Ben van Wijnen
Ben van Wijnen
The name "Orang Asli" means "original people" or "first people". They all live on the Peninsular of Malaysia. Nowadays there about 60.000 Orang Asli people, of which 60% still live in the rain forest. About 40% Orang Asli live along or near the coast. Each has its own language and culture, and perceives itself as different from the others. Linguistically, some of the northern Orang Asli groups speak languages, that suggest a historical link with the indigenous peoples in Burma, Thailand and Indo-China.
They are classified into three groups:
- Orang Malayu Asli
As I said, there's a lot of difference between those groups. The name "Negrito" suggest, that these people come from Papua New Guinea or East Africa. They also have dark-skinned and frizzy-hair. Other groups of the Orang Asli are more light-skinned and have straight hair.
The Negrito's live in the North and North East of the Peninsular and mostly they live in the jungle. They are the semi-nomadic tribes of the Orang Asli. Only a few of them also live in urban areas and are engaged in both waged and salaried jobs.
It is thought that the Negrito's arrived in Malaya 8,000 years ago. Their forefathers were also hunters and gatherers who lived in caves and rock shelters. They knew the use of fire and cooked their food with the aid of crude instruments made from stone. They hunt for food and gather fruits as well as forest products for medical use.
Many Senoi live in the Cameron Highlands. They just look like a real Malaysians, although the dark ones look like Negrito's. Originally they must have come from the hills in Vietnam, Cambodia or Northern Thailand, about 6000 - 8000 years ago
In the highlands the Senoi live as wage-earners, working on the highland tea estates. Others you can see in the streets of Kuala Lumpur in jeans and a T-shirt. They have obtained jobs as varied as government employees and taxi drivers
When you have left the highway you'll see a sign with "Orang Asli" village on it.
Fear of the spirits of dead ancestors and hunted animals is very strong amongst them, and it is an unwritten law that all animals caught, in the forest should suffer no pain.
The Orang Asli live in small tribes in the jungle. The tribe we visited had about 10 houses. They were made from leaves (te roof) and the floor was made of wood. They didn't live far from the river. They always remain living in a place, untill something happens, like a death or severe illness. Then they move to another place. The chief, every tribe has one, decides whether they will move. Building a house takes about two or three hours.
The government built for the tribe we visited long wooden houses. They lived a few days in it and then they decided to move back into the jungle. They never returned to their government houses.
You can read the site of our visit at: Taman Negara.