Orang Asli who fled into jungle to ‘escape’ Covid-19 return for Aidilfitri

An aerial view of the Batek tribe settlement in Kuala Koh, Gua Musang June 11, 2019. — Bernama pic
An aerial view of the Batek tribe settlement in Kuala Koh, Gua Musang June 11, 2019. — Bernama pic

GUA MUSANG, May 15 — Most of the over 600 Orang Asli of the Batek community have returned to Kampung Kuala Koh and Kampung Aring 5 to receive aid and celebrate Aidilfitri after having fled into the nearby jungle to “escape” the Covid-19 pandemic.

These residents were driven to “flee” into the jungle by the bitter experience of 15 mysterious deaths in the community in June last year.

Before they left their homes, the residents had closed all access to the villages to prevent outsiders from entering the settlements and bringing with them the Covid-19 virus.

With the approach of Aidilfitri, most of those who took “refuge” in the jungle have come back to receive food aid provided by the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa), Kelantan Islamic Affairs and Malay Customs Council (MAIK) and NGOs.

Muhammad Pokok, 40, the tok batin (chief) of Kampung Kuala Koh, said only about 20 of the 233 villagers were still in the jungle and will return at any time to celebrate Aidilfitri.

“They relocated to the jungle not far away, near the river, to be safe from the disease (Covid-19) but they feel the situation has improved and are returning to their village.

“Now, we are getting contributions of food. We have also opened all access to the village to enable outsiders to come in,” he told Bernama and TV3.

Muhammad said the villagers have yet to get over the trauma of the mysterious deaths of last year and fled into the jungle once they came to know that Covid-19 is a life-threatening disease.

Raina Anjang, 49, the penghulu of Kampung Aring 5, said almost 400 villagers have returned to their homes since the middle of April and access to the village has been reopened.

He said the villagers had taken good care of themselves in the jungle and had enough food during the time they were away.

“We had only allowed access to the village to staff of government agencies such as Jakoa and MAIK, and not to others,” he said.

Paloh state assemblyman Amran Arifin said the fleeing of the Orang Asli into the jungle is their natural response to avoid getting infected by Covid-19.

He said he had monitored the well-being of the people through the tok batin and penghulu.

Amran said the food provided to the villagers is sufficient for the Aidilfitri as well as for several months.

“Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), the government takes care of their well-being. We hope they will be unaffected by Covid-19 and will emerge from the trauma of last year’s mysterious illness,” he said. — Bernama

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