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.

The Google Earth timelapse shows the extent of clear-felling in the Gua Musang district, around where Kampung Bering is located, from 1984 to 2020. (Click the play button to view timelapse)

The Google Earth timelapse shows the extent of clear-felling in the Gua Musang district (around where Kampung Bering is located) from 1984 to 2020. (Click the play button to view timelapse)

"Kebun Mandiri Orang Asli" 

This problem was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The villagers earn a small income for their survival selling forest produce such as rubber, agarwood (Aquilaria malaccensis) and fruits. However, when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented nationwide in April 2020, they could neither forage for food or forest produce.

Travel restrictions also bound their regular buyers - wholesalers who came from other states. With wild animals uprooting whatever crops they grew, the community soon found itself amid a food crisis.

Their plight was discovered by the Sahabat Alam Activists Association (KUASA), an NGO that has always kept tabs with the welfare of Orang Asli in the region.

KUASA worked with Yayasan Hasanah and the Global Environment Facility to help the villagers with a self-sustaining farming project called #KebunMandiriOA (Kebun Mandiri Orang Asli).

Five villages deemed to be in the most critical shape were selected for the implementation of the project - and this included Kampung Bering.

“We decided we needed to address the food issue because by then, starvation had become a real threat. Their children risked becoming malnutritioned from eating only what was planted around their house - like bananas and cassava."

- KUASA chairman Hafizudin Nasarudin

KUASA chairman Hafizudin Nasarudin said prior to the project’s launch, discussions were held with the Orang Asli communities within the region to ascertain the main problems they were facing.

The latter listed three: lack of food supply, loss of income and wild animals encroaching into their homes.

Hafizudin, 34, said that his team had to quickly come up with a solid plan to address the first two problems as they were critical to the  villagers’ survival.

“We decided we needed to address the food issue because by then, starvation had become a real threat. Their children risked becoming malnutritioned from eating only what was planted around their house - like bananas and cassava,” he said.

While KUASA was prompt to despatch packed and dried foods to the affected Orang Asli communities, they knew it wasn’t a sustainable solution.

“We needed to teach them ways to keep a steady food source and maximise food production, so that they can continually feed their families and earn some income on the side,” he said.

One of the limestone caves where the villagers go to collect guano for fertiliser. (BERNAMA)


The project’s initial objectives were to help Orang Asli communities overcome the food crisis by teaching them how to maximise farm produce, earn an income while keeping wild animals safely away, said Hafizudin.

Kampung Bering already had a plot of land handed down to them from previous generations, which they turned into a one-acre farmland.

“However, their fields lacked crop variety, so we gave them seeds that they could plant and the technology to maximise produce.

“The project employs an organic approach to agriculture. We teach them how to grow their crops organically and manage pests and wild animals humanely,” he said.

This includes the use of natural fertilisers for their crops such as bat guano collected from the surrounding limestone caves and not using chemical pesticides.

To keep wild animals out without harming them, six-feet high fences draped in black canvas were erected around the perimeter of the farm. Blue LED lights were then installed around the fence.

“Certain wild animals such as elephants are sensitive to strobing lights, so we have set the LED lights to switch to flashing mode at night. If the elephants see this, they would automatically avoid the area.

“The black canvas, meanwhile, hides the farm from the eyeline of animals like wild boars and elephants,” Hafizudin explained.

The farm is sited not too far away from Kampung Bering. It is maintained by 47 villagers and has a gated security system. Water is sourced from the nearby Sungai Kenong, irrigating the various crops grown such as corn, bitter gourd, cucumber, long beans and sawi.

The project has been implemented for over a year now and has successfully helped five Orang Asli villages in the district.

“In villages like Kampung Bering, the farms have become so productive that they have been a surplus in harvest. We help them promote and sell the extra harvests to customers from as far as another state,” he said.


Although the #KebunMandiriOA project helped solve the food crisis within the villages, locals are still worried about the far-reaching repercussions of large-scale logging.

As more forest lands are cleared every day, valuable herbs and species of trees that are vital to their survival and important rituals have also become harder to come by.

One of Kampung Bering’s elders, Along Itam, says that forest resources make up 90 percent of the community’s livelihoods.

The 62-year-old is taking steps to remedy this by saving precious herbs and trees from extinction through planting seeds and propagating the plants in an area some 200m away from his home.

Along Itam showing some of the plants that he had managed to propagate. (Image: BERNAMA)

“My late grandfather used to repeatedly remind me of the importance of conserving the plants that are essential to our community.

“If we go to the forest to harvest it, we must remember to come back propagate it – in case they become scarce due to logging,” he said.

These include mangsian (Phyllanthus reticulatus), a herb which leaves are used to treat ailments like stomach aches and fever.

But with the forests fast disappearing, he wonders how his people would be able to maintain their way of life and keep their customs alive.

Salim echoes his concern, saying logging activities have caused the extinction of trees and plants important to Orang Asli rituals like sewang as well as for building their homes.

“Traditional Orang Asli homes use roofing made from woven bertam palm (Eugeissona tristis) leaves. These leaves are hardy and they keep the home cool. However, its trees have now become harder to find.

“Now we use zinc sheets left behind by loggers at their makeshift lodgings,” he said.

He acknowledges that houses with zinc roofing can get quite hot and unpleasant to live in.

“But what can I do? The trees are gone now, finished. No more.”
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Project lead & Editor: Sakina Mohamed

Researcher & writer: Wan Muhammad Aslah Wan Razali & Sakina Mohamed

Illustrator: Ummul Syuhaida Othman

Video Editor: Wan Muhammad Aslah Wan Razali

This story was first published on Bernama Garasi on October 15, 2022, as a follow-on project of the Future of Journalism workshop, with financial support from the Centre for Governance  and Political Studies (Cent-GPS) through the United States Embassy Kuala Lumpur. Its contents are the sole responsibility  of Bernama Garasi and do not reflect the views of Cent-GPS or the United States Embassy Kuala Lumpur.