Orang Asli: The forgotten Malaysians

SEPTEMBER 16 — Happy Malaysia Day! Also, thanks very much to Indonesia for the gift of moody smoke as a backdrop for whatever fancy event we're holding.

If it was up to Indonesia, though, Malaysia probably wouldn't exist and we would be the ones being half-smothered by smoke in Pekanbaru and Riau. Ah, how differently things might have turned out if Indonesia was the victor in the Confrontation.

While we celebrate being our own country, let us take some time too to think of the people even more invisible than East Malaysians. The people who truly do deserve the moniker Orang Asal: the Orang Asli.

Right now, seven Orang Asli children are missing. They fled their school because they were afraid of being punished for doing what they were accustomed to doing back home: bathing in a river.

Instead of calling the police and doing all in their power to find the children, apparently the school's authorities decided to consult a bomoh instead. It also took them days to report the children missing and to add insult to injury, sent a notice to the children's parents that if the children did not return to school soon they would be expelled.

The children went missing on August 23. They've been gone almost a month. Apparently the children went barefoot and if they're not lost in the jungle, they could be victims of kidnapping. Who knows, they might not even be in the area anymore.

Why isn't there more of an uproar? Seven children are missing. Such, though, is the lot of the Orang Asli who are, for the most part, invisible though the names of their tribes are used as mocking insults. The Jakun are a real people, and yet over here we use their tribe name as another way to describe the ignorant while over in East Malaysia, being overly enthusiastic about something you've never seen before makes you “sakai” ― also an Orang Asli tribe name.

Do they deserve to be belittled in that manner? We haven't even touched on the long-suffering Penan in Sarawak: forcibly evicted from their homes so Sarawak can build a dam it apparently doesn't need and to have, as their champion, not one of their own but a Swiss man Bruno Manser.

Is it not shameful that a foreigner gave more of a damn about the Orang Asli's rights than most Malaysians?

On television, we have made a reality show out of their suffering, making it a contest to see which Islamic preacher can convert the most Orang Asli to the faith. Reducing these people to nothing but targets for our entertainment at home.

Apparently discrimination, lack of access to amenities, education and jobs have Orang Asli trailing behind. When West Malaysians whine to me about not being allowed to live and move as freely in East Malaysia, I scoff and say,”So you can displace our natives the way you did the Orang Asli?”

If it wasn't for the Malaysia Agreement, who knows, maybe I would be the one stuck in a tiny longhouse struggling to make a living off the land. And then later being told I had no right to the land of my ancestors and made homeless.

It is all very well for us to go on Facebook and Twitter to proclaim our “true Malaysian-ness” and yet leave the Orang Asli out in the cold. I get angry whenever I hear all the Tourism Malaysia claptrap talking about Malaysia having three main races, with everyone not Malay, Chinese or Indian being the “lain-lain” (others).

Can you imagine what it feels like to be Orang Asli? To be called ignorant and backward? To be denied basic amenities because you want to remain on the land of your forefathers? To entrust your children to strangers in hopes that they would be empowered by knowledge, only to hear they have gone and might never come back?

It's been over 50 years and what do the Orang Asli have to show for it, besides being left out of our histories, our national discussions and our general consciousness.

No more ridiculous splitting of hairs over who is a “true Malaysian” when we are failing the people who were here before most of our ancestors were even born.

The Orang Asli deserve better than to continue to be the invisible Malaysians.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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