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The dream people -Cameron Highlands

"The Senoi are a group of Malaysian peoples classified among the Orang Asli, the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia. They are the most numerous of the Orang Asli and widely distributed across the peninsula. The Senois speak various branches of Aslian languages which in turn a branch of Austroasiatic languages, many of them are also bilingual in the national language, Malaysian language (Bahasa Malaysia)."

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 Orang Asli. You see small bamboo huts precariously placed on the rim of the valley, but enjoying stunning views of the surrounding forest.
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 homes. Some of them are working on the plantations. Sometimes they are living on the plantations in the Cameron Highlands.

Passing by 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 following:
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 with it.
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.

Living near the tea plantations



Ben van Wijnen



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