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TJ: Nasib Peribumi Orang Asli
By Kapal Berita
7/10/2000 11:34 pm Sat
Kemelut dan nasib orang Asli memang amat menyedihkan.
Lihat sahajalah rencana asalnya yang teramat panjang,
sepanjang penderitaan yang amat dahsyat nasib orang asli,
peribumi, yang ditindas. Saya terjemahkan sebahagian sahaja,
yang selebihnya diharap pembaca memanfaatkan isinya, biar
ia menusuk ke dalam jiwa.
Disaat Umno bising hak keistimewaan melayu, bukankah ada
baiknya jika mereka melihat nasib orang asli. Mereka inilah
sebenarnya bumiputra tetapi dipinggirkan serta dipecah perintah
dan dihina. Malah mereka di nyahkan dari kampung asal mereka
Umno sebaliknya menghntar bala kepada mereka - kejadian Tasek Bera
tempoh hari cukup mendukakan cita. Habis pondok dan tanam-tanaman mereka
diranap dengan rakusnya dengan alasan pembangunan.
Ada yang dibunuh dan ada yang dirogol. Sampai kini penjenayahnya
tidak dapat dikesan. Sebaliknya kerajaan menghantar polis dan
pihak berkuasa tempatan untuk menyenangkan kontraktor meruntuhkan
semua binaan dan warisan mereka.
Kesimpulan dari rencana ini menunjukkan kewujudan Jabatan Hal Ehawal
Orang Asli (JHEOA), Akta Orang Asli dll hanya mempercepatkan orang asli ini
berpindah alam "dari rahim ibu kedalam kubur" sahaja. Mereka semakin
kehilangan hak tanah dan hak keperluan.
Hanya 15% sahaja daripada 667 perkampungan orang asli yang dilindungi
dan digazet sebagai terlindung. Ini bermakna baki 85% itu "menumpang"
tanah kerajaan. Sedangkan mereka disitu sejak berkurun dan berzaman!
Sejak 2 tahun lepas 2764 hektar tanah mereka telah dirampas.
Rampasan tanah adalah perkara biasa yang menghantui mereka. Ada banyak
tragedi seperti ini. Orang Asli di Batu 6 jln Cameron Highland sudah
lama bercucuk tanam disana sejak 1974. Tahun 1979, orang kampung berjiran
memohon tanah orang asli, dan mereka berjaya. Bila Orang Asli membantah, mereka
disuruh pergi jauh kerana tanah itu sudah jadi "Tanah Rezab Melayu"
dan mereka mendudukkinya secara haram! Bukankan orang asli itu
Selepas bergaduh, maka mereka dibayar pampasan yang amat murah:
Sudahlah murah, setengah daripada bayaran tersebut masih tidak diterima
hingga hari ini!
Di Bidor pula, syarikat timah telah mengambil tanah mereka.
Mereka meratakan tanah tersebut untuk Felcra. Habis pohon buah-buahan
orang asli musnah. Tidak ada pampasan. Yang lebih menyedihkan lagi.
JHEOA sendiri menyuruh mereka keluar dan masuk lebih jauh lagi
kedalam hutan pendalaman!
Bila mereka bertanya kpd JHEOA mengapa mereka perlu keluar, mereka
diberitahu bahawa tanah lama itu tidak sesuai kerana terlalu kecil.
Nanti menyusahkan Felcra pula. Bayangkan - orang lain mengambil tanah
hak anda, kemudian meninggalkan secebis untuk anda, selepas itu
menyuruh pula anda keluar kerana ia terlalu kecil untuk anda!
DI Bukit Unggul, Bangi Selangor, orang Temuan disuruh keluar untuk
pembinaan universiti di tanah mereka. Sebenarnya padang golf yang
hendak dibina - bukankah teruk dan dahsyatnya?
Di Sepang orang asli Temuan dipindahkan untuk KLIA. Di Johor pula
orang Stulang Laut dipinggir hanya untuk membena satu kompleks
niaga dan kepentingan orang2 tertentu serta pendatang tanpa izin pula.
Kes Jeli menarik perhatian, di mana 9 orang Jahai didakwa kerana
menyebabkan kematian 3 orang peneroka luar. Peneroka tersebut hendak
mengusir orang asli tersebut. Pergaduhan meletus dan orang luar itu mahu menikan
ketua kampung mereka. Maka orang Jahai tadi terpaksa menyelamatkan ketua
mereka.... maka terbunuhlah 3 peneroka tadi.
