Tribe’s livelihood affected by land reclamation works

Sabri and Haliza cleaning their catch at their house in Kampung Bakar Batu Perling.

JOHOR BARU: Celebrating Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the last thing the Orang Seletar or Orang Laut tribe in Kampung Bakar Batu Perling want to think about now.

“If we have money, we can celebrate Hari Raya every day,’’ said fisherman Sabri Kutang, 22.

Sabri and his wife Haliza Raja Mohd Hatta, 20, earn about RM200 a month fishing in waters off the village fronting a multibillion ringgit waterfront development project about 2km from the village.

There are about 300 Orang Seletar in Kampung Bakar Batu Perling and they make their living fishing.

“Our catches have been dwindling since the land reclamation works started about 15 years ago,’’ said Sabri.

He said sometimes he has to travel about 31km to Telok Jawa, Permas Jaya or 78.7km to Telok Sengat in Kota Tinggi to fish as marine life in those two places was still bountiful.

Daud Kancil, 31, said the land reclamation damaged mangroves and river banks, the sanctuary of ketam bangkang (mangrove mud crabs) and freshwater prawns.

“We rarely go out to fish unlike in the past, and instead collect scrap metal, cardboard boxes or metal cans to sell,’’ he said.

Widow Aznah Yusop, 61, said she and her mother Manis Sulong, 79, depended on a RM200 monthly aid from the Johor Welfare Department.

“We can hardly make ends meet with the money, and prices of basic items are high.

“I help to clean mussels for RM2 per kg but then mussels are also hard to find now,’’ she said.

For hundreds of years, these sea nomads lived on traditional longboats known as perahu pekajang. The boats were their homes and they only came ashore to bury their dead.

In the 1960s, the Orang Asli Affairs Department relocated them permanently to villages set up specially for them in several parts of Johor.

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