A Body Out of Place: Pollution and Pregnancy of Hakka Chinese in Sarawak, Malaysia

Elena Gregoria Chai, Chin Fern (2023) A Body Out of Place: Pollution and Pregnancy of Hakka Chinese in Sarawak, Malaysia. In: Anthropology through the Experience of the Physical Body. Springer, Singapore, pp. 27-39. ISBN 978-981-99-5723-1

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-99-5724-8


This chapter examines the concept of pollution in relation to pregnancy among Hakka Chinese women in contemporary Sarawak, Malaysia. In the study of rites of passage, there is a well-established argument that powerful forces exist within women throughout their lifetimes as they enter different phases and transi-tion between social roles. In many societies, at the onset of pregnancy, a woman is believed to be ‘polluted’ as pregnancy has placed her physiologically and socially in an abnormal position. Hers is a divergent body, a body out of place. Based on extended fieldwork in the resettlement village of Tabidu, the discussion presented here exam-ines the ‘dangerous force’ of pregnancy, a belief that persists among Hakka Chinese. It draws attention to a particular form of pollution at a stage in which a woman’s body is regarded as being anomalous. When pregnant, a woman becomes socially vulnerable because the success or failure of childbirth determines the outcome of lineage continuity. The polluting state of a pregnant woman is called tai du mat (大肚抹) and its effects are felt across a broad behavioural range, from the failure to perform normal household chores to affecting children to cry incessantly. The foetus in a womb is believed to have a soul entity, termed toi shin (胎神). A pregnant woman is obliged to follow strict rules of prohibitions for the period of pregnancy until a month after birth, and other close kin are also under specific constraints. The discussion demonstrates that the belief and practices associated with pollution are a cultural construct which is symbolic and best understood in specific social contexts.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Academic Faculties, Institutes and Centres > Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities
Faculties, Institutes, Centres > Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities
Depositing User: Chai Chin Fern@ Chai Chin Fern
Date Deposited: 28 Dec 2023 06:29
Last Modified: 28 Dec 2023 06:29
URI: http://ir.unimas.my/id/eprint/43916

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