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Why did the Orang Asli travel 9 hours, just to attend BERSIH 4.0?

It’s been 2 weeks since BERSIH 4.0. Google the rally and you’re bound to get a bunch of stories about the Chinese, the Malays, the Power Rangers… but almost as ignored as our Indian friends were the Orang Asli.

Many of us urbanites (including some of us at the CILISOS.MY office) have the tendency of overlooking the Orang Asli, maybe because we’re too busy fighting over what directly affects us, or because we’ve been desensitised to news of their sufferings, or because it’s simply not sensational enough to wanna do something about it. So why are we talking about them now?

Well, let’s start by saying it again: they were there at BERSIH 4.0, and it was reportedly their first. But unlike us who easily hopped on the LRT (or flew back from Hungary or endured a long drive from Johor), the Orang Asli had to endure…

… a long, dire, super-expensive journey

“We came to Bersih 4 in four buses. Two buses from Kelantan. One from Grik, Perak. And one bus from Johor.” – Puri bin Angah, an Orang Asli who attended BERSIH 4.0

While we couldn’t get much info on their journey here, Puri told us that they left the rally at 5pm and reached home by 2am the next day. That’s a 9-hour journey! And it wasn’t smooth either – their rides are long and bumpy, and even worse when it rains. It’s not so much uncomfortable as it is tiring.

Photo from 2012 to illustrate they're always travelling rough. From Reita Rahim taken from Gerai OA FB page

Photo from 2012 to illustrate they’re always travelling rough. From Reita Rahim taken from Gerai OA FB page

In Soo Wern Jun’s report in The Heat Online Asia, Perak-based Abri Yok Chopil, said that through JKOASM (Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia), about 500 of them shared the cost to charter buses to participate in the KL-based rally.

“We used our own money from selling petai and other things. It cost RM1,500 to charter one bus for two days.  We can feel the impact from the government’s policies [GST] and so we decided to join BERSIH 4.0.” – Abri Yok Chopil, as quoted from The Heat Online Asia 

However, in Faiz Zainudin’s report in Free Malaysia Today, Yusri Ahon, vice president of JOAS (Jaringan Orang Asli Semalaysia) mentioned that they were given transportation to attend BERSIH 4.0, but all other expenses were on them.

“Memang BERSIH 4.0 yang taja kita datang sini, cuma dari segi pengangkutan baslah, dari Temerloh sehingga ke sini.” – Yusri Ahon, as quoted from Free Malaysia Today

Plus, the Gua Musang community in Kelantan was recently rocked with the sudden disappearance of 7 Orang Asli children on 23rd August. As of today, they have not been found yet. In Timothy Achariam’s report in The Sun Daily, Salim Tengau said that going for the rally was a painful decision as some of the missing children were his nephews and nieces.

“It was a tough decision to make, but my friends and family told me to go and represent them at the rally, to be the voice of the Orang Asli.” – Salim Tengau, as quoted from The Sun Daily 

He adds that they didn’t know where to stay, and only “planned to sleep on the floor somewhere”. However, they found refuge at the St John’s Cathedral that night.

For a community that lives off what Mother Nature provides by selling handicraft and yield from the land, leaving their natural homes and heading to the big city is not an easy task… Mentally, physically, and financially. This begs the question – what drove them? (Don’t say bus driver.)


1. Their homes have been taken from them… for the 124786235th time

Did you know that Mutiara Damansara and Damansara Perdana were once Orang Asli land?

Photos from and

Context: IKEA is in Mutiara Damansara. Photos from and

Up till the early 1980s, the Temuan Orang Asli hunted and swam in its crystal clear streams, harvested forest vegetables, durians and petai there. It was their land. The forest was their ‘supermarket’, their ‘pharmacy’, their source of housing and their water supply. And it was free. Then it all changed.

