When you're driving up the
winding road to Cameron Highlands, you'll pass the settlements of the Orang
Asli. They are the homes of the Semai, part of the Senoi group of
You see small bamboo huts precariously placed
on the rim of the valley, but enjoying stunning views of the surrounding
Orang Asli is a general term used for any indigenous groups that are
found in Peninsular Malaysia. They are divided into three main tribal
groups: Negrito, Senoi, and Orang Malayu Asli. Negrito is usually
found in the north, Senoi in the centre, and Orang Malayu Asli in the
southern part of the Peninsula. The Orang Asli are not a homogeneous group.
Each has its own language and culture, and perceives itself as different
from the others.
At the Cameron Highlands we'll find the Senoi , the dream people. The word
"Senoi" means "human being" or "person". In the past the Senoi were long
called "saki" by the Malaysians, which means "bestial aborigine" or
"slave." Senoi often were captured by Malaysians and sold as slaves.
Now most of them live in the Cameron Highlands. They collect insects and
butterflies, carve blowpipes, weave baskets for the highlands tourist
market, or sell one or two unusual souvenir items at the roadside near their
of them are working on the plantations. Sometimes they are living on the
plantations in the Cameron Highlands.
small houses precariously placed on the rim of the valley,
but enjoying stunning views of the surrounding forest.
Why are the Senoi called "the dream people"?
Dreams were very important in the life of the Senoi. They had a society free of crime and mental illness. In the morning the entire family, discussed their dreams
they had that night.
The rules that the Senoi had when it came to their dreams were the
If there is danger in your dream, you should confront
and conquer it. When for instance a child had dreamed that a tiger
attacked him, his parents would tell him that such dream-tigers could not hurt
him. They encouraged him to attack the tiger himself the next time. And if he
wasn't strong enough, he could call a 'dream-friend' to help him.
If the danger was fire he should put it out with water. When the child fell
from a mountain, he would be able to land softly or fly etc.
Besides this the child was encouraged to have as much pleasure as possible in
the dream. "Try to fly and discover all sorts of things, and always let your
dream end positive". Even if the dreamer died, he could be reborn in a better
and stronger body. My daughter thinks this part is especially "cool".
When they became teen-agers the Senoi did not have nightmares anymore. All
their dreams were positive.
House in the Cameron Highlands
In dreams are some common correspondences but no fixed symbolism. Thus
dogs may connote bellyache; fire, fever; maize pustules; durian, sniffles or
coryza; the moon death; fish scales, money
(coins); elephants dropsy or inguinal hernia or genital
filariasis. A fat Malay may presage elephants. Killing people may
mean good hunting but killing pigs may mean that people will die. Turtles
may stand for women, carabao for the evil bird
spirit associated with childbirth and so on.
Some correspondence require
explanation. Deer, for instance, may stand for yaws (a tropical
disease).The explication of this connection runs like this:
Shortly after his mother died of yaws a man found a
sambar deer in his spear trap. As he and his
friends were carrying the sambar home, they
passed through the settlement they had abandoned, following
Semai custom, after the death. The
sambar said: Thatís my house. They ate it
anyway, but the son began to suspect that they had eaten his mother. He
inspected her grave. The grave was, empty. He saw human footprints
all around it. He returned home and told everyone what happened. They
all went to look at the grave. They followed the footprints to the site
of the spear trap.
Living at the tea plantations
The Senoi tend to take dreams more seriously
than we do. They discriminate between several sorts of dreams. Like people
everywhere, Senoi do not respond directly to the
world, but to the world as they categorize it. Therefore, understanding
Senoi dream categories is prerequisite to
understanding their dream theory. Senoi
themselves must decide what sort of dream is involved before they can deal
The Senoi use dream interpretation as an integral part of
their lives, guiding and transforming them
The Senoi lived in long community houses, constructed of bamboo, rattan and
thatch, and held away from the ground on poles. They grew among other things
rice, bananas, bread-fruit trees and pumpkins. They were mainly vegetarians,
but fish and certain forest animals were also on the menu.
That the Senoi did not suffer of neurosis or psychoses sounds unbelievable.
But it is well researched and the results confirm this. The way they handle
their dreams seems to be the key to this.