From Anarchy In Action
Keluarga suku Bateq 167.jpg

The Batek are an egalitarian, immediate-return foraging society in Malaysia.[1] Anthropologist Ivan Tacey reports:

"In Batek life, personal autonomy is highly valued but alongside mutual sharing. So, it's egalitarianism, gender egalitarianism, there's no chiefs, men are not more powerful than women, there's no corporate groups, there's no age sets. People are equal. You can't even boss your children around [...] They are very much anarchists in the way they have these high, high, high levels of individual autonomy (which is not to be equated with individualism) but also extremely high levels of sharing."[2]


The Batek believe that someone who is unjustly angry at may cause the target of their anger to catch a disease called ke'oy involving fever, depression, and shortness of breath. The angry person needs to control their emotions to cure the sick person. This belief promotes peacefulness by discouraging extreme anger and grudges.[3]

Batek society treats women and men equally. Marriage is monogamous, and divorce can easily be attained by either partner.[4]

Children are raised with enormous freedom, and their minimal restrictions or discipline have to do with safeguarding them from tigers, strangers, and the thunder god. To teach them the value of sharing, children are often encouraged to deliver food to other families.[5]


Anthropologist Kirk Endicott summarizes:

"Batek religion was based on a belief in a number of specialized superhuman beings that inhabited the forest, firmament, and underworld. They were thought to be responsible for many natural phenomena, both benefi cial and detrimental to the Batek. The most important superhuman being was Gobar, the thunder god, who was involved in sending honey bees and the blossoms of wild fruit trees to earth, but who also caused thunderstorms to punish people who broke certain prohibitions (called lawac), ranging from laughing at butterflies to violence. A female underground deity, Ya’ (“Grandmother”), assisted Gobar by causing floods to well up beneath the offender’s camp. The creator god, Tohan, also punished disrespectful acts (tolah) by causing offenders to incur diseases or accidents. Batek communicated with the superhuman beings through dreams and self-induced trances in night-long singing sessions in which they asked for such things as abundant supplies of wild fruits or help in curing diseases."[6]

"Batek regarded violent behavior as a sign of madness. I was told that if a person were violent during life, the superhuman beings would refuse to take the offender’s shadow soul to the afterworld aft er death. Th e shadow soul was doomed to roam the forest as a malevolent ghost."[7]



"No Batek person had political power over anyone else. Although they had nominal headmen (Malay penghulu), who were appointed by the Department of Orang Asli Affairs, the headmen had no authority within Batek society. Natural leaders, usually respected older people of either sex, had some influence, but they could not impose their wishes on others. Most decisions about what work to do, where to move, and so on were made by individuals or married couples, often after consultation with other camp residents."[8]


The Batek share all food, including vegetables and meat. They do not have private property.[9]


The Batek have a taboo on laughing at animals and plants. Anthropologist Alice Rudge writes, "Adhering to these taboos is seen as ethical behaviour, a way that people demonstrate respect for the non-human persons of the forest that provide the Batek with sustenance."[10]


Interpersonal violence is strictly prohibited and violators may be ostracized. When there's a serious dispute, the community organizes a public discussion to resolve it. If resolution fails, then one of the parties will often leave for a while until emotions dissipate.[11]

Kevin Tucker wrote in 2018 that there were no known cases of homicide among the Batek.[12] Endicott corroborates this lack of known homicide with the exception of one woman who killed two of her children during "bouts of insanity." Endicott describes Batek society as extraordinarily peaceful:

"The Batek prohibition on violence ensured that social life in camps was generally harmonious. No one had to fear being hurt by anyone else. Th is prohibition enhanced the personal autonomy of all Batek—one of their basic values—because it meant that no one could coerce another to do anything against their wishes. Even children had great freedom and independence. The prohibition on violence also contributed to the equality of the sexes by preventing men from using force against weaker women."[13]

  1. James Woodburn, "Egalitarian Societies," Man 17, no. 3 (1982): 433.
  2. Ivan Tacey, "Predation and Monstrosity among Malaysian Indigenous Peoples- history, violence and ontology," Radical Anthropology Group," 1 March 2022,
  3. "Batek," Peaceful Societies",
  4. "Batek," Peaceful Societies.
  5. "Batek," Peaceful Societies.
  6. Kirk Endicott, "Peaceful Foragers: The Significance of the Batek and Moriori for the Question of Innate Human Violence", in Douglass Fry (ed). War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 245-6.
  7. Endicott, "Peaceful Foragers," 246.
  8. Endicott, "Peaceful Foragers," 245.
  9. "Batek," Peaceful Societies.
  10. Alice Rudge, "Why We Laugh Even When We Know It Is Wrong," The Print, 1 September 2019,
  11. "Batek," Peaceful Societies".
  12. Kevin Tucker, Gathered Remains, Salem: Black and Green Press, 2018, 171.
  13. Endicott, "Peaceful Foragers," 246-7.