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Indigenous Spiritualities
Chinese Religion
Baha'i Faith

In Malaysia, there are more than 80 different groups of indigenous peoples, each with their own culture and language, and each living within their own specific traditional territory. And because indigenous spiritualities are based on the specific geographical and cultural contexts of these peoples, there are as many different indigenous spiritualities as there are distinct groups. Yet, while they may differ in their specificities and form, they share commonality in the function and application of their belief systems. Furthermore, there is no such thing as conversion from one indigenous spirituality to another. However, if an individual moves to live in another community through marriage or some other reason, then he/she follows the ritual of that place.
Indigenous Spiritualities

Concepts for Responsible Living among the Orang Asli
of Peninsular Malaysia

The Semai are one of the 19 subgroups of Orang Asli, the indigenous minority peoples of Peninsular Malaysia, who live on both slopes of the Central Mountain Range. The fear of food shortages made survival a primary concern of the Semai. Thus, Semai spirituality extends beyond the realm of sickness and curing rituals into every aspect of Semai life.

Mah Meri dancer with his spirit-mask

One such concept is pehunan. It refers to a state of being unfulfilled or frustrated with regard to some specific and strongly felt want, particularly in connection with food. For example, if an individual has a particular want or need, and he expresses this either openly or subtly to another, then that person is obliged to satisfy his want or need, if he is in a position to do so. Not to do so would result in the former having incurred pehunan. The blame for the resulting sickness, injury or death will now rest solely on the individual who did not provide for his needs when he could.

Another concept, tenhaq, may be considered the paramount edict governing Semai living. This is a teaching that declares that every human being is responsible for other human beings, no matter how distant or out of sight the other might be. For example, if someone dies of hunger in a distant place when you yourself have enough food, you are in a way responsible for that person’s death from hunger. Therefore, no hurt, harm or deprivation is to be inflicted upon another individual, irrespective of whether he is kin or stranger.

From left: Semai shaman during a healing ritual; Semai house.

Sustainability through Sharing in Sarawak

The Penans are a small group of semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers living in the forested interiors of Sarawak. They are just one of almost 30 different indigenous groups found in the state.

Like other indigenous peoples, the Penans believe that nature itself has a soul. While they stake claim to a specific traditional territory, they nevertheless regard themselves as temporary visitors to the area, as intruders in the territory of the resident spirits.

The Penans also believe that the rainforest and its bounty were given to them by the Creator, the God Balei Nge Butun. Their biological adaptation, together with their spiritual beliefs, thus demand that they exploit the forest in a sustainable manner.

For central to their spirituality is a sacred obligation to bequeath to the following generations a healthy forest fully capable of providing life to its human, animal and plant inhabitants.

Also, being dependent on the forest for life, and on each other for survival, the Penans have institutionalised several concepts necessary for successful living and continuity. One such concept is see hun, a term that translates roughly as ‘failure to share’, which is viewed as sinful behaviour.

Maintaining Balance between Humanity, Nature
and the Spiritual World among the Natives of Sabah

The Kadazandusuns are one of 39 native peoples of Sabah. Like other indigenous groups, they believe that humanity should, ideally, co-exist with nature and the spirit realm in a state of balance. Minamangun, the Creator God, oversees all of his creations, including the spirits.

The concept of respect and care for all things, and the concept of conciliation are paramount values to be adhered to under threat of otherwise facing the wrath of Minamangun or the bad spirits. As such, any disrespectful action towards a fellow human being, or towards an animal or a plant, will invite trouble for the individual or the community.

This results in a ‘hot’ state (ahasu) where tragedy, suffering, death or ill-luck prevails. The aim is to balance this hot state with the ‘cold‘ (osogit). As such, maintaining the delicate balance between the good and bad spirits is crucial for harmonious living, just as it is equally important to maintain the balance between the physical and the spirit worlds.

Concepts in Kadazandusun spirituality that help ensure the delicate balance between the hot and the cold states include:

Ohusian (vengeance): the belief that action against the natural world can cause nature to respond with environmental disasters or personal tragedy. Ohusian thus ensures respect for the natural world, particularly the plants and the animals.

Ohugian (revenge): the belief that one should not be too quick to belittle others or else one’s own family members would experience shame or ill-fortune. Ohugian thus ensures respect for people.


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