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Violence, fear and anti-violence: the Batek of Peninsular Malaysia

Ivan Tacey (PhD Candidate, based at Faculty of Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science, University Lumière, Lyon, France)
Diana Riboli (Assistant Professor in Social Anthropology, based at Department of Social Anthropology, Panteio University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens, Greece)

Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research

ISSN: 1759-6599

Article publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to identify and analyze socio-cultural and political forces which have shaped anti-violent attitudes and strategies of the Batek and Batek Tanum of Peninsular Malaysia.


Data collection during the authors’ long-term, multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork among the Batek and Batek Tanum in Peninsular Malaysia. Methodology included participant observation, semi-structured interviews and a literature review of texts on the Orang Asli and anthropological theories on violence.


Traumatic experiences of past violence and atrocities greatly influence the Batek's and Batek Tanum's present attitudes toward direct and structural forms of violence. A variety of anti-violent strategies are adopted, including the choice to escape when physically threatened. Rather than demonstrating “weakness,” this course of action represents a smart survival strategy. External violence reinforces values of internal cooperation and mutual-aid that foraging societies, even sedentary groups, typically privilege. In recent years, the Batek's increasing political awareness has opened new forms of resistance against the structural violence embedded within Malaysian society.


The study proposes that societies cannot simply be labelled as violent or non-violent on the basis of socio-biological theories. Research into hunter-gatherer social organization and violence needs to be reframed within larger debates about structural violence. The “anti-violence” of certain foraging groups can be understood as a powerful form of resilience to outside pressures and foraging groups’ best possible strategy for survival.



Tacey, I. and Riboli, D. (2014), "Violence, fear and anti-violence: the Batek of Peninsular Malaysia", Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 203-215.



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