HULU TERENGGANU, June 16 — Worried with the presence of ‘uninvited guests’ from the Batek tribe of the Orang Asli community in Kampung Kuala Koh, Gua Musang, more than 150 people from the Semaq Beri tribe have reportedly left their homes at Sungai Berua here since two weeks ago.
An observation by Bernama at Kampung Gerdong, which was the temporary settlement site of Semaq Beri tribe, found nearly 26 camps and huts were built in the village area.
Ibrahim Awang, 75, who is the Semaq Beri tribe headman said the people moved in stages after realising the presence of several people from Kuala Koh and was later informed that the Batek tribe people ran away from a mysterious illness that hit their community and caused so many deaths.
“First, two of them came, then more came and informed some have died. (I) thought they wanted to get treatment from the health clinic here (Sungai Berua) but after some time, they were becoming sick.
“I did not want Semaq tribe to fall sick and that is why we decided to move to a new place. Everyone in this village has family ties and like my family,” he said, admitting the tribe will only return when they are confident the situation was safe.
A crisis has hit the Batek people in Kampung Kuala Koh whereby within a space of a month 14 people from the village died of mysterious circumstances.
The cause or causes of the deaths have yet to be ascertained but the victims were reported to be suffering from breathing difficulties. A pneumonia outbreak is suspected.
The Terengganu Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA) has estimated about 600 people residing at Sungai Berua Orang Asli Village with 109 household heads.
The settlement of the Semaq Beri tribe or known as the people of the jungle started 35 years ago when they shifted from Kenyir Lake following the water plant construction and the development in the lake.
According to Ibrahim, as a practice, Semaq Beri tribe parents will go hunting in the forest, leaving their children at home usually but since the cause of the illness still remains a question mark, parents bring all the kids though still young.
Earlier, Hulu Terengganu MP Datuk Rosol Wahid, who met several Semaq Beri tribe household heads at the temporary settlement in the forest at Kampung Gerdong yesterday, has advised them to return to their original residence so the children could continue to attend school and undergo better health treatment.
“I understand that it is their lifestyle to move from one place to another, but it gives a poor impact on their children. Some of them have promised to return to Sungai Berua in a few days. So far, there are no health cases in Sungai Berua,” he told Bernama.
A Semaq Beri tribe member, Samad Kelapa, who is in his 40s, said he will stay in Kampung Gerdong forest area for few days to ensure no health issues arise, and at the same time, seize the opportunity to collect rattan to be sold.
Although practicing a nomad lifestyle, he said he still gives importance to his two children’s education who are studying at Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Berua, and one of his children often becomes an example (to other students) for his cleanliness and attendance.
The school’s headmaster Suhaimi Abdul Latif said every time Orang Asli moves, most of the children are left out from school for a long time, and the school is forced to track them at their new settlement area and persuade the parents.
“Total students registered are 104 people but now (with those having left their home) it has decreased to about 30 students,” he said. — Bernama