Temiar - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The swidden cultivation of cassava, rice, and other crops provides the main source of food and is the primary factor in shaping the preferred pattern of settlement and consociation. Where the rivers have not been disturbed by commercial logging, fishing (with drop net, barricade, or hook-and-line) also provides a regular food source. These foods are not usually shared beyond the household or household cluster. Trapping and hunting (with blowguns and shotguns) provide extra protein several times a week; larger catches are obligatorily shared throughout the village community and sometimes beyond. Apart from their chickens, Temiar normally cannot bear to eat livestock that has been raised in their own village, for they regard these animals as pets. They will sometimes sell them to others for meat, however.

There are four main sources of cash: "internal" bartering and trading of special locally produced items; the selling of forest produce to outsiders; paid employment (as laborers at inland administrative posts and tea estates, or as porters for forest travelers), either full-time or casual; and prestation from wage-earning friends and relatives. This last source (backed by special sanctions) ensures that money, clothing, and other items are widely shared within and beyond the village.

Industrial Arts. Temiar are locally renowned for the decorated mats, tobacco pouches, and grain storage bags that they plait from strips of pandanus leaf. Although these items are produced for domestic use, they are also sometimes traded in exchange for other items (such as homegrown tobacco). Occasionally a few pieces find their way into the tourist curio market, though not in any organized way. Basket weaving provides such items as storage containers or fish traps made of bamboo and rattan strips. A special long-internode wild bamboo is the source of the very fine double-tubed blowguns that Temiar men use for hunting arboreal game. Finished blowguns and unworked bamboo tubes are traded over long distances, among the Temiar and between them and other Orang Asli groups. Where the local conditions are appropriate, Temiar make dugout canoes and massive bamboo rafts. The latter—which cannot be poled against the flow—are often sold to Malays at the end of a journey downstream for the valuable large bamboo pieces they contain.

Trade. The main item of trade has long been rattan cane, in a variety of species, gathered from the wild during the agricultural off-season. The canes are coiled up and rafted downstream in large quantities, for sale to wholesalers—usually Chinese Malaysians—connected with the rattan furniture industry. Also traded is the coagulated latex of a forest tree known as jelutong, which is used commercially as a cheap ingredient in chewing-gum manufacture. Until 1948, external trade was mostly mediated by local upstream Malays under the leadership of the Mikong. The JOA now plays a similar role. Some Temiar, however, have made tentative moves to place the manufacture of commercial cane furniture more directly in their own hands. A similar development has been the emergence of small-scale "adventure" tourism through Temiar country, in cooperation with a nationwide Orang Asli trading cooperative.

Locally and seasonally, Temiar sell fruit, wild game, and hill rice to non-Temiars. Fishing for trade has become available to Temiar living on the shores of the large lake formed by the damming of the Temengor River in Perak during the 1970s. Rubber is tapped and processed in a few areas; these plantations were established by the JOA, but the trees are owned by Temiars themselves. This has been a major influence in the development of permanent villages; however, the generally low market price of rubber in recent years has restricted the growth of this enterprise.

Nowadays Temiar seek to purchase much the same consumer goods as other Malaysian rural dwellers: canned food, tea, sugar, dry batteries, cooking vessels, radio sets, clothing, kerosene. This demand for goods has been a major force pushing them further into the cash economy. Formerly they relied on trade to supply them with such essentials as iron bush knives and ax heads, without which their farming activities would be impossible.

Division of Labor. The Temiar have not usually imposed a rigorous system of occupational specialization, although they do sometimes express generalized ideas about the different roles of men and women. Most activities, including farming, fishing, cooking, and child minding, are carried out indiscriminately by men, women, or children. Tree felling, shooting animals, and raising roof beams seem, however, to be exclusively adult male activities, while pandanus plaiting is thought of as typically female. Women and children do catch animals by other means, however, and men make baskets. Children are not normally prevented from undertaking adult activities if they wish to do so, even when the activities are dangerous.

Status bears no obvious relation to specialization in work activities, except when a headman takes a coordinating role in decisions about communal work. Otherwise, headmen work just as hard as anyone else and for no obviously greater gain. This arrangement has been modified, however, where commercialized production is being followed, such as the processing of rubber and rattan for the wider market. The leaders of such enterprises need to be especially charismatic or thick-skinned to overcome a still widely felt egalitarianism.

Land Tenure. Under swidden farming, the cultivable soil around the village is depleted after two years. The community must then move, usually to a previously inhabited area of secondary forest that has been left untouched for fifteen or more years. Most such sites are barely distinguishable from the surrounding forest, although Temiar will recognize them by their untidy orchards of seasonal fruit trees.

Each of these fruit trees is, in principle, owned. The owner is either a particular individual or, if some time has passed since the tree was first claimed, a corporate group formed from among his or her descendants. The Temiar until recently had no concept of the ownership of land. Apart from movable goods, all that might be owned as heritable property were the products of the land (i.e., crops and individually claimed wild plants) or structures built upon it, such as houses or weirs. Of these, only long-lived trees would survive to bear witness to the linkage that once existed between the people of an earlier generation and "their" land.

It is only through this continued acknowledgment of proprietary rights to fruit trees that Temiar are able to talk in any determinate way about the relationship through time of social groups to specific localities. The similarity of the distribution of village sites to bounded plots of land or spheres of influence has led many observers to claim that these areas ( sakaa ', from Malay pusaka, "inherited property") are the units of landownership in Temiar culture. But this belief results from a misunderstanding, at least as regards premodern arrangements. Nevertheless, ever since this misunderstanding became the basis of modern administrative practice, the Temiar have begun to accept the sakaa' concept, especially where relations with non-Temiars are involved. The notion of the ownability of land has consequently been spreading among them since the 1950s, but the idea is still communally rather than individually based, and no land registration has taken place. Under modern Malaysian law this means in effect that individual Temiar have as yet no recognized right to the land they and their ancestors have occupied for millennia. This is bound to become a problematic issue in the years ahead as roads are built, timber extracted, and valleys flooded without Temiar permission or with very small—or no—compensation payments.

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