Introduction to the Orang Laut


Commonly referred to as the Orang Laut in the Southeast Asian region, this community of people have also come to be addressed by other pseudonyms, including ”Sea Nomads” and “Sea Gypsies”. They compromise several clans spread over numerous coastal regions in Southeast Asian region such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Among them are the Suku Galang, Suku Mapor, Suku Mantang and the Suku Barok. The origins of the Orang Laut can be traced back to the 19th century when they were regarded as pirates, tasked with protecting key ports in Malaysia and Indonesia. (Heidhues, 2000)
Introduction to the Orang Laut - Anthropology & the Human Condition

Introduction to the Orang Laut - Anthropology & the Human Condition
Current estimates predict the presence of approximately 3000 to 5000 Orang Laut in the region today. They generally have little contact with the mainstream community and speak a language of their own. They depend on fishing and the acquisition of other marine life for a living. Their catch is used in trading exchanges with the Chinese as well as for their own use. Besides being skilled fishermen, the Orang Laut also worked as carpenters for the wealthy Chinese businessmen. Trading practices have evolved in the Orang Laut community. While they engaged in bartering practices to obtain their daily necessities in the past, they have recently been involved in monetary exchanges. This, together with changes in the settlement patterns of the community has altered their traditional way of life, as shall be discussed in this essay.


Introduction to the Orang Laut - Anthropology & the Human Condition
The Orang Laut usually travel in small, close-knit groups under the leadership of an elder. Similarly, they live in these small groups while on land. The Orang Laut are animistic with regard to their religious belief. Contrary to popular belief, they do not align themselves with an exclusively Islamic way of life. Instead, they incorporate an amalgamate of beliefs drawn from several religions and cultures, including Islam and Christianity as well as the Malay and Chinese cultures. (Garnaz, 2008) They have also been observed to practice black magic, a convention that has been met with much animosity from the mainstream Malay community who have accussed them of malice and hostility. More often than not, Orang Laut are regarded as barbaric and uncivilised people. (Ibid)


Subsistence Practices

In this essay, we offer insights into the subsistence practices of the Orang Laut community, specifically food and shelter. Extracted from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, subsistence may be defined as a means of subsisting, referring to the minimum necessary to support life. Our analysis delves into identifying the Orang Laut’s diet and the processes involved in obtaining their food. Additionally, we looked at how food is distributed and shared within the community. With regard to shelter, we studied the different types of settlements available to the Orang Laut community, including the recent introduction of permanent housing funded by the Indonesian Government.


















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