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Semai, Central Sakai in Malaysia

Semai, Central Sakai

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Semai, Central Sakai in Malaysia map
Population [2] Language Religion % Christian % Evangl Online NT Jesus Film Progress
58,000 Semai Ethnic Religions 6.00 % 3.33 % No No   

Semai, Central Sakai in Malaysia

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Introduction / History
The Semai are by far the most numerous of the nineteen Orang Asli people groups in Peninsular Malaysia. The government categorizes them under the Senoi subgroup. They are about a quarter of the entire Orang Asli population and almost two thirds of the Senoi.

Many Semai refer to themselves differently, like mai darat (People of the Hinterlands). Sometimes in self-deprecation a Semai will use a base Malay word sakai (slave) when talking about how his people are in comparison with the other peoples of the Malayan peninsula. However, on the lips of a non-Semai the term is offensive.

They seem to know very little about their own history beyond the fact that they were the original inhabitants of the peninsula. Semai villages are found in the states of Pahang, Perak, Selangor, and Kelantan.

What are their lives like?
Since settling down on the peninsula, the Semai's main means of livelihood has evolved into a mixed system of arboriculture, shifting cultivation, hunting, and trading forest products. Farming and hunting are their main economic activities. The more traditional Semai live in small, isolated camps on mountain slopes at high altitudes and grow mainly mountain rice, millet, and maize. They also hunt, fish, and gather. Others live lower down and grow mainly mountain rice. Yet others, who are quite adapted to Malay society, live even lower down the mountains, cultivating mountain rice and wet rice. Their literacy standard is, however, higher compared with the other Orang Asli tribes.

For the Semai the point of eating is to feel full. For a meal to be filling, it must include a starch dish, preferably rice. When rice is scarce, roasted or boiled tapioca root may be substituted. To eat meat, fowl, or fish without a starch dish is ridiculous to the Semai.

What are their beliefs?
The Semai are largely animists, but a large minority profess Christianity. Many professing Christians, however, are still gripped by their old beliefs. They are more likely to believe in witchcraft than the Semai.

The Semai's main festival is the Genggulang. It is a festive ritual to appease land spirits for a good harvest and is still observed in many places where the people worship the rice spirit. In this ritual, the spirits are offered sacrificial chickens, flowers, and unhusked rice. Now, the festival has lost much of its religious meaning. It has become more of a cultural event similar to the way the Chinese celebrate Lunar New Year or Westerners celebrate Christmas. The Semai tend to be unconcerned and skeptical about religious dogma. For example, people describing life after death almost always conclude by saying, "That's just a story of bygone days. I don't believe it."

What are their needs?
The Semai people need to be introduced to modern farming of a more practical and productive nature in place of their traditional methods. This would help increase crop yield and sale value. Pray for the needed agricultural training for the Semai community. Pray for local believers who will relate to the spiritual needs of the Semai.

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Country: Malaysia
Continent: Asia
Region: Asia, Southeast
Persecution Rank:40 (Only top 50 ranked, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
10/40 Window: Yes
Location in Country:Peninsular, Northwest Pahang and south Perak states, north Selangor State.
(Source: Ethnologue 2016)
  Peoples [3]
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People Name in Country: Semai, Central Sakai
People Name General: Semai
Alternate People Names:
Central SakaiSakai
ROP3 Code: 108818
Joshua Project People ID: 14837
Indigenous: Yes
Population in Country: 58,000
Population all Countries: 58,000
Least-Reached: No
Affinity Bloc: Malay Peoples
People Cluster: West Malaysia Indigenous
People Name General: Semai
Ethnic Code: AUG05
Ethnic Relationships: Affinity Bloc -> People Cluster -> Peoples Ethnicity Tree
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Primary Language: Semai (58,000 Speakers)
Language Code (ISO): sea    Ethnologue Listing
Total Languages: 1
Religion [4]
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Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Major Religions:
Buddhism0.00 % 
Christianity6.00 %(Evangelical: 3.33 %)
Ethnic Religions60.00 % 
Hinduism0.00 % 
Islam34.00 % 
Non-Religious0.00 % 
Other / Small0.00 % 
Unknown0.00 % 
Christianity Segments:
Anglican0.00 %
Independent10.00 %
Protestant30.00 %
Orthodox0.00 %
Other Christian0.00 %
Roman Catholic60.00 %
(Evangelicals distributed across Christianity segments)
Progress Indicators [5]
Progress Scale[6]   Evangelicals have a modest presence.
Least-Reached: No
GSEC Status:Level 4   Greater than or equal to 2% Evangelical
Bible Translation Status
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Bible Portions: Help start a Bible Translation
New Testament: None Reported
Complete Bible: None Reported
Ministry Resources [7]
Audio RecordingsMegaVoice Audio Bible and Stories
Audio RecordingsAudio Bible teaching (GRN)
Text / Printed MatterOnline Bible text (Scripture Earth)
Ministry Activity
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Data Notes
Data Sources

Semai, Central Sakai in Malaysia

Global                 Global
  Affinity Bloc             Global  
People Cluster
    West Malaysia Indigenous     Asia, Southeast    
      Semai Malaysia    
            People-by-Country (Profile)          
            Semai, Central Sakai in Malaysia          
      Religion Language  
      Ethnic Religions     Semai  
    All Religions                              

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