Why the Orang Asli blockade in Kelantan matters

A small group of 15 people gather outside the national headquarters of PAS on Jalan Raja Laut, Kuala Lumpur tonight to express solidarity with the native Temiar people of Gua Musang, Kelantan, November 30, 2016. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
A small group of 15 people gather outside the national headquarters of PAS on Jalan Raja Laut, Kuala Lumpur tonight to express solidarity with the native Temiar people of Gua Musang, Kelantan, November 30, 2016. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, March 1 — For many within the Temiar Orang Asli community, the forest in Gua Musang, Kelantan represents much more than just a place to call home.

It is where they seek shelter, hunt for food as well bury their dead, and they have been doing so for centuries without any incident. In return, they do their part and abide by strict ceremonial customs to safeguard and preserve the forest as well as the creatures that live in it.

But all this is rapidly changing, due to the aggressive deforestation by developers and which is sanctioned by the PAS-led Kelantan government. Logging is the main source of income for the one of Malaysia’s poorest states, so it is unlikely that their position on the matter will change anytime soon.

A new documentary titled Fighting for My Home for Channel News Asia’s Get Real programme has shed some new insight into the matter, as the affected Temiar community speak up on why they continue to stand by their blockade efforts to save the forest.

Everyone benefits but us

Dendi Johari, an Orang Asli from the Temiar community said that he was saddened by the ongoing attempts by the state government and developers in stripping the forest of its natural resources without any care or concern except for profit and gain.

“It makes me sad and angry without shame, no respect for the Orang Asli. They only do it for the companies’ benefit, the Orang Asli do not get anything,” he told the Singapore broadcaster in the 42 minute-long documentary.

Another villager, Kilot Busu said there was supposedly a promise of compensation of US$45 a month by the Kelantan government, but no one in the community has received anything so far.

“There has been no compensation, we have never seen the money. So we find it ourselves, a way to live by ourselves,” he said.

Violence and destruction

Mustafa Along, the secretary of the Kelantan Network of Orang Asli Villages, said logging and deforestation affects the community because they were not informed of any projects or development plans.

“The projects on Temiar land started without notice, we are affected because we practice an ancient way of life, and our food is from the jungle.

“Our (ancestral) graves have been destroyed, the outsiders don’t know because they conduct logging without prior discussion.”

For months now, the orang asli community take turns in guarding the five blockades they have erected to prevent loggers and developers from entering.

“One time, my friend’s leg was almost cut off by gangsters (affiliated with the loggers),” Mustafa said.

He said the blockade efforts have so far cost the Kelantan government US$11.2 million (RM49.8 million) in loss of profits, but stressed that his community’s goal was not to stop the state government from making a buck.

“Our success so far is not in hindering profits we cannot replace the benefits of the forest. We are erecting the blockades because we believe that the forests in Malaysia have to be saved.”

The PAS-led Kelantan government has come under fire for its purported refusal to rein in illegal logging in the state, which the Orang Asli said was damaging their land and livelihoods.

The state government recently courted controversy with its strong enforcement against the Orang Asli activists in Gua Musang, arresting them and tearing down blockades that were erected to keep loggers out of a forest reserve.

But the Islamist party has since claimed that dispute between the Kelantan government and the state’s Orang Asli community has been resolved, and that the community now has no issues with the logging activities taking place on their ancestral land after the state government met with its leaders in the past few weeks.

A village elder, Along Busu believes that the deforestation has angered the spirits of the Earth, and that the punishment was in the form of “killer floods” back in 2014.

“There is retribution for destroying the earth. In 2014, the floods destroyed bridges, rivers and that is why Kelantan was affected so badly,” he said in the documentary.

The National Security Council has said the massive flood that hit Kelantan was the worst in the history of the state, where more than 200,000 people were displaced and 21 people died.

The documentary has been shown in Singapore and will be broadcast internationally to Channel News Asia subscribers next month. But the documentary can also be viewed here now. 

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