In exchange for their countless (and priceless) acres of pristine forest, MK Land built them ‘Desa Temuan’, and gave each family a bungalow plus a flat to rent out. But it all went downhill for these Temuan – a sudden switch in environment with no education on how to adapt, many couldn’t even pay up their utility bills. There were even fears that they would end up as beggars.

“I shudder at the thought of what is happening.” – Siti Kasim, lawyer for the Orang Asli to CILISOS

Siti Kasim adds that development must be on Orang Asli terms and at their pace, and they must have autonomy and full rights to their land. And to be frank, these Temuan who live so near The Curve are considered among the ‘luckier’ ones.

Most recently in June 2015, at Gunung Arong, Johor, 100 officers from several government departments demolished a Jakun tribe’s kampung (with the knowledge of JAKAO Department of Orang Asli Development which is supposed to represent Orang Asli interests).

“They told us to remove all our belongings and move into the jungle, or they would push down our homes and shoot our chickens and dogs.” – Awang Rambai, as quoted from The StarThe villagers had their homes destroyed and now live in makeshift tents by the road.

Photo from Malaysiakini

‘Ladang Rakyat’. Photo by Nigel Aw for Malaysiakini

Even as this is being written, over in Pos Balar, Kelantan, there is a blockade against ‘Ladang Rakyat’, a 76,780 acre-large project supposedly aimed to alleviate poverty through monthly dividends of RM200. However, it seems that many participants of the project are outsiders and only a few are Orang Asli. Even so, the project ultimately trades the livelihood of the Orang Asli for cash, but Bar Council researcher Chung Yi Fan says:

“Furthermore, how do you expect the Orang Asli to give up their native territory on which they rely for their subsistence and trade it for only RM200 cash a month?” – Chung Yi Fan, researcher, as quoted from Malaysiakini

Over to our friends in Sarawak, the highly-controversial Bakun Dam (a mega-dam built in 2011) had submerged 700 square KILOMETRES of forest and farmland, displacing 10,000 people in the meantime. The displaced were also forced to pay nearly US$15,000 for government-built homes, throwing families into debt. Over a decade later, many families live in extreme poverty. More chilling effects of the Bakun Dam can be read here.

Bakun Dam in construction in June 2009. Photo from

Bakun Dam in construction in June 2009. Photo from

Today, they’re threatened with the upcoming Baram Dam (also a mega-dam) which could displace up to 20,000 people from 26 villages. And just so you know, the Baram Dam is only 1 out of 12 planned dams in Sarawak. (!!!) While there has been an ongoing blockade, it seems like the people have a glimmer of hope as their Chief Minister, Tan Sri Adenan Satem pulled the brakes on the development, wanting to study it a little more before proceeding.

(Food for thought: East Malaysia has SO many dams to generate electricity, but many parts of their states still lack proper power supply and other basic necessities…)

Why do all these keep happening?


2. Their legal rights seem non-existent

According to a research by Professor Maude E. Phipps, Malaysia’s leading geneticist, the ancestors of the Negrito communities (e.g. Kintak, Kensiu, Jehai, Mendriq and Bateq) were here 60,000-70,000 years ago.

Note that this is long before before the British mooted the concept of ‘Negeri-negeri Melayu Bersekutu’ (which later led to ‘Persekutuan Tanah Melayu’ or Malaya) from the different sultanates which were under the surzeinity of Siam, paying ‘bunga mas’ to the Siamese King. For those who might have forgotten our Sejarah classes, this was 1896 – a mere 120 years ago.

But ugaiz… Our Orang Asli friends were here 60,000 years before that. 

Photo by Bazuki Muhammad for REUTERS

Photo by Bazuki Muhammad for REUTERS

Interestingly, Siti Kasim informed CILISOS that the British also instituted Orang Asli legal rights to the forest, called ‘Sakai Land’ back then. And copies of maps of their lands were given to the chief of each Orang Asli village. Over the years in the jungle, most of the maps were lost or damaged by jungle life.

