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Semelai agricultural patterns: toward an understanding of variation among indigenous cultures in southern peninsular Malaysia.


Compared to the more mountainous north, rivers in the low-lying southern interior of peninsular Malaysia (1) are often navigable to their headwaters as well as linked by portages, providing avenues of water to transport goods across the peninsula and to coastal ports. However, the south is also known for its extensive and forbidding wetlands and peat swamps. While the western lowlands were colonised and developed by Europeans, indigenous groups in the lowland interior were protected to some degree by their natural environment. The landscape encouraged trade but also provided a refuge. Historically, the southern Orang Asli (aboriginal peoples), like those in the north, were sparsely distributed, but the southerners were also more influenced by and acculturated to Malay language and culture, as well as, later on, those of other immigrants. Over the last two centuries, the low indigenous population density, along with a terrain that, especially in the west, facilitated trade, has allowed much of the native flora to be replaced with commercial arboriculture. One result of this historical geography is that indigenous cultures in the south have received much less attention from ethnographers than those in the north. For example, only one extended study has been published on the Orang Hulu, (2) one of the largest Orang Asli groups.

Geoffrey Benjamin's comparative analysis of peninsular Malaysian cultures provides a theoretical foundation for our understanding of southern lowland cultures. In addition, recent studies of insular Southeast Asian environmental history have identified environmental factors that interacted with changes in population densities and economic formations historically, emphasising particularly the relationship between commodity production and patterns of demographic change within different environments. (3) This perspective has helped shed new light on the interaction of environment, commodity production, and subsistence agriculture among southern Orang Asli.

The southern Orang Asli have a long history of external trade. Dating back to the fifteenth century CE, if not before, the export of resins, incense woods and other minor forest products extracted from the luxuriant primary lowland forest has been a major economic focus, encouraging economic development and integration in the southern regions. (4) While eastern Johor was deficient in good harbours, the restriction on the peninsula of camphor trees (Dryobalanops aromatica L.) to that area encouraged forest product trade there. On the west coast, Melaka, during its heyday in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was an entrepot for long-distance trade, as well as an outlet for local forest products. However, its hinterland was agriculturally unproductive to the point that Melaka had to import rice from Java and Thailand. Late nineteenth century accounts of southern tribal groups report many cases of agricultural practices that seemed disorganised, unproductive, and based on cassava rather than rice, while rime and energy were largely dedicated to the collection and trade of forest products like gutta percha (Palaquium gutta L. latex). (5)

Generally speaking, when trade opportunities arose, southern Orang Asli gravitated to them. In the case of Portuguese Melaka, it may be that the demand was great enough for local Orang Asli to largely abandon agriculture to concentrate on forest extraction. (6) The wider southern tendency toward extraction for trade, rather than subsistence agriculture (whether with rice or without it), has been explained as possibly due to poor lowland soils not providing an adequate subsistence to agriculturalists. It has also been suggested that rice cultivation among ali Orang Asli was not emphasised and that foxtail millet and root crops had been the primary starch staples. (7) Jeyamalar Kathirithamby-Wells has more recently posited that El Nino Southern Oscillations (ENSO), bringing periods of drought followed by flooding, caused shifting cultivation to be more reliable than wet rice cultivation. (8) The difficulties with wet rice cultivation could also help explain the emphasis on forest product trade in times of economic expansion.

The Williams-Hunt collection of aerial photographs

Ethno-historical inquiry relative to tribal, non-literate societies in remote regions, while informed by oral histories, is also often constrained by a dearth of relevant contemporary documents. When most of the ethnographic and oral history data, as in the Semelai case, postdate a major disjuncture caused by political and land use changes imposed from outside, the task of reconstructing earlier social and economic formations becomes that much more formidable.

Semelai agricultural and settlement patterns were markedly and irreversibly altered by external forces during the anti-communist Malayan Emergency (1948-60) and never really returned to the earlier system. In the 1930s, as well as subsequently, the Semelai proudly identified themselves as rice cultivators who made large swiddens, preferably in primary forest. H.D. Collings noted their spacious swiddens in the 1930s and 1940s. (9)

The Williams-Hunt collection of aerial photographs of Southeast Asia constitutes a data set that provides a window into the environmental and economic history of peninsular Malaysia. P.D.R. Williams-Hunt was a British colonial administrator as well as a scholar interested in the archaeology and anthropology of Southeast Asia. During the Second World War, he interpreted aerial photographs for the Royal Air Force of Great Britain. In 1945, he was posted to Malaya and subsequently assembled a collection of over 5,000 aerial photographs of Southeast Asia. He became director of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs for the colonial government at the beginning of the Emergency. Although Williams-Hunt died prematurely in 1953, his collection, inventoried and catalogued by Elizabeth H. Moore, became available through the School for Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and constitutes a rich resource for inquiry into land use patterns. (10)

The 2,632 aerial photos of peninsular Malaysia in the collection were taken between 1947 and 1949 during Operation Firedog, which aimed to find evidence of Communist activities in the forested interior. While others, especially archaeologists, have already put the aerial photographs of other countries in the collection to good use (11) as far as we know, this project has been the first attempt to analyse the peninsular Malaysian collection. As McGregor et al. note, 'These [Malaysian] photographs provide a particularly good record of land use, but are difficult to locate in the absence of flight plans and recognizable settlements or transport arteries.' (12) An earlier paper described the process used to specify the location of a series of 18 aerial photographs taken on 3 December 1948 between longitudes E102[degrees] to 103[degrees] and latitudes N3[degrees] to N4[degrees]. (13) We identified the area as a section of the upper Sungai [River] Bera and eastern Tasek [Lake] Bera watersheds in southwestern Pahang, a Semelai region. The photographs, once identified, allowed us to associate areal measurements with the oral histories to better describe agricultural patterns prior to the wholesale changes of the 1950s.

Research objectives

Our goals in this report are to determine (1) the nature of the Semelai economy before the Emergency, (2) the reasons it took that form, and (3) how their economy influenced the Semelai pattern of settlement and land use, in order to (4) better understand indigenous tribal economies in southern peninsular Malaysia in general. In order to do this, we look at the environmental and historical context, as well as ethnographic accounts and aerial photographs.

Rice, agriculture, language and culture in peninsular Malaysia, with emphasis on the south

A linguistic map of insular Southeast Asia reveals the Malay peninsula as an island, metaphorically speaking, of Austro-Asiatic languages in a sea of Austronesian (Map 1). Comprising approximately 19 different cultural/linguistic groupings, the majority of Orang Asli have spoken languages of the Aslian branch of the Mon-Khmer sub-family of Austro-Asiatic, the most ancient in situ language family in Southeast Asia, while several in the south speak dialects of Malay, an Austronesian language. (14) While Orang Asli dominated the interior of peninsular Malaysia until the late nineteenth century, their homelands have since been flooded by migrants from Indonesia, China, and India.

Orang Asli cultures have been classified into three groups based on linguistic divisions as well as socio-economic patterns and perceived racial differences: (1) Semang, mostly northern Aslian speakers who made their living by foraging as well as forest product trade; (2) Senoi, speaking central Aslian languages, who practised shifting cultivation with little emphasis on forest product trade (both of these linguistic groupings have had egalitarian social systems) (15); and (3) aboriginal Malay or proto-Malay, which includes the half dozen or so Orang Asli cultures in the south. They include speakers of south Aslian languages (Semelai, Semaq Beri, Mah Meri/Besisi and Temoq) as well as Malay dialects (Temuan and Orang Hulu/Jakun), and have been characterised as forest collectors-for-trade with some shifting cultivation. (16) Geoffrey Benjamin includes aboriginal Malay cultures within 'Malayic', a type of societal grouping that includes Malays and certain Austronesian, as well as Austro-Asiatic, speaking tribal groups in Malaysia/Indonesia, and is characterised by 'collecting (fused with horticulture).' (17) Just as Semang foragers long used forest product trade to supplement foraged foods as well as technological (e.g. iron) needs, (18) some southern Orang Asli groups, like the Temoq, used forest product collection and trade to supplement meagre subsistence production in the same way. However, Malayic cultures share other features as well, such as inherited social hierarchy and an outward orientation that facilitates trade relationships and intermarriage with outsiders. Benjamin's observation that 'the Malayic societal pattern was instituted as a means of locking into place a productive regime composed of both swidden farming and intensified collecting', provides a foundation for the analysis presented here. (19) Benjamin includes the Semelai of lowland eastern Negeri Sembilan and southwestern Pahang within his 'Malayic' societal pattern. (20) Among these swidden agriculturalists, the trade provided a surplus beyond their subsistence needs that could support incipient social differentiation and political hierarchy.


'Aboriginal Malay' and 'proto-Malay' imply that these groups are genealogically Malay sans Islam or statecraft. However, earlier generations of Orang Asli groups who speak Malay dialects probably spoke Aslian languages, in some cases, as recently as the nineteenth century. (21) Observers documented considerable interaction, through both trade and marriage, among southern Orang Asli and Malays, (22) for instance, 'It is not uncommon for them to give their daughters in exchange to the Malays and Chinese who settle in their neighborhood.' (23) Prior to the nineteenth century, it was probably not unusual for Malay men not only to marry Orang Asli women but also take up residence with their wives' families, just as Chinese men have done, (24) and Malay men still do occasionally. (25) Malay language and culture could then have been shared by these men with their children and new community. On this basis, southern tribal peoples can be viewed as blending Austro-Asiatic and Austronesian ancestry and culture, as well as, more recently, Chinese.

The retention on the peninsula of Austro-Asiatic languages in the face of Austronesian expansion (26) can most simply be explained by the prior establishment, dating back to 2,000 BCE, of Mon-Khmer speaking agricultural societies on the peninsula. (27) The Ban Kao archaeological site complex, at approximately 2,000 BCE, extended down the peninsula from Thailand and is believed to have introduced agriculture and rice into peninsular Malaysia, even though the earliest direct evidence of rice is only from 1,000 CE. (28)

Assuming that the Ban Kao people spoke proto-Aslian, is there historical linguistic evidence for rice in that language? 'The Proto-Aslian language had nouns for "the rice-plant," "the rice-grain," "pestle," "mortar" and a verb for "to winnow," all of which were inherited from earlier periods (Proto-Mon-Khmer or even Proto-Austro-Asiatic).' (29) This source for Aslian words related to rice implies that it was an ancient cultigen on the peninsula, making rice's subsequent relative invisibility perplexing.

Cultivated rice derives from subtropical Asia and, because of photo-period differences, generally has done less well in the tropical zone. (30) Rice is also very sensitive to soil quality and peninsular soils are generally poor. In comparison to cassava, rice requires more light and greater land clearance to produce the same number of calories. Rice crops, when ripening, are also vulnerable to predation, which entails either greater labour to protect the crop or greater crop loss. Placement of rice swiddens in secondary forest requires weeding while, in primary forest swiddens, large trees must be felled. (31) At least in its unmilled state, rice is more nutritious than cassava. A great advantage of rice for trade is that it is much more easily transported and stored than cassava. Rice is also symbolic of cultural advancement, being primarily associated with larger and wealthier settled societies.

