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The Orang Aslis of Malaysia

Dr Shaharudin Saamin

The Plight of My People

What is there in the jungle? Plenty. There are thousands and thousands of trees - big trees, small trees, dead trees, cut-up trees. And climbing these trees are the vines and lianas. Underneath, on the ground surface is a layer of leaf-litter, fully decomposed or in various stages of decomposition. Nutrients released therefrom are absorbed by the roots of the trees and other plant species to manufacture food for their growth. Under undisturbed jungle, nutrient recycling is in a state of equilibrium and the trees support themselves and so thus the jungle.

What else is in the jungle? There are myriad of creatures - great and small that depend on the jungle for their habitat and survival. The vertebrates such as elephants, tapirs, tigers, deer, seladangs, snakes, iguanas, pangolins that roam the ground. While monkeys, squirrels, bats, birds are arboreal in habitat. Others such as frogs, tortoises, crocodiles, fishes live partially or fully in water. The invertebrates are too numerous to name all. There are the various kinds of insects, beetles, leeches, worms, and microorganisms that are found in the soil or above ground surface. In addition there are the spirits, imagined or real, evil ones and kind-hearted ones. And among all these hive of live, live the jungle dwellers, the aborigines - the Orang Asli, the so-called Proto-Malays, the pioneer brother of the Deutro-Malays.

What? The Orang Asli are now into arm manufacturing?

I am an Orang Asli. You tell me what I am supposed to do. You have raped bare many parts of my jungle (my kampong and my town so to speak) with bulldozers to get the timber, and to make way for roads and buildings. My sources of plant materials for medicinal purposes are increasingly difficult to get. The river, where I take my bath and catch fishes are are no more prestine but coloured like tea. My catch of birds, monkeys, squirrels and snakes are getting meagre day by day because you have either driven them far into the deep jungle or you have killed them directly or indirectly. Now, my people could not hold wildboar feasts often anymore. You use guns to kill them, did you? I use traps and sumpit (blowpipe) to hunt for my livelihood. The blowpipe dart cannot go very far and its target is thus limited. Moreover, I am getting old and I cannot blow like I used to.

Sometimes ago, somebody in Kampung Reka, (in the east-coast state of Kelantan), claimed that he saw a tiger dragging a victim, probably a man into the jungle. (Previous to that, since time immemorial, there must be many more of my people that have been devoured). Thus, to live and survive in the jungle under these trying circumstances I have to use guns. I have to feed and defend my family, like you, too. I live by the land. Whatever extra money I have I buy salt, food and titbits for my children from the van-seller. And, please do not make it more difficult for us by going around proclaiming that shifting cultivation is causing much environmental degredation. How could we move the mountains with our bare hands and primitive tools. It is you, with your machines, who flatten the mountains and destroy the forests and everything in them.

I need a better weapon to defend myself and my family. There are so many intruders, humanoid and non-humanoid that come into my so called reservation that you have alienated. Tell me, is it true that a far-distant-blood-cousin of mine who lives along the Yuat River, in the island of Papua New Guinea had his blood sample taken? Did they patent his cell line with the intention of commercialising it? Is he getting anything yet? There are such provisions under the global agreement on the Convention of Biological Diversity for intellectual property rights and equitable sharing of benefits. Now, if somebody come to my people and try to do something like that, what shall I do? I cannot run to the police station to report immediately because it is so many miles away. Surely, I am in no position to say, “Could I borrow your handphone to call the police?!”

Realising all these, our elders decided a few years ago that we should experiment making shotguns. They had experience in handling shotguns during the communist insurgency. They told me that it was not easy to fight against the communists knowing very well that they were lurking somewhere there, sharing the same jungle and the same footpaths. It was like sharing your bed with the enemy. A few of the younger ones had joined Senoi prat but have came back after completing their duty. Combining the experiences of the old and young we could easily come up with our make of shotguns. We had our share of defending the country and yet we are not being protected. We better protect ourselves.

So, you see, we are a confused and ignorant lot. The other day a few of my people appeared on TV, handcuffed by the police. They were accused of running an arm factory. How haggard looking and malnourished they are. Please do not be too hard on them. Theirs is a minor offense compared to the Datuk [an honorary title in Malaysia - Ed.] and his conspirators who trade in heavier arms illegally. They are rich and yet they want more and more. Ours is a case of survival, theirs is greed above all, even above patriotism.

Although we are given the so-called reservation to live in but the boundry is constantly being encroached. Our area is getting smaller and we have no title to the land. There was case of a group of local Malays who tried to seize our land (somewhere in Kelantan) that we had to rough them up and there was bloodshed.

Booze and AIDS have come to our reservation. The health of our people and surroundings are in dire need of rehabilitation. What has our some of our caretakers from the Department got to say to our predicament? “Oh they’re like that!”

Some of us were given houses with zinc roof. But the roof is too low and it becomes unbearable to be in the house during the heat of the day. So, we go back to our traditional huts with attap roof or deeper into the jungle and be free, at least for a while.

Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 25, No. 2

Dhu al-Qa'dah 12, 14161996-04-01

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