Tanah orang asli sengaja tidak digazet untuk memudahkan kerja membalak
disamping merompak hasilbumi titikpeluh mereka. Habis durian dan petai
diangkut dengan alasan hutan itu bukan "kepunyaan sesiapa" maka ia
"percuma untuk semua".
Jabatan Perhutanan pula asyik mengeluarkan lesen berkala untuk
mengiazinkan orang lar untuk menimba hasil hutan seperti rotan
dan petai - walaupun akta orang peribumi mengatakan tidak ada lesen
boleh dikeluarkan kepada orang luar yang bukan penduduk asli di sana.
Untuk memastikan orang asli terbela beberapa perubahan sikap
pihak berkuasa perlu dilaksanakan. Antaranya:
THE ORANG ASLI
The Orang Asli are the indigenous minority peoples of Peninsular
Malaysia. The name is a Malay term which transliterates as 'original
peoples' or 'first peoples.' It is a collective term introduced by
anthropologists and administrators for the 18 sub-ethnic groups
generally classified for official purposes under Negrito, Senoi and
Proto-Malay. They numbered 105,000 in 1997 representing a mere 0.5
per cent of the national population.
The Orang Asli, nevertheless, are not a homogeneous group. Each has
its own language and culture, and perceives itself as different from
the others. Linguistically, some of the northern Orang Asli groups
(especially the Senoi and Negrito groups) speak languages - now
termed Aslian languages - that suggest a historical link with the
indigenous peoples in Burma, Thailand and Indo-China.
The members of the Proto-Malay tribes, whose ancestors were believed
to have migrated from the Indonesian islands to the south of the
peninsula, speak dialects which belong to the same Austronesian
family of languages as Malay, with the exceptions of the Semelai and
Temoq dialects (which are Austroasiatic).
The Orang Asli have equally varied occupations and ways of life. The
Orang Laut, Orang Seletar and Mah Meri, for example, live close to
the coast and are mainly fishermen. Some Temuan, Jakun and Semai
people have taken to permanent agriculture and now manage their own
rubber, oil palm or cocoa farms.
About 40 per cent of the Orang Asli population - including Semai,
Temiar, Che Wong, Jah Hut, Semelai and Semoq Beri - however, live
close to, or within forested areas. Here they engage in swiddening
(hill rice cultivation) and do some hunting and gathering. These
communities also trade in petai, durian, rattan and resins to earn
A very small number, especially among the Negrito groups (such as
Jahai and Lanoh) are still semi-nomadic, preferring to take advantage
of the seasonal bounties of the forest. A fair number also live in
urban areas and are engaged in both waged and salaried jobs.
There is no doubt, however, that the Orang Asli are the descendants
of the earliest inhabitants in the peninsula. It has been suggested
that they retained much of their identity to the present day because
of their relative isolation from the other communities and the forces
This is not to suggest that the Orang Asli lived in complete
isolation, existing only on subsistence production. Economic dealings
with the neighbouring Malay communities were not uncommon for the
past few hundred years, especially for the Proto-Malay groups. Those
Orang Asli living in remote forest areas also engaged in some trading
with the Malays, with jungle produce being exchanged for salt, knives
and metal axe-heads. There was also evidence of trade in blowpipes
and blowpipe-bamboo among certain tribes. It has also been shown that
the Orang Asli have played a significant role in the Malay
Peninsula's economic history as collectors and primary traders as
early as the 5th Century A.D. An early 19th century report also tells
of Negritos providing forest products as tribute to the Malay chiefs
of the river basins they resided in.
There seemed, therefore, to be a certain amount of interaction
between the Orang Asli and the other ethnic groups, particularly the
Malays who resided along the fringes of the forest. Some of the
initial contacts, however, were unfortunately characterized by
cruelty and mutual hostility.
Slave raids into Orang Asli settlements were not an uncommon feature
in the 18th and 19th centuries. The slave-raiders were mainly Malays
and Bataks, who considered the Orang Asli as 'kafirs', 'non-
humans', 'savages' and 'jungle-beasts.'
The modus operandi was basically to swoop down on a settlement and
kill off all the adult men. Women and children were preferred as they
were less likely to run away and were 'easier to tame.' The Orang
Asli slaves were sold off or given to local rulers and chieftains to
gain their favour.
