Thursday, March 16, 2017

The politics of xenophobia (or the short happy life of a dog named Senget)...

This is the tale of an odd-looking little dog I rescued from the street early in 2010...

I saw this rat-like creature running on spindly legs after a motorbike. A few moments later it was chasing a 4-wheel drive in the opposite direction. It must have got separated from its siblings and mother, I thought. So I picked the critter up and took him out of harm's way, intending to investigate where he came from and return him to his family.

Prudence, one of the Magick River bitches, had just given birth to eight healthy pups - actually seven, as she slept on one of them overnight and the poor thing suffocated. The spindly-legged mutt was about the same size as Prudence's own pups even though his features looked more mature. Prudence herself had been rescued a year earlier from Kuala Kubu Bharu where I'd spotted her with a noose around her neck, being dragged along the road by a fireman. I stopped and asked why he was using a noose on a puppy and he explained that the dog was pissing inside the fire station, so he had to drag her as far away as possible before releasing her. The noose on a stick was improvised so he could handle the mutt without touching her.

Two of my dogs had recently been murdered by some drunken Orang Asli, so I decided to adopt this street urchin who looked like a Prudence to me. Roger was delighted to welcome her into the menagerie and treated her like a princess, constantly grooming her. Anyway, as it turned out, Roger didn't get to deflower Prudence. Mary's macho dog Baggins got in first.

And now, Prudence had her full quota of eight pups again. After rejecting the newcomer initially, she relented and allowed him to join the other pups whenever they suckled. A few days later the foundling appeared sufficiently well-fed, so I took him over to a neighbor's house where a few spindly-legged pups had been spotted. It was obvious that the runaway had been part of that litter. However, the neighbor vehemently denied that the pup belonged to her. Looking at the four other pups under her house, it was impossible not to conclude they were from the same mother. Yet, this woman was telling me an outright lie without flinching.

Sad to say, there are lots of people who tell lies as a matter of course. It's a survival mechanism young children acquire to avoid punishment or deflect responsibility. Those who become compulsive liars often believe their own lies, once the tendency becomes ingrained in the chromosomes. Hence we have to deal with entire communities of congenital liars who assume everybody else also lies, and that's it's perfectly okay to lie. When their own tribal chiefs are in the habit of lying their way out of tight spots, honesty becomes an extremely rare commodity. But I digress.

After asking around and getting no satisfactory leads, it became obvious that we were stuck with the little foundling. He adapted fast to his new reality and soon charmed his way into Mary's heart and onto her veranda and furniture. She named him Senget ("slanting" in Malay) because he had a habit of looking at people with one ear up and the other down.

While Senget was happily romping with the other pups, the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (now renamed Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli or JAKOA, in line with Barisan Nasional's policy of sneakily acquiring control of all Orang Asli Reserve Lands) was working overtime doing what they do best...

In April 2010 JAKOA had been busy campaigning on behalf of the Barisan Nasional (anyone who feels government agencies should be politically neutral might wish to consider migrating - unless we succeed in forcibly removing these deadbeats from the catbird seat they've occupied for 60 years through an electoral force majeure). They had arranged for Umno members and pro-Umno NGOs to encamp themselves for nearly a whole week in Pertak Village just prior to the 25 April by-election.

During the campaign period JAKOA was acutely irked by the fact that a couple of houses at the far end of the village were proudly displaying Pakatan Rakyat insignia.

Traditionally, all Orang Asli communities could be counted upon to vote Barisan Nasional - they really were given no choice, since JAKOA officials physically escort them to their voting booths - and pay them a cash incentive in two instalments - one before casting their ballot, another afterwards, provided they voted "correctly."

The Batin or Headman of Pertak Village was incensed that this time around the Barisan Nasional had totally bypassed him and handed at least RM7,000 to one of the junior village officials under the JAKOA's tutelage. The money was supposed to be distributed amongst 70 registered voters to reward their voting for the political status quo. There could have been an extra RM1,000 to buy his personal loyalty and support. However, the guy decided to keep mum and pocket all the cash - and that's what infuriated the Headman, not the fact that serious corruption was involved. RM100 can buy quite a few bottles of unbranded whiskey.

Barisan Nasional won this by-election (by hook and by crook) and that's when JAKOA began plotting to pull out as many thorns from its side as possible. They filed a report to Selangor JAKOA complaining that "outsiders" were influencing the Orang Asli against the government. Some of these "outsiders" had actually embedded themselves within Pertak Village by renting a few empty houses from Orang Asli families.

I got wind of this (and a rather stinky wind it was too) when a Special Branch officer called me, politely inviting me to have a friendly chat with him and his colleagues. From this I learnt that JAKOA had been unhappy about the presence of large numbers of "outsiders" in what they continue to view as their fiefdom. Apart from the anti-BN campaigners during the by-election, they also disapproved of the constant stream of "Mat Sallehs" arriving and departing from Magick River.

JAKOA were referring specifically to the Love Bus, who represent all the positive human qualities they themselves desperately lack. The Love Bus phenomenon is, in effect, part of the manifestation of Heaven on Earth - and this really scares all those who have been programmed to serve as mindless agents of Hell on Earth (any reality where you can get thrown in jail for 20 years for eating pussy, sucking dick, or lubricating your butthole- and risk getting caned for knocking back a couple of beers or getting clobbered to death in police custody for being dark-skinned - is undoubtedly Hell on Earth).

That's right. It's really all about marking one's territory and protecting one's own culture from deleterious western influences, isn't it? Every redneck rabble-rouser knows how to scare his rustic audiences into fearing the pendatang (immigrant) bogeyman. What JAKOA has been systematically doing over the last 60 and specifically over the last 30 years is to encourage the new generation of Orang Asli to think and feel and react like pathologically insecure and aggressively territorial Umno Malays.

