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Orang Asli (lit, "original peoples" or "aboriginal peoples" in Malay) is a general term used for any indigenous groups that are found in Peninsular Malaysiamarker. They are divided into three main tribal groups – Semang (negrito), Senoi, and Proto-Malay (Aboriginal Malay). The Orang Asli are further divided into 18 sub-ethnic group according to their different languages and customs. The Negritos are usually found in the northern region of the peninsula, the Senois in the central region, and the Proto-Malay in the southern region. There is an Orang Asli museum at Gombak, which is about 25 km north of Kuala Lumpur.

History

Orang Asli kept to themselves until the first traders from Indiamarker arrived in first millennium AD. Living in the interior they bartered in land products like resins, incense woods and feathers for salt, cloth and iron tools. The rise of the Malay sultanates, coinciding with trade in Orang Asli slaves, forced the group to retreat further inland to avoid contact with outsiders. The arrival of Britishmarker colonists brought further inroads in the lives of Orang Asli. They were the target of Christian missionary and subjects of anthropological research.

During the Malayan Emergency of 1948 to 1960, the Orang Asli became a vital component of national security, as with their help, the Malayan army was able to defeat the communist insurgents. Two administrative initiatives were introduced to highlight the importance of Orang Asli as well to protect its identity. The initiatives were the establishment of the Department of Aborigines in 1950, and the enactment of the Aboriginal Peoples Ordinance in 1954. After independence, the development of Orang Asli become the prime objective of the government where the government adopted a policy in 1961 to integrate the Orang Asli into the wider Malaysian society.

Within the decades of 1970s and 1980s, Malaysia was in the period of sustained growth. With development that emphasize modernization and industrialization, new lands were developed. This development has resulted in encroachments on Orang Asli land. In response of this encroachment, the Orang Asli mobilized themselves and formed the Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Association (POASM). With this association, the Orang Asli has become more visible and vocal.

Slavery

Slave raids into Orang Asli settlements were quite common feature back in the 18th and 19th centuries. These slave-raiders were mainly local Malays and Bataks, who considered the Orang Asli as 'kafirs', 'non-humans', 'savages' and 'jungle-beasts.' The modus operandi was basically to swoop down a settlement and then kill off all the adult men. Women and children were captured alive as they are 'easier to tame.' The captives Orang Asli slaves were sold off or given to local rulers and chieftains to gain their favour. Slaves trade soon developed and even continued into the present century despite the official abolition of all forms of slavery in 1884. The derogatory term sakai is used to refer to the Orang Asli until the middle of the 20th century meant slave or dependent. Many of the elders Orang Asli still remember this sad period of their history, and they detest being called Sakai. [84652]

Economy

Orang Asli living in remote forest areas engaged in some trading with the Malays, with jungle produce being exchanged for salt, knives and metal axe-heads. There was also evidence of trade in blowpipes and blowpipe-bamboo among certain tribes. It has also been shown that the Orang Asli have played a significant role in the Malay Peninsula's economic history as collectors and primary traders as early as the 5th Century A.D. An early 19th century report also tells of Negritos providing forest products as tribute to the Malay chiefs of the river basins they resided in. [84653]

Demography

Excluding those living in designated Orang Asli settlements which would amount to about 20,000 more people.
Orang Asli population by groups and subgroups (2000)
Semang Senoi Aboriginal Malay
Bateq (1,519) Chewong (234) Jakun (21,484)
Jahai (1,244) Jah Hut (2,594) Orang Kanaq (73)
Kensiu (254) Mah Meri (3,503) Orang Kuala (3,221)
Kintaq (150) Semai (34,248) Orang Seletar (1,037)
Lanoh (173) Semoq Beri (2,348) Semelai (5,026)
Mendriq (167) Temiar (17,706) Temuan (18,560)
3,507 60,633 49,401
Total: 113,541


In 2000, the Orang Asli comprise only 0.5% of the total population in Malaysia. Their population is approximately 148,000. The largest group are the Senois, constituting about 54% of the total Orang Asli population. The Proto-Malays form 43%, and the Semang forming 3%.

The poverty rate among Orang Asli is 76.9%. In addition to this high rate, the Statistics Department of Malaysia has classified 35.2% of the population as being "hardcore poor". The majority of Orang Asli live in rural areas, while a minority have moved into urban areas. In 1991, the literacy rate for the Orang Asli was 43% compared to the national rate of 86% at that time. They have an average life expectancy of 53 years (52 for male and 54 for female). A high infant mortality rate is also evident with 51.7 deaths per 1000 births.