A considerable trade in slaves thus soon developed - and even
continued into the present century despite the official abolition of
all forms of slavery in 1884. In fact, the derogatory term Sakai used
to refer to the Orang Asli until the middle of this century meant
slave or dependent. Many elders still remember this sad period of
their history, and all Orang Asli detest being called Sakai.
The coming of the British administrators led to some outcry against
the slavery of the Orang Asli, but there were no efforts to promote
their welfare. Because of their 'primitiveness' and
their 'uncivilized culture', Orang Asli were regarded as excellent
subjects for anthropological research. That the Orang Asli were seen
so can be gleaned from the fact that the earliest official act
directed towards the Orang Asli was the setting up of the Perak
Museum in Taiping, from where research into Orang Asli demography and
ethnography was to be carried out.
Also, being regarded as 'uncivilized' and therefore, it
follows, 'unsaved', placed the Orang Asli in good light for the zeal
of missionary proselytizers. The Catholics began their missionary
activities among the Temuans in the middle of the 19th Century. The
Methodists started theirs in the 1930s. Bahai missionaries also had a
following in the 1960s while Muslim missionary work became
increasingly more active over the last two decades.
Interest in the Orang Asli therefore tended to revolve around their
usefulness as anthropological curiosities or as convenient subjects
for proselytization. Otherwise, the official attitude towards the
Orang Asli was one of indifference.
Until the late 1940s, there was no specific administration for the
Orang Asli, but it became regarded as a responsibility of the Taiping
Museum Curator to concern himself with research among Orang Asli in
Perak. The Orang Asli continued to be regarded as noble savages,
leading an idealized and romantic existence; the task of government
was to protect and preserve them from the ravages of modern life.
A rather detailed 1936 report by H.D. Noone, then the field
ethnographer (and later, Director) of the Perak Museum at Taiping,
sought to perpetuate the view of the British colonialists that the
Orang Asli should remain in isolation from the rest of the Malayan
population, and be given protection.
Noone called for the establishment of large aboriginal land
reservations where the Orang Asli would be free to live according to
their own tradition and laws. Noone also proposed the creation
of "patterned settlements" in less accessible areas, where the Orang
Asli could be taught agricultural skills. He also sought the
encouragement and development of aboriginal arts and crafts, and the
creation of other forms of employment among the Orang Asli. Several
protective measures were also proposed, such as the banning of
alcohol in Orang Asli reserves and the controlled peddling of wares.
Although not implemented by the government of the day, his 'Proposed
Aboriginal Policy' did however lay the groundwork for future
government policy towards the Orang Asli.
The Orang Asli were insignificant players in the political sphere
until the Emergency began. This was Malaya's civil war between the
Colonial government and the communist insurgents from 1948 to 1960.
In the early years the insurgents received much help and supplies
from sympathizers in
The Colonial Government quickly saw the importance of the Orang Asli
in winning the war and created the post of Adviser on Aborigines.
However, initial attempts at controlling the Orang Asli proved
disastrous for both sides. In an attempt to prevent the insurgents
from getting help (food, labour and intelligence) from the Orang
Asli, the British herded them into hastily-built resettlement camps.
A few hundred Orang Asli died in these crowded and sun-baked camps
mainly due to mental depression rather than disease.
Later, realising their folly, and recognising that the key to ending
the war lay in 'winning over' the Orang Asli to the government's
side, a Department of Aborigines was established and 'jungle forts'
were set up in Orang Asli areas, introducing the Orang Asli to basic
health facilities, education and basic consumer items. The strategy
proved successful such that support for the insurgents waned, with
the Emergency being officially lifted in 1960.
This period also saw the first important attempt at legislation to
protect the Orang Asli with the publication of the Aboriginal Peoples
Ordinance in 1954. This Ordinance (later amended in 1967 and 1974 to
conform to changing conditions) was considered a milestone in the
administration of the Orang Asli, for it indicated that the
government had finally officially admitted its responsibility to the
At about the same time, the Department for Aboriginal Affairs was
enlarged in order to make it an effective force. But, as the former
Commissioner for Orang Asli Affairs noted, the only reason for such
re-organization was to ensure a better control over the Orang Asli
and to make sure that they would have less inclination and few, if
any, opportunities to support the insurgents.
