Robert Dentan, who has devoted his life to teaching and anthropological research, is publishing his third book in November. The Spectrum the University of Buffalo campus newspaper, has previewed Overwhelming Terror: Love, Fear, Peace, and Violence among the Semai of Malaysia, which will be published by Rowman & Littlefield on November 28.
The Semai “are the most peaceable people for whom there is adequate documentation,” Dentan told the paper. He said that they settle conflicts by discussing them, rather than by fighting or trying to determine innocence or guilt. Their only form of punishment is to embarrass people in their villages, and that is only done for serious problems.
He argues that the rest of the world could learn a lot from the peacefulness of the Semai. “There is no one so poor, ignorant, perverted, stupid, young or old that you can’t learn something from if you pay attention and treat them with respect,” he maintains. He hopes his new book will “teach that you can deal with terror in creative ways and that violence is simply stupid.” He admits that he tends to compare current world affairs with the ways the Semai would handle things, and he often sees issues through the lens of the other society.
The newspaper story adds several paragraphs of praise for Dentan as a creative teacher for 40 years at the University of Buffalo. “There’s just something really captivating about Dentan when he teaches, you can tell he truly loves what he does and has a passion for culture,” one of his former students said. Although Dentan is now retired, his former colleagues still express their admiration for him. “Professor Dentan is a man of exemplary character and virtue,” according to a UB staff member.
The paper reports that Dentan still hangs out every Thursday afternoon from 5:00 to 6:45 at a local restaurant so students who want to meet with him can find him easily. Presumably, people who buy his new book, or who have read his many earlier writings, could also travel to Buffalo and find him at Doctor Bird’s Rasta-Rant, 3104 Main Street, on Thursday afternoons. He would undoubtedly be delighted to talk about peacefulness, the Semai, and related subjects. His book will be reviewed in these pages shortly after it becomes available.