Thursday, January 29, 2015

Winning Orang Asli Votes...


Just before the by-election of April 2010 I received an email from the political secretary of one of the candidates asking me for suggestions on how to effectively campaign among the Orang Asli of Ulu Selangor. I was happy to provide an overview of how things stand with my indigenous kinfolk from the perspective of someone free of tribal imprints. The following is extracted from my email response...

Siama anak Penengah (died 2012)
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to delineate the key issues confronting the Orang Asli in general - and the Temuan community of Ulu Selangor in particular.

1. As with all indigenous peoples the most crucial issue is permanency of tenure on their ancestral lands. Without a sense of belonging to their tanah pesaka (customary lands), Orang Asli tend to become dispirited (and seek to numb themselves with spirits out of a bottle). An important case in point is Kampung Pertak, situated within a few kilometers of Gunung Raja, their sacred mountain which they call Pusat Negeri. In February 1965 the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli and the Selangor state government approved for gazetting as a permanent Orang Asli Reserve close to 300 hectares of forest reserve, stretching from Gunung Raja to Sungai Luit which flows beside the present Kampung Pertak.

However, in 2004 the Land Office issued 99-year leases on an individual basis to the residents of Kg Pertak, effectively denying their claim to their tanah pesaka, and reducing their land holdings to a tiny fraction of what was promised them 45 years ago. [Dr Colin Nicholas of the Center for Orang Asli Concerns can supply you with the documentation for this.] Other Temuan settlements in Ulu Selangor are faced with different problems: those in Kg Tun Abdul Razak and Gerachi Jaya, for example, have been living in fear of being displaced by developers working in cahoots with the JHEOA and the Land Office. Kg Orang Asli Kolam Air, KKB, still has no electricity supply even though it is located less than half a kilometer from the nearest power line.

Amran @ Kuku
2. The feudalistic and patronizing attitude of the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (JHEOA) has effectively infantilized the Orang Asli, keeping them timid, intimidated and unsure of their rights. In Kg Pertak, for instance, the Batin doesn't have the authority to convene a majlis (village council) - only the JHEOA can call a meeting in the village. After 56 years the JHEOA apparently has only three agendas: (i) forcing the Orang Asli to abandon their traditional ways by systematically destroying their forest habitat; (ii) cajoling them and offering them material incentives to embrace Islam; (iii) ensuring that the Orang Asli remain powerless and lacking in self-confidence so that the JHEOA can justify its continued existence.

What the Orang Asli urgently need are representatives in parliament and non-governmental agencies who can articulate their desires, bypassing the heavy-handed, short-sighted and self-serving JHEOA. Sincere and independent NGOs like COAC are underfunded and understaffed - but with regular funding and more staff they can do a far more effective job of bridging the gulf between the Orang Asli and the bureaucracy.

Koi
3. On several occasions I have helped Orang Asli widows, accident cases and the elderly to apply for financial support from the Welfare Department (Pejabat Kebajikan). In every instance I have been disgusted by the snail's pace at which the Welfare Dept staff operate. Sometimes it takes more than six months from the date of application for financial aid to be granted. Such a lackadaisical attitude cannot be tolerated as it can mean the difference between life and death for some Orang Asli.

What is urgently required is a special fund set up for the Orang Asli at the district level which can be used to provide immediate financial aid to those who cannot fend for themselves owing to unforeseen circumstances, e.g., accidents, ill health, old age, loss of family breadwinner. Red tape needs to be minimalized so the Orang Asli are not daunted by the process of requesting aid. This fund can also be utilized to help enterprising Orang Asli set up food stalls or build riverside chalets, so they can learn how to do business on a modest scale and remain their own bosses.


4. Before the construction of the Selangor Dam, a few Temuan from Kg Gerachi and Kg Pertak were earning good money working as river guides with whitewater rafting companies. Regular contact with tourists has made these Temuan conversant to a degree in English and their natural aptitude for the sport has given them a big boost in self-esteem. Unfortunately, the dam has severely impacted on the water level of the river, making whitewater rafting almost impossible. The Temuan river guides have repeatedly sought the cooperation of Splash Sdn Bhd (the dam operator) to release water every time they have rafting clients - but I'm told that Splash has simply ignored their petition. This is one instance where the JHEOA ought to take up their cause and negotiate with Splash, but the Orang Asli have long learnt not to bother asking for help from the JHEOA (whose officers tend to be malas and tidak peduli, unless there's money to be made, as in logging commissions).

Sibin Aus (died 2011)
5. After living among the Temuan for 21 years, it has become obvious to me that the Orang Asli would swiftly regain their self-esteem if given the opportunity to excel in what they naturally do with ease, viz., "right-brained" activities like sports and the arts. I doubt the existing school curricula can encourage and foster such talents. What might be effective are informal programs to stimulate and inspire the youngsters on several fronts: (i) helping them access the Internet, thereby improving their language skills and exposing them to a far wider world of possibilities; (ii) providing them access to arts workshops (music, dance, acting, woodcarving, painting, and so on); and (iii) granting scholarships and sponsorships to Orang Asli kids who show promise in athletics and cultural activities.

A viable long-term project would be to fund individuals and NGOs who can set up regular learn-while-you-play programs in various villages to broaden the outlook and increase the knowledge pool among the youth (who tend to get into mischief when they are bored).

Apin
Recently I met a few Temuan in their mid-20s from Bukit Lanjan and other settlements around Selangor who impressed me with their excellent grasp of English and their facility with digital tech (they have their own websites and blogs and have been shooting and editing their own documentaries). At the same time these new generation Temuan displayed great pride in their own mythic traditions and have published books and comics in their own Temuan language. These are the way-showers and bridge-builders between the past and the future who will lead their people to a new era of self-respect and self-determination, free from the suffocating clutches of the JHEOA.

Warmly wishing you every success in the upcoming by-election,
Antares

~^@^~

Note: Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (JHEOA) was renamed Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli (JAKOA) in November 2010 - but apart from the change of logo, very little else has (apart from the disturbing fact that JAKOA appears to be working closely with Jakim to embed Muslim missionaries in every Orang Asli community).




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