MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE ORANG ASLI (SEMELAI) IN TASIK BERA
Allan G Dumbong
I read with interest the news coverage by BERNAMA (quoted below) about the Orang Asli (Semelai) in Pos Iskandar, Tasik Bera, are now having handphones (I supposed the high-end Nokia, Sony Ericson, Panasonic, Samsung etc) despite no reception in the area.
This strikes me, as I have visited the place, and, in fact stayed with the Tok Batin, in Pos Iskandar for ten (10) days, way back in 1985. I was there with other friends - 2 Kadazandusuns (Jimmy Akau, Dennis Sading), one Malay ( Badrul Hisham), one Siamese (Boon), one Eurasian (Susan Loone) and an Indian (Jaswant Kaur). We were there for a field study for our Ethnography (anthropology) class under the supervision of Professor Dr Hood Salleh of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
During the 10 days, we experienced a lot. We stayed with the Tok Batin Family, who has a very simple house, and to a certain extend were very poor. I still remember when the Tok Batin shed tears when we left after 10 days because he was "humbled" or rather "terharu" when we gave them the leftover of our food supplies. I still remember what he said then, " Kesian kamu, kamu lagi bagi kami makan. Kamu di sini kami tidak dapat bagi apa-apapun". It was indeed very touching, and I guess I was holding my tears as well, as I fully understood the sociological meaning of those words.
For many years, Tasik Bera has provided a home and a source of livelihood for the Semelai, who practise shifting cultivation, hunting, gathering forest produce and also fishing. However, shifting cultivation activities have gradually declined over the years as it hampered conservation efforts and threatens the ecological balance of the area. Besides, rubber and oil palm plantations surrounding the lake area have also provided job opportunities, which have reduced the need for agricultural activities among the Semelai.
We also taken to visit a number of kebuns, hill paddys, around the Tasik Bera. Each family had less than 1 acre of kebun, planted with paddy, cassava, sweet potato, maize,etc. Their complaint then was their kebuns being threatened/distrubed by elephants, and there was nothing they could do about it. We were taken to all these places in a boat, powered by 50 HP boat engine. I still remember when when our boat capsized in Tasik Bera as some of us had no experience taking a boatride. The water in the lake were so dark, swampy, and eery. When all of us fell into the Tasik Bera, all our cameras were gone. Our clothes were wet. Some of us almost get drowned. the two girls (Susan & Jaswant) could not swim, and their instinct to survive forced them to pulled us to go underwater. Fortunately, all the three Kadazandusun heroes were able to bring them ashore. Within minutes, the news that we capsized spread like a CNN News all over the posts (villages) in Tasik Bera. The headline was " Boat Ferrying GOBS capsized in Tasik Bera!" Gobs mean "orang luar" or "outsiders".
To a certain extend, the lifelihood of the Semelai people are more or less the same as the Kadazandusun or Murut in the interior. Both are "Orang Asal" (indigenous), clinging hard to preserve their cultures, struggling to adapt to the new modern life, trying hard to breakthrough in a society. Orang Alsi Semelai and the Kadazandusuns are certainly sharing some of the socioeconomic issues, which could be called "The Orang Asli or Indigenous Peoples' Dilemma".
Another experience with the Semelai was the cultural show. I still remember I had to sponsor RM27.00 to buy a jerrycan of "kemering" so the community can "main" or perform cultural dance and musics. Kemering means " air buatan". So we "je'o kemering", minum the air buatan or rather enjoyed in an "aramai ti" session. Kemering is made from sugar cane juice and yeasted with some kind of a jungle fruit, and preserve outdoor in a jar for more than three months.
Towards the end, I have completed my paper. It was about "The Socio-Economic Situation of the Orang Asli Semelai of Tasik Bera", which earned me an A+. I hardly saw kids to go to school then. The literacy rate among the Semelai kids was very low. If fact, I made a very strong recommendation that "education must be given to these children", and I wrote them in Semelai dialect, which I learned during our 10-day stay. I learned it from one of the the Tok Batin's son, Shamsuddin. I guess Shamsuddin is now 35 years old.
Coming back to the handphone story, I am very proud that now they can use the phones, reading the messages, and able to communicate with the outside world easily. I hope to visit them again someday!
June 16, 2006 12:55 PM
More Orang Asli In Bera With Mobile Phones, But...
ERA, June 16 (Bernama) -- The Orang Asli community in several villages here are also not left out of the infocomm technology world as they are also in possession of the latest mobile phones, but there were occasions their phones were inaccessible due to poor coverage.Head of the Orang Asli for Kampung Pos Iskandar, Mohd Nor Jin, said nearly 50 per cent of the 2,378 Orang Asli settlers from 54 villages in Bera, owned mobile phones but there was no cable or transmission tower to indicate that telephones could be used."If they want to use their mobile phones, they have to go to town," he told Bernama here Friday.Mohd Nor said for the Orang Asli, the mobile phone was a vital communication tool as it could for instance, help track down people who got lost in the jungle.He said several areas such as in Pos Iskandar, Kuala Bera and Tasik Bera were suitable for the construction of a transmission tower to provide coverage for the Orang Asli villagers in Bera."Telcos should not be merely profit-driven, instead they should carry out their social responsibility for the Orang Asli community, " said Mohd Nor.-- BERNAMA