Losing Ground

This illustration is based on picture of Kampung Kaloi as photographed in June 2022.

This is the first of a three-part series on the struggles of the Temiar Orang Asli of Gua Musang, who finds themselves cornered by
fast-paced development, environmental degradation and displaced wildlife.


Bernama’s vehicle navigating muddy logging roads about 4km from Kampung Kaloi, evidence that logging activities were encroaching into the Orang Asli settlement.
Sept 24, 2022 (Bernama) -- Kampung Kaloi is just 37 kilometres from Gua Musang town, but getting to the Temiar Orang Asli village is no easy task.

Located deep in the Kelantan forest reserve, it took us some three hours to get there. We negotiated muddy and rugged terrain for most of the way. More than once our four-wheel-drive skidded and veered off the slippery dirt road, forcing us to slow down even further.
The gruelling trip was soon forgotten when we arrived in Kampung Kaloi. The air of tranquility about the village seemed juxtaposed against the menacing view of the not-so-distant rolling red hills, a clear sign that deforestation was edging near.

The villagers ushered us into the Dewan Adat, a community hall used for meetings, gatherings and even ritual practices.

That’s where we met Along Busu, 75, the village Tok Halak (healer and shaman). He has been blind for a few years now but upon hearing the patter of our footsteps on the bamboo floor, he sat up and extended his hands in the direction of the sound.

Selamat datang, selamat datang (welcome, welcome),” he called out enthusiastically from the recliner where he was seated.

Along resides in the Dewan Adat. He is a prominent figure in the village and among the few elders left to keep the Temiar beliefs and traditions alive. Their role is an important one because the Temiar culture and way of life is increasingly under threat.

Development seems to offer no help in preserving their ancestral land. Every day, more and more of the forest land around them is being logged for timber and converted into rubber and oil palm plantations. This is the land which they have depended on for generations. In some cases, logging extends beyond the concession areas and encroaches into their ancestral land.

Much of this land is actually virgin forests with biodiversity that is over a hundred million years old. Some species of plants and trees are found only there and are subjects of research into potential cure for illnesses such as cancer.

Once these forests are destroyed, the biodiversity there would be lost forever.

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Terraces are carved out on cleared hillslopes to make way for plantation fields. They encroach on Orang Asli ancestral land,  further shrinking liveable areas and depriving sources for sustenance.

An aerial drone shot of a clear-felled land near Sungai Nenggiri. It is one of the Gua Musang's largest oil palm plantation site. The land area is estimated to be around 2,234 acres (900 hectares). It is situated only 8km southeast of Kampung Kaloi. (BERNAMA)


It is part of the Temiar belief and custom to move around within their region every five to six years.

Unfortunately, this custom is not one that the authorities recognise. As a result, Kampung Kaloi has never been recognised as a village, making it ineligible for any form of government assistance. This has put the villagers in a greater predicament, particularly at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.    

The Temiar people belong to the largest Orang Asli subgroup in Peninsular Malaysia - the Senoi. This community is found mainly in the middle of the northern part of the peninsula, having arrived in Peninsular Malaysia from the mountainous regions of Cambodia and Vietnam during the second wave of migration about 8,000 years ago .

For thousands of years, Senoi people have lived in territorial regions that separate them from other Orang Asli tribe ancestral grounds in Malaysia.
Along Busu, the Tok Halak of Kampung Kaloi.

According to Along, the community had moved there from Kampung Kuala Wok, a village about 7km away that was established in 1990. Prior to that, they had lived in Kampung Kuala Wias.

Although it is a Temiar custom to move within their region every few years to preserve the integrity of the environment, the pattern of migration in Wias was mostly driven by what they claim to be the increasingly rampant logging of Orang Asli ancestral land.

“In Kampung Kuala Wias, we had an orchard with durian and other fruits but logging companies came and just took the land from us."

“We sent numerous memoranda and complaints to local authorities but they didn't do anything. We were just ignored,’’ Along claimed.

