DESPITE positive efforts to uplift their lifestyle and assimilate them into the mainstream of modern development, the orang asli community relocated to the urban neighbourhood of Desa Temuan in Damansara Perdana, Selangor, are feeling lost and uncertain of their future.
More worryingly is that there is an increasing number of orang asli youths turning to vices to seek solace and satisfaction.
The settlement of some 500 orang asli, who were the early original inhabitants of Petaling Jaya’s northern region, is nestled within the swathes of luxury condominiums and shopping complexes in Damansara Perdana.
They were relocated from the Orang Asli Reserve Land at Bukit Lanjan in 2002 to Desa Temuan, a 18ha development project comprising 147 bungalows and 130 apartments, under a resettlement package offered by developer MK Land.
The MK Land development has resulted in a massive transformation of the area’s landscape with the mushrooming of urban residential units and modern commercial blocks.
With such properties in the quaint neighbourhood, any outsider would have an impression that the orang asli are doing well in assimilating to the mainstream urban society but the truth is the opposite.
Desa Temuan Village Development and Security Committee (JKKK) secretary Rosli Mohd Arus is one of the few orang asli who dread the community’s bleak future.
“My biggest fear is that our future generations may one day end up as beggars,” Rosli said.
Back then, each family was given one bungalow and another double-storey terrace house at Desa Riang in Damansara Damai to be rented out. Eligible orang asli bachelors were given an apartment each.
Each household also received RM45,000 worth of shares in Amanah Saham Bumiputra, in addition to compensation for crops and allowances.
The Selangor state executive council had then approved an allocation of RM60.9mil for the development of this modern orang asli settlement. A further RM7.9mil was set aside for an education fund via the Orang Asli Affairs Department.
These funds form part of the contribution to be paid by the Emkay Group in return for the land alienated for development.
Almost a decade down the road, the orang asli find their ever-expanding families trapped in the bungalows, as well as a vicious cycle.
“14 children,” housewife Hapit Chat, 40, said when asked how large her family was.
In addition to that, 11 other people, including her grandchildren and her sister’s family, live in the four-room bungalow.
The living hall has only a torn sofa and a wardrobe exposing crumpled old shirts. The minimal furniture ironically makes it easier for the family to spread out mattresses for the children to sleep on at night. It was stuffy inside the house even though a downpour was imminent.
Asked how much compensation the family received when they first moved into the house, Hapit said: “I don’t remember.”
Asked how much was left, she said: “We spent everything a long time ago, the children needed to eat and my husband does not earn much working as a cleaner.”
Hapit’s family reflects the typical situation of most orang asli households in Desa Temuan.
The illiterate parents earn a combined income of about RM1,000 monthly as general workers. The children, even though given adequate education opportunities through various public and private programmes, are not keen on studying.
“In the old days, the child can just find a plot of land and build his house when he forms his own family. Now, where’s that land and how can he ever afford to buy a house in the city?” Rosli asked.
Trading the properties for smaller units is not an option because although they received the land titles four years back, they are not allowed to sell them to outsiders.
Having studied at a national school and worked in a government department for years, Rosli understands the challenges of the competitive age but concedes that most of his orang asli peers still hold on to the age-old mindsets and even lifestyle.
Alcohol is an intrinsic element of their lifestyle. In the morning, one can sometimes find drunk men sleeping in public areas.
It is learnt that quite a number of orang asli actually died from long-term consumption of cheap liquors.
The common perception that they are lackadaisical workers push them deeper into the trap as many employers shun them for their indiscipline.
Perhaps because they are never trained to manage money, most of them have spent all monetary aid they received and are struggling now to make ends meet.
JKKK chairman Kamaludin Ak Ismail pointed out that water and electricity supply to some families had been cut off as arrears accumulated.
“It’s all buy, buy and buy out there but money is what they lack most,” he said.
Adjacent to the bungalows, the apartments are derelict, reeking of mouldy mattresses. Many of the units are rented out to foreign workers and almost every one seems to be immune to the filth and stench.
The colourful temptation surrounding this little settlement makes the matter worse.
“Fashion, entertainment and enjoyment are just a few doors away.
“Where do you think the children turn to when they do not have money for that?” Rosli said.
That explains why thieving is so common among the youths that it has earned the settlement a notorious reputation among traders in the area.
According to Rosli, cases of drug abuse, alcohol abuse and sexual harassment, no thanks to the easy accessibility of pornographic materials, are also on the rise.
While the urban orang asli are being left behind in the progress of development, they have also failed to preserve their customs, except for the use of Temuan language, as well as the presence of tribal court and committee headed by the Tok Batin, their community leader.
Traditional Temuan ceremonies, dances, cuisine and even games are a thing of the past. Not many of the them know how to make traditional handicraft but one can still find them at the neighbourhood’s Temuan museum, where the lights have been out for several months.
Traditional medicine has long been forgotten as a result of the convenience provided by the public hospitals.
The tribe used to celebrate Hari Moyang, their New Year, but now every one has turned to join the New Year countdown crowd at The Curve shopping centre.
“With everyone worrying about money, where is the time for tradition?” Rosli said.
The JKKK, developer and Orang Asli Affairs Department have organised various programmes to empower the community but all have received lukewarm response.
“About 20 youths did vocational training at Mara institutions but as far as I know, only two of them are making use of what they learnt while the others shoved the certificate under their pillow,” he said.
There are also tuition classes but the children still perform badly academically.
“The biggest problem is that they still have the mentality of waiting for assistance, from the government or some other parties, but how long can that last if they themselves don’t want to change?” Rosli said.