|Page: Living off the forest’s bounty|
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 made.
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 board.
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 shorts."
The clan’s staple food is tapioca and men hunt monkeys, squirrels, fishes and turtles for food, with a penchant for turtles.
"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 pioneered.
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 of choice.
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
Updated: 09:35AM Wed, 27 Oct 2010