A VISIT to an Orang Asli settlement is almost a
must when at Taman Negara. In total, there are about 1,000 indigenous people living in this
national park. Located at Jeram Panjang, a few kilometres upstream of the Tembeling River, the
Batek clan inhabits the hills further up from the riverbank.
The Batek clan is known to live in the
mountainous areas near rivers in small clusters of 20 to 30 people for effective food
management and distribution.
At first glance, their shelter is
rudimentary; hordes of palm leaves put together for walls and roofs while bamboo is used for
elevated flooring, about five inches from the damp ground.
At the approach of tourists, the women shy
away into dark corners with their sleeping babies and men grow quiet, displaying their
hunting tools to illustrate their functions and the way in which it is
However, they laugh as tourists fumble, and
fail, to shoot darts from blowpipes at a dirty, worn-out Winnie the Pooh bear pinned to a
The children, however, are receptive, as
they smile and watch intently from under their thatched roofs.
Mutiara Resort guide Hamzah Abdul Hamid
said: "They shift to other areas along the river once their food resources in the particular
area have depleted."
He added that the main threat to these
people is ‘progress’ itself. "They have mobile phones but are shy when asked to take off
their T-shirts for photographs, although traditionally, they do not wear T-shirts and
The clan’s staple food is tapioca and men
hunt monkeys, squirrels, fishes and turtles for food, with a penchant for
"They really enjoy it. If you give them a
choice between a fish and a turtle, they will choose the turtle," Hamzah said, adding that
women gather fruits from the forest and tribesmen still hunt using tools their ancestors had
A blowpipe made out of semeliang bamboo and
poisonous darts made out of the langkap tree as well as sap of the Ipoh tree are the weapons
The tools are all handmade and require
attentive, if not, zealous undertakings – just to find the semeliang bamboo requires four
days of hiking into the thick forest. Survival tools, and ‘crafts’, are displayed in a
special hut for purchase.
According to a boatman, money is immaterial
to the Orang Asli; they spend whatever they get from tourists on mobile phones, trekking to
nearby towns to charge the phones.
Hamzah said: "One of them once said: ‘What
is the point of working and chasing after money only to spend it anyway’?"
Somehow, that rings true, especially in
view that all one needs to survive are palm leaves for shelter, a blowpipe and the abundance
of the forest.
That, and money to spend on mobile
phones. – Meena L. Ramadas