Before the nineteenth century, wet rice monoculture was not predominant on the peninsula, even among Malays. (32) Many nineteenth century accounts describe agricultural Orang Asli groups as growing little, if any, rice. The staples most noted were foxtail millet (Setaria italica, L.), root crops (yams, taro, sweet potatoes and cassava), maize, and Job's tears (Coix lachrymal-jobi, L.). (33) For example, 'The Jacoons [Semais] are clever gardeners and cultivate sugar cane, plantains, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables in abundance. Rice they use but little.' (34) 'Here [Johor] they mostly grow ubikayu (yams and Caladium) ... Rice is a rarity.' (35) D.F.A. Hervey had this to say about Orang Hulu along the Sungai Endau:
   Now the Jakuns cannot get on without rice, of which the Malays have
   taught them the value, but which was not originally in their list
   of articles of food; they have gone so far as to cultivate it for
   the last 30 years when allowed the needful leisure. (36)

Even in the mid-twentieth century, Robert Dentan noted, 'American crops seem to have entered Semai agriculture before rice.' (37)

Accordingly, ethnological and historical analyses of agricultural patterns in peninsular Malaysia (38) have emphasised the relative insignificance of rice cultivation by Orang Asli:
   In Malaya the use of rice amongst upland-dwelling peoples seems to
   be a fairly recent phenomenon. The Temiar (Benjamin, pers. comm.),
   for example, have a story of the millet king who, after a great
   struggle, was displaced by the rice king. Moreover, amongst those
   uplanders who still grow significant amounts of tubers (nowadays
   mostly manioc), the tubers provide as much as two-thirds or more of
   basic carbohydrate requirements yet occupy perhaps one-third of the
   land and only require that or a lesser portion of the labour. (39)

Nineteenth-century accounts of southern Orang Asli describe their settlements as distantly spaced one from the other, with shifting cultivation that was often minimally productive (with or without rice), surrounded by towering, pristine rainforest. (40) Narifumi Tachimoto, based on ethnographic fieldwork in the 1960s, characterised the economy of the Endau Orang Hulu historically as divided between forest product collection (to exchange for food as well as iron and other commodities), cultivation, hunting and gathering for subsistence needs. His description details the process and ritual of rice cultivation but also notes that rice was not planted in many swiddens during his stay. (41)

However, there are also accounts of Orang Asli cultivating rice fields of significant size with significant care. For example, 'I have seen among the Jakuns of Johore, some who had large fields of rice.' (42) For the Besisi, 'The main crop planted is rice....' (43) Errington De la Croix described a rice field about five acres in size on a Plus River tributary in Perak, with an elaborate system of strings to manually operate scarecrows in the ripening rice. (44) J.R. Logan noted 16 different varieties of rice among the Mintira (Temuan). (45) W.W. Skeat and C.O. Blagden summarise Hrolf Vaughn-Stevens' detailed description of rice planting by the Mantra (Temuan) of Malacca, which documents a great effort to ensure, through ritual actions, the retention of the rice soul and an abundant rice harvest. (46) While researchers have generally concluded that Orang Asli rice cultivation rituals were Malay, borrowings, note that Orang Asli incantations for illness are also in Malay, yet illness is nothing new. (47)

Factors affecting rice cultivation in the past

Can the archaeological and linguistic evidence that points to rice having been introduced to the peninsula some 4,000 years ago be reconciled with historical sources suggesting a late introduction to interior populations? And what could explain the variations seen in the degree to which different Orang Asli cultures depended upon rice agriculture?

Anthony Reid has noted that, in Indonesia, upland areas above 500 metres tended to be the first to develop intensive agriculture and denser populations while decreased soil quality in lowland tropical areas, caused by too much rainfall or rainfall too evenly spread through the year, made agriculture there less productive. (48) Also, the relative lack of contrasting wet and dry seasons in the lowlands often made the good burn needed in swidden agriculture difficult to obtain. (49) On the Malay peninsula, large sections of the interior exceed 500 metres above sea level but have so far, yielded no archaeological or historical evidence of agricultural intensification or population concentration prior to the arrival of Minangkabau in the fifteenth century. While the peninsular lowlands also generally lack strongly contrasting precipitation seasons, some areas are drier than others. Using Borneo for comparison, within environments similar to, albeit rainier than those in the southern peninsula, tribal peoples there have rice cultivation traditions dating back to 2,300 BCE. (50) All things being equal, Bornean swiddeners in areas without a significant dry season tend to prefer secondary forest. In regions that experience significant dry spells, primary forest is preferable because large trees can dry sufficiently. (51) These patterns should hold on the peninsula as well.

W.L. Dale identified a drier area in 'central south Malaya--a broad belt extending for 175 miles north-westwards from Kluang.' (52) Within that belt, southwestern Pahang is particularly dry, receiving less than 1,778 mm of rain annually. (53) His south-west region, including southeastern Negeri Sembilan, southwestern Pahang and western Johor, has relatively even rainfall distribution throughout the year, but is comparatively dry, particularly in February and July. Dale's 'Port Dickson-Muar region' was unusual in having its driest periods, by far, in January and February. (54) Finally, eastern Johor has much more marked seasonality in rainfall but, even during the southwestern monsoon, its driest period, average monthly rainfall is much higher than in southwestern Pahang. (55) That may have meant that primary forest did not burn well there. If there was not already secondary forest in the area, there may not have been much incentive to fell primary forest. While rainfall in the southern peninsula (except eastern Johor) does not have extreme seasonality, the annual totals are relatively low and particularly low during drier seasons. The relationship of rainfall patterns in southern peninsular Malaysia to the shifting cultivation process invites further exploration. However, areas like southwestern Pahang may have been conducive to dry rice cultivation in primary forest.

Historically uncontextualised ethnographic accounts may also have distorted our understanding of changes in Orang Asli agriculture. Better tasting varieties of cassava were not available on the peninsula until after 1850. (56) Since the late nineteenth century, cassava has been frequently noted as a major Orang Asli crop. Rice may only have become prominent among some swiddeners on the peninsula when cassava became available as a reliable back-up. Alternatively, before 1850, yams, millet, maize, sweet potatoes or a combination of these may have provided insurance against rice crop failure, albeit perhaps less efficiently.

Rice, from antiquity, was most likely continuously cultivated on the peninsula but probably not as the dominant crop. It may be that wet rice was mostly planted in streams that traversed or bordered swiddens, as Semelai were wont to do, (57) or, in isolated cases, as a monoculture. Also, since rice is very labour intensive, requiring considerable attention, it was probably more important at times and places where a surplus could be produced intensively by pockets of settled agriculturalists and traded.

Its association with larger, more settled and productive societies gave it cachet. Over time, new dry rice varieties better suited to the lowland tropics may also have spurred cultivation. However, the introduction of improved varieties of cassava in the nineteenth century likely provided the biggest boost to rice among swidden cultivators.

Trade in Semelai history

Semelai have lived in the watershed of the Sungai Bera, which drains into the Sungai Pahang and includes Tasek Bera and the Sungai Serting, as well as the Sungai Teriang watershed, which also empties into the Pahang, and the upper reaches of the Sungai Muar (which flows into the Straits of Melaka). The area is low lying (25 to 30 metres above sea level) with an undulating topography, slow, meandering waterways and acidic, highly leached soils. (58)

The highlands to the west and east of the Semelai area create a double rain shadow which causes the low annual rainfall discussed above. Tasek Bera experiences an annual rainfall range of 1,400-2,800 mm, averaging 2,060 mm. (59) However, rainfall is seasonal enough to provide a dry period (June to September) for felled primary forest trees to dry before firing and before the wet northeastern monsoon arrives in October.

Semelai territory in general is dotted with marshy areas, but its southeast consists of Tasek Bera, a huge dendritic freshwater peat swamp, the largest in peninsular Malaysia. (60) The Tasek Bera ecosystem, with its mix of water, mud, swamp forest and dry land forest, is difficult to traverse, vast, and generally forbidding to those unfamiliar with it. Stewart Wavell described it as 'the most inaccessible region in Malaya,' while, according to Spencer Chapman (a British soldier behind enemy lines during the Japanese occupation of the Second World War), 'the journey to Tasek Bera was "extremely hazardous" for a Chinese and "quite impossible for a European"'. (61) This environment provided the local culture with a buffer or refuge from the outside world. Those who knew it well could get in and out, with trade goods, much more easily than an outsider.

It is therefore not surprising that little about the area can be found in historical records before the nineteenth century. The one exception is the internationally renowned Penarikan or 'portage' of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Many European maps of this period, in addition to Ptolemy's Geography of the eleventh century, show a strait traversing the peninsula. Paul Wheatley has argued, convincingly, that this cartographic channel was a distortion of a riverine trans-peninsular route that featured the Penarikan as a bridge between the headwaters of the Muar and Serting. (62) By the nineteenth century, the Serting was still navigable, bur obstructed by logs out of neglect or perhaps purposefully. (63)

The Semelai story of Tembeling's tiger claims they descended from two Serting Semelai sisters and two Temoq brothers, placing their origins in the west. (64) Furthermore, R. Cardon matched Semelai currency terms to those used in sixteenth-century Melaka.
   The Semalai told Mr. Collings that they formerly lived in the Negri
   Sembilan, that is to say near, or even on, the Malacca territory.
   The fact of their having kept in use the system of counting in
   kupang, mas, paual, and real is an undeniable proof of former
   commercial intercourses between them and the Portuguese traders of
   Malacca. (65)

Harry Lake described a district around the Penarikan overseen by a Batin Gemelas:
   The Batin is the hereditary chief ... The Batin's country consists
   of 500 square miles [about 1,295 square kilometers] of trackless
   jungle and swamp, inhabited by wandering families of Jakuns, save
   along the bank of the Muar where a number of Malays are settled.
   The chief village is Jembu Lepan, which is near the confluence of
   the Jempole and Muar rivers. Here the Jempole is separated from the
   Serting river by a strip of flat swampy land, only 450 yards wide.
   It is therefore comparatively easy to haul canoes from one river to
   the other, and as the Serting is a tributary of the Bera, which
   joins the big Pahang river, travelers are enabled to make a canoe
   journey from Kwala Muar to Pahang, and thence to the China Sea.

Given the geography, Gemelas was likely Semelai. This account, along with E.C. Foenander's description of the wealthy batin at Teriang in 1931, indicates that some Semelai leaders in the past had significant economic and political power. (67) Semelai territory surrounded the Penarikan, a critical junction in the cross-peninsular route, suggesting that Semelai were active in trade networks from at least the fifteenth century.

