- 2009/01/03 Orang asli land dispute brewing near Seremban

A dispute is brewing over what an orang asli community near Seremban claim is their land that is being taken over by 'outsiders'.

However, the authorities say that the land being developed is ouside the orang asli reserve.

The 50 families from the Temuan tribe living in an aboriginal reserve at Kampung Sebir, situated just on the outskirts of Seremban, claim that even the ancestral graves located on the fringes of their reserve were also at risk of being desecrated.


Image: Lone survivor: Two orang asli showing a petai tree that had been spared.
Lone survivor: Two orang asli showing a petai tree that had been spared.



The villagers, whose roots date back more than two centuries, claim that their fruit trees and crops that were cultivated on their customary land (tanah adat) were being destroyed.

Village head Tok Batin Uval Bujang, 85, said rubber trees that were planted decades ago were felled when bulldozers recently encroached into the approximately 60ha area. "We depend on the land and the forest for our livelihood, How are we to earn a living or feed our families when outsiders come in here and just destroy our crops? Many of the fruit trees and herbs we use for medicinal purposes have been cleared by these trespassers. Even the temiang trees from which we make blowpipes for hunting were felled," he said.


Image: Hard at work: Some of the villagers harvesting Bertam, which is used to make their blowpipes.
Hard at work: Some of the villagers harvesting Bertam, which is used to make their blowpipes.



The headman said the orang asli had lodged two police reports against the encroachers but no action was taken. They had also taken their grievances to the Orang Asli Affairs Department but nothing was forthcoming. "We have tried to stop them but all our complaints have fallen on deaf ears. I just hope the authorities would be able to stop these people from coming on to our land," said Uval, adding that the orang asli had stopped two excavators from further felling trees in their customary land last week. He also said that if the encroachers needed to pass through their land, they should pay the orang asli some form of compensation if their trees were felled.

Many of the villagers are now living below the poverty line with an average household income of about RM300. Previously, their income was derived from selling forest produce and hunting which brought in about RM900 a month per family. They claim the encroachment of their land and the felling of cash crops had led to a steady decline in income.


Image: Off we go: The orang asli women visit the forest daily to tap rubber and pick fruits.
Off we go: The orang asli women visit the forest daily to tap rubber and pick fruits.



Zurdi Baharu, 27, said many youngsters now do odd jobs just to make ends meet as they hardly had any forest produce to sell. "We used to be able to tap rubber and harvest petai, mangosteen and durian from our orchard but, after they cleared our land, we are at a loss as to what to do. "We have always lived off the land... taking only what we needed for our daily consumption and livelihood. Even our traditional attire and tools are made from forest materials. We don't want to lose our way of life," he said.

Another villager July Lanchong, 48, wants the state government to gazette the customary land or tanah saka as an orang asli reserve. "The customary land was given to us by the British government to enable us to hunt as well as to collect jungle produce. We cannot be running after outsiders all the time. "The state authorities must understand that the forest is the life and soul of the orang asli. If you take this way from us, you would take away our customs and traditions," he said.


Image: Ancient site: Zurdi Baharu (left) and his friend Sebastian Kessu showing the site of one of the graves.
Ancient site: Zurdi Baharu (left) and his friend Sebastian Kessu showing the site of one of the graves.



State plantation affairs, human resources, environment and public complaints committee chairman V.S Mogan said although the orang asli have been living in the area for more than a century, they could not claim the rights to the customary land. "We empathise with them but the land outside the orang asli reserve belongs to others. The community cannot claim ownership of the customary land," he said, adding that he would meet the orang asli to explain the matter.

State Orang Asli Affairs Department director Bakar Unus concurred with Mogan. "We can't do much because the customary land or tanah saka does not belong to them. From what we understand, the state authorities had given out the plots to be worked on by other parties," he said. Bakar mentioned he would meet with the state land and mines department officials to see how they could help the community.

Bukit Kepayang assemblyman Cha Kee Chin, whose jurisdiction includes Kampung Sebir, expressed hope that the state government would look into the plight of the community. "It is unfortunate that the orang asli do not have ownership rights to what they consider their customary land. In the eyes of the law, their land is only what has been gazetted as the aboriginal reserve, which is the present site of their settlement. However, as the community has been there for generations, over time, they have come to consider the land adjoining the reserve as their own," he said. Cha also pointed out that the state authorities should stop issuing licenses for logging or the clearing of this customary land for whatever purpose. The matter has already been brought up with the state government. Although the land does not belong to the orang asli, we cannot forget that these people have cultivated the land for generations. What they want is just to stop others from clearing the land of crops they have cultivated for decades as well as from destroying ancestral graves located in the area. The forest is their livelihood and I feel we should at least respect that," he said.

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