There is, however, the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 (revised in 1974). Aimed to prevent communist insurgents from getting help from or influencing the Orang Asli, it also has provisions which allow the Minister to prohibit outsiders from entering their area. But if you delve deeper, Colin Nicholas of the Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) said that the act treated the Orang Asli as though unable to lead their own lives and in need of the protection of authorities to protect them.


At the same time, it grants the state authority to order any community to get out of an area, so if the state wishes to re-acquire their land, they can easily get the Orang Asli to leave with no legal recourse. To add salt to the wound, the state isn’t obliged to compensate for them.

“Kerajaan dilihat tidak bertindak adil kepada kami terutamanya melibatkan hak pemilikan tanah. Apabila kerajaan memberi satu-satu benda kepada kami, mereka akan mengambil sembilan daripada apa yang kami ada.

“Jadi kami merasakan ia adalah ketidakadilan kepada masyarakat orang asli dan disebabkan itu kami menghadirkan diri dalam perhimpunan pada hari ini.” – Yusri Ahon, vice president of JOAS, as quoted from Free Malaysia Today

But their house is so much more than just a roof over their heads…


3. Their homes are being destroyed in more ways than one

While most of us consider our home as a concrete building with four walls and a door, the Orang Asli considers the entire jungle their home.

When this writer bumped into Kelantan-based Puri bin Angah, he stood at the kerb of Jalan Tun Perak – right at the heart of BERSIH 4.0. All he wanted to show were the photos of the ‘lori hantu’ – timber lorries that were felling trees on his land. 

Screenshot 2015-09-11 12.51.44

Screengrab by Gerai OA

This has caused floods, smashed his village’s bridge, polluted his sole water supply, washed away his bountiful agriculture crops and even drove wildlife away. In essence, apart from destroying the house that he built for his family, the ‘lori hantu’ has also killed off their food and water supply. 

While it may occur to some of you that Puri could go to an undamaged part of the forest, get this: a single tree doesn’t bear fruit all year round, so the community needs a variety of trees to meet their basic needs.


4. They really need us to stop ignoring them

Photo from REUTERS

Photo from REUTERS

“The ‘aboriginal people’ of Peninsular Malaysia are the most vulnerable and downtrodden people group because they have no real political representation. Some are educated, many still live in poverty and few have any means to articulate their seemingly lost cause.” – Lawrence Yong for Malaysiakini 

The COAC notes that the Orang Asli population stood at 178,197 in year 2010 – that makes a mere 0.6% of the national population of about 28 million (year 2010). In Peninsula Malaysia, there are 869 Orang Asli communities, with 37.2% in interior/forest areas, 61.4% in forest-fringe or rural areas, and only 1.4% are settled in (or close to) urban centres.

With that in mind, there’s no wondering why they seem almost completely ignored by urbanites who make token mentions and see them and their fancy hats as a tropical wallflower – interesting to look at, but not enough to care about. With a tiny voice, the Orang Asli are in need of a loud haler to speak up for them, to bring light to their strife… just not a literal one, of course.

Most of these problems faced by the Orang Asli boils down to having their land taken away from them. Some poorly informed Malaysians may say, “Why don’t these Orang Asli people just move to another patch of jungle?”. Well, that’s like saying, “Here’s 50 sen; please get out of your house in SS2, and buy another house in Taman Tun with that money.” Cannot, right?



How you can help

Not all is doom and gloom, sayang. There is something you can really do to help fight for their rights to their Tanah Adat.

Dancing Orang Asli women for illustration purposes. Photo from

Dancing Orang Asli women for illustration purposes. Photo from

There’s an upcoming fundraiser called #getAsli, organised by the Bar Council Committee on Orang Asli Rights (COAR). It’s a smart casual, sit-down dinner aimed to creating awareness and education on the rights of the Orang Asli. The funds raised will be used to help uplift and develop the rural Orang Asli communities, even providing non-formal education of women and children, providing leadership training, strengthening their traditional culture and secure their livelihood.