Later, in an apparent reversal of the government's policy towards the
Orang Asli, the jungle forts were abandoned and replaced
by 'patterned settlements' (later to be called 'regroupment
schemes'). Here, a number of Orang Asli communities were resettled in
areas which were more accessible for the Department officials and the
security forces and yet close to, though not always within, their
traditional homelands. The schemes promised the Orang Asli wooden
stilt houses as well as modern amenities such as schools, clinics and
shops. They were also required to grow cash crops (such as rubber and
oil palm) and practise animal husbandry so as to be able to
participate in the cash economy.
Nevertheless, the strategy proved successful in that support for the
insurgents waned. This prompted massacres by the insurgents of Orang
Asli communities who were thought to be on the government's side.
Alas, despite the important role the Orang Asli played in helping to
end the Emergency, many books on this period do not acknowledge the
The Emergency formally ended in 1960; but for the Orang Asli it
spelled the beginning of a more active and direct involvement of the
state into their affairs and lives.
Apart from the establishment of the Department of Orang Asli Affairs
(JHEOA), the Emergency also saw a special legislation being enacted
for the Orang Asli. This was the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954. This
Act is unique in that it is the only piece of legislation that is
directed at a particular ethnic community. (For that matter, the
JHEOA is also the only government department that is to cater for a
particular ethnic group.)
Originally enacted during the height of the Emergency, the Aboriginal
Peoples 1954 (revised in 1974) basically served to prevent the
communist insurgents from getting help from the Orang Asli. It was
also aimed at preventing the insurgents from imparting their ideology
to the Orang Asli. For this reason, for example, there are provisions
in the Act which allow the Minister concerned to prohibit any non-
Orang Asli from entering an Orang Asli area, or to prohibit the entry
of any written or printed material (or anything capable of conveying
a message). Even in the appointment of headmen, the Minister has the
final say. The Act treats the Orang Asli as if they were a people
unable to lead their own lives and needing the 'protection' of the
authorities to safeguard their wellbeing.
Nevertheless, the Act does recognise some rights of the Orang Asli.
For example, it stipulates that no Orang Asli child shall be
precluded from attending any school only by reason of being an Orang
Asli. It also states that no Orang Asli child attending any school
shall be obliged to attend any religious instruction without the
prior consent of his parents or guardian. Generally also, the Act
allows the right of the Orang Asli to follow their own way of life.
And while the Act provides for the establishment of Orang Asli Areas
and Orang Asli Reserves, it also grants the state authority the right
to order any Orang Asli community to leave and stay out of an area.
In effect, the best security that an Orang Asli can get is one
of 'tenant-at-will'. That is to say, an Orang Asli is allowed to
remain in a particular area only at the pleasure of the state
authority. If at such time the state wishes to re-acquire the land,
it can revoke its status and the Orang Asli are left with no other
legal recourse but to move elsewhere. Furthermore, in the event of
such displacement occurring, the state is not obliged to pay any
compensation or allocate an alternative site.
Thus, the Aboriginal Peoples Act laid down certain ground rules for
the treatment of Orang Asli and their lands. Effectively, it accords
the Minister concerned or the Director-General of the Department of
Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA) the final say in all matters concerning
the administration of the Orang Asli. In matters concerning land, the
state authority has the final say. The development objective of the
Act, therefore, appears to have been subsumed by both the security
motive and the tendency to regard the Orang Asli as wards of the
The perceived nomadic lifestyle of the Semai, particularly of those
in the interior areas, posed a problem to the security forces in
their effort to maintain surveillance over their activities and
movements. Since these settlements were in 'black areas' (where the
insurgents were believed to be still active), the need to keep a
close watch over the Orang Asli in these areas was even more urgent
for the state. Having the Orang Asli lead a more settled or sedentary
way of life would, it was deduced, greatly aid the state in its goal
of national security.
As such, during the mid-1970s when communist insurgents revived
their war with the government efforts were made by the JHEOA to
persuade village headmen to heed the call for regroupment. Promises
of permanent housing, piped water and other modern facilities (such
as schools and hospitals) were made. Coercion was not employed.
Instead, persuasive methods (including taking the headmen on field
trips to other successful government schemes) were the norm.
The decision to accept permanent residence in a particular location
meant that the resource base of the Orang Asli, as far as their
subsistence activities were concerned, were now restricted to a
rather limited area. Furthermore, the grouping together of a number
of other settlements in a smaller area tended to further deplete the
potential of the subsistence base. For example, in the Betau
Regroupment Scheme, 20 settlements, with an estimated total
population of 1,284 Semai, who were originally spread over a 14.4 km
radius of the administrative center, were now confined into an area
within a 5.6 km radius, or about 15 per cent of the original area.
