Thursday, May 11, 2006

Original People


Myself, My Friend Jazs and Mah Meri Kid

Once upon a time, I used to say "macam jakun" translated to "like the jakun" when referring to certain acts of stupidity or ignorance in doing or facing something. I was then only a little child with great enthusiasm for life. I remembered that I often used the word ‘jakun’ to mock my siblings during play or even when using it in my daily childhood conversation. I don’t even know the real meaning of jakun then. I thought it was a word by itself to describe stupidity or ignorance. When I grew up to become the person I am today, I began to know that Jakun is actually a tribe of aborigine people living in Peninsular Malaysia (I was in Sabah at that time, so my knowledge of Jakun people was even less than other kids). I began to understand that we are actually insulting the people when we use the word ‘jakun’ to relate it with stupidity and ignorance. Ever since then, I never use the word anymore. I don’t want to abuse the usage of the word ‘jakun’ to jest people around because by doing so we are generalising Jakun as something that is degrading. I believe these people deserved more respect from all of us.


The Malays are considered the original people of Malaya (the Malay Archipelago). Our ancestor came from various parts of the Malay archipelagos which consist of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Brunei and even East Timor. Some Malays have some mixes of Sumatera, Sulawesi, Thais, Arabs, Chinese and Indian. It was because of the seafarer’s nature of the people at that time and also because of trading as one of the main economy activities that disperses the Malay population to all parts of the world.

The indigenous/aborigines are the most original people of Malaya because they still preserved their way of life. That is why they are being called ‘Orang Asli’. It means original people. But how can you define who is and who is not original? How do you prove your originality? If we are all from Adam, we are all brothers and sisters from the same decendents, so what makes you more original than me? Hmm.... think.

From the National Geographic Channel, you might have been told that the earliest human decendants came from Africa. That is where our Phropet Adam a.s. is believed to have come from some 60,000 years ago (although the scientists believed that Adam is not the first human on earth). If you have great interest to know more of human genome and to learn about your own descendent, you could go to this website. It will tell you a little bit about the origin and the migration patterns of human being.

I had the chance to visit the Orang Asli village in Pulau Carey in Klang, Selangor recently during the Youth Tourism Conference earlier this month. You can see some of the photos here, how beautiful they are. This is the Mah Meri people. Mah Meri means "Orang Hutan" (Jungle People) and also "Orang Bersisik" (People with scales). They are also called the Sea People because most of Mah Meri live near the sea and they are fishermen. The Mah Meri is famous for their woodcarvings. They carved figures of their ancestors, animals and plants that have significant meaning to their spiritual world.

The Orang Asli or Original People are not stupid or ignorant like what we all like to think. They are in fact very intelligent and knowledgeable. A lot of knowledge and wisdom of Orang Asli are being sought after by researchers from local and foreign land. This is one of it. Orang Asli in Malaysia are divided into three main tribal groups namely the Negritos (pop. 2,972), Senois (pop. 49,440), and Proto-Malays (pop. 40,117). The Mah Meri falls under the Senoi group (2,185 of Mah Meri). This is from the Department of Orang Asli Affairs.

Orang Asli are known to have deep botanical knowledge of jungle vegetations. They collect rare plants and roots, rattans and bamboos and anything from the jungle that provides their everyday needs. They hunt for animals, collect honey, camphore and incense to be sold to the local community. Barter system has long since not being practised nowadays because many community of Orang Asli have accepted modernity and they have been very enterprising as well. Their nomadic way of live has now been replaced by a more stable agricultural ways. Orang Asli of Mah Meri wood carvings has been recognised by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). One small woodcarvings of the Mah Meri could costs you RM150/- and bigger ones could reach up to thousands of ringgit. I have seen some of it and it is very fine, unique and beautiful. The market and the demand for them are positively increasing but they are lacking the raw material to carve it because it is from a special tree namely nireh baru trees. It is a special tree that is almost in extinction. They use the bark for carvings and the leaves to give it a shine. It is truly a unique work of art.

Malaysian government has done a lot to improve the living conditions of indigenous people to make sure they are not left behind in the high pace of development. Their welfare is taken care of by a special body namely Department of Orang Asli Affairs.

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