SUBANG JAYA: People should recognise and respect the religion and culture of the Orang Asli and not try to assimilate them into the cultural and religious norms of other societies, says Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P. Waytha Moorthy.
He said there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the indigenous community and the perception is that the Orang Asli do not have a religion.
“I think we Malaysians and politicians as well are generally ignorant of the fact that the Orang Asli actually do have a religion.
“Their religion is the religion of spirituality, they have good moral values, respect for nature and nature is their faith.
“So I think that we should educate not just Malaysians but also politicians that these people do have a religion,” he told reporters after a roundtable dialogue on Orang Asli children and schooling here yesterday.
It was organised by Taylor’s University School of Education, Universiti Malaya’s Department of Anthropology and Sociology and Deep Network (Dialogue, Empathic, Engagement and Peacebuilding) Malaysia.
Waytha Moorthy said that in his visits to Orang Asli villages, many of them have told him that parents are reluctant to send their children to school because they feel their children are subtly being assimilated into the mainstream cultures.
“This is a sensitive matter that should be addressed very carefully so that whatever we are trying to do is not misunderstood. But surely, assimilating Orang Asli is not part of this current government’s agenda,” he said.
Earlier during the roundtable, Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) director-general Dr Juli Edo said assimilation among orang asli school children has been seen as early as at pre-school levels through the Kemas (Community Development Department) kindergartens in some areas.
“This is among the reasons why there are school dropouts among the Orang Asli.
“There is no problem with integration. Assimilation is a problem and parents are concerned that their children will become someone else (who forgets their Orang Asli roots).“Also there is the sense of ethnocentrism, as some people believe that the Orang Asli have no religion. But they do, it is just not recognised,” he added.
Centre for Orang Asli Concerns executive director Dr Colin Nicholas said not all Kemas schools are bad. However, some teachers felt that it was their duty to assimilate the children into the Malay culture.
“There is no policy (to convert Orang Asli to Islam). But in reality, some teachers take it upon themselves that this is their duty to do so,” he added.
Suria Selasih Angit, who is an assistant professor at the University of Nottingham Malaysia and has been working with teachers and students, said there is a big misunderstanding about Orang Asli culture, especially among teachers.
“I have met dedicated and not so dedicated teachers. But even among the dedicated teachers, they have a certain way of viewing the Orang Asli kids due to stigma.
“Whenever they speak about Orang Asli kids, they have a certain idea as to why these kids are not doing well ... that the families don’t support their kids or that parents don’t care about education.
“The parents do care about their children’s education,” she said, adding that it is vital for teachers to be more culturally-aware before they are sent to these communities.
Samuel Isaiah, a teacher at SK Runchang, Pahang, said more engagement needs to be done with teachers on the realities at the ground.
He also said that some education policies also need to take into consideration conditions in interior areas because their needs are different.
“Normally, it’s a case of one size fits all. But that’s not how it is,” he said.
Jenita Engi ,who is the co-founder of Orang Asli community learning centres, said there should be engagement and the indigenous communities should be taught to be proud of their heritage and not forget their roots.
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