This immediately implies a severe strain on the ability of the now
smaller subsistence base to provide for the needs of the increased
number of people depending on it for their water, food and other
Lately, however, the call to sedentism has always followed some other
ulterior intention: the lands of the Orang Asli were needed for other
purposes, be it a new agricultural project, a dam, a new airport, or
even a golf course.
But perhaps the more distressing effect of regroupment is that the
government, through JHEOA agents, begins exercising powers over
regrouped Orang Asli that cannot be exercised over non-Orang Asli
(such as control of entry of non-Orang Asli, appointment of headmen,
imposition of economic policies and programmes, and institutionalised
In 1961, the expressed policy of the government towards the Orang
Asli was their integration into the wider society. In particular, the
JHEOA was "to adopt suitable measures designed for their (Orang Asli)
protection and advancement with a view to their ultimate integration
with the Malay section of the community."
The assumption behind this policy was that the Orang Asli were
backward and isolated from the rest of the national society and as
such had to 'modernise' in order to be regarded as being on par with
the other communities.
Programmes to introduce cash-crop agriculture were introduced
(thereby placing the Orang Asli at the mercy of the world economy),
education was introduced (with the national Malay-based curriculum
being used), and social organisation transformed (with headmen now
being appointed by the JHEOA, for example). The end effect of such a
policy of integration has been a slow, but sure, decline in the
traditional structure and content of Orang Asli society.
In more recent times, the policy of integrating the Orang Asli with
the Malay section of the national society has taken on a new
dimension: making Orang Asli Muslims. The JHEOA has a special section
to look into the 'spiritual' development of the Orang Asli, with
other government and non-governmental bodies each having their own
programme for similar objectives. The assimilationist tendencies,
best epitomised by the publicly expressed intention of converting all
Orang Asli within the next ten years, undermine whatever genuine
intentions the government may have for the wellbeing of the Orang
Asli. At the very least, it brings the justification for attention
towards Orang Asli one full circle back to the early days of the
British colonial government when the Orang Asli were merely regarded
as ripe objects for the zeal of religious missionaries.
Orang Asli have been incorporated into the national economy insofar
as many have made the shift to peasantry, are tied to the cash
economy, and are dependent on, or are directed by, external
domination. The point is that the incorporation of Orang Asli into
the national economy is usually the result of the expansionist policy
of state disguised under the label of integration.
Also, economic development for the Orang Asli has often been promoted
at the expense of indigenous institutions. The various development
strategies often tacitly assume that there are no viable institutions
or practices in indigenous cultures that can be used to foster
The creation of the JHEOA as the sole agency responsible, for the
most part, for all matters concerning Orang Asli has also given rise
to a situation where the Orang Asli came to be dependent on the JHEOA
for most of their needs.
We have seen that the Aboriginal Peoples Act arms the JHEOA with much
authority over the Orang Asli. In aspects of Orang Asli living too,
Orang Asli have no or very little say. For example, the decision to
be resettled in a new location is often done without consultation
with the Orang Asli, let alone with their consent. Even in
resettlement schemes, the choice of commercial crops grown, or the
economic activities to be undertaken, does not rest with the Orang
The general conclusion is that, after four decades of intervention by
the Department of Aborigines and later by the JHEOA, an unhealthy
state of paternalism towards the Orang Asli has been created. The
JHEOA sees itself as godparents to these "wards of the state," taking
care of the Orang Asli "from the womb to the grave."
However, without doubt, the greatest threat today to Orang Asli
culture, identity and livelihood is their dispossession from their
traditional homelands. Orang Asli are guaranteed no rights whatsoever
to their lands under the Aboriginal Peoples Act.
In fact, it is often said that an Orang Asli is allowed to remain in
a particular area only because of the big-heartedness of the state
authority. At any time should the state want the land back, it can
revoke the status of the land and the Orang Asli practically has no
other legal recourse. To make matters worse, in the event of such
dispossession occurring, the state is not obliged to pay any
compensation or allocate an alternative site. This is provided for in
the Aboriginal Peoples Act.
To further aggravate the problem, only about 15 per cent of the 667
Orang Asli villages are gazetted as Orang Asli Areas or Reserves.
