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You won’t believe what these Orang Asli in Kelantan did to protect their land…

UPDATE [4/12/2016]: People were asking us how they could help the Orang Asli, so by popular demand, here’s how:

1. Donate through Jaringan Orang Asal Semalaysia (JOAS). JOAS has received RM1,500 so far. But they requested that contributors also send them your BANK SLIP and EMAIL so that it’s easier for them to make a financial report on Google Drive, and to avoid mismanagement of funds. Maybank account no: 153047865456 (Nasir bin Dollah) Here’s their email: [email protected]

2. Donate to Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (PEKA). Maybank account no: 562106724536. Include your bank in slip and telephone number to Yatie (016-608 4510) or Izwan (017-932 1899). Money donated to PEKA is to help with blockades – petrol money, medication, food, and stuff like that.

3. Donate the Bar Council under their Orang Asli committee to cover the legal expenses on the other cases. Contact Najwa Syazwani Aqilah bt Abd Hamid at 03-2050 2102, or [email protected]

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You all know about Orang Asli issues… but our pageview statistics on CILISOS Orang Asli articles show that many of you don’t actually read before sharing. We have a term for this in our office, we call it the ‘Orang Asli phenomenon’ 😀 where article shares are high, but views are low. It basically means that people share because they feel compelled to care (or at least be seen to care?), but they don’t really care to read up on the details of what’s going on. But this time it might be different if you read what they did…

So, recently another Orang Asli issue has flared up again. The Temiar people set up a BLOCKADE near Gua Musang, Kelantan. (P/S: The Temiar are one of the largest of the 18 Orang Asli groups in Peninsula Malaysia with a total population estimated to be around 32,000 people. They mainly reside in Perak, Pahang and Kelantan.)

BUT you won’t believe how far these people went to set up the blockade!

 

It started with a few men and a DIY bamboo palang gate…

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They even painted the bamboo gate. Image from imkiran.com

We read about blockades in the news, like, ALL the time (zzzzz). Not just in Malaysia, around the world as well. In Malaysia, we’ve even learnt to blockade as early as 1511 in Malacca, against Portuguese attacks. 😛

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Blockade in Sarawak. Image from rimba.com

In recent times, various indigenous tribes in Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak – for example, Penan, Iban, Kayan and Kelabit – have done numerous blockades from as early as the late 80s. One blockade grew quite big with 2,500 Penan from 26 settlements taking part and attracted worldwide support. A pretty impressive feat…

And when the long-suffering Orang Asli and Orang Asal blockade, it is usually for ONE REASON… to defend their homes, forest and ancestral lands against the itchy bulldozers of logging companies and the Government. Meaning they are actually peaceful people wan, other people poke them then only they retaliate. And this time is no different. This is the fourth blockade attempted by the Temiar. We found out that the second was in 2012, according to this site.

Economically, logging is a big moneymaker for our country (timber contributes RM20 billion to our annual exports). Even more so in the state of Kelantan, which relies heavily on land, mines and forests for revenue. (Sarawak and Pahang face the same problem too.)

“Forest reserves automatically get classified for timber production unless the state makes it a special reserve for protection.” – Lim Teck Wyn, Forestry consultant, The Star

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Rajkumar, one of the lawyers, briefing the Temiar on their court case. Image from the Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)

UPDATE [4/12/2016]: Badd Hakim, a CILISOS freelancer, spoke to Siti Kasim about the Temiar who were arrested and was told that they were accused of something like setting up buildings and stuff in a forest reserve (ie. squatting). So they were arrested under Section 32 of the National Forestry Act. As we’ve reported before, the State governments are the highest authorities in matters regarding trees and land. 

HOWEVER, Malaysian courts have recognised and repeatedly reaffirmed that the Orang Asli enjoy customary rights to lands that they have inhabited for generations that trumps all other laws. Their special position is found in Article 8(5)(c) of the Federal Constitution (the highest law in Malaysia). And all the lawyers who have been working on Orang Asli issues for many years know that, that’s why they want to help!

Now the question here is whether they can prove that the area where they set up the blockades, as well as the area where the logging happens, are on their ancestral land.

“Right now, the Orang Asli have already done their mapping and all that, and it turns out that the loggings are actually happening within their ancestral land. But this is yet to be approved by the court, basically, so we are going to court to establish this.” – Siti Kasim told Badd

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The Temiar women’s first time to court. Image from the Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)

-END OF UPDATE-

Villagers would suffer from polluted water when logging happens and there is the bigger risk of floods because of added silt in the rivers.

But why do the Orang Asli and Asal care so much about their land? Well, for one it’s their HOME, duh. Every time a place becomes bookmarked for development, the Orang Aslis are evicted from their homes. Eventually one day if there’s no more land to log, where they gonna go? Not to mention all the resources they need for daily life come from the forest: water, food, medicine etc.

Also because the Temiar claim they have occupied this land for thousands of years! In a cave near the village of Kampung Bering, are possibly prehistoric drawings on the walls.

“We don’t know what these are, just that they were drawn by our ancestors,” said Manglo Tegau, 25, The Star

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Possibly prehistoric drawings by ancient Temiars in a cave near Kampung Bering, Kelantan. Image from The Star

 

Then thugs pretending to be police came in with chainsaws to scare them

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Thugs using chainsaws (in red circle) to tear down the bamboo gate and a pondok

Some parties must be getting desperate to stop the blockade or something because on 28 September, a group of thugs pretending to be policemen went to the site and allegedly cut through the barricade with CHAINSAWS! The ‘policemen’ reportedly showed up with heads of logging companies, according to The Star. This incident was revealed by Siti Kasim on her Facebook. Watch the video here.

