This is the last of a three-part series on the Temiar Orang Asli of Gua Musang, who are struggling to fend off threats to their survival, ancestral land, culture and beliefs.
Oct 15, 2022 (Bernama) -- Salim Tegiau lost his home when an elephant rampaged through Kampung Bering in Gua Musang, Kelantan, in 2017.
“I had a lot of banana trees planted around the house for food. It destroyed the trees, the paddy we grew, my house and everything inside. The pots and pans, our clothes. Everything.
“The only thing it didn’t destroy was my guitar. It was odd, but perhaps the guitar was accidentally struck and made a loud sound, and that scared the elephant away,” the 45-year-old Orang Asli postulated.
He was at the hospital taking care of his wife when it happened, while his four children were at their grandparents’. The incident had cost him almost all of his worldly belongings. His family had since moved in with his father-in-law.
Salim, meanwhile, struggled to rebuild the life they once had, trying his best to make ends meet. He and the villagers of Kampung Bering are of the nomadic Temiar tribe. They believe in the spirits of the forest, earth and rivers and rely on them for survival.
They grow hilly paddy, cassava, bananas and various other crops - just enough for sustenance and a modest side income. It is against the Temiar belief to take more from the environment than they need. They sought to live sustainably. Even their nomadic lifestyle was partly for the purpose of allowing the environment they had lived in to regenerate and replenish.
The village, located about 40km southwest of Gua Musang town, sits on a flat landscape amid cavernous limestone hills and expansive virgin forests. Twenty-seven families live there.
The villagers claimed that Kampung Bering has existed on the land for over a hundred years, but said that they only started seeing wild animals venturing into human settlements in recent years.
“Before this, it was rare to hear of elephants or other wild animals coming near humans. But there have been more frequent encounters since the logging companies came in and cleared vast amounts of forests in the state,” said Salim.
Elephants are shy beasts that generally avoid humans. However, the sharp escalation of logging activities in the surrounding forests in recent years seems to have altered this behaviour. The destruction of its habitat and food sources have forced it to scavenge for food near human settlements.
This has inevitably caused the conflict between man and beast that made many a headline in recent years.
“We don't know where these elephants are coming from but there have been hundreds of sightings since the loggers came in,” he said.
Aerial footage shows a mother elephant and her calf wandering at a limestone cave near Kampung Bering in search for food. When it rains, these displaced wildlife would seek shelter within the cave. (Hafizudin Nasrudin / KUASA)
He claimed that logging activities in the region started in the 1990s, but the damage was not as extensive back then. Wild animals like the elephants still had plenty to eat from as wild banana trees, cassava and other edible crops grew abundantly in the wild.
However, the rise in deforestation for development and monoculture purposes have resulted in the clear-felling of many natural forests in Gua Musang and Hulu Kelantan districts.
Another villager, Along Roslan, said wild animals have become so desperate in their search for food that they have started moving into villages, camouflaging themselves in the dense thickets while waiting for the villagers to go into their homes.
As these animals are shy and tend to avoid confrontation, they would wait for as long as necessary before moving in to scour for edible plants.
“If we don’t clear these bushes the Orang Besar (elephants) would hide in there - for days and even weeks,” the 33-year-old added.
Although it was against the beliefs of the Temiar to harm wild animals, the villagers were beginning to feel like they were at the end of their tether. For many of them, these crops they planted were their only means of survival, particularly during the pandemic.
“We understand that they were hungry, that's why they took our food, but we also need to eat,” said Angah Pandak, 62.