HULU TERENGGANU: “Uninvited guests” from the Bateq tribe from Kampung Kuala Koh, Gua Musang, saw over 150 villagers of the Semaq Beri tribe leaving their homes in Sungai Berua here since two weeks ago.
A check at Kampung Gerdong, which was the temporary settlement site of the Semaq Beri tribe, found nearly 26 camps and huts being built in the village.
Ibrahim Awang, who is the Semaq Beri tribe headman, said the villagers left in stages after realising the presence of several Orang Asli from Kuala Koh.
He said they were informed that the Bateq tribe ran away from a mysterious illness that hit their community, resulting in many deaths.
“First, two of them came, then more from their tribe arrived in our area.
“We thought they wanted to get treatment from the health clinic here but after some time, some started to fall sick.
“I did not want our tribe to get affected which is why we decided to move out to a new place. Everyone of us here in this village has family ties and live like a big family together,” he said.
Ibrahim, 75, said they would only return if the situation was safe.
Recently, a crisis has hit the Bateq people in Kampung Kuala Koh which saw the death of 14 villagers under mysterious circumstances over a period of one month.
The cause has yet to be ascertained by the authorities.
The victims are said to be suffering from breathing difficulties, which led to a suspected pneumonia outbreak.
The Terengganu Orang Asli Affairs Department estimated about 600 people residing at the Sungai Berua Orang Asli village with 109 households.
The settlement of the Semaq Beri tribe, known as the “people of the jungle”, started 35 years ago when they shifted from Kenyir Lake, following the water plant construction and the development there.
According to Ibrahim, as a practice, Semaq Beri tribe parents would hunt in the forest, leaving their children at home.
But since the cause of the illness remains a question mark, parents are taking their children along with them.
Hulu Terengganu MP Datuk Rosol Wahid, who met several Semaq Beri tribe households at the temporary settlement in Kampung Gerdong, urged them to return so that their children could continue to attend school and undergo better health treatment.
“I know it is their lifestyle to move from one place to another, but it has a poor impact on their children.
“Some of them have promised to return to Sungai Berua in a few days. So far, there are no health cases,” he said.
A Semaq Beri tribe member, Samad Kelapa, in his 40s, said he would stay in the Kampung Gerdong forest area for a few days to ensure no health issues arise.
“I will take this opportunity to collect rattan to be sold.
“Although we live a nomadic lifestyle, I care for my children’s education,” he said, adding that one of his children served as an example to others for his cleanliness and attendance in school.
SK Sungai Berua headmaster Suhaimi Abdul Latif said every time the tribe moves, most of their children are left out from school.
“We are forced to track them down at their new settlements and persuade the parents to send them back to school.
“The total number of pupils is 104 but now, it has dropped to about 30 pupils,” he said. — Bernama