1. A Very Brief Introduction to
Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia:
Dr. Mark McGinley
Honors College and Department of
Texas Tech University
2. Orang Asli
• “original people” in Malay
• Indigenous people of Peninsular Malaysia
– 18 Orang Asli tribes
– 3 main groups
Semang (Negrito)- northern Peninsula
Senoi- central region
Proto-Malay- southern region
3. Orang Asli
• Linguistically, some of
the northern Orang Asli
groups speak languages
that suggest a historical
link with the indigenous
peoples in Burma,
Thailand and IndoChina.
• Negrito group was
thought to be the first
to arrive in the
Photo from 1905
4. Orang Asli
• 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.
5. Orang Asli Lifestyle
• Lifestyle varied with
ecology of their
• Hunted small
collected plant food
in the rainforest
6. Orang Laut
• Orang Laut depended
on the sea
7. Orang Asli
• 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 CE
8. Orang Asli and Malays
• Orang Asli living in remote forest areas 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
• The rise of the Malay sultanates, coinciding with
trade in Orang Asli slaves, forced the group to
retreat further inland to avoid contact with
9. Orang Asli and Slavery
• Slave raids into Orang Asli settlements were quite common
feature back in the 18th and 19th centuries.
• These slave-raiders were mainly local Malays and Bataks,
who considered the Orang Asli as ‘kafirs’, ‘non-humans’,
‘savages’ and ‘jungle-beasts.’
– The modus operandi was basically to swoop down a settlement
and then kill off all the adult men.
– Women and children were captured alive as they are ‘easier to
– The captives Orang Asli slaves were sold off or given to local
rulers and chieftains to gain their favor. Slaves trade soon
developed and even continued into the present century despite
the official abolition of all forms of slavery in 1884.
10. Orang Asli and the British
• The arrival of British colonists brought further
inroads in the lives of Orang Asli. They were
the target of Christian missionary and subjects
of anthropological research.
11. Orang Asli and Malayan Emergency
• After World War II Chinese
Communists who had been
fighting against the Japanese
took to the jungle to fight
against the British.
• Communists used Orang Asli
as forest guides.
• Government recognized that
they needed to prevent Orang
Asli from working with
Communists so they began
forced resettlement and
recruitment of Orang Asli into
12. Orang Asli and Malayan Emergency
• Bombs dropped on
communist rebels in
the rainforests had
damaging effects on
• The perceived nomadic lifestyle of those in the interior
areas, posed a problem to the security forces in their
effort to maintain surveillance over their activities and
• 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 mid1970s when communist
insurgents revived their war with
the government efforts were
made by the JHEOA to persuade
village headmen to heed the call
• 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
• The decision to accept
in a particular location
meant that the
resource base of the
Orang Asli, as far as
concerned, were now
restricted to a rather
• 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
– 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 subsistence materials.
• Lately, 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.
18. Aboriginal Peoples Act
• The Emergency led to the creation of the
Department of Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA) and
the passing of the Aboriginal Peoples Act
19. Aboriginal Peoples Act
• 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. 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.
20. Aboriginal Peoples Act
• 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.
21. Aboriginal Peoples Act
• The Aboriginal Peoples Act laid down certain
ground rules for the treatment of Orang Asli and
• 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.
22. Orang Asli Today
• The Orang Asli comprise only 0.5% of the total population in
Malaysia. Their population is approximately 148,000.
• The largest group are the Senois, constituting about 54% of the
total Orang Asli population. The Proto-Malays form 43%, and the
Semang forming 3%.
• The poverty rate among Orang Asli is 76.9%. In addition to this high
rate, the Statistics Department of Malaysia has classified 35.2% of
the population as being "hardcore poor".
• The majority of Orang Asli live in rural areas, while a minority have
moved into urban areas. In 1991, the literacy rate for the Orang Asli
was 43% compared to the national rate of 86% at that time.
• They have an average life expectancy of 53 years (52 for male and
54 for female).
23. Orang Asli in Tama Negara
• Today, about 500 Orang
Asli live in the national
park at any one time.
• Their typical camp usually
comprises 10 to 30 family
members living in
temporary shelter made
from natural vegetation.
• The settlement area
located near rivers and
structures are not sturdy
as they are only needed
for a few month before the
communities moves on.
24. Orang Asli Village in Taman Negara
25. Orang Asli Village in Taman Negara
26. Orang Asli in Taman Negara
• Contact with the outside is limited, although the
Batek sell some forest products like rattan and
wild honey, which they adept at collecting.
• They also collected and eat many forest fruits and
plants such as durian, cempedak, mangosteen,
rambutan and petai, and may sell any excess.
• The men hunt and share the spoils while the
women fish and collect forest fruits and
27. Orang Asli in Taman Negara
• Traps and nets are occasionally used to snare
small games. Meals are supplemented with
fish, tortoise, jungle fruits and yams from the
forest and products like rice bought from
outside. Traditionally most food was cooked in
bamboo, grilled or boiled although now metal
pots supplement this.
28. Orang Asli in Taman Negara
• The Orang Asli are renowned for
their hunting prowess. The Batek
believe animal living above the
ground are clean so they hunt
those living in trees such as birds,
squirrels and monkeys. Originally
the Orang Asli used bows and
arrows but early this century they
converted to blowpipes.
• Today, they still use 1.5metre
bamboo blowpipes and
poisonous darts to hunt on daily
– Darts are dipped in the
poisonous sap of the Ipoh
Tree (Antaris toxicaria).
29. Making Dart
30. Starting a Fire
31. Orang Asli Village in Taman Negara
32. Orang Asli in Taman Negara
33. Indigenous Rights Movement
Indigenous peoples over the years, especially in the recent 53 years, have been victims of the
government’s failure to recognize the following:
Recognition of ancestral and traditional lands and territories:
– these land areas are not delineated and marked as protected lands of indigenous
peoples. These lands, in fact, have been subject to land invasion by the government and
corporations without consulting tribal leaders.
Right to self-governance and right to practice indigenous/tribal laws:
– Indigenous peoples are not given the right to practice their own indigenous/tribal laws
and are forced to be part of the “mainstream”.
Right to self-determination:
– Indigenous peoples are constantly the victims of development plans which only serve to
profit corporations and only enrich the capitalist class. Leaving the indigenous peoples
bereft of their land and their resources.
Right to access and manage their own natural resources within their ancestral domain:
– Indigenous peoples are often robbed of their own resources within their ancestral
domain and are denied access to sustainably manage their resources.
Right to their history and cultural heritage:
– Due to the increasing marginalization and forced evictions due to land invasion and land
grabbing, the indigenous peoples are under the threat of losing their history and cultural
34. Orang Asli- The Future
• This short article by a professor from La Trobe
University in Australia does a good job raising
some of the issues facing the Orang Asli today.
35. Other Interesting Sources
• The Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia.
– Colin Nicholas http://www.magickriver.net/oa.htm