The Effects of immigrants and slave raiding

A comparison of the present day population size of indigenous peoples in peninsular Malaysia to those in Borneo suggests that there may have been a significant depopulation and/or assimilation of indigenous peoples on the peninsula. Peninsular Malaysia is 132,040 [km.sup.2], while Sarawak is 124,920 [km.sup.2] and Sabah is 56,070 [km.sup.2] in size. And yet, peninsular Malaysia has only 145,000 indigenous peoples today (less than one per cent of the population) while those in Sabah comprise 85 per cent of a population of two million and those in Sarawak 44 per cent of a population of 2.2 million. Both Borneo and the peninsula have poor soils and generally similar environmental conditions. (68) The peninsula's status as the last outpost of non-Austronesian peoples in western insular Southeast Asia suggests that Austro-Asiatic speakers there once had a population large enough to withstand outsiders and maintain their distinctive identities. Yet, this manifests itself in historic times as a tiny indigenous population.

Prior to the fifteenth century, forest products and gold were the dominant exports from the Malay peninsula and Sumatra. However, the ascendance of tin and pepper production and trade began to make forest product traders, for instance Orang Asli, less economically important. (69) When Great Britain became the colonial power in the nineteenth century, Chinese immigration and capital inflow fuelled development of the interior. At that point, Orang Asli were simply seen as in the way. (70)

The historical record of Minangkabau and other Sumatrans in eastern Negeri Sembilan and Pahang initially emphasised intermarriage with Orang Asli women and the respect accorded indigenous leaders, the Batins, (71) but by the late eighteenth century, the immigrant groups were becoming more predatory. From approximately 1550, Minangkabau colonists in larger numbers began entering Pahang through Ulu Muar, the Bera and the Triang, developing trading networks to bring metals and forest products to Melaka. (72) William Wilder has suggested that the Malays of Kuala Bera (just downstream from the Semelai area) were originally Minangkabaus from Negeri Sembilan. (73)

Population depletion through slave raids may explain the low historic population densities of Orang Asli, (74) at least in the centuries after Melaka's decline. Slave raiding of Orang Asli in the Negeri Sembilan/Pahang area dates back at least to the sixteenth century but became intense during the late eighteenth century as large numbers from present-day Indonesia arrived to seek their fortune. According to Logan,
   [The Rawas] ... are bold, persevering, and penurious, qualities
   which have long enabled them to engross the principal internal
   traffic between Malacca and Pahang.... They are now settled in
   considerable numbers in Rambau, Sungi Ujong and the western part of
   Pahang, and their numbers and power yearly increase, and become
   more formidable. About seven months ago, bands of them ... attacked
   the Mintira in different places, killed many of the men and carried
   away more than a hundred of their women and girls into Pahang,
   where they sold them as slaves. The Rawa declared that they would
   hunt down the Mintira everywhere, and deal with them all in the
   same way, in consequence of which the greater number have left
   their houses and are now scattered far and near. (75)

While the Mintira (Temuans) are named here, it would seem that the neighboring Semelai would have been affected as well. In fact, based on Logan and I.H.N. Evans, Kirk Endicott wrote, 'Those groups living in present-day Negri Sembilan and southwestern Pahang were especially severely affected.... This constant harassment may also have been responsible for the general cultural poverty of these groups compared to the Aboriginal Malays of Johore.' (76) Orang Hulu at the time were exploited, but also protected, by Malay penghulu 'chiefs' downstream. (77) However, in earlier periods of lesser prosperity and political cohesion, these Johor groups would have been vulnerable to attack as well.

The Sumatran incursions would have disturbed and diminished Orang Asli agricultural systems by decreasing population, disrupting their ways of life, and making security the prime consideration. However, previously, when intergroup relations were less fraught, contact with Minangkabau may have promoted rice cultivation among indigenous groups. R.D. Hill observed:
   By the early sixteenth century several rice growing traditions may
   be dimly discerned. The most recent and most skilled was that of
   the migrant Minangkabau, growers of rice in hillside dry fields, in
   valley-floor fields flooded by water entrapped on the surface, in
   fields irrigated by water-wheel on the river terraces. (78)

While it seems likely that agricultural knowledge as well as perhaps new and improved varieties of rice could have diffused through contiguity and social interaction, to what extent Sumatrans may have influenced Orang Asli cultivation practices remains unclear.

Once slaving was outlawed in 1893, subsistence systems would have become less transient and more labour-intensive. While Semelai have stories of slave raiders, for instance, a grandmother of an elder Semelai living today was named Lari ('to run' in Malay) because she was born as her family was fleeing into the upper Bera, it is hard to see the Semelai of the 1930s, when Collings visited, as suffering from cultural poverty. Either they had quickly recovered from these traumas or had been spared in some way, perhaps by their swampy refuges.

Agriculture and settlement in the Bera watershed

Evidence for the earliest agriculture in the Tasek Bera watershed is ambiguous. Morley interpreted pollen cores collected from Tasek Bera to date the earliest deforestation and cultivation to approximately 1400 CE, (79) while B.K. Maloney suggested that agriculture there could be much older. (80) More recently, Raphael Wust and R. Marc Bustin, based on a detailed analysis of Tasek Bera pollen cores, have questioned whether it is possible to detect, using pollen cores alone, when cultivation first began. (81)
   The palynological investigations of Morley (1982) ... showed that
   lowland disturbance took place around 2000 BP. However, Orang Asli
   legends about the evolution of the lake system indicate that early
   human settlements may have occurred in the [Tasek Bera basin] as
   early as 3500-4500 BP, when the water level rose and the lake
   system was established. (82)

However, the events in the Semelai story of the origin of Tasek Bera (83) conflict with the aerial photographs, as well as with other Semelai stories, since Semelai appear to have entered Tasek Bera long after the lake was established. Prior episodes of agricultural expansion into Tasek Bera (perhaps by Semelai, perhaps by others) are likely but, at least in the nineteenth century, there must have been a retreat of agriculturalists to allow the primary forest to regenerate.

Describing Tasek Bera in 1875, D.D. Daly wrote:
   This is a shallow lake, with large timber growing in the water.
   Since our departure from the Sungie Sureting, no Malays had been
   met with so that it was a relief here to come across parties of
   'Orang Jacoon' sometimes called 'Orang Sakei,' or wild men of the
   interior. They fled on our approach, but some more venturesome of
   their number brought us some fish for barter. They placed no value
   on money, but accepted clothes and tobacco. These wild people lead
   a gregarious life, seldom remaining long in one place, for fear of
   their wives and children being kidnapped by the Malays. They had
   resting places in the trees, often 20 feet from the ground, so as
   to be out of reach of tigers and other wild animals. I was informed
   that they were very numerous in these remote parts,--the 'Ulu
   Pahang' (interior of Pahang). There was little attempt at
   cultivation on the banks of the rivers, but I saw clearings on the
   ranges where they grew dry padi and Indian com. They live on fish
   and on mammals or birds that they kill with the sumpitan
   (blow-pipe). In warfare they blow poisoned arrows through the
   sumpitan with great dexterity. (84)

According to Semelai oral histories, several pioneers into the Tasek Bera watershed were within about three generations of elders living in the 1980s. One story asserts that Semelai from Sungai Bera were invited into Tasek Bera, where they found abundant fishing, by Temoq already there. (85) Semelai cultivation practices would have increased the land mammal biomass by providing more edible vegetation near the ground. Temoq speak a South Aslian language closely related to Semelai; Temoq were much more dependent on hunting and gathering, but also practiced some agriculture. Semelai gradually moved upstream, while continuing to coexist and trade with Temoq. (86) Collings described Temoq as practicing 'a little half-hearted husbandry,' recently learned from the Semelai, and reliant primarily on cassava, which itself often disappeared because they did not fence their fields. (87) By the late twentieth century, Bera Temoq had become Semelai.

Semelai pioneering into Tasek Bera could have been stimulated at least partly by forces downstream, for example, population pressure leading to depleted primary forest, fish and game. By the late nineteenth century, the British colonial government was pacifying the interior while expanding tin mining and rubber plantations. (88) Rich, under-exploited lowland forests, like those in the Bera watershed, were becoming rarer.

There were also of course disincentives to living upstream; otherwise it would not have been so lightly populated before Semelai settlement. For people oriented toward trade, Tasek Bera's distance from markets, if not incorporated in trade networks, would have made it less desirable. Because the waterways are shallow in many places, watercraft must be light and small with little draught, inhibiting transport of large cargos. However, some Chinese established trading posts at Tasek Bera before the Emergency; and Semelai also sometimes transported their own products downstream, seeking a better price. Before the Chinese, Malay traders probably came upstream. (89) Or perhaps some Semelais took on the role of trader. Semelai oral histories do not mention Malay penghulu involvement in the trade.

During the Emergency, the British colonial government, in order to separate the insurgents from Orang Asli providing them with food and other support, established a series of forts in the interior, settling local Orang Asli around them. Fort Iskandar was established at Tasek Bera in 1953 as part of this strategy. Semelai in the area were forced to abandon their crops and live for a year around the fort, which provided them with food, medical care, and jobs as the area was cleared of insurgent camps. While they were subsequently allowed to return to their swiddens, they were also encouraged to remain nucleated around the fort, which eventually became Pos Iskandar, a non-military government installation.

As a result, in the 1970s, Iskandar Carey wrote:
   The Semelai living in this part of Pahang are able to lead a more
   or less settled existence because they do not rely entirely upon
   cultivation; but on the contrary, they frequently go out into the
   deep jungle to collect jungle produce, which they sell for cash.

This settled existence was an artifact of the Emergency. Their settlement, along with governmental edicts against cultivation in primary forest, a road from Negeri Sembilan, and commercial logging leading to rubber and oil palm plantations, soon diminished the primary forest available to the Semelai, pushing them toward other economic pursuits.

Semelai have been alienated from the land and water of their region to the point that the landscape in the aerial photographs is very different from what exists there today. Part of that area is within a Ramsar Wetland Reserve, established in 1994. Most of the remainder is a government-sponsored FELDA oil palm estate. Semelai have been under considerable pressure to rapidly re-adapt to a shrinking resource base as well as to the Malaysian nation-state. In concert with these changes, Semelai have lost most of their autonomy. Semelai today are mostly reliant on rubber cultivation and out-migration to make a living.

Pre-Emergency Semelai agricultural practices, from ethnographic sources

'We Semelai ... are all swidden cultivators.' (91)

Historically, the Semelai practiced shifting cultivation. Each year, with some exceptions, each Semelai household would establish a new swidden, often contiguous to the previous year's. Houses, which were placed in or next to the swidden, were only built to last a year or two, given the need to move within that time. Families were considered to be the owners of the water and land that they had homesteaded. Semelai also actively traded forest products such as rattans, resins and incense woods. (92) Primary forest provided the best source for these resources.

