Orang asli man pens tribal tales

PETALING JAYA: The exploits of the wily mousedeer Sang Kancil is a familiar story to many children. But for the Semai tribe orang asli children, it is the exploits of a nine-year-old Semai boy named Yeok Luat and his dog Cooq Leek that have held them captive.

These stories, often told by household heads after dinner around a fireplace in the open surrounded by jungle, are filled with adventure, tradition and moral and living skills lessons.

However, with the influence of television and social media, the children have stopped coming out and listening to the stories.

Bah Saluji a/l Yeok So Alu is concerned that the tradition would be lost. For this reason, he began to compile the stories in the book Nenek Dengan Yeok Luat for the children. It took over a year for the 24-year-old to complete the book written and illustrated by him.

The book tells of how the orang asli live. How they use the blowpipe, collect honey, climb trees to pluck fruits, fish, plant vegetables and build a house.

“As kids, we gathered at the fireplace (unggun api) outside our houses. My father, grandfather or uncles would take turns to tell a story on different days.

Tribal writer: Saluji with his book ‘Nenek dengan Yeok Luat’ published in Malay and Chinese at the Shah Alam National Botanic Park.
Tribal writer: Saluji with his book ‘Nenek dengan Yeok Luat’ published in Malay and Chinese at the Shah Alam National Botanic Park.

“The stories also teach the young how they should behave and respect people,” said Saluji, from Kg Orang Asli Ulu Penderas, Slim River, Perak. The village is located 70km from Tanjung Malim, Perak.

“We don’t kill or eat other people,” he said in jest, in response to some urban folk who think they are into cannibalism.

The book has been published in Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese by Bridge Communi­cation, and is promoted by Malaysian Care.

It will be launched at the Selangor International Indigenous Arts Festival 2018 (Aug 4 to 5) by the Raja Muda of Selangor, Tengku Amir Shah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.

Saluji hope the book would encourage the orang asli to rediscover their roots and stir the interest of non-orang asli children to appreciate the orang asli culture.

The third child of five boys, he likes drawing and painting, and has been doing it since he was eight.

“A friend and I used to compete in drawing manga such as from Dragon Ball and Naruto,” said Saluji who is doing a five-month course in graphic designing at a private college.

He added that he started to learn painting seriously in Form 5 through a teacher called Cikgu Zainol, whom he thanked for nurturing his interest in drawing.

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