This means the majority of Orang Asli villages are on state land,
though the Orang Asli themselves would not concede to this
classification of their land. Efforts at gazetting the remaining
Orang Asli lands have been sluggish, to say the least, since the
Sometimes, Orang Asli lands are degazetted without their knowledge
while long-standing applications for gazetting have gone unheeded for
as many as 35 years. In the last two years, for example, 2,764
hectares of Orang Asli land were degazetted for other purposes.
This insecurity over the tenure of their lands has resulted in many
Orang Asli communities losing their lands to government land schemes,
private plantations, mining concessions, highway and dam projects,
housing projects, recreation areas, new townships, sites for
universities and various other forms of 'development'. In most cases,
the Orang Asli are resettled in regroupment schemes, where even here
there is still no permanent security of tenure. The Orang Asli in
Temerloh, for example, are now worried as there is talk of them
having to resettle to a new place yet again but this time further
Land dispossesion remains a persistent issue facing the Orang Asli.
There are numerous instances when Orang Asli had to give up their
lands, or had the lands taken from them. For instance, the Orang Asli
community at the 6th mile Cameron Highlands Road planted rubber and
fruit trees in their traditional lands in 1974. In 1979, neighbouring
villagers applied for part of the Orang Asli land, and were
successful. When the Orang Asli protested, they were told by the
Assistant District Officer to move out because the area was
now 'Malay Reserve Land' and that they were staying there illegally.
After much confrontation and negotiation, extremely low compensation
at 2 ringgit per rubber tree, 60 ringgit for each mature durian tree,
and 20 ringgit for each petai tree was offered (RM1 =3D US$0.25).
However, till today, some of it is still not paid. The tenure of the
remaining rubber trees and orchards of the Orang Asli is just as
insecure since only 0.2 hectare of the land belonging to the 40 Orang
Asli families has been gazetted.
In another case, in Bidor, part of the land of the Orang Asli has
been taken over by a tin mining company. Then without notice nor
consultation, a large portion of the remaining land was cleared by
the authorities to make way for a government (Felcra) agricultural
development project. Many fruit trees belonging to the Orang Asli
were destroyed, despite assurances by the JHEOA that it would not
happen. And the Orang Asli were not assured of any kind of
compensation. To make it worse, they were asked by the JHEOA to move
to another area further inland.
When asked why they had to move, the JHEOA officer said that it was
not advisable to stay in the old area since the land was too small
for them. Besides, he added, the Orang Asli might grow crops in the
area, and will cause inconvenience to Felcra by using their roads.
The irony of it all: someone takes away your land and leaves a little
for you - and then tells you to move because the land is too small
And in Bukit Unggul in Bangi, Selangor, the Temuans had to make way
for the construction of a university on their land, only to be asked
to move again recently - to make way for a golf course!
Generally, for most Orang Asli lands that are not gazetted as
reserves, it has been difficult for the communities to resist
pressures to relocate. The source of these pressures are varied: the
government (as in the case of Sepang in Selangor where the Temuans
were resettled to make way for the new international airport),
corporations (as in the case of Stulang Laut in Johore where the
Orang Laut were relocated to make way for a business complex), and
even individuals (as in several rural fringe areas where locals as
well as foreign migrant workers are staking out Orang Asli lands for
The last category is best exemplified by the Jeli case, where nine
Jahai men were charged for the death of three non-Orang Asli land
encroachers. They had gone to the Jahai settlement with three others
and demanded that the Orang Asli vacate the place immediately as they
had acquired the land for themselves. The three died in the ensuing
scuffle when the Jahais came to the rescue of their headman who was
about to be stabbed by one of the outsiders.
When one of the non-Orang Asli encroachers was asked in court the
reason for going to the settlement, he replied "to work on my land."
And when asked for evidence of his ownership to the land, he
replied, "I began to work on it, so it is mine. The Orang Asli cannot
own it as they do not have houses on it - only thatch huts"!
It is not surprising therefore that a common complaint among Orang
Asli these days is that the Government is insincere in its call to
have to Orang Asli settle permanently in one area rather than move
from place to place. They draw attention to the various statements
made by government leaders explaining how hard it is to 'develop' the
Orang Asli on account of their nomadic lifestyle.
Anyone who knows the Orang Asli, knows that this is a myth
perpetuated by the government to absolve its responsibility to the
Orang Asli. In fact, the Orang Asli are now saying that if ever they
are to be regarded as nomadic, it is only because the government has
forced them to move from place to place!