It is likely that plant cultivation by Semelai speakers is ancient. The Semelai language has a number of Austro-Asiatic words related to swiddening and rice. The Semelai word for 'rice plant' and 'unhusked rice seed,' baba, is cognate with ba' in most Aslian languages as well as other Austro-Asiatic languages further north. (93) Their word for cooked rice (huc) is also Mon-Khmer, while Semelai for dehusked uncooked rice is bras, from Malay beras. Terminology surrounding the technology of rice cultivation is also a mix of Austronesian and Austro-Asiatic. For example, 'to reap' ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), 'to fire a swidden' (chcr), gum 'to winnow' and 'winnowing tray' (chro[??]) are Austro-Asiatic, while the words for dibble stick (hibul), rice mortar (lson) and pestle (halu[??]) are Austronesian. (94) While the Semelai word for swidden, d[??]oh, is Mon-Khmer, the term for secondary forest, d[??]oh padey, consists of d[??]oh modified by an Austronesian word for rice plant.

Rice, which has afforded them prestige vis-a-vis other cultures, is highly salient to Semelai agriculture and identity. In fact, they probably cultivated it mostly for its symbolic value since it was not traded. Linguistic evidence in Semelai of the cultural importance of rice cultivation is exemplified by the 24 named stages for the growth habit of the rice plant: beginning with sksuk muh 'nose hairs' to describe the initial sprouting of the rice plant as well as at least 37 different named varieties of rice recognised by the Semelai. (95)

Ethnographic information about Semelai agricultural practices mostly derives from four sources: Collings did the earliest ethnographic research with both Semelai and their Temoq neighbours during the 1930s and 1940s, just before the aerial photos were taken; Banseng Hoe in 1964 did six weeks of ethnographic research on Semelai culture and social organisation at Tasek Bera; Hood Mohd. Salleh did extended stints of ethnographic research with the Semelai between 1972 and 1977; and Rosemary Gianno's ethnographic and oral history field notes were collected over seven field trips between 1980 and 2005. (96) Gianno outlines the basic vocabulary and process of Semelai cultivation. (97) By 1980, many Semelai were no longer practising shifting cultivation. Note that none of these studies was specifically focused on agriculture, causing the information provided to be based on relatively cursory observation and interviewing.

These accounts suggest the following patterns for Semelai agriculture: (a) A primary commitment to rice cultivation, with cassava as insurance; (b) A reliance on magic to assert control over the rice crop; (c) Divination and the creation of islands of primary forest; (d) A new swidden each year; (e) Preferred placement near navigable water; (f) An absence of fruit orchards; (g) Preferred placement in primary forest; (h) A preference for fertile soil; (i) A preference for locating this year's swidden near last year's swidden; (j) A preference for elongated swidden plots extending down slope; and (k) A preference for relatively large swiddens. We discuss each of these in turn.

(a) A primary commitment to rice cultivation, with cassava as insurance: 'The Semelai are husbandmen and grow dry rice as the staple crop, with tapioca as a stand-by.' (98) Semelai said that if they didn't eat rice for three days in a row, they felt sick and hungry. For Bera Semelai, 'The ghosts of the newly dead are said to return to their old homes and may be heard complaining if there is no rice and water for them.' (99)

Among Semelai cultural texts, the Tasek Bera origin myth (see above) assumes the central importance of rice in Semelai culture. The people at the beginning, before flooding erupts, are specifically planting rice as a harmonious group. Many Semelai stories either focus on rice or have it as an important plot element. For example, the Semelai story, 'The Discovery of Rice,' emphasises rice's soothing and satisfying qualities. (100) Semelai stories also tell of the origin of two very productive varieties of rice, baba bokrok rc[??], 'decaying harvesting basket rice,' and baba dara[??], 'maiden rice.' The introduction of more productive varieties like these may have contributed to greater Semelai dependence on rice.

The opposition between swidden and forest makes its way into the shamanic realm as well. Semelai make a distinction between two different traditions of shamanic ritual, tEn bri 'the forest vehicle', associated with Temoq and the Semelai tEn d[??]oh 'the swidden vehicle.' tEn bri is considered more powerful, but what is significant here is the distinction itself.

Even though Semelai culture did not value cassava, it is likely that, in combination with rice, it fostered Semelai expansion. While absent in their myths and rituals, cassava provided the food security needed to pursue the more risky cultivation of rice.

(b) A reliance on magic to assert control over the rice crop: Semelai rice cultivation was once heavily regulated by magical rituals that carried heavy taboos (pantan), undoubtedly because of the precariousness of rice cultivation. Gianno describes the magic surrounding rice planting and harvesting. (101) Among the specifications was a separate house to store the harvested rice. (102) However, most of these procedures and prohibitions were abandoned around 1930, replaced with Chinese rituals learned from jelutong tappers and traders at Tasek Bera, and which were much less elaborate with fewer prohibitions.

(c) Divination and the creation of islands of primary forest: Prior to choosing a site for one's swidden plot, divination was used to determine whether it would anger any resident spirits. If indications were that it would, that patch of forest was not felled. Over the course of time, this practice created islands, 'pulaw,' of primary forest. These are named in the same way that islands surrounded by water are named. They provided easily accessible storehouses for the plant materials needed to make houses, canoes, traps, and the rest of Semelai material culture.

(d) A new swidden each year: 'A new garden is made each year.' (103) However, some years, if a household had planted and harvested a bumper rice crop, more than a year's supply, they only planted cassava the following year. Or they could help others harvest their rice and take home part of it. Semelai say that famine has never occurred at Tasek Bera because the northeastern monsoon has always come sooner or later. (104) The only problem has been if a household waited until after the beginning of the wet northwest monsoon to fire its swidden. In this case, the options were as above.

(e) Preferred placement near navigable water: 'The cultivated areas, tended by the local "orang asli", are limited to a strip about 1 mile wide on either side of the Tasek Bera and Sungei Bera....' (105) While this quote is based on observations made in the 1970s, it is in line with the general pre-Emergency tendency to place swiddens near but not along navigable streams. Semelai preferred living near the lakeshore so that they could be closer to neighbours, fish and travel by dugout canoe. Crops in swiddens far from the lake were also considered more vulnerable to animal predation. They did not want to be so near the shore, however, that they might be vulnerable to hostile outsiders. Much of the primary forest left near the lake either had poor soil or was considered haunted (see above). However, the pull of primary forest, which over time was either further from navigable water or further upstream, eventually trumped this preference.

(f) An absence of fruit orchards: While Temuans, Orang Hulu and other Orang Asli often planted fruit orchards in their old swiddens that they could frequent during fruit season, as well as use as a source of commodities, this was not the case in the upper Bera watershed. Semelai have said that fruit trees they planted were usually knocked down by elephants. Markets for perishables like fruits were likely also too distant.

(g) A preference for primary forest: 'The Semelai have lived around Tasek Bera for many generations and the ground has been used over and over again.' Furthermore, the creation of a new swidden each year 'does not mean that fresh maiden forest is always felled, for they have a kind of "rotation of forest" and when the secondary growth on an old garden, de-u padoi, is tall enough it is felled and used again.' (106) This may be true for the lower Sungai Bera, but, as discussed above, genealogies and oral histories point to Semelai having settled the Tasek Bera and upper Sungai Bera watersheds only within the last century or so. For example, according to one woman whose family migrated into Tasek Bera from the lower Sungai Bera before she was born, 'They left the Sungai Bera because there was a lot of secondary forest.' While informants sometimes said that their ancestors had been there for many generations, when genealogies were collected there were often only two or three generations leading back to the original settler at a Tasek Bera lubuk 'open section of waterway.'

Generally speaking, Semelai preferred primary forest for their swiddens because it was more fertile and required less weeding. Swiddens sometimes were placed in older secondary forest; but according to a Semelai rule of thumb, after clearing and planting a plot three times, the land was no longer usable. One man in 1980 said, 'Now most swiddens are placed near the lake but before they could be very far away because people would only put their swiddens in primary forest.' This testimony is confirmed by Hoe:
   The Semelai say that the fertility of the forested land can be
   judged by the size of its tree trunks. Land with trees, the trunks
   of which cannot be encircled by an arm span, is said to be fertile
   enough for planting. (107)

This preference supports our suggestion that the dry season in the upper Bera watershed was dry enough to ensure a good burn.

(h) A preference for fertile soil: 'A site for a new garden is chosen first of all because of the goodness of the soil.' (108) However, some people were more fastidious about soil quality than others. (109)

(i) A preference for locating this year's swidden near last year's swidden: Usually, two to three Semelai households were clustered together with their separate swiddens, and the second year's swidden was placed next to, or in the vicinity of, the previous year's. (110) For the cover picture caption of an unpublished report, Williams-Hunt wrote, 'Typical aboriginal clearing in Ulu Bera, Pahang. In the foreground is last year's ladang [swidden] planted with tapioca whilst behind the new felling has been burnt off but not yet planted. Virgin jungle rises in the rear. Photograph by H.D. Collings ... 3.9.47.' (111) While some people did move around, most put their next swidden adjacent to the last one, or at least, to previous swiddens in that cluster, thereby extending use of the house to two years, minimising the effort in moving. Then, every other year, between planting and harvesting, families moved into a new house. However, as Hoe recorded:
   It is said that in the past (before the period known as the
   Emergency), people used to move from one area to another every 15
   to 20 years--when the nearby arable lands had been used up and had
   to be left in fallow for that length of time. (112)


This is the pioneering mechanism. Once the primary forest was too far from the banks of the lake or river, people packed up and moved to uncultivated areas farther upstream.
   Originally, the Semelai say, they lived in a scattered pattern in
   the Tasek Bera area, each house about half a mile away from the
   next. A few houses might be situated together in one place, but
   they would be about one or two miles away from the next group of
   houses. Semelai say they prefer this kind of distribution pattern as
   then competition among themselves for swiddens, fishing spots, and
   areas for collecting jungle products is not keen. (113)

Assuming that most Semelai households in the past only moved from an area every 15 years, this practice is in line with the large distances between homesteads.

(j) A preference for swidden plots extending down slope: Swiddens had different shapes, sometimes circular, sometimes quadrangular, but preferably, swiddens were elongated down slope, often extending from a ridge to a stream. This orientation aided a felling technique in which the trees down slope were notched first and then knocked down when the trees above them were felled. (114)

(k) A preference for larger swiddens: While comparing Temoq, Malays and Semelai, Collings wrote, 'It is only folk like the Semelai who are relatively stable, for they grow all they need and can make almost everything they want.' (115) Similarly, while discussing Orang Hulus at Bukit Serok, Pahang, one Semelai offered that 'the people there have always made very small swiddens and are not really into that. Therefore, they haven't turned their land into secondary forest the way Semelais have.'

