Saturday, June 26, 2010

Orang Asli-- The true Bumi Putra!

Taman Negara National Park marked a lot of firsts for me. It was my first time jungle trekking, my first time canopy-walking, and definitely my first time swimming in a mini-waterfall in the middle of the jungle. Meeting with the Orang Asli was another unforgettable first. The Orang Asli are the aboriginal people of Malaysia and have inabited this land for hundreds of years. They live semi-nomadic lifestyles based on subsistence slash-and-burn agriculture. They urrently face significant land pressures as well as pressures by the Malaysian government to Islamize and assimilate into the Malay population. Most of these groups prefer to hold on to their culture. Our group arrived in boats at the Batek settlement. About twelve families in total lived in the settlement. Their homes were simple, made out of dried leaves and canvas. By most people's standards, they live in poverty. They earn some money from tourists like us who come by, intrigued by their lifestyle. But in my opinion, they seem happy. First they demonstrated to us how they start fire using the friction from vine and wood. They then gave us a demonstration on how they made darts that they use to kill animals for food. They also let us take a shot at using the blow darts. I personally was most intrigued by the children that ran around the settlement. Some were dressed in old clothes, others were half-dressed, one was not at all dressed, running around unabashed, stark naked in front of all the tourists. It was almost like a scene from a national geographic magazine. I kept trying to take pictures of the children. One of them, who was playing with his friends, realized this and turn around and stuck his tongue out at me just as I was taking the picture. I could not stop laughing. We then began to play a game. Every time I tried to take a picture of the kids, they ran and hid behind a tree. This game went on for quite a while, and I was not getting bored of it. One of the boys wore bright blue pants and had a smile from ear to ear that would make anyone's heart melt. He pretended to be shy, but secretly, I think he liked getting his picture taken. I finally went up to the children and I showed them their pictures. I am not sure if they had ever seen a picture of themselves, but they giggled and agreed to have their picture taken with me. Finally, I snapped a great one of them. I will never forget this experience.

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