The embracing Islam bit is difficult to pull off as no Orang Asli will ever give up eating the flesh of recently killed wild boar. Nor are the menfolk likely to become teetotalers. Indeed, alcoholism has taken a turn for the worse since one of the villagers began selling cheap plonk at RM3 a bottle. In the old days, they had to go all the way to town (8 miles away) to replenish their supply. Now they can score another round of brain-pickling brew just by staggering a few yards up the road.

This is the generation of Orang Asli that grew up being entertained by TV3 and RTM instead of listening in rapture to grandmother and grandfather's stories. All the young ones now own cellphones and motorbikes; a few drive secondhand Proton Wiras, Nissans, and even Pajeros (if they happen to have worked in JAKOA and acquired the art of pocketing commissions from loggers and developers).

Long story short, JAKOA instigated a small cabal of Orang Asli in their mid-30s into putting pressure on my brother-in-law Ali to terminate the rental agreement that had existed since 2003 with friends from KL who appreciated access to an idyllic weekend retreat. They also browbeat another family into not accepting rent from a Canadian musician who had been using one of the houses as a Southeast Asian base for a couple of years. The families were informed that these houses belonged to the government - and the Orang Asli required clearance from JAKOA if they wished to sublease their homes to anybody. Complete crap, of course, since the Orang Asli have been issued 99-year leases on their homes and they are at liberty to sublease any houses they don't actually occupy.

Anoora Chapek with Colette Paterson, who was part of the Love Bus
The upshot of this sudden surge of xenophobia and unfriendliness towards orang asing (literally, "aliens") was that the house next to mine was handed over by the JAKOA to Wati - a single mother who reportedly converted to Islam a few years ago. I've known this woman since she was 13 years old and she has always been friendly and sweet-natured. However, she met an Orang Asli guy named Man from a different village about a year ago and he moved in with her. They now have several kids and two houses in the same village. I didn't know Man was a Muslim convert till I saw his wife and even their young daughters wearing hijabs.

Within hours of becoming our neighbors, Man began to cause ill feeling. Every time any of our dogs barked at him, he would confront them with maximum aggression rather than attempt to befriend them. Orang Asli are used to dogs. They have kept dogs for thousands of years. Surely they know that dogs react to body language. If they show no fear and send out friendly vibes, the mutts will immediately regard them as persona grata. Whipping out a can of insect spray and blasting the vile poison in the dogs' faces is certainly no way to establish good relations with one's new neighbors.

One morning I heard a loud yelping and as I went out to investigate I saw Senget running away with an intensely traumatized look on his face. Man was holding a catapult, his face contorted by unmitigated hate.

"Why did you shoot the dog?" I asked and he gestured towards a small tree he had just planted in the front garden. "The dog was disturbing the plant," he muttered. Well, there was no plant in that spot the day before, so how would any of the dogs know to avoid running into the tiny tree? He could have put a low fence around the seedling to protect it, which is what anyone with a functional brain would do. I shook my head in utter disbelief that this guy could be so dumb. It seemed as if he was going out of his way to be a hostile neighbor. This had never happened in the village in all the years I had lived here.

A few hours later my wife announced that Senget had died. I found him rigid beneath a clump of banana trees. His tiny body was already in an advanced state of rigor mortis. We found no visible wounds on his body, so Man must have aimed for his head and released the stone from his catapult with such unrestrained violence the dog suffered brain hemorrhage and collapsed. Senget was buried just before dusk. I felt angry and sad that he had been so cruelly punished for doing what any young dog would do. We discussed the possibility that Senget might have been a nature spirit in a dog's body. When Mary saw Man walk past the next day, she asked if he knew he had killed our dog, and he just turned his head away without answering. He has avoided looking us in the eye since. His wife informed me she had scolded him for being such an unthinking hothead.

Not much good that did. In the following weeks Man persisted in antagonizing my mutts by coming home tipsy late at night; waking me up with his bushcutter on a Sunday morning, and conspicuously leaving a tiny clump of grass uncut just because it was growing a couple of feet on our side of the garden; and, saddest of all, advertising his poor choice of role models by sporting a Barisan Nasional T-shirt. [As fate would have it, our Neighbor from Hell was forced to move out less than a year later - after he attempted to rape my wife's 11-year-old niece.]

All this negative energy that has been injected into what used to be a fairly contented and peaceful village can be felt throughout the entire country. The insidious pall of dark energy became a tangible sense of evil in early 2009, when an innocent 20-year-old named A. Kugan was pummeled to death in police custody and the entire government went into overdrive to cover up the atrocity. Nothing has been resolved.

Within weeks a popularly elected state government in Perak was toppled by utterly devious means (with royal connivance); and on April 3rd, a pink-lipped crime minister and his ruthlessly ambitious wife were foisted upon us by 191 Umno division chiefs (again with royal acquiescence). Three months after that, a 30-year-old political secretary named Teoh Beng Hock was found dead outside the Selangor headquarters of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission after a totally unjustifiable late-night interrogation over a RM2,400 accounting discrepancy. Nearly eight years later, nothing has been resolved either. The MACC officers who "interrogated" Beng Hock to death weren't even sacked. Indeed, their leader was transferred to another state and promoted!

Indeed, if you consider the unfortunate turn of events that have befallen this country since 20 October 2006, you're likely to conclude that the ghost of a brutally murdered Mongolian woman will not rest until she sees justice done - and that won't happen till all the thieves and murderers are removed from public office- and all the bigots too.

Thanks for the fond memories, dear Senget.

[First published in September 2010, reposted 4 August 2013]