He recalled the happier times in Kampung Kuala Wok where the villagers had grown plentiful source of sustenance like rice and banana. There was a clear river nearby that provided not only clean water but an abundance of fish.

By 2010, Along claimed, everything was destroyed as vast amounts of forest land near the village were converted into rubber plantations.

He said the initial reason they moved and established Kampung Kaloi was to start a new life away from the threat of deforestation, but it seems that they have failed in their quest. He pointed out that they merely sought to live simply and sustainably, with little desire to accumulate wealth.
“If you compare us with the rich city folk, then, of course, we would seem poor. But we are not starving. We are still able to feed our families, and we are happy with the way we lead our lives here.

“But deforestation is threatening our survival and way of life. We can’t farm, we can’t fish, and much of the forest land is taken, making it hard to find materials to practise our rituals. How are we supposed to live?” he lamented.

He also addressed a fairly common criticism on their way of life –that they were stubbornly resistent against development and modernity.

“From an outsider's perspective, the way we Orang Asli choose to live may seem ‘lazy’ as we are not felling trees to expand our farms. However, such practices go against our belief, which is to love and respect our land and forests. We do not want to see them cleared,” he said.


Such was the case just 15 kilometres south-west of Kampung Kaloi, where another Orang Asli settlement known as Pos Tohoi is located.

Its residents recently encountered tigers in their village and the incident ended in a villager getting killed.

Malayan tigers, fast depleting in numbers, are already under threat due to poaching, genetic and demographic issues. Now, they also face the threat of being harmed or killed in their struggle for survival due to a shrinking habitat. This is the reason why an increasing number of such encounters as well as those with other wild animals are making headlines these days.
Fresh pawprints of two Malayan sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) at a new logging road near Gua Beraong, less than 2km southwest of Kampung Kaloi. (BERNAMA)
Due to their strong beliefs and respect for the environment they live in, the Orang Asli do not harm wild animals but are nevertheless frustrated with the situation.

“We used to plant a lot for food, but it is difficult now because the Orang Besar (elephants) would eat up or trample on just about everything we cultivate - bananas, cassava, rice.

“A large portion of the forests around us have been clear-felled, so these animals have nowhere else to go. They’ve been pushed out of their homes where they normally forage for food, and now they’ve ended up near humans,” Along told us.
We were made aware of the difficulties faced by the villagers prior to our trip. In order to not burden our hosts, we bought raw food supplies such as rice and chicken from Gua Musang town prior to our journey into the village.

As the villagers came to retrieve the food supplies to prepare lunch, we mentioned how cool it was inside the Dewan Adat, despite the visible lack of fans or cooling equipment. We were told that this was due to the design of the hall and the building materials used.

The elevated bamboo flooring and the A-frame roof with openings allowed for increased ventilation. The roof was made from the dried leaves of the bertam palm (Eugeissona tristis). They are malleable, waterproof and produce a chemical that repels damage-causing insects.

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Roof made from dried leaves
of bertam palm.
Woven leaves are malleable,
waterproof & repel insects.

Orang Asli attap houses are made from sustainable materials.

Bamboo used for wall &
flooring are waterproof.

Commonly found grown near Orang Asli homes, bananas are a great alternative food source, especially during food shortages.

We expressed admiration at the use of sustainable materials in their daily lives, but Along tells us that indiscriminate logging activities have made the palm leaves a little harder to come by. This has vexed the community as one of the primary reasons for the nomadic life they lead is for forest conservation.

“We used to move from one area to another from time to time, because when humans stay in one place for too long, they tend to clear the forests around them. They do this to develop farms for their food and harvest materials to build houses.

“We take only what we need and then we move to give the land the chance to regrow and replenish, and then, after some time, we can come back,” Along explained.

