Over the past couple of weeks, Lye Tuck-Po has been adding a lot of interesting new materials to her anthropology blog about the Batek. This website has commented on her blog posts about the Batek a couple times before, most recently on September 18, 2008.
Dr. Lye’s recent entries provide a mix of materials—including, of course, samples of her fine photos of the Batek people. On February 11, she posted several shots of beautiful Batek children along with an elegy on the flowering trees of the forest. She makes it clear that catching sight of the tropical forest trees when they are in flower is a cherished moment for everyone. Men love to find the flowers and wear them in their hair, but the women and children also love them and will usually confiscate them for their own adornment.
Her wonderful prose captures the ambience of the forest and the attitudes of the Batek. “I wish I had the words to describe what it felt like: to be walking down a forest trail, in the middle of the rainy season when everything smelt and felt damp, and it seemed like sunlight—pure unfiltered light and warmth from the sun—would never come. Then to round a bend, look up at a gap in the canopy, and see: colours! Reds, oranges, yellows, high up on the treetops. And around you people are stopping to look, craning their necks, sighing, smiling, chattering, admiring, evaluating.”
Two days later she posted, as a complete change of pace, a bibliography of scholarship from 2002 through 2008 about the hunter-gatherer societies of Peninsular Malaysia. She covers primarily the Semang, or Negrito peoples, including the Batek, who generally subsist in Peninsular Malaysia on hunting and gathering, rather than the Senoi people such as the Semai who are primarily swidden agriculturalists, though those classifications are not absolute.
She also posted on Friday, February 13, the text of her notebook entry from the second day of her field work with the Batek, February 6, 1993. As an unusual twist, she makes comments from her perspective this month on her notes from 16 years ago. Some of her contemporary notes explain and amplify what she had said in her field notes that day in 1993, while others criticize and even ridicule what she had written.
On Sunday, February 15, she posted her notes from a trip she took on June 15, 1996. She decided that day, on the spur of the moment, to return to her family home in the city of Ipoh. She had no real reason for leaving her field site, but she saw a bus for the town of Lipis coming along the road and, on a whim, jumped on, telling a Batek companion as she did that she’d be back in a few days. She was going home. An hour later she arrived in Lipis, waited for a bus to Kuala Lumpur, then on by another bus to Ipoh—eleven hours of travel.
She spent the next day in frenetic activity and headed back to her field site on June 17. That trip took 17 hours, including a three-hour hike through the forest to reach the Batek community, which had moved to a new camp site. After she returned, on the 18th, the band of people moved on to anther location. In her usual self-deprecating style, she asks, “who was the more nomadic, me or the Batek?”
On February 17 she posted more photos of charming Batek children. The young subjects of her photographic art apparently enjoyed teasing her when they saw her holding her camera. She posts a shot of a child perhaps three or four years old who is bent over, looking down at a tape deck which is playing a recording of her own mother’s flute music.
The author describes on February 18th some of the difficulties of posting photos of Batek children to the Internet. One of the major problems is that they have a fairly high rate of mortality, and the Batek are quite bothered when they see photos of people who are deceased. Dr. Lye says she would never post a photo that would cause such concerns to her friends.
She recounts the deaths of various Batek friends and contacts. As always, her descriptions are moving. “For me, the most painful death was eyGk’s. He had been my host, friend, and mentor in Keciw. I had known him as a brilliant, versatile, and vigorous man; I did not expect him to die so young. I recalled all that we, together with na’Gk, had shared: the journeys, the hours spent in forest trekking, yam digging, fishing, and hunting, the long nights talking about religion, singing songs, and storytelling.”