Around 10 years ago, I saw a commercial from Malaysia on TV. A commercial from the oldest jungle in the world: Taman Negara. “There I want to travel”, I was thinking. It was a dream to visit this wonderful green forest, and the destination was far up on my bucket list.
Many years later, I went.
The jungle, the water, the wildlife, it was all living up to my expectations that I had gotten through the commercial a long time ago.
However, maybe more interesting than the nature for me was to meet the indigenous people in the rainforest: Orang Asli. The name is a Malay term which transliterates as “original people”. During boat trips on the river, you will observe them down with the river. Taking a bath. Men fishing. The women washing clothes. The children playing in the water. In addition to this, the rivers play an important role, as territorial boundaries. If you ask where they are from, they usually say that they are from the confluence of particular rivers or streams.
Later on the trip, I visited a small village where one of the tribes live. The tribes usually live a primitive and nomadic lifestyle. Each family usually lives by themselves, although the village we visited is composed of five families living together. The families had been living there for five weeks.
During the visit, we got firsthand information about their way of life. This including the traditional way of setting up fire for cooking. Gathering wild food. We also learned how to hunt with blowpipes by using the poisonous dart made of bamboo as they have used for countless generations. The poison will kill an animal in 3-4 minutes, and a person in 15 minutes.
That being said, still reserved in their behaviour towards strangers the tribe depend on the tourist guides for interpretation. That being said, my guide told me that the Orang Asli are descended from Australian Aborigines. However, I am highly sceptical to this. They do not resemble Australian aborigines except having the same color of the skin. Furthermore, there are no evidence of Malaysia being colonized by Australian aborigines.
There is no doubt, however, that the Orang Asli are the descendants of the earliest inhabitants in the peninsula. It has been suggested that they retained much of their identity to the present day because of their relative isolation from the other communities, as well the the forces of modernization.
When children reach the age of ten, they must go into the jungle alone for two days to prove that they can take care of themselves. Boys will hunt for food with the dart blowpipe, while girls will catch fish in the rivers. Girls are considered ready for marriage at age 16, and boys at age 18. They are only allowed to have one life partner. The men will choose the girl he wants to marry. Furthermore, he will to go to her in the night and sleep with her during the night. If the parents wake up to find the boy and girl together, then they can be married. But first, the boy have to prove himself to the girl’s family by going into the jungle for a few days and bringing back the results of his hunting.
When a person dies, they take the body into the jungle to find a tall tree. They build a platform in the tree and put the body there. Thereafter, they cover the body and platform with leaves and branches. They do not bury the dead due to that a large animal could come along and dig it up. The friends and family of the deceased will come to live near the tree for a week or two.
That being said, The Orang Asli, nevertheless, are not a homogeneous group. Each tribe has its own language and culture, and perceives itself as different from the others.
It was a rewarding trip, learning about their intimate knowledge of the rainforest survival skills which have been preserved for generations. Besides that, learning about their beliefs and customs that form the basis of their way of life. An interesting culture. Still preserved. Not ruined by modernization and tourism, yet. However, if they still will manage to keep their traditions in the future is hard to say.