Friday, January 23, 2009

Orang Asli

An Orang Asli house in Pahang.

‘Orang Asli’ (aboroginese of Malaya) played lots of parts in the kampong life.

There are two groups of ‘orang asli’ which were/are related directly to the kampong. One was from Paya Senayan, across the Pahang River, a few km inland in the jungle, and the other was from Lakong, a few km upland from the kampong, on the same side of the Pahang River quite far inland into the jungle. I do not know what tribes these ‘orang asli’ were but we just called then ‘ra’yat’, that lingo in our village means ‘orang asli’. They are to us all ‘sakai’ but they do not like to be called that, and they could be from any tribe names that we do not know of..

The ones from Paya Senayan, we do not usually mix with them that much in the kampong, only mostly those kampong folks from across the Pahang River have dealings with them. But my late grandfather had a lot of dealings with them because he used to employ them as guides to help with his hunting for deer and other wild animals in the jungle across that big Pahang River. In fact with the Chief of that tribe (Batin) my late grandfather was almost like the best of friends. He was Batin Ahmad. A fine friendly guy who chained smoke from his home made rolled cigarettes, and he chewed betel leaves with the concoctions, making his mouth red bloody looking all the time. We lost touch with that tribe when my grandfather died.

The tribe on our side of the Pahang River used to live in Lakong but used to come to our village, walking all that distance through the jungle and footpaths, to climb coconuts for us. And later to pound rice padi (‘tumbuk padi’). Due to the Emergency period (declared in about 1948) they were asked to move to Cerok Ara, a precint in our kampong more or less as a safety measure but also to prevent them from asiding and aiding the Communist (terrorists the British called them then). At that time there was a big Communist camp quite close to where the ‘orang asli’ used to live in Lakong. The group was headed by Chin Peng who later became the head of the outlawed Communist Party of Malaya.

When the ‘orang asli’ came to live closer to us they became more useful as cheap labour in the kampong. They were employed as coconut trees climbers (to pluck ripe coconuts), cut our weed, cleared our land, in fact they became almost indispensable. And they were exploited.

These ‘orang asli’ were actually ‘foreign’ to us Malays. They have different habits, different standard of hygiene, different beliefs and dressed differently, and different body odour. Their hygiene then was ‘dirty’, they believed in ghosts and spirits a lot (and their lives depended a lot on their ‘ghosts’ and ‘spirits’) and they have no religion (those as we knew then). When they first walked into the kampong their dress wa ‘primitive’. They wore loin cloth made from barks of trees (‘cawat kulit kayu’ said the Malays) and their women folks some of them in ‘cawat’ and some wore short clothing, some with uncovered breasts (they soon covered them when their realise they got \ stared by the Malays). They had no ‘shoes’. But they soon learn to wear shorts (many kampong folks in those days wore big flared shorts going about) and shirts (some still went around bare top then) and the women soon learn to wear batek cloth, still short but in a ‘kemban’ style. ‘Kemban ‘ is when you wear the batek cloth up to your calf and covering the breasts but leaving the shoulders bare. But their hygiene still did not improve and many were still with sore and ringworms on their skin. Did they bathe? Yes they did. I know, many of us children then watched them bathing in the Pahang River in their all birthday suit. Mixed men and women. And they still believed strongly in ghosts and strange spirits of trees and rivers and land formation (in fact the Malays also believed in ghosts and spirits, maybe different ghosts and different spirits) They looked for jobs with us Malays of the kampong, but by that time more skilled like tapping rubber. In fact their children even tried to come to school with us but at hat time they soon all left, they could not adapt.

They used to carry ‘parangs” (big slash knives) around, a basket back pack each, and at times blow pipes. They are not dangerous people, they only used these tools and pack in search for a living.

We were not to kind to them. We paid them pittance for their hard work, and we always gave them meals when they worked but we were not too fair, we made the vege (or the ‘sambal’) or things to go along with the rice pretty hot (chilli wise). They ate them but they would be drinking a lot of water after that. With whatever money they got they shopped for whatever their money was worth. They normally buy salt and sugar or maybe biscuits. No credit was allowed in case they ran do not pay. They could not read or write, and on one occasion I witnessed one of them drinking formic acid (‘cuka getah’) from a bottle, he thinking that the liquid in the bottle was carbonated juice water. I saw how tortured he was, He was I think Kurus the brother of Hijau (who used to work a lot for us then), and I heard later that he died after drinking that formic acid.

Some Malays used their women to gratify their sexual needs. They were cool people, and for some reason they did not react vengefully. And every so often they had ‘siwai” (their night merry making gathering) and some Malays joined them to take advantage of the party atmosphere in those dark barely lighted nights.

They had their own ways of naming themselves. The men, Hitam, Puteh, Hijau (of all colours), and the women all things nice like Bunga (all the flowers names), but later on they tried to adopt the Malay common names.

These ‘orang asli’ now still live separately from the Malays. And they are in a way well treated by the Government (to the best of my knowledge), given land (no title though) and housing and all amenities. Many practice their old ways, but those in towns and cities are now educated and a few may have education up to PhD level. They do not look for jobs in the kampong anymore, as some may even have their own communal palm oil plantation. They are now a part of the Malaysian community, with only certain special rights.

Lipat Kajang people (or decendents) are encouraged to participate& contribute (Orang Lipat Kajang, atau keturunan, di jemput memberi sumbangan idea)


  1. Hi,

    My name is Chew Ting. I am attracted to your story of Orang Asli. Was it your own past experience with the Orang Asli or story told by your grandfather? I am interested to cite your story to my Master's thesis which is on Orang Asli, can I? If I am allowed to do so, may I have your name? Thanks!

    'Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri'

  2. Chew Ting,
    Nothing special about that write up. Just my experience with Orang Asli when I was a young lad in the kampong. Later on when I met them off and on.