Mal J Nutr 22(2): 207 - 218, 2016

Postpartum Dietary Restrictions and Taboos among Indigenous Temiar Women in Peninsular Malaysia: A Qualitative Study
Sharifah Zahhura Syed Abdullah1*, Pamela Nilan2 & John Germov3

1Centre for Research on Women and Gender (KANITA), Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 USM, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
2 School of Humanities and Social Science, Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan NSW 2308, Australia
3 SRS22 – Social Science, Social Science Annex. The University of Newcastle, Callaghan NSW 2308, Australia


Introduction: The Temiar who ethnically belong to Senoi, one of the major groups of Orang Asli (indigenous people) in Peninsular Malaysia, have their own distinctive food taboos and avoidances during the postpartum period. These traditions are deeply rooted in their culture, customs, values and beliefs system. Methods: A qualitative research method involving five focus group discussions were conducted to compare and contrast four different locations: the communities of Pos Tohoi, Pos Simpor, Rancangan Pengumpulan Semula Orang Asli (RPSOA) in Kelantan and the community at Batu 12 in Gombak, Selangor, representing different lifestyle experiences and food practices of Orang Asli Temiar in Peninsular Malaysia. All the transcripts were coded and categorised and then ‘thematised’ using the software package for handling qualitative data, NVivo 8. Results: Despite variations in locations, there were five agreed prohibited food items during the postpartum period: cooking oil, salt, monosodium glutamate, sugar, and meat from game or domesticated animals. Dietary restrictions begin immediately after childbirth and varied from seven, eight, and fourteen days to one month. Besides food restrictions, there were other prescribed avoidances for mothers after delivering a baby. Conclusion: Prohibitions placed upon women during the postpartum period are intended to protect the new mother, the newborn baby and also the community. It appears that regardless of whether they live in the most traditional or the least traditional locations, the Temiar lineage and societal norms in the form of taboos during the female reproductive cycle are handed down to the new generation by their elders.

Keywords: Dietary restrictions, focus group discussion, food taboos, Orang Asli Temiar, post-partum women

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