Semang - Orientation

Identification. The term "Semang" (probably from Central Aslian sema', "human being") was used by nineteenth-century writers for the small, dark-skinned, curly-haired people living in the forests of the Malay Peninsula. Occasionally those on the eastern side of the peninsula were distinguished as "Pangan." Although the ideas that the Semang are a separate race and that race and culture are coterminous have now generally been abandoned, there are enough cultural similarities among the groups called "Semang" to warrant considering them as a single category. Malays usually call Semang and other aboriginal peoples "Sakai" ("savages," "subjects") or "Orang Asli" ("original people"); Thais call Semang "Ngò' Pa" ("frizzy [-haired] people"). Terms used for themselves are variations of "Meni'," among northwestern groups, and "Batèk," among southeastern groups, meaning "human beings of our type." 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 northeastern 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. There may be a few other small groups in southern Thailand.

Location. Semang generally live in the lowlands and foothills in primary and secondary tropical rain forest of southern Thailand and northern peninsular Malaysia between 3°55′ and 7°30′ N and between 99°50′ and 102°45′ E. Only the Jahai inhabit higher elevations.

Demography. The population of Semang has remained at about 2,000 since the beginning of the twentieth century, but individual groups have increased or decreased as conditions changed. The 1986 Department of Aboriginal Affairs census reports: Kintak 107, Kensiu 135, Jahai 873, Mendriq 144, Batèk (including Batèk Dè', Batèk Tè', Batèk Nòng, and Mintil) 822, and Lanòh 229.

Linguistic Affiliation. All Semang languages—except that of the Lanòh, who speak a Central Aslian language—are in the Northern Aslian Family of the Aslian Stock of Mon-Khmer languages. Most Semang also speak Malay, and many Malay loanwords have been absorbed into all Semang languages.

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