The Batek people in Malaysia are one of the remaining foragers’ people of the Southeast part of Asia. Batek are indigenous people with a population of approximately 1,516 who live in unassimilated areas in the Malaysia. They inhabit the rainforest on the Malaysia peninsula. Unlike the modern Americans, Batek people believe that all treasures including food and other resources belong to the earth (Endicott & Endicott, 2008). Therefore, it must be shared equally to all members in the society. There are various aspects of the Batek culture that are pertinent to research; however, the main aim of this research paper is to provide an-depth insight and understanding of behavioral and cultural practices in Batek community with regard to their mode of subsistence. Information from ethnographies and scholarly articles will be used as a crucial tool for establishing the validation of conserving knowledge regarding Batek lifestyle. The paper wills mainly emphasis on three main areas of Batek’s people life: values and belief gender relations, as well as political organization (Endicott & Endicott, 2008).
The Bateks still uphold their traditional way of life, right from social organization to gender relationships, which culminates to an effective Batek identity. This has been so despite the fact that their number has decreased due to the government encroachment and interruptions of their livelihoods (Endicott & Endicott, 2008). Throughout the years, Batek have maintained a social structure aligned to their traditions and believes. However, the recent moves by the government may extinct a culture that is highly valued, and non-violent to the existence of other cultures in the region.
The Batek originated from the people of Orang Asli, which is a diversified cultural group in central Malaysia. Batek lives in the tropical forests located in the peninsular Malaysia. The word Batek means original or genuine inhabitants. The Batek people have a unique culture furnished with old-fashioned nomadic lifestyle that dates back to the 18th century. For many years, Batek have lived in the rainforest of Malaysia. Hunting and gathering (foragers) are the main mode of subsistence among the Bateks. The main source of food in the community includes game animals, leaves shoots, fresh tubes, fresh vegetables and fruits. Batek community relies on land as well as on each other for survival. This has been so for centuries despite numerous calls to modernize (Endicott, 1979). Through peaceful co-existence and handwork, the Batek people work harmoniously towards a common goal; this has made it possible to succeed in maintaining a fully functional culture among them.
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Batek have extremely limited wants, thus; they are usually easily satisfied with natural forest life. Their main focus centers around obtaining foods mention above in the tropical forest. Food collected is usually not accumulated due to a constant shift in search for camping areas, with a capability of sustaining their nomadic lifestyle (Endicott, 1979). The freedom achieved through foraging is a highly valued way of life within the Batek community. Nomadic lifestyle makes it easy for them to shift from one area to another or to engage in other economic activities when need arise. However, the impact of modernization has interrupted the supply of wild foods. Therefore, Bateks are gradually supplementing their subsistence with commercial food such as sardines, rice, biscuits and tea.
Among Batek people, it is a moral responsibility to share gathered food with the rest of the community. Nevertheless, the priority is usually given to the immediate members of the family before the rest can be shared with the extended family. It is usually rare to find food shortage even to those who never went out to gather (Endicott, 1979). Hunting and gathering are usually a cooperative duty that shared and executed without biases. Division of roles and responsibilities is usually a formal, and it is done in a celebratory mode. For instance, those given the responsibility of hunting a monkey are assured of the tail and the offal.
After the food is cooked, it is subdivided in equal portions depending on the number of a family member present. Batek people believe that is wrong to deny food to any party since food is considered to be a property of the forest. Any member of the family is usually allowed to venture into the storage facilities when hungry, and to eat from it to their satisfaction since this is not regarded as a theft in the Batek community (Endicott, 1979).
Bateks live in camps of about three to six nuclear family members. A nuclear family is usually made of a mother, father and the children. In Batek community, family unit is the most valuable hunting and gathering setting, since of the adaptability nature to various situations. However, a slight difference exists in the way men and women contribute to the camp life. The upbringing of the children is considered to be the responsibility of both husband and wife (Lye, 2004). Even though, men collectively take care of hunting while women collect the vegetables, moreover, gathering is also considered being under their sphere. However, any gender can engage in any of these roles. Nevertheless, no duty or activity is conferred a higher status. Both genders can fetch water or collect firewood for the camp or even participate in activities of their wish as long as they are geared towards community development.
Women wishing to hunt are only allowed to do so within the game surrounding the camp. Those women who are nursing young babies and taking care of the children remain at the camp while the rest go to hunter and gather. They are only allowed to perform light duties with the family framework. Communities in Batek lack a structured ownership of property criteria due to the nomadic way of life. In most instances, Batek do not own area of operation (Lye, 2004). Therefore, they do not even restrict others from the camping in such places. In addition, the issue of single leader dominance is usually non-existent. A leader in the Batek community emerges naturally through attainment of certain ages of wisdom, responsibility and strength. Furthermore, no preferences or discrimination is given to either gender in term of leadership. Men and women are normally assumed to be eligible to take leadership positions if they have fulfilled the above sets of qualities (Lye, 2009).
Values and Beliefs
The Batek people believe in the existence of a group of supermen surrounding the sea and land. Those humans are created by Supreme Being, which has discriminated against the Batek community from the entire human race. They also hold that plant and animals in the forest where they live are a part of his creations (Lye, 2004). They believe that a wide range of food available to them was set in the forest for them by the Supreme Being. They acknowledge this through seeking all their needs from the super-humans, including cure for diseases. The compassion extended to people of the Batek acts as a motivation for sharing everything that they possess with everyone around.