These forests are also the habitat of wild animals that have become increasingly endangered. Like the Orang Asli, these wild animals now also find themselves displaced. The destruction of their habitat has caused elephants and tigers to wander into human settlements in search of food – driving man and beast closer – and into inevitable conflict.
Along told us that despite their ancestors having lived there for thousands of years, a large evidence of their long existence was erased when Orang Asli villages were bombed during the British occupation of Malaya and the Malayan Emergency.

Although they were natives of the land, they had little choice back then but to flee into the jungle for safety.

“But after the bombings, the British searched for us and had us gathered for a meeting. Each village penghulu (leader) was then given land rights in different regions as well as designated villages to live in.

“My late father-in-law, Angah, who was a penghulu at the time, was given land rights by the British for Wias, the region we had lived in. The entire area from Kuala Wias to Hulu Wias was our territory. They even made a map of the land rights given to the Orang Asli, but I guess that map is missing now,” Along told us.

Authorities do not officially recognise these regions, but each is unique in that it indicates the different Orang Asli subgroups living within the
Gua Musang district.

There are around 10 known Orang Asli regions in Gua Musang: Pasik, Angkek, Bihai, Tohai, Simpor, Angkek, Gob, Depak, Pulat and Wias. Most of these regions are inhabited by the Temiar people. Kampung Kaloi is located in the region of Wias, an area of some 200 square kilometres.

Set up in 2018, Kampung Kaloi has 91 people – 18 men, 20 women, 24 boys and 29 girls. They live in 22 sets of houses, traditionally built with wood,
bamboo and palm leaves.

Authorities do not officially recognise these regions, but each is unique in that it indicates the different Orang Asli sub-ethnic groups living within the Gua Musang district.

There are around 10 known Orang Asli regions in Gua Musang: Pasik, Angkek, Bihai, Tohai, Simpor, Angkek, Gob, Depak, Pulat and Wias. Most of these regions are inhabited by the Temiar people. Kampung Kaloi is located in the region of Wias, an area of some 200 square kilometres.

Set up in 2018, Kampung Kaloi has 91 people – 18 men, 20 women, 24 boys and 29 girls. They live in 22 sets of houses, traditionally built with wood, bamboo and palm leaves.

He said the logging started in the district in 1972, but on a modest scale.

“At that time, the logging activities were not like how they are today. Back then, you could still find plenty of fish in the rivers in Wias. You could find kelah (mahseer fish) the size of my leg.

“We have been living here for thousands of years, for many, many generations - even before this country had a name. We love the land we live in and the laws of our beliefs tell us that we have a great responsibility towards it,” he said.

At the time, Along said, there was still an acknowledgement of the Orang Asli right to their ancestral land.

"After Merdeka, during (the first prime minister) Tunku Abdul Rahman's time, our land rights were still recognised. As the years went by, however, our right to the land seemed to have been slowly forgotten and erased," he said.

It is common practice within the Temiar people to move from one village and start another within their territorial regions, said the founder of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, Dr Colin Nicholas.

They do this every five to eight years to preserve the biodiversity in the region, among other reasons.

“They farm for food and fish in the rivers, but in time the yield from the farms might not be as good while the fishes might deplete in numbers. They would move to give the area a chance to regrow and replenish its resources,” he said.

Another reason they would relocate is because their homes and infrastructure are built using sustainable materials which would degrade over time.

The Orang Asli attap houses, for example, are built out of bamboo and bertam palm leaves. After a number of years, the palm leaves which make up the roof might lose their waterproof and insect-repelling, making it a less suitable shelter for their families.

Another factor why the Temiar people move from one place to another is to prevent diseases from spreading.

“If a community stays in one place for a long time and the population starts to multiply, disease or plagues would start seeping in through the community. To avoid this, the Temiar people would move to a new area in the territory, building new settlements,” he explained.


Kampung Kaloi gets its water supply via a makeshift piping system that draws water from a nearby river. The river, needless to say, is important for their survival. However, they could no longer depend on it these days as it has become polluted with logging debris and rubber effluents from plantations.