Semelai swiddens at Tasek Bera were meant to provide a self-sufficient food supply. Combined with the abundant fishing and hunting, each household intended to produce for its own use. This entailed large swiddens. (116) The following story emphasises the purpose of Semelai agriculture as a means of subsistence, as well as the negative consequences of attempting to produce beyond one's needs:
   The Rice Ghost

      All the people cultivated their swiddens to grow enough food to
   live on. Most of the people had small swiddens. But one man
   cultivated a very large swidden, the harvest from which would
   exceed the needs of his family. Unfortunately, the swidden on which
   he laboured did not produce much rice, while the small swiddens
   produced enough rice for their owners' families. The man with the
   large swidden felt very sad and went wandering in the jungle. He
   came upon a house where an old man invited him to enter. The old
   man showed the rice that he himself had harvested, which was kept
   in seven different shelters. The wanderer asked the old man's
   advice and was told not to open too large a swidden. The ideal
   swidden was one just large enough to plant one [TEXT NOT
   REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of rice seed. The old man sympathized with
   the wanderer and gave him seven seeds to plant. A few months later,
   these rice seeds grew beautifully and the harvest from them
   required seven storage shelters. It is said the old man is actually
   the rice ghost Jumbarang Padi. (117) It is thus traditional that a
   swidden should not be too big. Otherwise, it may antagonize the
   rice ghost, who may think it is contrary to his advice. (118)

The story cautions against making Semelai swiddens too big. This tendency toward greater size accords with the Semelai identity as proficient swiddeners and the larger area needed for rice cultivation. It also demonstrates a tension in Semelai society between the urge to generate a surplus and an ethic of leveling potential economic inequality. However, as described above, in cases where there was more to reap than there was labour in the household, outsiders could help and there were procedures for dividing the harvest between the extra harvesters and field owner: The owner got between one-half and two-thirds of what the reaper collected. This helps explain swiddens larger than a household might need. But since Semelai rice production was for use and not exchange, it makes one wonder why they bothered. Why not just grow cassava? It seems that the main advantage of rice was symbolic, allowing them to assert cultural superiority relative to other groups like Temoq.

The sizes of Semelai swiddens were elicited by Hoe, Hood and Gianno. (119) Responses were in acres. How accurate might these estimates have been? The Semelai have a method for measuring swiddens. In order to demarcate the boundary of a prospective swidden, or the line between two swiddens, Semelai cultivators cut a path. Then they used a length of rattan that was one chain or 22 yards long [1 yard = 0.914 metre], measured to this length using 13 arm spans. 10 square chains equals one acre [1 acre = 0.404 hectare].
   The size of a swidden depends entirely on the wishes of the head of
   the household (normally the husband), who in turn will reckon
   according to the size of the family. The average size of a swidden
   is around two to three acres. A swidden rarely exceeds four or five
   acres because it is normally cultivated by the members of a single
   household, usually a nuclear family. Each married couple is
   expected to have their own swidden. (120)

In a survey of the size of swiddens in Rapak, an agricultural settlement of nine households, Hood found that they ranged from four to seven acres, with an average of 4.5 acres per household. (121) One of the two that were seven acres belonged to the jrukrah (a hereditary title) and his wife, the other to his sister married to his wife's brother. Semelai say that those who make larger swiddens are more 'rajin' (industrious) although larger families also require larger swiddens. These variations in size may also indicate emerging status differentiation. By 1980, there was only one household left at Rapak because in 1976 the government offered rubber acreage and assistance to Semelai still swiddening to return to Pos Iskandar and abandon their fields. (122) Gianno, through oral histories, collected size estimates for swiddens in primary forest that ranged from one acre to 10 acres, but mostly within the four to six acre per household range. (123) The increase in size between 1964 (Hoe) and 1972 (Hood) may reflect an actual increase in the size of swiddens because of larger family sizes, increased surplus production or both.

Interpreting the aerial photographs

According to William-Hunt, 'The air view is only the introduction to field work on the ground, which it can never replace. Never interpret beyond the limits of reason. Skill will come with experience, but initially all air work must be checked in detail on the ground. Later some features can be accepted from the air view but others will always require ground confirmation.' (124) While this is all good advice, we can no longer go to the photographed clearings to investigate them on the ground. Therefore, our analysis of the photos is necessarily provisional. However, we did find that a published sketch informed by a ground survey (probably by Collings) is of Swidden 1 in this study. (125) Williams-Hunt also provided general analytical advice such as, 'Secondary jungle is distinguished by a closer pattern of growth amongst the more ragged primary jungle which, being much taller, may cast a shadow on the young growth.' (126)

'In Malaya gardens vary in size from ten to fifty acres and usually support two to three families.' (127) While Semelai swiddens, and derived secondary forest, are clearly visible in the aerial photographs, a basic problem is determining from the photographs how many families actually cultivated a cleared area, given that related Semelai households often place their swiddens contiguously. (128) We identified structures in the photographs to help address this problem. Semelai houses, with their dried palm leaf roofs, appear on the photographs as white quadrangular specks with adjacent shadows. We also measured the size of structures in order to identify ancillary rice houses. However, as discussed above, structures could be recently abandoned and therefore inflate population estimates.

The aerial photos in this study were taken on 3 December 1948. The shadows in the photos are appropriate to a December afternoon, as they cast to the northeast.

Oral history interviews on the placement of houses in relation to swiddens indicate that if a swidden was in primary forest, the house was built toward the centre of the swidden, away from falling trees. Houses in secondary forest swiddens were usually placed near the edge, for shade. 'Houses are normally found at the highest point of the ladang [swidden]....' (129) While Semelai houses that hosted drinking parties were placed high so that the sound of the gongs and drums at night would carry, if a family had young children, the house was often situated near the stream to facilitate water transport.

Analysis of the aerial photographs

CorelDRAW X3 was used (a) to compile a photo-mosaic based upon stereoscope identifications and (b) to then distinguish, using coloured ovedays, swiddens, secondary forest, primary forest, and water. Focus of PCIGeomatica was used to measure the sizes of swiddens and other features, as well as total area in the aerial photographs. (130)

The photographs cover 19.85 [km.sup.2] within the Sungai Bera and Tasek Bera watersheds. Within that space, we identified five newly opened swiddens in addition to 19 structures, (131) numerous streams and bodies of water, and large areas of secondary forest. Map 2 shows that Semelai generally followed a pattern of swidden placement that progressively moved upstream and away from navigable water. Large patches of secondary forest without new swiddens, mostly in the northwest, demonstrate the preference for swiddening out an area over a number of years and then moving upstream to establish a new homestead in primary forest.

3 December 1948 would have been at the height of the northeastern monsoon, the wettest part of the year, and approaching the rice harvest. The five whitish patches on the photographs are swiddens. 'A newly planted garden in its initial stages will show much the same as a newly burnt area until the crop has started to grow, normally about six months after planting.' (132) The high reflectivity of the swiddens in December, near harvest time, we interpret to mean that they were mostly dedicated to rice, which was turning from green to golden, and that little cassava, much leafier and darker, had yet been planted. Except for a section of Swidden 2, each new clearing in 1948 was placed in primary forest, indicated by large, easily visible logs as well as by standing primary forest on at least one side of a swidden. Early stages of regrowth contiguous to four of the five swiddens indicates swidden placement in the vicinity of last year's.

Swidden 1: Charred logs are visible and there appears to be mostly rice. Ground notation for this swidden identified the structure (A1) as a field shelter. (133) The smaller structure (A2) may be a rice house.


Regrowth 1-3: Regrowth 1, similar in size to the contiguous swidden, was planted with cassava in September 1946, evidence of significant dependence on that crop. (134) The structure with well-worn radiating paths is probably still the family domicile for the new swidden (the size of the new swidden implies that more than one household was involved but we could not find another structure). What happened in 1947? We suggest that Regrowth 2, which is quite small, was cleared for rice planting in 1947, (135) while Regrowth 1 was providing cassava. The initial planting (in 1945?) of the 1946 cassava plot was probably primarily rice. Regrowth 3, only 542 metres to the north, with a size and shape similar to Regrowth 2, could have provided the rice in 1946. Perhaps these locations besides being in primary forest had superior soil qualities.

Swidden 2: This swidden, the largest, can be divided into three sections using a stream and a ridge, and includes both primary and secondary forest. West of the ridge, the large charred logs, oriented down slope, indicate primary forest. However, on the eastern side, straddling the stream, the felled trees are much thinner and not blackened, implying secondary forest. Standing contiguous forest is also secondary. There are three structures in the field as well as one in the regrowth to the northeast. Swidden 2 appears to have been part of an agricultural sequence that converted most of the area into secondary forest while pivoting around and creating a primary forest 'island'.

Swidden 3: Very little dark foliage is visible, indicating a preponderance of rice (Map 4). (136) Streambeds form dark lines that divide the swidden into three sections and are likely acting as boundaries between the swiddens, suggesting at least three households. While there is only one structure (C) in the swidden itself, there are four in the older contiguous regrowth (D and E1-3).

Regrowth 4 is contiguous to the large area of older regrowth between Swiddens 3 and 4 and has primary forest on three sides. Because logs were not detected, perhaps obscured by abundant foliage, it appears similar to Regrowth 1, a recent swidden planted with cassava.


Swidden 4 is part of the same homestead cluster as Swidden 3 and, like Regrowth 4, was carved out of primary forest; logs are visible. There is a large structure in the centre. Foliage is more evident here, implying either an incomplete burn or cassava mixed with rice. This plot, along with Swidden 3 and Regrowth 4, seems to be part of a settlement nucleus with new swiddens on the periphery. The cluster demonstrates the Semelai preference for primary forest and for placing this year's swidden in the vicinity of last year's.

Swidden 5 is the only one completely surrounded by primary forest. (137) Charred logs are visible but not structures. Regrowth 5 is an abandoned swidden (120 metres to the northeast) that, given the similarity in shape and size, was likely created by the same household. These do not conform to the pattern of contiguous placement. Possibly again, soil quality considerations played a role.

One pattern that was not discerned in the ethnographic and ethno-historic evidence but comes into focus in these photographs is a preference for replacing rice with cassava in the second year, which makes sense. Why waste good soil on a plant that will grow anywhere?

