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Friday, June 24, 2011

PLIGHT OF THE JUNGLE DWELLERS

When undisturbed, the virgin jungle ecosystem is in a state of equilibrium. The multi-tiered trees are self-supporting due to nutrient recycling. Climbing these trees and sometimes choking them are vines and lianas. Myriad of creatures big and small depend on the jungle for their habitat and survival. Monkeys, squirrels, bats, birds, bees live on the trees.


There used to be large populations of seladangs, elephants, tapirs, tigers, deer, seladangs, snakes, iguanas, pangolins that roam the ground. Frogs, tortises, crocodiles, fishes thrive in the streams and rivers.


Imagined or real there are spirits in the jungle, evil ones and kind-hearted ones. And among all these hive and jive, live the human jungle dwellers, the Orang Asli, the so-called Proto-Malays, the pioneer brother of the Deutro-Malays.

The plight of my people, the Orang Asli are living on the edge. Unscrupulous people have taken many parts of the jungle ie. my kampongs and my towns so to speak.

They simply come in with huge machines to get timber and make way for roads and farms. What are we supposed to do?

Our sources of plants for food and medicine are increasingly difficult to get. The rivers where we take our bath and catch fishes are no more prestine but coloured like teh-tarik. Our catch of birds, monkeys, squirrels and snakes are getting meager day by day because you have killed them directly or indirectly or driven them far into the jungle.




Drink it natural, raw from the vine in the care-free days!


Now, we cannot hold wildboar feasts often anymore. When the outsiders use guns to hunt them wildlife dear to us such as seladang and deer, these animals become a rarity . We use traps and sumpit to hunt for food. The blowpipe dart cannot go very far as your bullets. Our catch are thus limited.




Moreover, many of us are getting old and cannot blow our sumpit strong like before.


We are an ignorant and confused lot. We live by the land. Whatever extra money we have we buy salt, sugar, rice, Panadol, and titbits for the children from the van-seller. Please do not make it more difficult for us by proclaiming that out traditional shifting cultivation is bad for the environment. How could we move the mountains with our bare hands and primitive tools? It is the supposedly civilized people with machines who flatten the mountains and destroy the forests and everything in them including us.


The jungle is now filled with emptiness.


Sometimes ago, one of our people in Kampung Reka in Kelantan claimed that he saw a Pak Belang (part of jungle law to call them indirectly and show respect) dragging a victim into the jungle. This was not the first and last episode. Since time immemorial there had been very many of our people were brutally devoured. At night we even have to compete with the elephants to gather durian fruits before they swallow them away.
We are the protectors of the jungle. The jungle is not neutral. We were then in the diffused forefront where the communists were active.

It was not easy to fight against the terrorists knowing very well that they were lurking somewhere there. We were sharing the same jungle and footpaths. It was like sharing the bed with the enemy – sumpit versus gun.


We encourage our young to join the Senoi Praq as jungle trackers and scouts that helped saved lives of many government soldiers during the emergency. They get some monthly pension, meager though.




Some years ago, there was a case of a group of local Malays (Kelantan) who tried to seize our land and we had to rough them up in self defense. A few got hurt. Several of us were brought to court and appeared on TV handcuffed. How haggard looking and malnourished they were! Theirs was a minor offense compared to ones who traded in dadah and whatnot. They are rich and yet want more and more. Ours was a case of survival, theirs greed above all, above patriotism.


We need protection or ways to defend ourselves and our families. There are so many intruders nowadays, humanoid and non-humanoid that come into the so-called reservation that you have alienated for us.


Was it true that a far-distant blood-cousin of us who lives along the Yuat River in that far-flung Papua New Guinea had his blood sample taken? They said that he has immunity against malaria and wanted to study and patent his cell line. They say that there are provisions in the global agreement on the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) 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 we do? We cannot run to the nearest police station to report immediately because it is so many miles away! Our area is not accessible by mobile phone either. We are hapless people.


Our health

Although we have the jungle reservation to live in (and die) but the boundry is constantly being encroached. Before the past general election, the government proposed to establish a botanical park in Perak. We objected because part of our land may be taken. Thus, our area is getting smaller and we have no title to the land.

A couple of years ago a number of children died from unknown causes in Cameron Highlands. The wanton use of chemicals by farmers have contaminated the groundwater and rivers - where our daily lives centred. The health of our people and surroundings are in dire need of rehabilitation. Booze and AIDS have come to our reservation. What has our government caretakers got to say to our predicament? Dia orang tu memang macam tu!

For some of us, the government has built us houses fitted with zinc roof. But the roofs are too low and become unbearable during the heat of the day. We still prefer the traditional huts of palas roof even though we have to go deeper into the jungle and be free, at least for a little while more.


For long term sustainability the government could help to improve our living standard by:

1. Demarcate suitable agricultural land and give advise, supplies, guidance and incentives how to grow food and economic crops.


2. Help market our agricultural produce and jungle products.

3. Train us in various trades, skills, and crafts so that we could be more self-reliant and provide us better job opportunities.

4. Improve our health by providing better sanitation, medical services, drinking water, electricity and other amneties.

5. Build playgrounds, courts for sepak takraw, volleyball and such, community halls that also serve to play indoor games.

6. We need land titles for our reservation to secure ourselves legally and assure us security in this “Tanah Tumpah Darah Ku”.

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