References: Orang Asli bibliography 2001 (55): Appendix 1 (glossary of names)
From: Lye Tuck-Po, ed. 2001. Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia: A Comprehensive and Annotated Bibliography, CSEAS Research Report Series No. 88. Kyoto: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University.
I. Glossary of names for ethnic and language groups
As a quick perusal of the bibliography will show, there is an amazing variety of names to designate the various Orang Asli peoples. This appendix is a glossary to those names. It lists every labelling category that appears in titles of works and, for reviewed materials, their content, and gives brief explanations for those names. The commentaries are based primarily on a selected review of the relevant literature (with appended remarks by Geoffrey Benjamin) and the list is not comprehensive.
For the bibliography user who is unfamiliar with Orang Asli materials, it may be helpful to have some background discussion on how this diversity of names is organized by the government and by scholars.
Fundamentally there are four types of categories that we use to identify any set of individuals. At the group-by-group level, there are what anthropologists call “exonyms”, names which outsiders call a people, which are contrasted to “autonyms”, what the people call themselves. In a simple world any “ethnonym” (name of an ethnic group) would develop from a perfect match between an exonym and its corresponding autonym. This is rarely the case, whether here or anywhere else. In governmental practice, a set of ethnonyms has become bureaucratically entrenched, and some of the names have also entered popular usage. A number of the smaller groups are not even listed in the official census. Local dialectal variations of the autonym are also missing from this list.
In most cases, the bureaucratic usage corresponds to the scholarly one, although linguists and social scientists are likely to be troubled by the problems and complexities of naming and spelling conventions. Detailed fieldwork has done much to help sort out this list of names, for a fundamental premise remains that the established ethnonym should reflect, if roughly, what the people themselves choose to be known (which, often, however, is not what they choose to call themselves!). The full list of established ethnonyms, and some of their variations and mis-renditions, is listed in this glossary.
There is also another set of group-by-group names, and these are the ones conventionally used by the neighbours of Orang Asli communities. Most times, the names reflect folk Malay classification of indigenes. They are little more than descriptions of ecological adaptation (e.g., “forest people”, “sea people”, “hill people”, “secondary forest people”), and do not specifically refer to distinct ethnic groups. These kinds of terms are most current in the older literature. (In many cases, however, the established ethnonyms came originally from a local Malay view of a community.)
For administrative and scholarly purposes, and to serve our intellectual need to compare and constrast people against each other, higher-level ethnolinguistic groupings have also come into use. These are the standard ones of Semang, Senoi, and Aboriginal Malay (also Melayu Asli). These terms are further explained in the glossary below. Traditionally, Semang, Senoi, and Aboriginal Malay were what I shall call “way of life” categories that were also biased by the tendency to use biology (physical type and appearance) as a basis for racial classification. By “way of life” is meant the ecological adaptation that a set of groups would be identified with. Hence, Semang were considered ideal-type hunter-gatherers, Senoi were swiddeners (shifting cultivators), and the Malayic groups either fisherfolk or small-scale horticulturalists. A larger premise was, and largely remains for non-specialists, that these were also evolutionary classifications: Semang would evolve into swiddeners, Senoi would become settled farmers, and so on and so forth. With more polished understanding, scholars recognize how pointless, and misleading, such generalizations and taxonomies are. Still, the basic premises have been impossible to shake from governmental approaches to assimilation and development.
Linguists, anthropologists, and archaeologists, on the other hand, have long argued for alternative ways of grouping and identifying the Orang Asli. Using strictly linguistic, biological, or socio-cultural criteria, e.g., one might come up with alternative categories of people that do not neatly correspond to the Semang, Senoi, and Aboriginal Malay three-part division. A “Senoi” people might speak a “Semang” language and an “Aboriginal Malay” people might have a “Semang-type” life style. A “speech community” (group of people speaking a common language) might include many “racially mixed” individuals. Without going further into these complexities, undoubtedly major advances in our understanding of Orang Asli origins and inter-relationships have been through comparative and structural linguistics.
In terms of language, the Peninsula is the meeting point for two big language families: Austroasiatic and Austronesian (the “line” where they meet is somewhere around central Pahang). Malay and Aboriginal Malay/Melayu Asli are Austronesian languages. Regarding Austroasiatic, there are two basic sets of agreements among scholars. First, Semang and Senoi languages belong to the Aslian subdivision of the Mon-Khmer division of the Austroasiatic language family. In other words, these languages are Mon-Khmer. Furthermore, Aslian languages fall into three (or more!) identifiable divisions: Northern, Central, and Southern Aslian. Although these findings are well established in scholarship, they are rarely part of the official, governmental classification order.
All the above categories of names are further explained in this glossary.