Also, because the lands of the Orang Asli are not gazetted or titled,
a host of other problems arise. Loggers get their concessions from
the state authorities, leaving the Orang Asli totally in the dark
about the deal. Non-Orang Asli enter their lands and steal their
petai and durian fruit claiming that the trees were planted by the
bears and tigers, and that the forest is "no man's land" and hence is
a "free-for-all." The Forest Department also habitually issues
licences to non-Orang Asli to trade in forest products such as rattan
and petai - despite a provision in the Aboriginal Peoples Act
stipulating that no such licences shall be issued to persons not
being Orang Asli normally resident in the area.
The days of the Orang Asli reacting passively to attempts to abrogate
their rights are coming to an end. Acting largely through the 15,000-
strong Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Association (POASM), various
actions have been taken, some of them through the courts.
In essence, these dissatisfactions revolve around the insecurity of
tenure over their traditional lands, the lack of consultation in
matters affecting them, the control of their department by others,
and the discrimination in distributive justice.
It would become clear therefore that the Orang Asli are not anti-
progress or anti-development. On the contrary, the Orang Asli call
for the approach towards their development needs to be reoriented.
Such an approach should centre on forging a new culture of respect,
cooperation, freedom and social justice. This should involve
reforming the regime of laws, policies and the institutions that have
directed the administration of Orang Asli affairs. It would also
involve the developing and strengthening of national dispute-
resolution arrangements especially in relation to the settlement of
Orang Asli claims to land and resource rights.
And in the planning and implementation of development programmes
affecting them, it would require that the Orang Asli be consulted.
More specifically, and of greater urgency, reforms in the following
areas are needed:
As land is pivotal to Orang Asli existence, identity and wellbeing,
Orang Asli claims to their customary land must be recognised.
Continual residence and economic occupation should suffice to
establish Orang Asli title to these lands.
The granting of titles to Orang Asli lands is a matter of urgency as
currently only about 17 per cent of all the 776 Orang Asli
settlements live are duly gazetted as Orang Asli reserves. The
interim measure, therefore, should be to speed up the process of
gazetting all the remaining Orang Asli settlements. This should not
be difficult since these are areas currently occupied by the Orang
Asli, and not generally disputed by others. Any delay in giving Orang
Asli some legality of tenure over these areas can lead to disputes
over ownership, as is already happening in some settlements.
Accepting that the bureaucratic procedures involved in gazetting
Orang Asli reserves can be time-consuming, an initial declaration can
be made by the respective state land offices recognising the
existence of present Orang Asli settlements. Such declarations would
be useful in settling any dispute over land ownership when Orang Asli
areas are leased or titled out to others for exploitation. It would
also ensure that, in the event of compulsory acquisition of their
lands, Orang Asli are equitably compensated for their lands (and not
just for their fruit trees or dwellings, as is the practice now).
To retain the identity of Orang Asli communities, all such lands are
to be vested in the name of the community. There should therefore be
no intermediary agency holding land in the name of the Orang Asli.
Strong group rights reduce divisive pressures by maintaining the
integrity of Orang Asli lands and reinforcing traditional mechanisms
for sharing and distributing group resources. On the other hand,
policies which encourage Orang Asli to privatise and sell communal
homelands piecemeal would make it easier for developers to obtain
land through distress sales.
For Orang Asli, the most obvious and reliable way to earn an income
is through economic control and sustainable exploitation of the
resources on their own lands. Every effort should therefore be given
to assist the Orang Asli in obtaining full title to their lands, as
well as rights to the resources above and below those lands.
While Orang Asli resource rights are, to a large degree, recognised
by the Aboriginal Peoples Act, the same recognition is not accorded
by various other agencies such as the Forestry Department and the
District Office. The timber, sand and fruits of the Orang Asli, among
other resources, are frequently exploited by non-Orang Asli who often
have the permission of these agencies. Orang Asli not only have no
share in the extraction of such resources but they also have to bear
the burden of environmental destruction of the their lands that come
in the wake of these activities. For this reason, encroachments into
Orang Asli lands, whether officially sanctioned or not, are to be
Policies alone provide no guarantee to the Orang Asli that their
wellbeing and advancement would be assured. Safeguards for their
rights can only be guaranteed if they are enshrined in the
Constitution and legal framework of the country. While it is accepted
that any reform will undoubtedly involve a long and meticulous
process, such reform can no longer be postponed. Basically, what is
needed is to turn the policy reforms discussed above into law.