Given these measurements, how do Semelai swiddens compare to those produced by other groups in peninsular Malaysia and Southeast Asia? R. Cole measured two Temiar swiddens: one (7.25 acres) in secondary forest, the other in primary forest (while 12.5 acres were felled, much of it did not burn, so that only about 6.5 acres were planted). (138) Safian bin Mohd. Nazir and Anthony Walker mapped three Temiar swidden areas and found a similar pattern to what the Semelai had: one swidden divided among three to four households and the average size of a household plot as 2.81 acres (1.14 hectares), but with much more emphasis on cassava. (139) Orang Hulu swiddens were about 'a half acre or so' per household. (140) Comparative data on average swidden sizes per household among Southeast Asian dry rice cultivators ranges from 2.5 to 4 acres. (141)



Swidden size is, of course, only one variable in a complex system and determined by a variety of factors cross-culturally, including household size, security concerns, and whether placement is in primary or secondary forest. (142) However, since size was highly meaningful from the Semelai point of view and because it is derivable from the photos, we have focused on that. We cannot say with certainty how many households are represented in the aerial photographs, but Semelai swiddens clearly fall within the size ranges of well-known Southeast Asian swiddening groups. While based on a small sample, this analysis of a set of aerial photographs from the Williams-Hunt Collection supports the patterns abstracted from the ethnographic evidence. The photographs also show that newly opened swiddens were of significant size and largely dedicated to dry rice but that in subsequent plantings, cassava was predominant.


We have established that the Semelai mode of shifting cultivation was an important and productive part of their economy. But was it sustainable? If the Emergency and subsequent governmental interference had not happened, where would this adaptation have taken them? Because trade, even in the remote Bera watershed, was partly facilitated by Chinese traders, it was not difficult for the Semelai to combine subsistence agriculture with forest collecting. The long arm of the market allowed this basic combination to thrive at the same time that the wetlands of Tasek Bera provided a refuge. While they had intensified a form of agriculture, shifting cultivation, which has inherent long-term productivity limitations, they had not adopted wet rice cultivation, perhaps because of the ENSO. (143) Given the rate at which Semelai were eating through the forest and the fact that the southern peninsula is a much more confined space than, say, Borneo, the twentieth century Semelai pattern of intensive swiddening was unlikely to endure, and would have eventually exhausted the available primary forest. By that point of course, the Semelai would have needed to alter their practices, as Iban have done in areas they pioneered. (144) In fact, after the Emergency, the Semelai, increasingly hemmed in by land development, did turn to less extensive economic activities such as rubber tapping and to producing progressively less of their own subsistence.


'The Temuans, Mr Cole pointed out, are more primitive than the Semelai and are not very good agriculturalists. The Semelai, however, are very efficient at "ladang cultivation".' (145)

This report has endeavoured to bring into greater focus the economic patterns of southern Orang Asli cultures by contextualising them historically and environmentally, as well as by presenting the specific case of Semelai agriculture, through an analysis of ethnographic and historical accounts as well as aerial photography. We argue that rice has great antiquity in peninsular Malaysia but does not appear to have become a dominant cultigen in the south, except among Minangkabau, until the nineteenth century. We provide evidence for Semelai having been engaged in trade networks historically. We identify patterns that characterised Semelai agriculture in the twentieth century and use this knowledge to interpret and gain additional insight from the Williams-Hunt aerial photographs. As a result, it seems clear that, while some southern groups did not emphasise agriculture, others, like the Semelai, relied on highly organised, pioneering, rice-focused, cassava-backed, intensive swiddening as well as hunting and fishing for their subsistence, with enthusiastic and proficient forest product collection providing tradable commodities. Factors contributing to this kind of adaptation included socio-economic pressure from downstream, a low-lying waterlogged landscape, a climate that made wet rice agriculture less reliable while allowing felled primary forest trees to dry sufficiently for a good burn, improved varieties of rice and cassava, rice as a status symbol, access to a large expanse of old growth forest and good fishing, and a social system that allowed some competition and social differentiation.

There has, in all likelihood, been an ebb and flow of people in the Bera watershed since prehistory. During times of greater economic integration and population growth downstream or when seeking refuge, shifting cultivators may have expanded into this area with its primary forest and animal resources. Given the fragility of these networks, once they broke down, or agricultural yields declined, population density in remote areas with difficult terrain like Tasek Bera would have declined as well. The Semelai combination of subsistence agriculture with some surplus production made sense, at least in the short term, because the twentieth century was a time when socio-economic integration was very much on the rise.

Perhaps the most important point to take from this analysis has been the need for Orang Asli cultures to be flexible and diversified in the face of changing circumstances. Because of their proximity to more powerful societies, Orang Asli cultures have had to make accommodations and adaptations quickly as their social environment denied access to some resources while presenting opportunities for others.

(1) In this paper, 'southern peninsular Malaysia' is defined as a mostly lowland region that extends south and west from the downstream eastward stretch of the Sungai Pahang, and includes Melaka, Johor, southern Pahang, and Negeri Sembilan.

(2) Narifumi Maeda Tachimoto, The Orang Hulu; A Report on Malaysian Orang Asli in the 1960's (Subang Jaya: Center for Orang Asli Concerns, 2001), p. 35.

(3) David Henley, 'Population and the means of subsistence: Explaining the historical demography of island Southeast Asia, with particular reference to Sulawesi', Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 36, 3 (2005): 337-72; ed. Peter Boomgaard, Freek Colombijn and David Henley, Paper landscapes: Explorations in the environmental history of Indonesia (Leiden: KITLV, 1997); Jeyamalar Kathirithamby-Wells, Nature and nation: Forests and development in peninsular Malaysia (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2005).

(4) Paul Wheatley, The Golden Khersonese: Studies in the historical geography of the Malay peninsula before A.D. 1500 (Kuala Lumpur: Penerbit Universiti Malaya, 1980); F.L. Dunn, Rain-forest collectors and traders: A Study of resource utilisation in modern and ancient Malaya, Monographs of the Malaysian Branch, Royal Asiatic Society (1975). Mined metals (gold, tin and iron) were also major trade items from the interior bur derived mostly from mountainous regions to the north.

(5) Lesley M. Potter, 'A Forest product out of control: Gutta percha in Indonesia and the wider Malay world, 1845-1915', in Paper landscapes: Explorations in the environmental history of Indonesia, ed. Peter Boomgaard, Freek Colombijn and David Henley (Leiden: KITLV Press, 1997): 281-308.

(6) There was also no tradition in the area of surplus rice production for sale.

(7) Geoffrey Benjamin, 'In the long term: Three themes in Malayan cultural ecology,' in Cultural values and human ecology in Southeast Asia, ed. K.L. Hutterer, A.T. Rambo and G. Lovelace (Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia, 1985): 219-78; R.D. Hill, Rice in Malaya: A Study in historical geography (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1977).

(8) Kathirithamby-Wells, Nature anal nation: Forests and development in peninsular Malaysia, p. 63.

(9) H.D. Collings, 'A Temoq list of words and notes', Bulletin of the Raffles Museum, Series B 4 (1949): 72.

(10) Elizabeth H. Moore, 'Inventory of the Williams-Hunt Collection', vol. 2 in 'The Moated Mu'ang of the Mun River Basin' (Ph.D. diss., Institute of Archaeology, University of London, 1986).

(11) Ibid; Duncan McGregor et ai., 'Mapping the environment in Southeast Asia: The Use of remote sensing and geographical information systems', in Environmental change in Southeast Asia: People, politics, and sustainable development, ed. Michael J.G. Parnwell and Raymond L. Bryant (London & New York: Routledge, 1996): 190-224.

(12) McGregor et al., 'Mapping the environment in Southeast Asia': 208.

(13) Klaus J. Bayr, Rosemary Gianno and Stephanie Derrick, 'An Analysis of aerial photographs of peninsular Malaysia from the Williams-Hunt collection' (paper presented at the Proceedings, New England--St. Lawrence Valley Geographical Society, Keene, New Hampshire, 2005). Copies of the aerial photos (NA48 MALAYA:3C PR118/TF3001-TF3018) at a scale of 1:8,000 were obtained from E.H. Moore, University of London, and are now housed in the Orang Asli Archive at Keene State College.

(14) Gerard Diffloth, 'Les langues mon-khmer de Malaisie: Classification historique et innovations', Asie du sud-est et monde insulinde, 6, 4 (1975): 1-19; Geoffrey Benjamin, 'Map with "peninsular Malaysia", in Language atlas of the Pacific area, ed. Stephen Wurm and Shiro Hattori (Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 1983), p. 37.

(15) But see Alberto G. Gomes, Looking for money: Capitalism and modernity in an Orang Asli village (Subang Jaya, Malaysia and Melbourne, Australia: Center for Orang Asli Concerns and Trans Pacific Press, 2004).

(16) Benjamin, 'On being tribal in the Malay world', pp. 10-1.

(17) 'It has also been suggested that non-Malayic Austronesians may have introduced Austronesian cultural and linguistic elements prior to the Malayic expansion 2,000 years ago. Geoffrey Benjamin, 'On being tribal in the Malay world,' in Tribal communities in the Malay World; Historical, cultural and social perspectives, ed. Geoffrey Benjamin and Cynthia Chou (Leiden, Singapore: International Institute for Asian Studies; Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2002), p. 63; Peter Bellwood, Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian archipelago, revised ed. (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1997))

(18) Kirk M. Endicott, 'The Economy of the Batek of Malaysia: Annual and historical perspectives', Research in Economic Anthropology, 6 (1984): 29-52. David Bulbeck, 'Hunter-gatherer occupation of the Malay peninsula from the Ice Age to the Iron Age', in Under the canopy: The Archaeology of tropical rain forests, ed. Julio Mercader (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), pp. 119-60.

(19) Benjamin, 'On being tribal in the Malay world', p. 39.

(20) Ibid., p. 40.

(21) Milducho-Maclay, 'Dialects of the Melanesian tribes in the Malay peninsula', Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1 (1878): 38-44.

(22) For example, J.R. Logan, 'The Orang Binua of Johore', Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 1 (1847): 242-93; Harry W. Lake and H.J. Kelsall, 'A Journey on the Sembrong River from Kuala Indau to Batu Pahat', Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26 (1894): 1-23; A.D. Machado, 'A Vocabulary of the Jakuns of Batu Pahat, Johore, together with some remarks on their customs and peculiarities', Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 38 (1902): 29-33.

(23) N. von Miklucho-Maclay, 'Ethnological excursions in the Malay peninsula--Nov. 1874 to Oct. 1875 (Preliminary communication)', Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2 (1878b): 211-2.

(24) Banseng Hoe, Semelai communities at Tasek Bera: A Study of the structure of an Orang Asli society (Subang Jaya: Center for Orang Asli Concerns, 2001).

(25) Unless otherwise indicated, ethnographic information presented derives from Gianno's fieldnotes.

(26) Austro-Asiatic languages probably extended into Sumatra and Borneo as well. K. Alexander Adelaar, 'Borneo as a cross-roads for comparative Austronesian linguistics', in The Austronesians: Historical and comparative perspectives, ed. Peter Bellwood (Canberra: Department of Anthropology, Australian National University, 1995), pp. 75-95.

(27) Leong Sau Heng, 'Jenderam Hilir and the mid-Holocene prehistory of the west coast plains of peninsular Malaysia', Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, 10 (1991): 150-60; Leonard Y. Andaya, 'Orang Asli and Melayu relations: A Cross-border perspective', Antropologi Indonesia, 67 (2000). This does not explain the persistence of the foraging Semang, but see Bulbeck, 'Hunter-gatherer occupation of the Malay peninsula from the Ice Age to the Iron Age', pp. 150-2.