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Three Orang Asli activists were also reportedly ‘arrested’ by the ‘policemen’ and put into civilian vehicles, but they were later released. There were apparently no police vehicles present during the incident.

Prior to this incident, the Forestry Department had built its own checkpoint a few km away from the Orang Asli blockade. They would allow the Temiar to keluar-masuk freely, but everyone else had to have a permit. The Temiar believed that this tactic was to “starve them out”. How? Because traders from outside come a few times weekly to sell food and other supplies to the Temiar as the forest can no longer provide for their need. So that trade has stopped since the authorities set up their checkpoint.

“They are logging close to the water source, so in dry season the river dries up. There is much less water than before. Sometimes it is contaminated and people get sick. We can’t hunt, and it’s very difficult to get our traditional medicine or gather food from the forest.” – Ussain Bin Anjang told Al Jazeera

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No more water and food sources as a result of persistent logging. Image from Al Jazeera

 

Soon the tiny guard post and DIY bamboo gate grew into a WHOLE VILLAGE!!

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Complete with sports arena and all. Image from The Star

Just one month after they set up their small post, it grew and grew until it became practically a full-blown village. It was mainly to block logging trucks from going further into the village and forest. Many of the Orang Asli left their homes from various parts of the Balah Reserve to band together there and after a while, they considered the new place their home.  And you know what they named it? Kampung Blockade! 😀

Kampung Blockade has a population of more than 200 men, women and children. OMG we’d say that’s a pretty big deal, wouldn’t you? That this small demographic of Temiar people are SO DONE with loggers destroying their ancestral lands, that they would go so far as to build a whole new frikkin’ village directly on the logging roads. Two words… Res. Pect.

“We have given up being nice and getting pushed around all the time. This time, we will make our stand, stick together and are prepared for the worse.” – Limat Lias, 39, Group spokesman, The Star

Every morning, dozens of men line up for their duties. Some do security, some keep record of events with their phones and cameras, and meetings are held regularly throughout the day. The women collect water for the blockade twice a day, weave attap leaves to build roofs, and cook. There are no leaders there – every man, woman and child were regarded as ‘leaders’.

women-weave-attap-leaves-kelantan-orang-asli-blockade

Women weaving attap leaves to build roofs

They were NOT budging in the face of threats by logging companies. They were even ready to lay down their lives!

Like any normal gated-and-guarded residential area, the villagers were very strict about who’s allowed in. Mostly Orang Asli have been allowed in, plus they let officials from the Health Ministry through. One of those allowed in is the Association for the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia (Peka), which sends them food and medicine each week. However, those from the Forestry Department and the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) were turned away.

“Since 2012, they’ve (the Orang Asli) been begging the government not to log their forest, but they got no response. So when they want to do a blockade, we support.” – Peka spokesperson told The Star

 

Sadly, the entire village was destroyed as the Orang Asli sang ‘Negaraku’

orang-asli-temiar-blockade-village-demolish

Temiar man standing on what used to be Kampung Blockade. You can see behind him there are no more huts. This screenshot was taken from Siti Kasim’s video

When we started writing this article, Kampung Blockade was still standing, but there was a sense that something dramatic was going to happen… Then on 29 Nov, the Kelantan Forestry Department moved in to demolish the two-month-old blockade. Siti Kasim, an activist and lawyer who has been advocating for Orang Asli rights, posted a video of them waving the Malaysian flag and singing Negaraku as the authorities flattened their huts. Watch below:

The operation involved 210 officials and took 7 hours. At first, we received word that 9 people had been arrested by the police. That number went up to 18, to 32, and finally to 47. Those arrested were between the ages of 18 to 40 years old. All 47 of them were given a two-day remand (remand means pre-trial detention).

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Info we got from Jaringan Orang Asal Semalaysia (JOAS)

While the men were arrested, it was their mothers, wives and children who bore the pain. One young woman was especially sad for her sister-in-law who has a very young baby and is now left alone. Another was a young student who returned to his village from KL because his dad’s arrest disrupted his studies. As his mother had passed away, so he had to come back to look after his young siblings.

“The wife of one of the detainees was admitted to hospital yesterday because of an illness and she has to bear the pain of being hospitalised and being all alone, without her husband at her side.” – Nasir Dollah, Secretary of Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS), Free Malaysia Today

By morning of 30 Nov, about 50 Orang Asli marched to the Gua Musang courthouse to show support for those arrested. Meanwhile, 70 demonstrators also gathered at the Gua Musang district police headquarters for five hours.

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Demonstrators gathered at the Gua Musang district police headquarters. People Shared on our ‘media dan Orang Asli’ WhatsApp group

Latest we heard, the Kelantan police warned that they will take action against certain NGOs who allegedly exploited the issue of arrest and those believed to have masterminded the blockade. “We are aware that there are people who have made viral on social media, the arrest of the Orang Asli in the operation, giving a negative impression that police had conspired with the state Forestry Department when we were only assisting the department,” State Police Chief Ab Rahman Ismail told reporters.

But thankfully, Siti Kasim also posted on 1 Dec that the Temiar would soon be released!

So what are the Orang Asli going to do now? Well, looking at their pattern of perseverance, maybe they will never give up fighting for their land rights until either party gives way. Ultimately also, there is only so much forest we have, in Kelantan or the rest of Malaysia. How far will it last until we’ve logged the last tree? Hopefully we will be able to check out alternatives to relying on timber for revenue, like that high-income economy we keep talking about maybe?

And what can the rest of us Malaysians do? Perhaps the best thing we can do is to understand and tell everyone what is really happening to the Orang Asli.

UPDATE [4/12/2016]: Badd was told by Siti Kasim that the Orang Asli plan to start their blockade once again. If the public wants to help, they can donate money (details at the start of the article).

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