Semang - History and Cultural Relations

The Semang are probably descendants of the Hoabinhian rain-forest foragers who inhabited the Malay Peninsula from 10,000 to 3,000 years ago. After the arrival of agriculture in the peninsula about 4,000 years ago, some Hoabinhians probably became farmers while others—ancestors of the Semang—continued foraging, possibly supplementing their stores by trading with the agriculturalists. Semang probably traded with early Malay-speaking settlers as well, but relations gradually soured with the growth of the Malay population and its political power, culminating in extensive Malay slave raiding of Semang and other aboriginal peoples (i.e., Orang Asli) in the nineteenth century. The British colonial government banned slavery in the late nineteenth century and instituted policies to protect Orang Asli. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs, established in 1954 to win Orang Asli away from Communist insurgents, is now charged with providing education, health care, and economic development to Orang Asli. Relations with Malays tend to be strained because of the condescending attitude of the Malays and government pressures on Semang to become Muslims. Relations with non-Malays (Chinese, Indians, and other Orang Asli) are generally more amiable.

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