Semai in Malaysia

The Semai have only been reported in Malaysia
Main Language
Largest Religion
Progress Gauge

Introduction / History

The Semai are by far the most numerous of the nineteen Orang Asli people groups in Peninsular Malaysia. The government categorizes them under the Senoi subgroup. They are about a quarter of the entire Orang Asli population and almost two thirds of the Senoi.

Many Semai refer to themselves differently, like mai darat (People of the Hinterlands). Sometimes in self-deprecation a Semai will use a base Malay word sakai (slave) when talking about how his people are in comparison with the other peoples of the Malayan peninsula. However, on the lips of a non-Semai the term is offensive.

They seem to know very little about their own history beyond the fact that they were the original inhabitants of the peninsula. Semai villages are found in the states of Pahang, Perak, Selangor, and Kelantan.

What Are Their Lives Like?

Since settling down on the peninsula, the Semai's main means of livelihood has evolved into a mixed system of arboriculture, shifting cultivation, hunting, and trading forest products. Farming and hunting are their main economic activities. The more traditional Semai live in small, isolated camps on mountain slopes at high altitudes and grow mainly mountain rice, millet, and maize. They also hunt, fish, and gather. Others live lower down and grow mainly mountain rice. Yet others, who are quite adapted to Malay society, live even lower down the mountains, cultivating mountain rice and wet rice. Their literacy standard is, however, higher compared with the other Orang Asli tribes.

For the Semai the point of eating is to feel full. For a meal to be filling, it must include a starch dish, preferably rice. When rice is scarce, roasted or boiled tapioca root may be substituted. To eat meat, fowl, or fish without a starch dish is ridiculous to the Semai.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Semai are largely animists, but a large minority profess Christianity. Many professing Christians, however, are still gripped by their old beliefs. They are more likely to believe in witchcraft than the Semai.

The Semai's main festival is the Genggulang. It is a festive ritual to appease land spirits for a good harvest and is still observed in many places where the people worship the rice spirit. In this ritual, the spirits are offered sacrificial chickens, flowers, and unhusked rice. Now, the festival has lost much of its religious meaning. It has become more of a cultural event similar to the way the Chinese celebrate Lunar New Year or Westerners celebrate Christmas. The Semai tend to be unconcerned and skeptical about religious dogma. For example, people describing life after death almost always conclude by saying, "That's just a story of bygone days. I don't believe it."

What Are Their Needs?

The Semai people need to be introduced to modern farming of a more practical and productive nature in place of their traditional methods. This would help increase crop yield and sale value. Pray for the needed agricultural training for the Semai community. Pray for local believers who will relate to the spiritual needs of the Semai.

Prayer Points

Scripture Prayers for the Semai, Central Sakai in Malaysia.

Profile Source:   Southeast Asia Link - SEALINK   Copyrighted ©   Used with permission  

People Name General Semai
People Name in Country Semai, Central Sakai
Natural Name Semai
Alternate Names Central Sakai; Sakai; Sengoi; Senoi
Population this Country 62,000
Population all Countries 62,000
Total Countries 1
Indigenous Yes
Progress Scale 4
Unreached No
Frontier People Group No
GSEC 4  (per
Pioneer Workers Needed
People ID 14837
ROP3 Code 108818
Country Malaysia
Region Asia, Southeast
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
Persecution Rank 43  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Location in Country Peninsular, Northwest Pahang and south Perak states, north Selangor State.   Source:  Ethnologue 2016
Country Malaysia
Region Asia, Southeast
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
Persecution Rank 43  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Location in Country Peninsular, Northwest Pahang and south Perak states, north Selangor State..   Source:  Ethnologue 2016
Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Major Religion Percent
0.00 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 3.33 %)
6.00 %
Ethnic Religions
60.00 %
0.00 %
34.00 %
0.00 %
Other / Small
0.00 %
0.00 %
Primary Language Semai (62,000 speakers)
Language Code sea   Ethnologue Listing
Language Written Yes   ScriptSource Listing
Total Languages 1
Primary Language Semai (62,000 speakers)
Language Code sea   Ethnologue Listing
Total Languages 1
People Groups Speaking Semai

Primary Language:  Semai

Bible Translation Status  (Years)
Bible-Portions Yes
Bible-New Testament Yes
Bible-Complete No
Bible-NT Audio Online
Possible Print Bibles
World Bibles
Forum Bible Agencies
National Bible Societies
World Bible Finder
Virtual Storehouse
Resource Type Resource Name Source
Audio Recordings Audio Bible teaching Global Recordings Network
Film / Video LUMO film of Gospels Bible Media Group/LUMO
General Faith Comes By Hearing - Bible in text, audio, video Faith Comes by Hearing
General Gospel resources links Scripture Earth
Mobile App Download audio Bible app as APK file Faith Comes by Hearing
Text / Printed Matter Literacy primer for Semai Literacy & Evangelism International
Photo Source Copyrighted © 2023  Southeast Asia Link - SEALINK  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source Southeast Asia Link - SEALINK   Copyrighted ©   Used with permission
Profile Source Southeast Asia Link - SEALINK  Copyrighted ©  Used with permission 
Data Sources Data is compiled from various sources. Learn more.