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Robert K. Dentan received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University in American Studies in 1958 followed by a Ph.D. in Anthropology at Yale in 1965. He is currently a Full Professor of Anthropology (and formerly of American Studies) at the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB). His fieldwork in Malaysia spans a thirty-year period, beginning in 1961 and continuing through 1993 and has principally involved work with the Semai along with the Btsisi. His specializations include ethnography, cultural ecology, hierarchical and egalitarian forms of social organization, ideology, cognition and worldview, deviance and labeling, ethnicity, nonviolence, altered states of consciousness and economic development. Between 1970 and 2000 he has presented over seventy lectures, conference papers and presentations, including many with an Orang Asli subject matter. His most recent conference paper was a March 2000 lecture at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies and was titled “Modernization, Spiritual Development and the Systematic Elimination of Orang Asli from Malaysian Life: Islamicization as Political Ethnocide”. Dentan is the author of numerous reviews, journal articles, book chapters, and several books and monographs including The Semai: a Nonviolent People of Malaysia that was first published in 1968. He is the recipient of a number of awards, honors and research grants and has been active as a reviewer, faculty advisor and committee member on the UB campus. He also has served in several administrative positions at UB: as Director of Graduate Studies in American Studies in 1970 and from 1977-1981; as Chair of American Studies between 1981-1984 and as Director of U.S. Studies between 1986-1987; and as Acting Chair of American Studies in the summer of 1987. He has also been a faculty member of the Anthropology Department at Ohio State University and has taught in China. He was the founder of the Orang Asli Fund and is a Trustee of the Fund for Urgent Anthropological Research.
The Robert K Dentan (RKD) papers document an anthropologist’s work with the Orang Asli peoples of Malaysia. The current archive holdings are a fraction of RKD’s entire collection and at this date are comprised of his field notes, manuscripts, and catalogs along with published materials; some that are by other authors.
The field records include an early manuscript on the Semai language titled Preliminary Field Notes on the Semai Language (series 1, folder 1), edited in 2003 and now available online (Series 2, digital file). Series 1 also includes several digital files containing compilations of field notes on different subjects (series 1, digital files).
Medical Ideas and Practices Among the Jah Hut of Malaya, by Ivan Polunin, (series 2, folder 1) is based on Polunin’s work in Malaysia in the late 1950’s. Materia Medica of the Jah Hut by Robert K. Dentan.
Keene State College
Robert Dentan, Orang Asli, Malaysia, Semai, Btsisi, ethnography, cultural ecology, social organization, ideology, language, Jah Hut
Anthropology | Asian Studies | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Linguistic Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology
Palmer, Brantley, "Robert K. Dentan Papers" (2015). Finding Guides. 13.