The Orang Asli of
Peninsular Malaysia

Life in Malaysia is often an experience of stark differences. 

In most versions of the story of Malaysia, you will hear about the colourful weft of race, religion and culture that forms our multicultural society -- but often, this story leaves out the Indigenous narrative.

 

Though portions of Indigenous People (Orang Asal) in East Malaysia enjoy a certain level of legal protection and political power, the reality is very different for Indigenous People of Peninsular Malaysia (Orang Asli).

 

Orang Asli depends on the land for food and survival. Still, they have been routinely denied the right to self-governance and lack access to meaningful participation in decision-making processes, despite opposing arguments. Their stories and history are excluded from our history books, while their education is left to languish. 

It is worthy of note that Orang Asli women and youth are more vulnerable to losing their rights due to the patriarchal foundations of these laws and the encroachment of unsustainable development government policy on Wilayah Tanah Adat or Indigenous customary land.

Women youth of KOA Petoh & Kerpal

History and the Future

Orang Asli have profound ties to the land, these connections stretching back generations. These stories go beyond just the names but include the foundings of whole villages and intimate relationships to the forest.

Our ancestor (“moyang”) was the Tok Batin (leader) of Kampung Petoh. He was appointed by the late Sultan Abu Bakar. Kampung Petoh was founded by 7 traveling siblings and one of them is my great grandfather, Batin Yusof Bin Kelin.

Eliana A/P Tan Beng Hui & Diana A/P Tan Beng Hui
from Kampung Petoh, Kuala Rompin, Pahang

Eliana A/P Tan Beng Hui

My grandfather, Bahi bin Seleka from Merchong, was the earliest Orang Asli to settle and open Kampung Kerpal. A long time ago, Kampung Kerpal is known to have plenty of herbs and my late grandmother, Andoi a/p Char was a midwife in Kampung Kerpal who often used herbs from the forest to treat pregnant mothers and postpartum care.

Norifa Jamiza A/P Jamil
from Kampung Kerpal, Kuala Rompin, Pahang

Norifa Jamiza A/P Jamil

Within the stories in the exhibition, we hear Orang Asli speak of their memories
of what the land once looked like, of life before and after loss. In their words,
we get a sense of deeply entrenched knowledge, and their fear of what is coming.

Elders of Orang Asli
Elders of Orang Asli

Climate change exacerbates Orang Asli struggles

As with many other Indigenous communities worldwide, Orang Asli are the most vulnerable to climate impacts. It is not just their lack of access to political power and resources; the reality is that their way of life depends on natural resources that are highly sensitive to climate change and extreme weather.

Some point to the broken cycle of the ‘green water’ phenomenon, while other points to the increasing scarcity of natural resources. Though they didn’t have the scientific language to express it, they knew they were already witnessing a world sliding out of balance.

Throughout the last half-century, the rainforests of Malaysia have become severely degraded thanks to unregulated deforestation, intensive land use, and shifting weather patterns. In the last five years alone, there have been increased instances of deadly floods, landslides and heatwaves that have disproportionately impacted Indigenous Peoples’ health, safety and homes. As a frontline community, Orang Asli bear the brunt of these intensifying climate risks.

Orang Asli farming
Orang Asli farming

Connecting the past and future through art

Often, climate crisis communication can be cluttered with scientific jargon, technicalities and numbers, leaving the average person overwhelmed and unsure of how to relate to what is essentially the defining issue of our time. 

 

Through the Weaving Hopes for the Future project, we want to paint the climate crisis through a human lens by illustrating its real impacts on the rakyat (people) and the struggles of the most vulnerable people. 

It’s more than just statistics and climate models -- it’s life itself.  

 

The Weaving Hopes for the Future exhibition depicts Orang Asli climate-related concerns and perspectives through weaving, a traditional skill rooted in form and function. To learn more about the artwork or the stories of the Orang Asli people, click through the buttons below. 

Orang Asli weaving
Orang Asli weaving