Malaysia: Once upon a time, there were lush forests and clear rivers

The Star 20 Nov 14;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Forty-six-year-old Mohd Rafee Rahim remembers a time when he and his fellow orang asli could rely wholly on forests here for their daily needs.

But those days, the Sungai Telimau deputy village headman said, were a distant memory because the surrounding land gradually turned into illegal farms.

“There used to be forests all around us. The rivers were clear with a lot of fish,” he said.

“Now, there is no more fish. The river water looks like teh ais (iced tea), and if we want to get food, we have to go to the night market.”

The thick jungle that once bordered his village on all sides had given way to farms owned by “outsiders” since the late 1980s.

Sungai Getan village headman Ahmad Bahnanggong, 53, shared a similar story.

He said farmers came to him with documents claiming aboriginal land was theirs.

“They would show us plans that this land belonged to them even though it was ours,” he said.

Then came the foreign workers, some of whom were troublemakers.

They would come to the village drunk and start fights, but they always got a beating, Ahmad said.

The villagers could smell the pesticides the farmers used, and he blamed them for the frequent illnesses among his people.

Ahmad said Immigration officers sometimes came to pick up workers who caused problems, “but no one is helping us to regain our land.”

Kampung Terisu village headman Jaafar Timor, 43, said his people were luckier than other orang asli in the area.

He said his people were able to strike a deal with the “outside” farmers, charging them rent for using their land.

“We did not have the money to work the land, so we rent it to these farmers,” he said.

Jaafar said a farmer paid the villagers about RM200,000 a year for leasing 81ha of land.

The villagers were once employed in these farms, but had been replaced by foreign workers.