Batek playing Batek for tourists at Peninsular Malaysia’s national park

Kirk Endicott, Lye Tuck-Po, Nurul Fatanah Zahari, Alice Rudge
  • Hunter Gatherer Research, May 2016, Liverpool University Press
  • DOI: 10.3828/hgr.2016.5

Batek playing Batek for tourists at Peninsular Malaysia’s national park

What is it about?

The Batek are a foraging-trading people living in and around Peninsular Malaysia’s largest national park, Taman Negara. In recent years some of their semi-permanent camps near the park headquarters at Kuala Tahan have become tourist attractions. Batek residents allow groups of Malaysian and foreign tourists to visit, and they demonstrate some of their specialised skills, including shooting blowpipes and making fire with rattan vines and dry wood, as well as selling handicrafts. In this article we examine the reasons why some Batek participate in the tourist business, how they integrate it into their overall economy, and how they preserve their distinctive cultural values and practices while offering a simplified picture of their culture to curious outsiders.

Why is it important?

This article draws on long-term observations over a 45-year span, beginning with Endicott’s fieldwork in 1971–1973. Our long-term perspective enables us to confirm and interpret Batek responses through a historical-cultural lens. It thus affords the opportunity to examine how this exemplary immediate-return society—based on egality, sharing and autonomy—draws on their cultural resources to deal with tourism.


Dr Tuck Po Lye (Author)
Universiti Sains Malaysia

Many researchers have taken cursory looks at tourism in Malaysia's oldest national park. Not many have done participant observation, and investigated changing patterns of behaviour. Fewer still have bothered to work with the indigenous hunter-gatherers who live in the park.

The following have contributed to this page: Dr Tuck Po Lye and AliceAl Rudge