups of Semang people are in the southern provinces of Thailand. These nomadic groups mentioned under the names such as Tonga, Mos, Chong and Ten'en. They call themselves Mani people[21], but their linguistic affiliation remains uncertain.

Because of the small number of some of these Semang people groups, they are on the verge of disappearance.


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;[22] some go naked although not customary.[23]

Scarification is practised.[24] Young boys and girls are scarified in a simple ritual to mark the end of their adolescence.[25] The finely serrated edge of a sugarcane leaf is drawn across the skin, then charcoal powder rubbed into the cut.[26]

They have bamboo musical instruments, a kind of jaw harp, and a nose flute.[27] On festive occasions, there is song and dance, both sexes decorating themselves with leaves.[28][29]

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.[30] Only people of great importance, such as chiefs or great magicians are given a tree burial.[31]

They have used Capnomancy (divination by smoke) to determine whether a camp is safe for the night.[32]

In 1906, the Thai King Chulalongkorn adopted a Semang orphan boy named Khanung.[33]

See also[edit]


  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Semang". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.


  1. ^ Geoffrey Benjamin & Cynthia Chou (2002). Tribal Communities in the Malay World: Historical, Cultural and Social Perspectives. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 36. ISBN 98-123-0167-4.
  2. ^ "Kensiu in Thailand". Joshua Project. Retrieved 2016-11-10.
  3. ^ "35 Map". The Andaman Association. 18 August 2002. Archived from the original on 20 November 2003. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  4. ^ "35. The Negrito of Malaysia: Semang". The Andaman Association. 18 August 2002. Archived from the original on 25 December 2002. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  5. ^ Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (1998). The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History, Volume 4. Archipelago Press. ISBN 981-3018-42-9.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Hajek, John (June 1996). "Unraveling Lowland Semang". Oceanic Linguistics. 35 (1): 138–141. doi:10.2307/3623034. JSTOR 3623034.
  8. ^ a b "Semang - Orientation". World Culture Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  9. ^ Marta Mirazón Lahr (1996). "R. A. Foley; Nina Jablonski; Michael Little; C. G. Nicholas Mascie-Taylor; Karen Strier; Kenneth M. Weiss". The Evolution of Modern Human Diversity: A Study of Cranial Variation. Cambridge University Press. p. 303. ISBN 05-214-7393-4.
  10. ^ The Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 20. Grolier Incorporated. 1990. p. 76. ISBN 07-172-0121-X.
  11. ^ Encyclopedia Americana: Pumps to Russell. Scholastic Library Publishing. 2005. p. 31. ISBN 07-172-0138-4.
  12. ^ Ab. Aziz Mohd. Zin (2006). Dakwah Islam di Malaysia. Akademi Pengajian Islam, Universiti Malaya. p. 18. ISBN 98-310-0381-0.
  13. ^ Raihanah Abdullah (2009). Pembelaan kumpulan minoriti di Malaysia: isu dan cabaran. Pusat Dialog Peradaban, Universiti Malaya. p. 96. ISBN 98-330-7034-5.
  14. ^ Contributions to Southeast Asian Ethnography. Board of Editors, Contributions to Southeast Asian Ethnography. 2004. p. 101.
  15. ^ Robert Parkin (1991). A Guide to Austroasiatic Speakers and Their Languages. University of Hawaii Press. p. 53. ISBN 08-248-1377-4.
  16. ^ "Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde". Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, Volumes 77-78. A. Asher & Company. 1952. p. 200.
  17. ^ Hamid Mohd Isa & Mokhtar Saidin (2014). "Sustainable Hunters and Gatherers in Belum-Temenggor Tropical Rainforest" (PDF). Centre for Global Archaeological Research, Universiti Sains Malaysia. Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  18. ^ Nazaruddin Zainun & A. S. Hardy Shafii, ed. (2018). Nusantara daripada Pelbagai Perspektif Kearifan Tempatan. Penerbit USM. ISBN 96-746-1171-1.
  19. ^ Riduan Makhtar; Nurliyana SM Soflee; Mohd Sharifudin Yusop; Abd Ganing Laengkang (2018). "Pengaruh Dialek Kelantan Dalam Bahasa Temiar: Satu Analisis Fonologi Struktural". International Journal of Education, Psychology and Counseling, 3(11). p. 44. Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  20. ^ a b c Geoffrey Benjamin (1976). "Austroasiatic Subgroupings and Prehistory in the Malay Peninsula" (PDF). Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications, No. 13, Austroasiatic Studies Part I. University of Hawai'i Press. pp. 37–128. Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  21. ^ Thonghom (2003). George Weber, ed. "36. The Negrito of Thailand: The Mani". The Andaman Association. Archived from the original on 20 May 2013. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  22. ^ C. Daryll Forde (2013). Habitat, Economy and Society: A Geographical Introduction to Ethnology. Routledge. ISBN 1-136-53465-2.
  23. ^ Ivor H Evan (2012). Negritos of Malaya. Routledge. pp. 71–72. ISBN 11-362-6215-6.
  24. ^ Wilfrid Dyson Hambly (1925). The History of Tattooing. Courier Corporation. ISBN 0-486-46812-7.
  25. ^ Julian Haynes Steward (1972). Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-00295-4.
  26. ^ Alan Caillou (2000). Rampage. iUniverse. ISBN 0-595-09143-1.
  27. ^ Terry Miller & Sean Williams, ed. (2011). The Garland Handbook of Southeast Asian Music. Routledge. ISBN 1-135-90154-6.
  28. ^ Hugo Adolf Bernatzik & Jacques Ivanoff (2005). Moken and Semang: 1936-2004, Persistence and Change. White Lotus. ISBN 97-448-0082-8.
  29. ^ Harry S. Ashmore (1961). Encyclopaedia Britannica: a new survey of universal knowledge, Volume 20. Encyclopaedia Britannica. p. 313.
  30. ^ Joachim Schliesinger (2015). Ethnic Groups of Thailand: Non-Tai-Speaking Peoples. Booksmango. ISBN 1-63323-229-8.
  31. ^ Robert W. Williamson (2010). The Mafulu Mountain People of British New Guinea. ISBN 1-4092-2652-2.
  32. ^ Scott Cunningham (2003). Divination for Beginners: Reading the Past, Present & Future. Llewellyn Publications. ISBN 0-7387-0384-2.
  33. ^ 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]

  • Benjamin, Geoffrey (2013), Why have the Peninsular “Negritos” remained distinct?, Human Biology 85, p. 445–484, ISSN 0018-7143
  • 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]