(28) Bellwood, Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian archipelago, p. 164.

(29) Gerard Diffloth, personal communication by email, (the Orang Asli research distribution list) on 3 May 2004.

(30) J.E. Spencer, 'The Migration of rice from mainland Southeast Asia into Indonesia', in Plants and migrations of Pacific peoples, ed. Jacques Barrau (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1963).

(31) Michael Dove, 'Development of tribal land-rights in Borneo: The Role of ecological factors', Borneo Research Bulletin, 12, 1 (1980): 3-18.

(32) Marie-Andree Couillard, 'Les rapports sociaux dans la societe Malaise pre-coloniale: Hypotheses et commentaires', Anthropologie et Societes, 10, 2 (1986): 145-62; Spencer, 'The Migration of rice from mainland Southeast Asia into Indonesia', pp. 83-9.

(33) Walter William Skeat and Charles Otto Blagden, The Pagan races of the Malay peninsula, Memoir 1 (1966 [1906]), p. 340.

(34) F.A. Swettenham, 'Note on the Jacoons', The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 23 (1894): 89.

(35) Nikolai Nikolaevich Miklukho-Maklai--Papers, 1873-1975, 'Journeys in the Malay peninsula', (Sydney: Mitchell Library, 1873-1975), p. 122.

(36) D.F.A. Hervey, 'The Endau and its tributaries', Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 8 (1881): 122.

(37) Robert K. Dentan, 'Some Senoi Semai dietary restrictions: A Study of food behavior in a Malayan hill tribe' (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1965): 60.

(38) Hill, Rice in Malaya: A Study in historical geography; Benjamin, 'In the long term: Three themes in Malayan cultural ecology'; Geoffrey Benjamin, Between isthmus and islands: Reflections on Malayan palaeo-sociology, Working Papers (Dept. of Sociology, National University of Singapore, 1986); Benjamin, 'On being tribal in the Malay world'.

(39) Hill, Rice in Malaya: A Study in historical geography, p. 12. Semelai also have a story. 'The Discovery of rice' also implicates royalty in the adoption of rice cultivation. In this case, both the baten ('chief) and the raja ('king') lead their people to see the virtues of this new grain, but instead of millet, wild yams are superseded. Hood Mohamad Salleh, 'Semelai rituals of curing' (Ph.D. diss., St. Catherine's College, Oxford, 1978), pp. 316-9.

(40) Harry Lake, 'Johore', The Geographical Journal, 3, 4 (1894): 283-8; Lake and Kelsall, 'A Journey on the Sembrong River from Kuala Indau to Batu Pahat': 1-23; Miklucho-Maclay, 'Journey in the Malay peninsula', p. 4; Logan, 'The Orang Binua of Johore': 242-93.

(41) Tachimoto, The Orang Hulu; A Report on Malaysian Orang Asli in the 1960's, pp. 27-8, 39-40.

(42) P. Favre, 'An Account of the wild tribes inhabiting the Malayan peninsula, Sumatra and a few neighboring islands', Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 2, 1 (1848): 259.

(43) I.H.N. Evans, 'Notes on the Besisi of Tamboh, Kuala Langat, Selangor', Journal of the Federated Malay States Museums, 5 (1913): 4.

(44) Skeat and Blagden, The Pagan Races of the Malay peninsula, p. 343.

(45) J.R. Logan, 'The Superstitions of the Mintira, with some additional remarks on their customs, & c.', Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 1 (1847): 331.

(46) Skeat and Blagden, The Pagan Races of the Malay peninsula, pp. 344-57.

(47) Ibid., p. 358.

(48) Anthony Reid, 'Inside out: The Colonial displacement of Sumatra's population', in Paper landscapes: Exploration in the environmental history of Indonesia, ed. Peter Boomgaard, Freek Colombijn and David Henley (Leiden: KITLV, 1997), pp. 61-89.

(49) Ibid.

(50) Peter Bellwood, First farmers: The Origins of agricultural societies (Blackwell, 2005), p. 139.

(51) George Appell, 'Systems of land tenure in Borneo: A Problem in ecological determinism', Borneo Research Bulletin, 3 (1971): 17-20; Dove, 'Development of tribal land-rights in Borneo: The Role of ecological factors': 3-18.

(52) W.L. Dale, 'The Rainfall of Malaya, Part I', Journal of Tropical Geography, 13 (1959): 27.

(53) Ibid.: 37.

(54) Ibid.: 29.

(55) Ibid.

(56) Peter Boomgaard, 'In the shadow of rice: roots and tubers in Indonesian history, 1500-1950', Agricultural history, 77, 4 (2003): 597.

(57) Rosemary Gianno, Semelai culture and resin technology, Memoir 22 (New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1990), p. 33.

(58) B.K. Maloney, 'Man's impact on the rainforests of west Malesia: The Palynological record', Journal of Biogeography, 12 (1985): 553.

(59) Raphael A.J. Wust and R. Marc Bustin, 'Vegetation classification for a sedge/forest wetlands system, Tasek Bera (peninsular Malaysia) based on Landsat-TM imagery and aerial photo-based field mapping', Asian Journal of Geoinformatics, 4, 1 (2003): 62.

(60) Tasek Bera is 34.6 km at its broadest and 25.3 km at its longest points, with an area of 61.50 [km.sup.2] (Tasek Bera: The Ecology of a freshwater swamp, vol. 47, Monographae Biologicae, ed. J.I. Furtado and S. Mori (The Hague: Dr. Junk Publ., 1982): 7) in a watershed measuring 625 [km.sup.2]. Raphael A.J. Wust and R. Marc Bustin, 'Late Pleistocene and Holocene development of the interior peat-accumulating basin of tropical Tasek Bera, peninsular Malaysia', Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 211 (2004).

(61) Stewart Wavell, Lost world of the east: An Adventurous quest in the Malayan hinterland (London: Souvenir Press, 1958), pp. 152-3; Harry Miller, Menace in Malaya (London: George G. Harrap, 1954).

(62) Wheatley, The Golden Khersonese: Studies in the historical geography of the Malay peninsula before A.D. 1500. Because of conflicts during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries between the Dutch, Portuguese and Achehnese, eastern traders preferred the relative safety of the inland route to reach Melaka. After the Portuguese defeat in 1641, the sea route became safe again. W. Linehan, 'A History of Pahang', Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 14, 2 (1936): 39, 189. However, interior peoples continued to use the inland route (John D. Leary, 'Orang Asli contacts with the Malays, Portuguese and Dutch in peninsular Malaya from 1400 to 1700', Asian Studies Review, 18, 2 (1994): 102).

(63) Charles Gray, 'Journal of a route overland from Malacca to Pahang, across the Malayan peninsula', Journal of the Indian Archipelago, 6 (1852): 369-75; D.D. Daly, 'Surveys and explorations in the native states of the Malayan peninsula, 1875-1882', Proceedings of the Geographical Society, London (n.s.), 4 (1882): 393-412.

(64) Collings, 'A Temoq list of words and notes': 70-1; Rosemary Gianno, 'Malay, Semelai, Temoq: Semelai concepts of ethnicity in south-central Malaya', in Politics, land and ethnicity in the Malay peninsula and Borneo: Non-Malay indigenous groups and the state, ed. R.L. Winzeler (New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asian Studies Monograph, 1997), pp. 69-70.

(65) R. Cardon, 'A Malay tradition', Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 18, 2 (1940): 145.

(66) Lake, 'Johore': 293-4.

(67) E.C. Foenander, 'A Trip up the Bera River', Malayan Forester, 1 (1931).

(68) Peter Bellwood, 'Cultural and biological differentiation in peninsular Malaysia: The Last 10,000 years', Asian Perspectives, 32 (1993): 44.

(69) Leonard Y. Andaya, 'A History of trade in the sea of Melayu,' Itinerario, 1 (2000): 87-110.

(70) Andaya, 'Orang Asli and Melayu relations: A Cross-border perspective': 60.

(71) J.E. Nathan and R.O. Winstedt, 'Johol, Inas, Ulu Muar, Jempul, Gunong Pasir and Terachi. Their history and constitution', in Papers on Malay Subjects, ed. P.L Burns (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 391-468.

(72) Linehan, 'A History of Pahang': 40, 189.

(73) William D. Wilder, Communication, social structure and development in rural Malaysia: A Study of Kampung Kuala Bera, Memoir 56, Monographs on Social Anthropology (New Jersey: Athlone Press, 1982). 'Intermarriage between Minangkabau men and local women in the rantau resulted in the children adopting the adat or customs of their mothers and thus modifying Minangkabau identity' (Leonard Y. Andaya, 'Unravelling Minangkabau ethnicity', Itinerario, 2 (2000); 24).

(74) Kirk M. Endicott, 'The Effects of slave raiding on the aborigines of the Malay peninsula', in Slavery, bondage, and dependency in Southeast Asia, ed. A. Reid (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1983), pp. 216-45.

(75) Logan, 'The Superstitions of the Mintira, with some additional remarks on their customs, & c.': 329.

(76) Logan, 'The Orang Binua of Johore'; I.H.N. Evans, 'Notes on the aborigines of the Ulu Langat and Kenaboi districts of Selangor and Jelebu,' Journal of the Federated Malay States Museums, 5, 2 (1914): 75; Endicott, 'The Effects of slave raiding on the aborigines of the Malay peninsula', p. 233.

(77) Endicott, 'The Effects of slave raiding on the Aborigines of the Malay peninsula', pp. 233-4.

(78) Hill, Rice in Malaya: A Study in historical geography, p. 27.

(79) R.J. Morley, 'Origin and history', in Tasek Bera: The Ecology of a freshwater swamp, ed. J.I. Furtado and S. Mori, pp. 12-45.

(80) Maloney, 'Man's impact on the rainforests of west Malesia: The Palynological record': 555.

(81) Wust and Bustin, 'Late Pleistocene and Holocene development of the interior peat-accumulating basin of tropical Tasek Bera, peninsular Malaysia': 241-70.

(82) Ibid.

(83) H.D. Collings, 'Aboriginal notes', Bulletin of the Raffles Museum, Series B, 4 (1949); Hoe, Semelai communities at Tasek Bera; A Study of the structure of an Orang Asli society, pp. 3-4; Hood, 'An Ethnographical investigation of the Semelai of Malaysia'; Gianno, Semelai culture and resin technology, pp. 134-5.

(84) Daly, 'Surveys and explorations in the native states of the Malayan peninsula, 1875-1882': 400. Note that, according to both Daly and Charles Gray ('Journal of a route overland from Malacca to Pahang, across the Malayan peninsula', p. 372), during the nineteenth century, the Sungai Serting emptied into Tasek Bera and not into the Sungai Bera as it does today.

