The Batek are hunter-gatherers who dwell in lowland rainforest across the states of Terengganu, Kelantan, and Pahang in Peninsular Malaysia, numbering around 1,400 people. This project is focused on working with groups in Pahang State.

Much of Batek people’s material culture is essential for life in the rainforest, such as sleeping mats, baskets, blowpipes, spears, digging sticks, or fishing rods. People also make hair decorations from fragrant leaves and flowers, combs, flutes, and mouth harps. Making these items, and the sonic, visual, and olfactory experiences of doing so, are imbued with cosmological, personal, and ecological significance. These practices are therefore deeply intertwined with identity and ethics. Furthermore, the ways these objects are made and circulate reflect the Batek’s egalitarianism: there is no stratification or hierarchy in knowledge of how to make or use them, they are not hoarded or sold, and they are easily discarded and replaced.

Pahang State Rainforest (Photo: Alice Rudge)

This project will document these practices, looking at people’s journeys into the forest to collect the materials to make these items, and the ways they are made, used, and shared. The project will also use photographs of items held at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge as stimuli for conversations with Batek people on material cultural practices.

Alice Rudge, University College London

Location of Research: 
Peninsular Malaysia

Host Institution:
University College London