You’ll also get to enjoy some traditional performances by the Orang Asli while learning more about their culture. Some basic deets:

  • 8th Dec 2015 (Tues), 6.30pm – 11.00pm
  • Grand Ballroom, Sunway Resort Hotel & Spa
  • RM250/ticket or RM2,500/table (inclusive 6% GST)
  • For more info: FB event page 

If fundraisers are not your thing, you can also pass on kind donations to the COAR thru a

  • Direct deposit (Hong Leong Bank Berhad, account: 00200756927; SWIFT CODE: HLBBMYKL),
  • Cheque or bank draft payable to “Malaysian Bar COAR Account”, or
  • Drop-off at the ground floor of the Bar Council Secretariat, 15 Leboh Pasar Besar, 50050, Kuala Lumpur.

Apart from that, you could also help their little voice get louder by creating awareness among your own circle of friends, whether or not they’re from the urban centres. Spread the word about their plight. Help pressure authorities when their land gets threatened again. Because honestly… the 0.6% of Malaysians need their home more than we need another Damansara Perdana. 


Co-written by Jovian Anak Lee

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  1. katatonic

    15/09/2015 at 1:26 pm

    I <3 ugaiz 🙂

    • Chak Onn Lau

      18/09/2015 at 9:55 pm

      Love right back bro!

  2. Xenobio

    15/09/2015 at 1:35 am

    Just wanna note that Abri Yok Chopil’s (related to Tijah Yok Chopil?) statement that they paid for themselves does not contradict Yusri Ahon’s statement that the buses were sponsored by Bersih… they’re from different tribes and different states. IIRC the Semai in Perak have relatively strong activism in their community. Maybe Bersih offered to sponsor the guys coming from Pahang because they are really melarat.

  3. AnakKampung8

    12/09/2015 at 12:46 am

    Thanks, cilisos, for this ‘view from the margins’ rather than ‘from the centre’ (=Klang Valley middle class). Please keep it up. Hope to see more views from the margins and if possible from ‘inside the system’ too…

    • Lydia

      12/09/2015 at 11:17 am

      Thanks, AnakKampung8. We’re a small team and we try to get a different voice whenever possible (since most of us are ‘from the centre’). It teaches us so much more about Malaysia. Helps our understanding evolve, humbling us urbanites at the same time. The more we know, the more we realise we don’t know…

  4. MusaNg

    11/09/2015 at 10:54 pm

    Thanks for this article, folks.

    The plight of the Orang Asli in Malaysia has largely been forgotten by many of us.

    Their way of life, their culture, their land, their homes, everything is slowly but surely being destroyed, and yet nobody seems to care 🙁

    In Sabah and Sarawak, they have managed to just hang on but not in Peninsular Malaysia where their beliefs have been junked. There is no equivalent of Gawai in Peninsular Malaysia.

    It would be quite easy to make this a religious matter when we compare Orang Asli in Sabah/Sarawak to those in Peninsular Malaysia but that would be oversimplifying the problem.

    The systemic failure of Federal and State Governments to strengthen and preserve the Orang Asli culture is an absolute disgrace. This goes for both UMNO/BN and Pakatan administrations.

    I have personally spoken to UMNO, DAP, MCA, MIC, PAS, PKR and god-knows-what-party representatives and there is zero, total absolute ZERO interest from them in Orang Asli matters. I wonder why.

    • AnakKampung8

      12/09/2015 at 12:45 am

      ‘I have personally spoken to UMNO, DAP, MCA, MIC, PAS, PKR and god-knows-what-party representatives and there is zero, total absolute ZERO interest from them in Orang Asli matters. I wonder why.’

      It’s very simple. They don’t have many votes. Even when they vote, since they are downtrodden they are easy to ‘manipulate’. The only way to get politicians to pay attention to them: civil society groups that have the support of a LOT of voters must keep pressuring the politicians. If Malaysians don’t keep an eye out, after change of government their lives might still be the same. We really need to keep watch on this issue.

