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Orang Asli Women of Malaysia: Perceptions, Situations and Aspirations, Adela Baer et al.

Malaysia: Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, 2006, 167 p.
Hew Cheng Sim
p. 190
Référence(s) :

Adela Baer et al., Orang Asli Women of Malaysia: Perceptions, Situations and Aspirations, Malaysia: Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, 2006, 167 p.

Texte intégral

1This book makes an important contribution to the growing corpus of work on Malaysian women. Although the Orang Asli are well studied, little has been written of the women in particular. This book complements an earlier one on Semai women, as this volume attends to the various groups of Orang Asli women. The contributors have conducted scholarly work amongst the Orang Asli, spanning several decades collectively. The groups covered in this volume are the Jahai, Batek, Chewong, Semelai, and Btsisi. The first two chapters by Adela Baer are very useful, taking a sweeping and fascinating look at how Orang Asli women are situated historically. They contextualize Orang Asli’s relations with their neighbors, the Malays and Chinese, and also with their rulers, the British colonizers. Baer’s task was made difficult by the paucity of literature on women, but she painstakingly pieced together fragments to present vignettes that give us a glimpse of the past. These first two chapters are therefore invaluable in anchoring the book and enabling us to better understand the changes that followed.

2Karen Endicott’s portrayal of one woman leader illuminates the life of the Batek in general and Batek women in particular. The chapter that I enjoyed most was Signe Howell’s description of the Chewong, their cosmology, their ethos and gender relations. Her discussion of the impact of the Malacca cane trade and the historical relations of the Chewong with non-Chewong and how women were viewed reveals clearly how every event, every change is gendered in its consequences. Rosemary Gianno’s chapter on Semelai midwives points out that traditionally, men attended the birthing process of their wives, and it was therefore not unusual to have male mid-wives. However, as a result of government pressure and the fear of being sued in the event of a maternal or infant death, many female midwives lost confidence. Thus, female midwives disappeared as a result of state inter-vention in imposing hospital/clinic births with a government midwife in attendance. Gianno argues that the existence of not only female but also male midwives is endangered, given the government push for hospital births among the Semelai.

3Those interested in health issues will find Adela Baer’s chapter most insightful as to the health woes of Orang asli women, as she presents a thorough review of all known published reports on the health status of Orang Asli. Barbara Nowak’s chapter on marriage and the household among the Btsisi’ also gives a fascinating historical glimpse into the lives of these women through the composite story of Sinah and four generations of women in her family. Marriage, children, and women’s position in the household are often the most defining features of women’s lives. From Sinah’s narrative, we learn about Btsisi’ customs in spouse selection, the value of sons and daughters, and their view of marriage. It also discusses how the local adat or customary law deals with adultery.

4Together the eight chapters in this small volume cover a lot of ground and make essential reading for anyone interested in Orang Asli women.

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Référence papier

Hew Cheng Sim, « Orang Asli Women of Malaysia: Perceptions, Situations and Aspirations, Adela Baer et al. », Moussons, 12 | 2008, 190.

Référence électronique

Hew Cheng Sim, « Orang Asli Women of Malaysia: Perceptions, Situations and Aspirations, Adela Baer et al. », Moussons [En ligne], 12 | 2008, mis en ligne le 15 novembre 2012, consulté le 25 février 2018. URL :

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Hew Cheng Sim

Faculty of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

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