Empowering the Orang Asli


Wong with a truck-load of durian harvested by the Orang Asli in Chenderiang.

THE Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted locals including the natives.

The livelihood of Perak’s Orang Asli community has also been affected as they are not able to sell produce from the jungle or farms or even go beyond their village for work because of the various movement control orders implemented to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Some Orang Asli villagers in Chenderiang resorted to making tempoyak, a fermented durian condiment, which they sold online.

Malaysian Care executive director Wong Young Soon said some of the Orang Asli who used to sell durian could not do so during the lockdown.

“They have been making tempoyak for sometime on a smaller scale, but they have increased production since last year.

“With the surge in cases amid the durian season, many fruits could not be sold and this threw a spanner in the works for them,” he said.

Orang Asli in Gua Musang preparing farming plots at their village.Orang Asli in Gua Musang preparing farming plots at their village.

“So they decided to make tempoyak instead, which can be kept and sold later,” he said, adding that the product had been generally well-received.

“When it comes to eating and durian, Malaysians like it,” said Wong.

He said the Orang Asli learned to be independent and self-sustaining through the Ladang Care project that was set up by Malaysian Care in 2007.

The Ladang Care project was set up to assist and empower the Orang Asli in Chenderiang to learn how to farm through sustainable means.

The programme also encourages Orang Asli folk to be independent and self-sustaining.

Wong said the Orang Asli sold their tempoyak product online and on social media platforms.

“As shops could not operate, the community turned to online stores to sell their wares.

“They are quite adept in using the Internet now, especially the young ones,” he said.

Wong has also been trying to increase awareness among the Orang Asli community over the past few months on the need to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

“There was a lot of negativity and hesitancy with many villagers refusing to be vaccinated.

“This was due to the rumours on the Internet on deaths related to the vaccine,” he said, adding that it was very difficult to convince the Orang Asli to sign up.

A family receiving food aid from the Orang Asli Development Cooperative.A family receiving food aid from the Orang Asli Development Cooperative.

Wong said that in the past, whenever health authorities came to the villages to give injections, the Orang Asli would run into the jungle for fear of being jabbed.

“But with the recent surge in Covid-19 cases and seeing people they know get sick or in quarantine, many have registered to be vaccinated,” he added.

Perak-based Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam (Kuasa) president Hafizudin Nasarudin said the non-governmental organisation (NGO) had introduced various empowering programmes for the Orang Asli community in Peninsular Malaysia since 2016.

One such initiative, he said, was helping to set up farms to be managed by the community.

“These farms, called Kebun Mandiri Orang Asli, were set up last year at several locations in Gua Musang, Kelantan.

“The project will not only increase the Orang Asli community’s food production but also teach them to be resilient.”

He said they chose Gua Musang for the programme because the situation there was quite dire.

“At the time, we were told that the villagers barely had any food left and they could not go out.

Alang Shana, from Chenderiang, removing durian flesh from the seeds to make tempoyak.Alang Shana, from Chenderiang, removing durian flesh from the seeds to make tempoyak.

“We didn’t start the programme in Perak because we heard that many villages in the state were receiving assistance from the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa).

“In Kelantan, the situation was slightly more severe as Jakoa was unable to reach some of them,” he added.

Jefri, an Orang Asli involved with the farming programme, said it had helped the community learn more about agriculture.

“Before this programme, we tried to plant some vegetables for our own consumption but faced several problems such as pests, and had to deal with elephants destroying our crops.

“After taking part in the programme, we managed to solve about 70% of our crop problems,” he said.

Jefri said the families now had their own farming plots where they could harvest their crops for own consumption or sell the produce.

“Right now, we have bananas, papayas, pumpkins, chillies, yam, okra and lemons planted,” he said.

Hafizudin said Kuasa had educated Orang Asli communities in Perak, Pahang and Selangor too on documenting their respective cultures and to carry out forest mapping.

Orang Asli Development Cooperative founder Ramesh Arumugam Chettiar and his team are providing assistance to the Orang Asli in Perak, Pahang and Johor as well.

“We managed to raise the necessary funds to assist the community to buy and send bags of rice and other essential items to those affected.

“Most of the Orang Asli we met lost their income as they worked as fishermen and rubber tappers,” he said.

Ramesh said he had contacted Malaysia Fisheries Development Authority chairman Datuk Syed Abu Hussin Hafiz Syed Abdul Fasal to help the Orang Asli by buying the catch from them and selling the produce at the markets.

“In this difficult time, we hope the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority will assist the Orang Asli farmers to distribute their produce to local markets to be sold,” he added.

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