      Another example: Did you know that today 1 in 5 people on Malaysian soil is a non-citizen? That’s right. (Here’s the calculation: Ministry of Human Resources says 6.7mil foreigners in Malaysia, of which 2 million are legal. Total official population 30mil, which means real population 30 + 4.7 = 34.7mil. 6.7/34.7 is roughly 1/5.)

      Non-citizens face all kinds of problems, including the fact that their kids can’t go to school, we don’t recognise refugees, some of them work under conditions classified by international bodies as ‘slavery’ etc. But do you see 20% of our (alternative) media space dedicated to their problems? No. Do you see 20% of poilticians’ time dedicated to them? Also no.

      Why? For the politicians: anybody who doesn’t vote doesn’t exist for them. They won’t give a **** unless people who vote pressure them. For the media: they don’t care unless people click on their articles. Nobody wants to read about refugees and migrants in Malaysia, so the media doesn’t write about them. (Media funding is another big issue…Who funds the ‘free’ media and what are their interests? Who is funding cilisos and paying their writers, for example. Do we know?)

      Bottom line: We have to ask ourselves whether Malaysians a selfish lot. So many are so comfortable yet so many are suffering in our country. The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger and bigger…

    • MusaNg

      12/09/2015 at 9:37 am

      “…They don’t have many votes…”

      I guess you are right in so far as Peninsular Malaysia is concerned. 🙁

      “…Did you know that today 1 in 5 people on Malaysian soil is a non-citizen?…”

      I was aware that there are a lot of non-citizens but I did not realise the figure was that high.

      I agree that migrants and refugees are a problem but I believe that we should try to solve our own internal problems before trying to tackle external problems.

      “…Who is funding cilisos and paying their writers, for example. Do we know?…”

      To some extent, we have been given hints about who funds by no less an authority then cilisos itself. 🙂

      I think I will continue to let the management team within cilisos answer your question.

      I can guess why cilisos was set up but then I am a new reader to this site, so I should really read it a bit more to see if my guesses are right 🙂

      Suffice to say that for me personally, the content mix seems to be about right although I am sure the cilisos management team will continue to tweak and tune the mix in their efforts to build a bigger readership base.

      I, for one, wish good luck and good fortune 🙂

    • AnakKampung8

      12/09/2015 at 2:37 pm

      I would say migrants and refugees HAVE problems in Malaysia. Not that they ARE problems. I think you meant that too. Just making sure.

      On the contrary, I think if more Malaysians helped migrants and refugees it would help relativise our problems including certain artificial problems created by certain parties. Somebody who is concerned about the less fortunate and is spending time helping them does have time to have an existential crisis because his or her bloodline is not ‘pure’ enough for certain parties with fascist tendencies.

    • Chak Onn Lau

      12/09/2015 at 5:55 pm

      Guess… guess! We wanna hear 🙂

    • MusaNg

      12/09/2015 at 8:03 pm


      OK, here’s one guess 🙂

      You guys wanna be bigger than Rupert Murdoch 🙂

    • Chak Onn Lau

      12/09/2015 at 11:49 pm

      hahah actually NO. We like being small. And that has nothing to do with the fact that we’re mostly chinese

    • MusaNg

      13/09/2015 at 5:33 pm


      Dunno what you are talking about but then I am quite tall and perfectly proportioned in every way 🙂

    • S.l. Yap

      12/09/2015 at 10:49 am

      I don’t think the younger generations are aware of this, it’s good that the subject is out perhaps it will help and the living crisis of the less fortunate.

    • Chak Onn Lau

      12/09/2015 at 5:56 pm

      We actually mentioned a few times before who funded us originally, but we’re almost to the point of breaking even already, so pretty soon we’ll fund ourselves 🙂 Here’s our funding.

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