This is the second of a three-part series on the struggles of the Temiar Orang Asli of Gua Musang,
whose culture, beliefs and existence are under threat because of rampant logging.
Sept 24, 2022 (Bernama) -- Given the gravity of the threats logging companies pose to their survival, the villagers of Kampung Kaloi in Gua Musang are understandably driven to put an end to the destruction of their environment.
One of them is Jimi s/o Angah, 48. He is the brother-in-law of Along Busu, the village’s 75-year-old Tok Halak (shaman and healer).
Jimi has been actively protesting against logging corporations and has submitted numerous memoranda to the Department of Orang Asli Development (JAKOA) and the state government.
Among the issues highlighted in the memoranda were how government officials discounted the opinions of Orang Asli village elders, even when discussing matters involving the latter's villages.
The items on the memoranda were not acknowledged, said Jimi. This was because government officials only listened to Orang Asli representatives appointed by JAKOA or those on good terms with them, he claimed.
These issues have caused a long-standing dispute among the former villagers of Kampung Kuala Wok. Some supported government and JAKOA initiatives, viewing it as necessary in the name of development. Others saw it as irreparable environmental destruction.
In fact, the move to Kaloi was in part due to opposing beliefs.
“Some of us, who weren't happy with the way the forest lands around Kuala Wok were being cleared, wanted to fight against the logging companies. So we sent a memoranda to JAKOA.
“However, this was interpreted as a move in opposition to JAKOA as Kuala Wok was under its administration. Some of us disagreed with the move, causing a division among villagers, eventually leading the rest of us to move to Kaloi,” he explained.
Jimi said their practice of harvesting forest bounties such as fruits and wood for daily living was also being scrutinised by the state Forestry Department. It has come to a point where villagers of Kampung Kaloi were not allowed to harvest anything from the forest as it belonged to the government.
He claimed that the state government through JAKOA had allocated 200 acres (about 81 hectares) of land for each Orang Asli settlement for agriculture purposes, depending on the size of the village. Each family in a village would be permitted to receive up to 2.4 hectares of land near the vicinity of their home.
However, being an unrecognised village, Kampung Kaloi is excluded from this privilege.
Mustafa, who is the son of Along, said much of JAKOA assistance is channeled only to administrative centres of Orang Asli villages in each district.
“Villages like Kampung Kaloi or those in remote areas are often excluded from receiving assistance like farmland allocations - whether or not they are recognised by state authorities,” he said.
The National Forestry Act 1984 prohibits the harvest of any forest produce from a permanent forest reserve or state land unless with license or permit. Only the state government or authority has the power to grant permission to harvest from the forests.
Mustafa said the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954, however, contradicts the National Forestry Act 1984, and accuses the state authorities of using laws that only benefit them.
“As inhabitants of the forest, the Orang Asli have a right to harvest resources from the forest freely without having to apply for a licence or permit,” he said, referring to the provisions within the Act.
A study has revealed that previous federal court cases ruled in support of the common law principle of respect to the right of the existing inhabitants under their custom, which acknowledges the use and occupation of land by the Orang Asli.
We reached out to the JAKOA headquarters to arrange an interview discussing the matter. We had intended to find out whether Orang Asli villages like Kampung Kaloi would ever be recognised by the authorities.
However, our request was denied. We were told that they would not be entertaining such interviews as it was “a deforestation issue, not a JAKOA issue”.
Furthermore, they added, they were not qualified to speak on logging on Orang Asli land as it was “a sensitive issue”.
Later, we managed to contact a JAKOA employee. Farid (not his real name) was willing to speak to us on condition of anonymity.
Farid has been working under JAKOA for over a decade and is in charge of Orang Asli welfare issues across Malaysia, mainly in the state of Perak.
He revealed that there were no state laws allowing Orang Asli people such as those in Kampung Kaloi to set up villages in areas they consider to be ancestral land. This is unless the land has been recognised by the state.
He added that the Orang Asli should only reside on lands that have been recognised by the authorities. Otherwise, they would be regarded as trespassing.
“We have had similar issues all over Malaysia, not just in Kelantan. We understand that the Orang Asli communities are mostly poverty-stricken.
“We are trying our best to channel aid for them via villages that have been recognised by the state as Orang Asli settlements,” he explained.
Farid says the aid allocation given to each Orang Asli village took into account the size and population of the village.
JAKOA, however, would not be able to assist villages that had trespassed onto government property.
There are 10 known Orang Asli regions in the Gua Musang district: Pasik, Angkek, Bihai, Tohai, Simpor, Angkek, Gob, Depak, Pulat, and Wias. These territorial regions are inhabited by different tribes/families of the Orang Asli Temiar but unfortunately, these territories are not officially recognised by authorities.
“The problem here is that some of the lands and houses on which the Orang Asli build their villages on are lands belonging to the state government. Some of them just simply set up a village anywhere without getting any proper documentation or authority to do so," he said.
He argues that these new villages are causing problems for the department, especially in determining the size of the Orang Asli population in the district.
“It would also be difficult to allocate the right amount of aid needed as new villages such as Kampung Kaloi tend to grow or shrink at any given time,” he said.
Farid claimed most of the Orang Asli villages that are found in forest reserves were built on state government lands, and as such, it was only due to the kindness and courtesy of the state that they were allowed to live there.
He also believed that the confrontation that ensued from Orang Asli defending their land from logging were the result of the former being manipulated by NGOs.
Farid claimed that these NGOs had their own political agenda.
“There are groups that like to stir up Orang Asli issues and cause them to retaliate the way they do. I have seen, in Perak, where Orang Asli people set up blockades to stop logging machines from entering the forests.
“When we tried to negotiate with the Orang Asli protestors, we found that only some of them were actually from nearby villages or other places. They were just there to represent the NGOs," he said.
We asked Along if the villagers would agree to a JAKOA and FELDA joint initiative to develop their ancestral lands.
“I would definitely agree. But what I don’t agree with is some of the initiatives they’ve had in the past such as the Orang Asli Resettlement Plan Schemes which was said to be for us, but was actually for other people.
“If they had assisted us in developing the small plots of farms that we have, then of course we would agree. But all the programmes in the name of development were not actually meant for us,” he claimed.
He expressed disappointment over the penalty they received for adhering to their customs and beliefs.
“We are also humans, we are thinking beings. Of course, we would want a portion of the benefits that other Malaysians receive.”