Seletar's cultural heritage

Learn the tradition and history of the Orang Laut or Orang Seletar at a newly-established cultural centre in Johor.

Little is known about the original inhabitants of Johor Baru’s coastal settlers called the Orang Laut or Orang Seletar.

The community, mostly fishermen, are facing even greater hardships as their livelihood is affected drastically by rapid developments in the state.

sea nomad

However, the establishment of the Seletar cultural centre at Kampung Sungai Temon near Taman Perling, Johor is aimed at preserving the cultural heritage of these former sea nomads.

The centre, which is about 2,500 sq ft, was jointly set up by the villagers and the Malaysian Society of Marine Science (MSMS), with RM60,000 funding from the Global Environment Facility.

It features displays of black and white photographs taken by photographer Ivan Polunin, storyboards and maps telling the story of the Orang Seletar, and replicas of the traditional boats and hunting tools used by the tribal community.

Orang Laut

Kampung Sungai Temon Tok Batin (village head) Salim Palun, 50, said that the centre would ensure that the traditional Orang Seletar culture was preserved and that the younger generation do not forget their roots.

“We hope the cultural centre will show that we have stayed in this area for many generations, and that development should not come at our expense or encroach on this land,” he said.

Orang Laut Seletar

He added that cultural dances and performances would be held at the centre on weekends.

Salim added that this was one way to help the community improve their livelihood by generating supplementary income through these cultural performances.

MSMS project leader Choo Chee Kuang said he came across the village while gathering information about orang asli out of his own interest, and found the Orang Seletar to be very unique and interesting.

Choo roped in a group of 10 friends and came to understand the needs of the community and decided to help set up of the community’s cultural centre.

Villager Yan Balun said that he was proud to have such a centre which showed the history of the Orang Seletar.

“We still used to live in boats when I was a child. Now things have changed and everything is modern and we interact a lot more with others. But we have to defend this land which we have lived on for decades bacause otherwise our future generations will be left with nothing” he said.

The Seletar cultural centre gallery opens daily from 11am to 10pm, except on Mondays. Traditional performances will be held on weekends, and tickets are priced at RM25 for adults and RM10 for children under 12. - By Sean Yap