The belief system among the Batek community is exceptionally strong and cannot be broken. They believe that refusal of any request would result to dreadful and awful consequences that would be beyond their control (Lye, 2004). In addition, they believe that failure to grant a request may result to the punishment of the entire camp rather than an individual who committed the crime.
A discrimination free relationship framework exists among women and men in the Batek community. The gender balance is well-guarded aspect of this society. There are usually no particular influences that authoritatively specify the duties of either gender in the community. The society accords an exceptionally strong bond of relationship between women and men in relation to food gathering and subsequent sharing. To a large extent, men participate in hunting while women gather fresh fruits and vegetables and accomplish other duties associated with their spheres of influence. Food obtained from both sexes is accorded the same value during food sharing arrangement (Sponsel, 2010). Men sometimes do both hunting and collection of fruits and vegetables. However, even though women are allowed to hunt, they rarely hunt. As noted above, the Batek community has no super rigid rules separating the role of men and women, both men and women gather rattan that traded with outside goods. Both men and women play an equal role in agricultural activities, which is usually government sponsored.
In Batek community, the marriage institution is usually based on affection, compatibility and equality. The entire decision making process is usually shared among the couples. The husband and wife together steer the decision of the camp, especially in relation to food security and transfer. In general, spouses are regarded to be good friends, because of the close relationship that make them work together for a common course (Sponsel, 2010). In a situation where the relationship between the couples is strained, either husband or the wife might quit the relationship and form another union while still sharing the child upbringing responsibilities.
In Batek community, the contribution of all sexes is accorded same importance whether in the area of security or of food supply. Everyone in the society has a direct influence on the occurrence in the surrounding. The activities of both women and men within the Batek community are not usually limited to specific hard fastened rules that may lead to separation. No discrimination exists in the selection of leaders in Batek community (Sponsel, 2010). Leaders are selected from any camp, family or group. The religious and cultural values shape the functioning of women and men in the Batek community through the socialization process. Therefore, equal gender relations are a part of life in the Batek community.
The Batek person lives in domestic groups of not less than three which together form a camp. This group lives in tents, with each tent housing approximately ten persons. Even though, each group in Batek community owns the surrounding land. Privateland ownership concept does not exist in the community. The Batek people view themselves as land administrators rather than landowners. Batek live a quiet life with no structured judicial or leadership system (Sponsel, 2010). The community lacks a formal structure of resolving conflicts, and in case of an internal conflict between members of the family, groups of camps, the conflict is usually resolved through private discussion. Hence all members of each group camp or tent are viewed as being equal. Persistent conflict is usually solved through incorporation of the inputs of all members of the Batek community. Failure to reach into a consensus usually necessitates the withdrawal of one aggrieved party in order to lessen the blazing temper.
The shift to a new habit is usually signaled by exhaustion of the game and wild plant resources, which serves as a primary source of livelihood. The economy of the Batek is exceedingly complex and unique due to the absence of land ownership. This has power implication to the structure of the community (Winzeler, 2005). The land is usually regarded as common loan borrowed from the society that guide them sharing with the larger community as required by their inherent principles.
In Batek community, individual’s sovereignty and independence is usually entrenched right from the family perspective and emphasizes respect from self to all. Issue of superiority of one group over an existing gathering or group is usually considered as non-existent topic. The society lacks positions of power for members to fight over. However, there has been cooperation and coordination of the activities in Batek community for work purposes only. In general, the Batek community does not consider leadership as having a significant compact nature to their existence (Winzeler, 2005).
Decision making preference is usually given to any person with adequate knowledge about the issue of concern and such preference do no necessary accord the person leadership status. However, the government selects a representative to head the department of aboriginal affairs in order to represent the community interest. The representative manages the communication from the government to the Batek community. The representative is usually appointed by the government on condition that he/she will uphold the government directives to refrain from infringing the rights and autonomy of the community. In essence, the appointed persons do not necessarily influence the way of life in Batek community (Winzeler, 2005).
The Batek community life has involved moving from one forest to another in order to sustain their unique identify and its conventional values and beliefs. The community has managed to maintain social structure and relationships that are founded on the strong values, beliefs and traditions. In the last few decades, the government encroachment into the region inhabited by Batek has significantly reduced their population. However, the solution of this problem is within the reach as revealed by the Batek of Taman Negara (Sponsel, 2010). The flexibility and mobility within the Batek community makes them be more farmers rather than entrepreneurs. It is also evident that agriculture would not be appropriate for the community due to their nomadic lifestyle since it entails a lot of effort and time. In addition, the outcome of agriculture can only be achieved through massive investment. Therefore, the government policy of relocating then is not conducive enough to protect the Batek people way of life into totality. Relocation without providing real economic alternatives, essentially, places them in a weak social economic and political position. As much as the government want the Batek people to benefit from development and modernization, doing it at the expense of their indigenous beliefs is unacceptable. Integration of Batek people socially should only be done at their will but not through forceful efforts from the government (Sponsel, 2010).