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Only after the last tree has been cut down;
Only after the last fish has been caught;
Only after the last river has been poisoned;
Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten.
- Cree Indian Prophecy

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Orang Asli in Survival Mode
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Year-end Message 2008

......Pushed to a corner and bullied, the Orang Asli showed their Survival skills....

Orang Asli in Survival Mode

© Forest Ang

Pushed to a corner and bullied, the Orang Asli showed their survival skills.

As jungles and forests are being cleared for developments, the orang asli previously living in harmony with the wilderness are being pushed into survival mode. Money is now an important part of their survival. Barter system is now alien to their vocabulary.

free durian
Truck after truck of logs being taken out of the jungle

free durian
The Ugly look - Logging on hillslopes

free durian
They chopped this huge tree just to get to the fruits

Orang asli or the indigenous people of Malaysia has been getting alot of headlines both in Peninsular Malaysia as well as Malaysia Borneo. Once they were noticeably humble and friendly but modern living has changed altogether their lifestyles. Being illiterate, they can easily be victimized. With discrimination and greedy loggers and poachers, how can they not learned the art of survival and hypocrisy? Let me share some of their survival skills during my encounter with them on an expedition into the wilderness of Belum Temengor Forest Complex, Perak, Peninsular Malaysia.

On Smoking

Yes, they smoke alot. While trying to educate them, I asked, “Why do you smoke”? And his unexpected survival answer was, “You orang jual, saya beli lah. You tak jual, gua tak beli” (You people sell, I buy. If you don’t sell, I don’t buy”). Now, who to be blamed when the orang asli goes extinct?

On Religion

It was during the fasting month. They were muslims. However, they were found eating during the fasting month. And when I asked them why they didn’t follow the fasting as a muslim. Their survival answer was, “Kami masuk islam kerana duit saja. Kami susah, hutan balak dicuri, duit mesti nak” (I converted to Islam because of money handout. We are poor, forest being logged, so we need money for survival).

On Sharing Rice portion

To ration and equally share cooked rice, the cook was found dividing the rice in the pot into 8 portions. Then he started counting the portions. It was funny watching him counting the portions over and over again without him noticing my observation from a distance. I can't understand his Jahai's language. It wasn’t deliberate. For your information, most orang asli are illiterate, as schools are far away. They could not afford to travel to school.

On how they sleep

It was a wasteful chopping of trees to make bed. Trees or bamboos were cut to make elevated bed or poles for hanging their hammocks. Those orang asli that can afford used hammocks while those that could not afford used two sugar or flour bags to make elevated stretchers. My 10 days of adventure of shifting camp everyday, witnessed the many wasteful chopping of trees. But then, when the logging trucks came, everything was bulldozed – this chopping for bed was insignifant. Chopping some trees will not destroy their livelihood. Logging will.

On Seeking information

“Tak tahu” was their answer. It seemed they don’t really trust outsiders. And we just can’t blame them, as outsiders destroyed their forests and took away their food. Their knowledges will not be shared unless you are going to pay for them. Isn’t that survival? And they have learned the evil creation of mankind that money is power.

On Getting something from a tree

Well, they just chop down the huge tree, to get something – a wounded animal on a tree, fruits etc. Wasteful, but that was how it was done. Look at the picture of a chopped tree in the forest where there is no logging or human activity.

On deal or no deal

Imagine making a deal to hire them for RM50 per day and at the end of the expedition, they will come asking for more because they claim to overwork. I know of a group of hikers who hire a guide to a mountain but that orang asli guide demanded more fee when he encounted more blashing of the trail. Isn’t that blackmail?

But it is survival! We have taught them well.

10 Feb 2011


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