Demystifying Knowledge on Music Transmission, Creation, and Succession Among the Indigenous Semai of Malaysia


  • Clare Suet Ching Chan Universiti Putra Malaysia



indigenous music, musical creation, musical succession, musical transmission, Orang Asli, Semai


The Semai are a group of indigenous minorities, collectively known as the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia. They are well-known for their dream songs or jenulak that is taught by gunik (spirit guide) to halak (shaman). The knowledge of how jenulak is transmitted, created, and succeeded becomes important today when researchers collaborate with culture bearers to sustain their musical heritage. This knowledge is integral to the sustainability of Semai musical heritage, indigenous concepts, and values. This article examines (1) how jenulak is transmitted from one generation to the next generation; (2) how Semai musicians create music; and (3) who can succeed as the next generation of Semai musicians. It utilises the revisiting ethnography methodology in which the researcher re-examines case studies through data from past transcribed fieldnotes and interviews with Semai musicians over a span of 10 years. In this article, I argue that the learning of jenulak is not limited to the transmission from gunik to halak—it can be learned by anyone who has strong interest in the music. Second, Semai musicians do create new jenulak devoid of supernatural transmission after learning to sing those with spiritual origins. Third, the potential for being a Semai musician, creator, and successor is “achieved” rather than “ascribed”.



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How to Cite

Chan, C. S. C. (2023). Demystifying Knowledge on Music Transmission, Creation, and Succession Among the Indigenous Semai of Malaysia . Malaysian Journal of Music, 12(1), 80–98.