Malaysia: Orang Asli’s way of life threatened

NEVILLE SPYKERMAN and CHARANJEET KAUR The Star 20 Dec 15;

GUA MUSANG: For centuries, the jungle and rivers have provided everything for the Temiar people, the orang asli who have always lived in this part of the country.

But the modern world has come calling, and ecroaching into their space. Now, the Temiar’s very existence is under threat.

Their way of life – harvesting and hunting all they need, and sharing what they have with the whole community – is dying out.

Villager Dendi Johari, from Kampung Penad, said outsiders have been exploiting the easy going nature of his community.

He pointed out that Temiar culture dictates that the community share what they have with each other.

“Even when we hunt or fish, what we get is shared among everybody,” said Dendi, who is the Kelantan Orang Asli Youth network chairman.

Limat Belias, 35, from Kampung Sedal remembered a time where the jungle was virtually their supermarket.

Limat said everything they needed, from the bamboo to build their houses or to make blowpipes to food and medicine, could be found around them.

But extensive logging, legal or otherwise, have stripped large tracts of jungle bare.

“Now, it’s difficult to find the animals which used to be plentiful, and also edible plants,” he said.

Worse still, Limat said floods and landslides happen more often now.

These not only endanger their lives but leave orang asli villages which dot the hills surrounding Gua Musang isolated and cut-off from supplies such as fuel or non-traditional foods like cooking oil or noodles which they have now come to rely on.

The supply of fish, which is a major source of protein for the Temiar, is also dwindling out due to river pollution, also a result of the logging.

“It used to be very easy to get fish before the logging started. Now we get sick just by drinking the river water,” said Limat.

Salim Tegau, 35 from Kampung Bering, remembers a time when they would bathe in the river.

“The river is still there but the colour of the water is like teh tarik,” said Salim.

He said the areas surrounding his village now had rubber and oil palm trees, not the natural forest vegetation that used to be there. But they (rubber and palm oil plantations) don’t belong to us,” he said, adding that their staple food now were bananas, sweet potatoes and hill rice.

Herry Boy Angah, 20, from Kampung Penad, said even finding leaves for their animistic rituals are difficult and they now need to go deeper in the jungle.

He said their villagers were also much hotter now compared to before when it was so cold that cooking oil would harden overnight.

Herry said outsiders have tried to bribe villagers to allow them to log or encroach into ancestral land but they refused to accept the money.

“We now realise how important this land is for our children and grandchildren.We are prepared to defend our ancestral land,” he said.

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