(85) Gianno, Semelai culture and resin technology. This contrasts with conflicts that developed when Iban were pioneering in Borneo (Christine Padoch, Migration and its alternatives among the Iban of Sarawak (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982), pp. 15-17).

(86) Gianno, 'Malay, Semelai, Temoq: Semelai concepts of ethnicity in south-central Malaya', pp. 51-83.

(87) Temoq agriculture in the Jeram River valley more closely resembled Semelai practices with swiddens three to five acres in size but hill rice only the fourth most important cultigen (Peter Laird, 'Ritual, territory and region: The Temoq of Pahang, west Malaysia', Social Analysis, 1 (1979): 54-80).

(88) Kathirithamby-Wells, Nature and nation: Forests and development in peninsular Malaysia, p. 176.

(89) Logan, 'The Orang Binua of Johore', 261: 88-9.

(90) Iskandar Carey, Orang Asli: The Aboriginal tribes of peninsular Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 251.

(91) Hood, 'An Ethnographical investigation of the Semelai of Malaysia', p. 34.

(92) Gianno, Semelai culture and resin technology.

(93) G.H. Luce, Phases of Pre-Pagan Burma (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 3; Charles Higham, 'Languages and farming dispersals: Austroasiatic languages and rice cultivation', in Examining the language/farming hypothesis, ed. Peter Bellwood and Colin Renfrew (Cambridge: McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research, 2003).

(94) Gerard Diffloth, 'The Contribution of linguistic paleontology to the homeland of Austro-Asiatic', in The Peopling of East Asia: Putting together archaeology, linguistics and genetics, ed. Laurent Sagart, Roger Blench and Alicia Sanchez-Mazas (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005), pp. 77-80.

(95) Gianno, Semelai culture and resin technology, p. 35.

(96) Collings, 'Aboriginal notes': 89-90; Hoe, Semelai communities at Tasek Bera; A Study of the structure of an Orang Asli society, pp. 19-21; Hood, 'An Ethnographical investigation of the Semelai of Malaysia', pp. 34-8.

(97) Gianno, Semelai culture and resin technology, pp. 32-7.

(98) Collings, 'Aboriginal notes': 87.

(99) I.H.N. Evans, 'Further notes on the aboriginal tribes of Pahang', Journal of the Federated Malay States Museums, 9 (1920): 17.

(100) Hood Mohamad Salleh, 'Semelai rituals of curing' (Ph.D. diss., St. Catherine's College, Oxford, 1978), pp. 316-24.

(101) Gianno, Semelai culture and resin technology, p. 123.

(102) Evans, 'Further notes on the aboriginal tribes of Pahang': 18-9. Evans' description of a Semelai ('Bera Tribe') rice harvesting regimen is similar.

(103) Collings, 'Aboriginal notes': 89.

(104) Given the El Nino Southern Oscillations (ENSO), while this may not strictly be true, it is what people say.

(105) J.I. Furtado, 'Conservation survey of the Tasek Bera, Pahang' (A report to the Malaysian Wildlife Conservation Foundation, 1987), not paginated.

(106) Collings, 'Aboriginal notes': 89.

(107) Hoe, Semelai communities at Tasek Bera; A Study of the structure of an Orang Asli society, p. 20.

(108) Collings, 'Aboriginal notes': 89.

(109) Gianno, Semelai culture and resin technology, p. 33.

(110) In Borneo, 'such unconservative practices as the making of many fields contiguously, the cutting of very large fields ... are reported for Baleh Iban groups' (Padoch, Migration and its alternatives among the Iban of Sarawak, p. 61).

(111) P.D.R. Williams-Hunt, 'Jungle clearings', P.D.R. Williams-Hunt Collection, School for Oriental and Asian Studies (Mimeographed guide disseminated by the Royal Air Force, 1948), 1.

(112) Hoe, Semelai communities at Tasek Bera; A Study of the structure of an Orang Asli society, p. 21.

(113) Ibid., p. 33.

(114) Gianno, Semelai culture and resin technology, p. 33.

(115) Collings, 'A Temoq list of words and notes', p. 72.

(116) Semelai did buy and sell fish from each other, however, and traded for monkey and gibbon meat from Temoq.

(117) Jumbalang is a Minangkabau variant of jembalang in Malay and means 'gnome of the soil' or 'hantu tanah'. 'The j. are the spirits to whom offerings are made when the soil is disturbed for planting or to provide foundations for a house; and ill-luck about a house or building is put down to them,' R.J. Wilkinson, A Malay-English dictionary (Romanised), (Mytilene, Greece: Salavopoulos and Kinderlis, 1932), p. 458.

(118) Hoe, Semelai communities at Tasek Bera; A Study of the structure of an Orang Asli society, pp. 141-2.

(119) Ibid., p. 20; Hood, 'An Ethnographical investigation of the Semelai of Malaysia', p. 36.

(120) Hoe, Semelai communities at Tasek Bera, A Study of the structure of an Orang Asli society, p. 20.

(121) Hood, 'An Ethnographical investigation of the Semelai of Malaysia', p. 36.

(122) Some Semelai subsequently swiddened intermittently, commuting from the Pos Iskandar settlement complex. Ina 1987 survey of Kampong Bapak households, 17 of 34 were swiddening, but in secondary forest. The average size was 2.6 acres, ranging from 1 to 5.5 acres. The average household had 6.8 individuals. On occasion, households have, at least temporarily, returned to their old ways: planting rice and cassava in primary forest and matured secondary forest and then rubber after the harvest.

(123) Another, more direct way of measuring rice production, commitment, and skill is to compare the ratio of rice produced relative to rice seed used. Along those lines, according to one Semelai man, 'Before with five gallons of rice, you got over 100 gallons of rice. Now you get much less'. This 1:20 ratio is similar to yields obtained by Iban households. Refer to J.D. Freeman, Iban agriculture: A Report on the shifting cultivation of hill rice by the Iban of Sarawak (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1955), p. 110. The gallon in Malay is gantang, the unit in which rice is usually measured. See, for example, Freeman, Iban agriculture, p. 142.

(124) P.D.R. Williams-Hunt, 'A Technique for anthropology from the air in Malaya', Bulletin of the Raffles Museum, Series B, 4 (1949): 63.

(125) P.D.R. Williams-Hunt, 'Anthropology from the air', Man, 49 (1949): 50.

(126) Williams-Hunt, 'A Technique for anthropology from the air in Malaya': 52.

(127) Ibid.: 49.

(128) According to Semelai, the communists there did not grow crops. Also, because the communists bought only cassava, which is plentiful, from them, swiddens were not enlarged.

(129) Williams-Hunt, 'Jungle clearings', p. 3.

(130) Bayr, Gianno, and Derrick, 'An Analysis of aerial photographs of peninsular Malaysia from the Williams-Hunt collection'.

(131) While these kinds of data can lend themselves to population density estimates, space limitations prohibit that discussion here.

(132) Williams-Hunt, 'A Technique for anthropology from the air in Malaya', p. 51.

(133) Williams-Hunt, 'Anthropology from the air', p. 50.

(134) Ibid.

(135) While the article dates the clearing to 1941, based on the incipient regrowth visible in the aerial photos, 1947 seems more likely.

(136) Because they occur at the beginning of a flight line, only 20 per cent of Swidden 3 and none of Swidden 4 could be viewed stereoscopically.

(137) Only the eastern section could be viewed stereoscopically.

(138) R. Cole, 'Temiar Senoi agriculture: A Note on aboriginal shifting cultivation in Ulu Kelantan, Malaya', The Malayan Forester, 22, 3, 4 (1959): 203.

(139) Mohamad Nazir Safian bin, 'Kampung Temakah: A Temiar community in Perak', in Provisional Research Report, 4, ed. Anthony R. Walker (Penang: Social Anthropology Section, School of Comparative Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 1976), pp. 122-3.

(140) Tachimoto, The Orang Hulu, p. 37.

(141) Freeman, Iban agriculture, p. 93.

(142) Dove, 'Development of tribal land-rights in Borneo', pp. 3-18.

(143) Semelai at Bukit Rok did adopt wet rice cultivation from nearby Malays at Kuala Bera.

(144) Padoch, Migration and its alternatives among the Iban of Sarawak.

(145) Mr Cole was interviewed by the reporter of the following article: Anonymous, 'Men are midwives for aborigines in Negri Sembilan', Malay Mail, 22 Nov. 1956.

Professor Rosemary Gianno is a Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Keene State College. Professor Klaus J. Bayr is a Professor of Geography in the Department of Geography at Keene State College. Correspondence in connection with this article may be addressed to: and respectively. While many people have contributed to this research, we would particularly like to thank Andrew Abel, George Appell, A. Baer, Geoffrey Benjamin, Harold C. Conklin, Sharon Dennis, Kirk Endicott, Eng Tek, Kerry Fosher, Elizabeth H. Moore, Colin Nicholas, Debra Picchi, Romani Mohamad and Raphael Wust for advice and assistance. Any fault of course remains our own. Stephanie Derrick did much work computer mapping the aerial photographs. The Orang Asli Archive at Keene State College provided the photographs. We also thank the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli and the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister's Office for permission to conduct ethnographic research in Malaysia.
Table 1: New swiddens, old swiddens (regrowth) and associated

Plots        subplots   acres   hectares   Forest type

swidden 1               11.98   4.85       primary

Regrowth 1               9.26   3.75       primary
Regrowth 2               3.24   1.31       primary
Regrowth 3               3.11   1.23       primary
swidden 2               16      6.47       primary +
                a        5.24   2.12       secondary
                b        8.35   3.38       secondary
                c        2.43   0.98       primary

swidden 3               14.32   5.79       primary
                a        7.02   2.84
                b        3.26   1.32
                c        4.04   1.63
Regrowth 4               9.8    3.97       primary
swidden 4               13.2    5.36       primary
swidden 5                7.64   3.09       primary
Regrowth 5               8.85   3.58

Plots        subplots   Structures   [m.sup.2]   location

swidden 1                   A1          41       within
                            A2         19.2      within
Regrowth 1                  B          22.4      within
Regrowth 2
Regrowth 3
swidden 2
                a           H           16       within
                b           1          38.4      within
                c           1           144      within
                            K          10.2      sec forest
swidden 3                   C           64       within
                a           D          76.8      sec forest
                b           E1         22.4      sec forest
                c           E2         12.8      sec forest
                            E3         19.2      sec forest
Regrowth 4                  F          34.6      within
swidden 4                   G          30.7      within
swidden 5
Regrowth 5
                            L          69.1      sec forest
                            M          35.8      sec forest
                            N          51.8      sec forest
                            O          35.8      sec forest
                            P          92.2      sec forest
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Author:Gianno, Rosemary; Bayr, Klaus J.
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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