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Semang Pitek, Emily


The Semang are native inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula. The Semang have little formal social organization or administrative units; the individual family is the primary social unit, followed by the local group (sub-tribe/group). These subgroups do not possess a higher level of jurisdictional hierarchy. “At least nine distinct cultural-linguistic subgroups still exist: Kensiu of eastern Kedah (near Baling) and southern Thailand (Yala Province); Kintak of northwestern Perak (near Gerik); Jahai of northestern Perak and northwestern Kelantan; Lanòh of northwestern Perak (near Gerik); Mendriq of central Kelantan; Batèk Dè' of southeastern Kelantan and northern Pahang; Batèk Nòng of central Pahang (near Jerantut); Mintil of north-central Pahang (near Cegar Perah); and Mos (or Chong) of the Pattalung-Trang area in southern peninsular Thailand” (Endicott and Abate, 2009). This entry focuses specifically on the Jahai (alt. sp. Jahay) around the time of 1925, and uses the terms Jahai and Semang interchangeably. The Semang do not possess a formal leadership office, either religious or secular. However, a religious specialist is present, and is called hala’. The hala’ has the special abilities of communicating with the supernatural realm, and serves as medicine-man. An individual becomes hala’ either through a dream, hereditary transmission, or taking possession of the Ćebu stone (which has ritual importance). The term Orang hidop refers to supernatural beings, and is best translated as “the immortals”. The orang hidop include spirits of the dead--who linger for several days but ultimately travel to the realm of the dead--as well as other, non-human beings. Of primary importance is the supreme high god Karei, god of thunder, followed by Ta Pen’n. Also present are Karei’s wife Manoij, their sons and daughter, Karei’s servants, and the Ćenoi (celestial spirit-beings closely related to the hala’). The Semang’s most important religious ritual is the blood sacrifice ceremony, during which individuals must draw and sacrifice their own blood in order to appease Karei either after breaking a taboo, or during thunderstorms to prevent further catastrophes. For the Semang, religious aspects of life are not differentiated from the secular. Consequently, this entry considers the religious group to be coterminous with the society itself.

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