Hunter Gatherer Research

The sounds of people and birds

Music, memory and longing among the Batek of Peninsular Malaysia

Hunter Gatherer Research (2018), 4, (1), 3–23.


Through combining ethnography of human-bird interactions with analysis of Batek discourses on musical instrument playing, this paper describes the emotional entanglements between human and non-human persons in the Batek’s forest. The argument is made that sound-making and listening are privileged means of deepening the relationships between people and birds, and that these relationships then come to be part of what defines people’s sense of being Batek. Ways of understanding how sound, environment, memory and emotion intertwine are presented, speaking to broader debates surrounding the role of ‘music’ in hunting and gathering societies.

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Author details

Rudge, Alice