Languages

The division of Orang Asli into three categories are not due to linguistic differences but merely sociological. The Semelai language, for example, is part of the Austro-Asiatic language group, whereas the other Proto-Malay groups, such as the Temuan language, are part of the Austronesian language group. The Semelai and the majority of Orang Asli sub-ethnics speak languages classified as Aslian languages. This is further divided into the Jahaic languages (North Aslian), Senoic languages, Semelaic languages (South Aslian), and Jah Hut. The languages which fall under the Jahaic language group are the Che Wong, Jahai, Bateq, Kensiu, Kintak, and Menriq languages. The Lanoh language, Temiar language, and Semai language fall into the Senoic language category. Languages that fall into the Semelaic group include the Semelai language, Semoq Beri language, and Besisi language (language spoken by the Mah Meri group). Meanwhile, some Orang Asli minorities speak languages classified as Aboriginal Malay languages. This includes the Jakun and Temuan languages among others.

Besides these, most Orang Aslis are fluent in the Malay language, the official language of Malaysia.

Lifestyle and religion

Location of Orang Asli groups, and the evolution of settlers on the Malay Peninsula.


Orang Asli are traditionally animists, where they believe in the presence of spirits in various objects. However, in the 21st century, many of them have embraced monotheistic religions such as Islam and Christianity following some active state-sponsored dakwah by Muslims, and evangelism by Christian missionaries.

In June 2007, an Orang Asli church was allegedly torn down by the government in Gua Musangmarker, Kelantanmarker. As of 2008, a suit has been filed against the authorities. The affected Orang Asli also sought a declaration under Article 11 of the Constitution of Malaysia that they have the right to practice the religion of their choice and to build their own prayer house.

Negritos of Peninsular Malaysia

According to the Encyclopedia of Malaysia, the Negritos, who number approximately 2,000, are regarded as the earliest inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula. They are of Australo-Melanesian affinity and probably descend from the people of Hoabinhian cultural period, with many of their burials found dating back 10,000 years ago. They speak the Aslian languages which is part of the Austro-Asiatic language family, as do their Senoi agriculturalist neighbours. Negritos belong to various subgroups, namely the Kensiu, Kintak, Lanoh, Jahai, Mendriq and Bateq. Those from Perakmarker, Kedahmarker and Pahangmarker are also known as Semang, the meaning of "Semang" is debt slaves, while those from Kelantanmarker and Terengganumarker were called Pangan, the forest peoples. The Senoi and Proto-Malay arrived much later probably during the Neolithic period.

Social and legal status

The government agency entrusted to oversee the affairs of the Orang Asli is the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (Department of Orang Asli Affairs) (JHEOA). This body is under the Malaysian Ministry of Rural Development, and it was first set up in 1954. Among its stated objectives are to eradicate poverty among the Orang Asli, improving their health, promoting education, and improving their general livelihood. There is a high incidence of poverty among the Orang Asli. In 1997, 80% of all Orang Asli lived below the poverty line. This ratio is extremely high compared to the national poverty rate of 8.5% at that time.

Some legislations which concerns Orang Asli are the National Land Code 1965, Land Conservation Act 1960, Protection of Wildlife Act 1972, National Parks Act 1980, and most importantly the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954. The Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 provides for the setting up and establishment of the Orang Asli Reserve Land. However, the Act also includes the power accorded to the Director-General of the JHEOA to order Orang Asli out of such reserved land at its discretion, and award compensation to affected people, also at its discretion. A landmark case on this matter is in the 2002 case of Sagong Tasi v. Government of Selangor. The case was concerned with the state using its powers conferred under the 1954 Act to evict Orang Asli from gazetted Orang Asli Reserve Land. The High Court ruled in favour of Sagong Tasi, who represented the Orang Asli, and this decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The Orang Asli are theoretically classified as Bumiputras, a status signifying indigenity to Malaysia which carries certain social, economic, and political rights, along with the Malays and the natives of Sabahmarker and Sarawakmarker.

Notes and references

  1. http://www.ipieca.org/activities/biodiversity/downloads/workshops/feb_04/Session5/Abd_Hamid_JHEOA.pdf.
  2. CHAPTER 6


Other references

  • Orang Asli Now: The Orang Asli in the Malaysian Political World, Roy Jumper ().
  • Power and Politics: The Story of Malaysia's Orang Asli, Roy Jumper ().
  • 1: Malaysia and the Original People, p. 21. Robert Denton, Kirk Endicott, Alberto Gomes, M.B. Hooker. ().
  • Encyclopedia of Malaysia, Vol. 4: Early History, p. 46. Edited by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman ().
  • Abdul Rashid, M. R. b. H., Jamal Jaafar, & Tan, C. B. (1973). Three studies on the Orang Asli in Ulu Perak. Pulau Pinang: Perpustakaan Universiti Sains Malaysia.
  • Pogadaev, V. "Aborigeni v Malayzii: Integratsiya ili Assimilyatsiya?" (Orang Asli in Malaysia: Integration or Assimilation?). - "Aziya i Afrika Segodnya" (Asia and Afrika Today). Moscow: Russian Academy of Science, N 2, 2008, p. 36-40.ISSN 0321-5075.


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