ORANG ASLI WHICH LITERALLY means “original people” or the “aboriginal people” in Malay is the official term used for the indigenous people of Peninsular Malaysia. The Temiar are a Senoic group indigenous to the state of Perak. They are one of the largest of the 18 Orang Asli tribes of Malaysia.
The Orang Asli’s forefathers were nomads; hunters and gatherers in the rainforest and used to live in caves or rock shelter. They live in small tribes and each tribe has its own chief. Skilled as hunters, they hunt for food such as birds or little monkeys by blowing their bamboo blowpipes which is deadly accurate and dangerous.
Oldest Temiar, Ngah b. Uda, 72 is the Penghulu Islam, of the village. He ambles around aided by his “snake head” walking stick and gamely sat in, listening to his brother Nordin b Abdullah, 65 story tell. Pak Nordin is fluent in Malay and speaks of his tribe proudly.
Their tribe was relocated 35 years ago from the fringes of the rainforest to their settlement by Sungai Korbu so that they could receive government aid easily.
Sungai Korbu also known as Sungai Kerbau starts as a stream from Mount Korbu and runs through idyllic Kampong Landap. The crystal clear waters are cool even in the hot afternoons. In the early mornings, the water is icy cold. The children and villagers are seen bathing and playing in the river three times a day. For the elderly, they have their baths at home which is more convenient.
The general Malaysian’s knowledge of our Orang Asli is poor. To consider Orang Asli as being “uncivilised” is a misconception that needs to be dispelled.
This writer was surprised when Pak Nordin could name some of the Chinese tribes in Malaysia. He cited the “Hokkien”, “Cantonese” and “Teochew” to her amusement. Pak Nordin said they are grateful that the government built houses for them; however they still feel more at ease living in the jungle where they belong.
“In the jungle, I know exactly where I am and know what to do, but if I go to the city I will have trouble crossing the road and be startled by the many cars travelling very fast’” said Pak Nordin with a chuckle. “We belong here, this is our home.”
Traditionally animist, the inhabitants of Kampung Landap have been urbanised and have all embraced Islam and are practising Muslims. Some speak fluent Bahasa Malaysia to visitors and converse in Temiar with each other.
This writer and her friends were invited by Tuan Speaker who has been living in the midst of the Temiar for nine years.
Tuan Speaker and his KL volunteers have taught the Orang Asli about health, nutrition and the importance of hygiene. The women folk now go for post natal checks in the government clinics and infant mortality has dropped.
The Temiar have for generations survived on a diet of tubers, especially tapioca and sweet potatoes and were mostly undernourished. Presently they are eating a more balanced meal with weekly groceries donations from volunteers.
For long term sustenance, Tuan Speaker taught fish rearing and duck farming. These projects will be an additional source of protein and income to the Temiar.
Economically, villagers are poor and earn little income from the sales of rattan collecting and damar which is a resin obtained from the dipterocarp trees. They also work in the nearby estates.
Considered materially and technologically behind compared to the average Malaysian living in the city, socially the Temiar are more civilized and gracious than most of us.
We were invited by Tuan Speaker to join in the two-day celebration which started with the “khatan” or circumcision for 30 Temiar boys. On the day of the ceremony, five of the boys ran away to hide and the team was surprised to have two adult males turn up at the eleventh hour for their circumcision.
The next, the Temiar “adat nikah” or solemnisation of marriage ceremony was held for nine couples which follow closely of a customary Malay wedding tradition. There was a mixed couple in the group. The wedding ceremony was held in a huge “balai” hut.
The Temiar are a happy, contented people who have lived this way of life for generations. They survive by living communally and contributing all they have for the good of the community. Their sense of freedom and oneness with nature is astounding as their concept or dependency on the value of money.
Slowly our imposed values may come into their lives. Pak Nordin speaks of youngsters with their hand phones and listening to music as all teenagers do universally. It is inevitable that the day will come when they lose their freedom and become civilised like us.
Affable Kate Lew dreams of seeing the dessert bloom and writes in quick succession, calls it bursts of energy balls, balancing life in the FIT lane and paints imagery with visuals and badass poetry. (She wishes…). She’s amiable to offers of coffee and conversations. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org