Along’s son, Hasmawi, said this has put the villagers in great distress.

“Sometimes the water gets too muddy. We can’t use it for drinking or washing as it would irritate the skin,” the 28-year-old told Bernama.

Hasmawi Along compares bottles of water from Halor River (right) and Jenatang River (left), to show the extent of pollution caused by the logging and illegal gold mining at Halor River.

About 5km south-west of Kampung Kaloi, a patch of virgin forest roughly the size of 300 hectares, called Halor, was recently clear-felled.

The land is left bare, with dead logs rotting on the side of the red, muddy roads. Terraces have been carved out on the hillslopes, indicating the emergence of another plantation.

There is a river in Halor that Kampung Kaloi villagers hoped could be used to source water for their survival, but that river too has become polluted due to illegal gold mining activities.

“I went there while they were working and asked the miners whether they had permits to carry out such activities. They said they didn't have any. They’re not with the logging companies, so I'm not sure who they work for,” Hasmawi said.

The miners use an excavator to dig up sand from the bottom of the river, causing sedimentation and contaminating the river, endangering the health of nearby villagers as well as the ecosystem.

Jabeng Angah, a villager from Kampung Kaloi, shows a murky river in Halor that became polluted due to illegal mining operations and logging activities.

Hasmawi said Halor used to support medicinal trees and plants which the Orang Asli community find useful to treat various ailments. As such, the Orang Asli of other villages also come to Halor to forage for these leaves.

Many of the leaves of trees and plants grown there are also used for an Orang Asli ritual called sewang, an integral part of Orang Asli culture. It is performed to appease spirits, treat the sick or seek guidance on health and major decisions, including on welcoming guests and bringing the community together.

The declining number of plants needed for the ceremony adds to the list of growing concerns for the community. They question their place in the nation as they try to not unravel from the constant threats to their existence.
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Given the gravity of the situation, the villagers of Kampung Kaloi are understandably driven to put an end to the destruction of their environment.

One of these champions is Jimi s/o Angah, 48, who is also Along’s brother-in-law. He 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 are how government officials discount the opinions of Orang Asli village elders even when discussing matters involving their own villages.

Jimi claimed that the government officials only listen to Orang Asli representatives who are appointed by JAKOA or are on good terms with them, postulating that that was why the memoranda sent to them were not acknowledged.

These issues have caused a long-standing dispute among the former villagers of Kampung Kuala Wok. Some supported government and JAKOA initiatives, viewing these as necessary in the name of development while others saw them as causes for irreparable environmental destruction.

In fact, the move to Kaloi was in part due to the opposing views.

“Some of us who weren't happy with the way the forest land around Kuala Wok was being cleared wanted to fight against the logging companies, so we sent 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 the villagers and eventually leading to the rest of us to move to Kaloi,” he explained.

Jimi said their practice of harvesting forest bounty such as fruit and wood was also being scrutinised by the State Department of Forestry. It has come to a point where the villagers of Kampung Kaloi are not allowed to harvest anything from the forest as it belongs to the government.

He claimed that the state government, through JAKOA, had allocated 200 acres (81 hectares) of land for each Orang Asli settlement for agriculture, 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, another son of Along, said much of the assistance from JAKOA is only given to administrative centres of Orang Asli villages in each Orang Asli region of the 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 told Bernama.  

The National Forestry Act 1984 prohibits the harvest of any forest produce from a permanent reserved forest or state land without a licence or permit. Only the state government or authority has the authority 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 have 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 asked Along if the villagers would agree to a JAKOA and Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) joint initiative to develop their ancestral land.

“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 schemes which were said to be for us but were 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.”
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Project lead & Editor: Sakina Mohamed

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

Illustrator: Ummul Syuhaida Othman

Video Editor: Wan Muhammad Aslah Wan Razali

This story was first published on Bernama Garasi on September 23, 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.
Share This:
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 September 24, 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.