GUA MUSANG: “We’re not fighting the Government for nothing,” asserts Jefri Berkut, a 46-year-old Temiar, pointing at photos of environmental destruction left by logging in the Balah forest reserve.
One photo shows an area strewn with broken branches.
“This is one of our grave sites,” Jefri said.
He pointed to other photos showing signs of destruction: felled trees, chasms and logs scattered along dusty roads carved into the countryside.
Then he showed shots of plants, roots and flowers, many that the Termiar use as medicine.
“We don’t see (many of) them anymore.
“We’re showing this to you; they have become memories,” he said.
The Temiar are indigenous to the peninsula and are one of the largest of the 18 orang asli groups in Malaysia. They claim they have been in Kelantan’s jungles for thousands of years.
Near his village of Kampung Bering, Manglo Tegau, 25, showed what he believes is proof of this claim.
In a cave protected by undergrowth are possibly prehistoric drawings. These are sketches of men, animals and there is one that appears to be a map of rivers.
“We don’t know what these are, just that they were drawn by our ancestors,” said Manglo.
The federal-run Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia shows that nearly half of the state – more than 623,000ha – is gazetted as permanent forest reserves.
The Forestry Department of Kelantan’s website shows that of the 623,849ha of reserve forests, 477,508ha of it is zoned as production forest, which means it can be logged.
Forestry consultant Lim Teck Wyn said forest reserves under the National Forestry Act 1984 were by default classified as timber production areas.
“Forest reserves ... automatically get classified for timber production unless the state makes it a special reserve for protection,” he said.
He added that many forest areas upstream of villages were not zoned as soil protection forests.
Those living in these villages, he said, would suffer from polluted water when logging took place and faced a bigger risk of floods because of added silt in the rivers.
There is no mention of indigenous people in this forestry law. Even wildlife gets only a single mention in it.
Both wildlife and the orang asli are managed by other government agencies, operating under different laws.
As Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) executive director Cynthia Gabriel told The Star earlier this month, logging in Kelantan is pushing the state and orang asli to an unsustainable point and that the state government’s method of awarding timber concessions lacks transparency and is prone to corruption.
According to Minority Rights Group International, unlike the indigenous people in Sabah and Sarawak, the orang asli in the peninsula have less legal protection under the 1954 Aboriginal Peoples Act, which is considered to be inadequate in protecting the orang asli, especially on issues of land usage and ownership.