In the rain forests of Peninsular Malaysia, mainly in Taman Negara National Park, live a group of ‘forest people’ who are lesser known communities around the world. The Batek de Negritos, also known as the original people of Malaysia, are one of the 20 aborigine tribes in Malaysia. Numbering about 1,516, the Batek live in camps of five or six nuclear families and each camp has control of the land around it.
Despite the modernisation and emerging economy in Malaysia, Batek people still depending on gathering, hunting, and collecting forest products for trade, with occasional crop planting on a small scale to earn their living. However, the deforestation activities had cause a great impact on Batek people where many young Batek men have to take up jobs such as loggers or farmers, resulting in a reliance on paid wages.
Exotic taste of food
Fruit, leaves, shoots, fish, and small game such as monkeys contributed to their diet. With the recent addition of cash to their economy has led to a decreased utilisation of wild food sources and an increased dependence on commercial foods such as rice, sugar, tinned sardines, biscuits and tea.
Sharing is caring
The beautiful value of Batek people is sharing. It is their social norms that things such as food found by foraging has to be shared with the entire society. Even Batek who are involved in wage labour or trade will have to share the proceeds of their jobs with other Batek villagers, much as food and goods have been shared in traditional forest camps.
The Batek male-female relations are highly egalitarian, this include marriage. Men and women have the freedom to choose their own spouses on the basis of affection and compatibility. The husband and wife make joint decisions about food-getting activities and camp movements. Both genders are free to take each other’s’ duties as there are no rigid rules that separate each other’s roles in the family.
Beliefs and Ritual Ceremonies
All Batek are animists, without organised or codified religious beliefs. They believe that there are spirits in rivers and jungles, and these spirits provide food and supplies through nature. The community emphasises in living peaceful together. Many activities are done in groups and group discussions are frequent. They will always attempt to discuss and find solutions to fix the issues together with minimum argument.
When someone in the community dies, the village has to be relocate in place for the start of a hugely elaborate burial ritual. The deceased is brought by procession to a hut constructed in a tree at a height of 50 metres. The deceased is covered and left with its possessions alongside it, together with food for the spirits. After two to three years, the Batek will return to their original residence to bury one skeletal bone of the deceased, signifying the return of the family member to the forest.