It should be equally important to ensure that the reforms, once
incorporated into the Constitution and other legislations (such as
the Aboriginal Peoples Act and the National Land Code), should take
precedence over conflicting provisions found in other laws (such as
the National Forestry Act and the Land Conservation Act).
Orang Asli are not anti-development, as often alleged by the
government. On the contrary, they have frequently requested for
various forms of assistance, especially for improvements in the
quality of life - in areas of health, education, human capital
formation and infrastructure.
Alternative development strategies must reflect the needs of the
Orang Asli and their specific social and physical environments. For
example, aboriculture could be developed for communities undergoing
the transition from traditional, subsistence-oriented economies to
more settled, agriculture-based communities.
The preferential treatment status accorded to the Orang Asli in
Article 8(5)(c) of the Constitution should also be applied.
The right to affirmative action should be transformed into actual
programmes and opportunities. For example, positive discrimination in
economic projects affecting or involving Orang Asli traditional areas
(such as eco-tourism projects, trading in forest products and
alternative agriculture) as well as preferential status in business
opportunities, educational placings and job placements should be
Every encouragement and assistance should also be given to Orang Asli
efforts to uplift their economic position through their own
cooperatives, foundations or other such bodies.
The integration of Orang Asli with the mainstream national society
should be a natural process without any attempt to set artificial
targets or to apply dominant perceptions of what
Successful adaptation of the Orang Asli to new circumstances can best
be handled by the Orang Asli if they are encouraged to retain their
indigenous customs as this would enhance maintenance of their ethnic
identity and their stability as a productive unit.
Development efforts should be directed towards the Orang Asli, not
for the sake of achieving "integration" into the mainstream, but
simply because they are a community deserving such assistance.
Recognising that much of the social and economic decisions affecting
Orang Asli are situated in the political realm, Orang Asli
representation in politics should be increased. The sole seat in the
Senate reserved for Orang Asli is inadequate representation. There
should be provisions for representation in Parliament and the State
Assemblies as well. This can be done through elections in seats where
Orang Asli represent a sizeable section in the constituency, or
The Orang Asli community should not be more controlled than any other
community in the country. Doing so merely extends the perception that
the Orang Asli are wards of the government, incapable of leading
their own lives.
Regulations delegating traditional power to the authorities (such as
the appointment of headmen and the control of entry into Orang Asli
settlements) should be restored to the community. In general, Orang
Asli should be allowed to maintain the social order within their
community. And in all other matters affecting the Orang Asli, there
should be consultation and consensus-seeking by the parties
Responsibility for developing the Orang Asli should not be the sole
responsibility of the JHEOA. Instead a multi-agency approach should
be adopted, with a special Orang Asli unit set up in each of these
agencies to attend to the social and economic needs of the Orang
The JHEOA itself is to be revamped, with greater Orang Asli control
and involvement, and with greater powers to effect recommendations
and programmes. As a federal agency, the JHEOA should occupy itself
primarily with getting the respective states to grant permanent
tenure to Orang Asli lands.
The role of the JHEOA should also be restructured so that it acts as
a watchdog body to ensure that policies and programmes for the
advancement and wellbeing of the Orang Asli are implemented. Among
its other functions would be to look into Orang Asli grievances and
to resolve disputes with other agencies or non-Orang Asli.
The above policy reforms are not unworkable. Everything hinges on the
political priority accorded to the genuine advancement and wellbeing
of the Orang Asli. For example, much of the funds devoted to
the "spiritual development" of the Orang Asli - estimated at 20
million ringgit (US$5 million) over the past three years - could have
been better applied to more tangible developmental projects.
The call for Orang Asli to hold decision-making positions in the
JHEOA is also feasible as there are sufficient numbers of Orang Asli
today who are qualified to do so.
Orang Asli calls for security of tenure to their lands can also be
effected easily since most of the present settlements are being
occupied by Orang Asli and are not disputed by others. It is not as
if the Orang Asli are demanding new land areas to be gazetted as
Legally, too, there are provisions in the Federal Constitution to
regard the Orang Asli as a federal matter, allowing the authorities
to invoke this clause in the event of administrative obstacles faced
at state levels, especially in the area of land alienation.
In conclusion, it must be stressed that many of the policy reforms
suggested above involve no large additional financial cost; they
merely require a dose of political resolve - and more active
mobilization on the part of the Orang Asli.