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Smallest Orang Asli Community In Malaysia
Written by Nurul Halawati Azhari   
Friday, 23 March 2007 11:17

Orang Asli KanaqsKOTA TINGGI, March 22 (Bernama) -- A slip road from Simpang Mawai, some 15 km from here, leads to a village inhabited by the Kanaq Orang Asli, an indigenous Proto-Malay clan.

The inhabitants of Sungai Selangi village comprise 87 Kanaq Orang Asli, including three Malays, from 23 families.

Based on the Orang Asli Affairs Department's (JHEO) 2003 figures, out of the 147,412 Orang Asli from 18 tribes in Malaysia, the Kanaqs make up the smallest number.

The village took shape in 1965 with only 40 Kanaq residents from 10 families. The Kanaqs are not a poor lot but they prefer a simple life. Some of the village's 23 families in fact prefer to stay under one roof.

Sofa sets with worn-out cushions adorn several of the Sungai Selangi houses. The occupants' daily wear are simply thrown onto hangers, giving the dwelling's interior a rather unkempt scene.


Hardcore Poor

Power supply lights up 11 houses built under the hardcore poor programme and there are refrigerators too. But these fridges remain idle as food is said to be "smelly" when kept inside them.

Electrical appliances being in constant use are the television sets. Gas cookers are stashed away as villagers prefer to cook outside their houses for the simple reason that firewood cost them nothing.

But this village does not lack basic infrastructure. The villagers have a surau, community hall and even an infirmary. There is also a kindergarten which caters to pre-school aged children.

Other facilities include a tarred road, street lamps and a sepak takraw court. The village even has treated piped water.

There is also a public telephone booth but this telecommunication tool is out of order and beyond repair. But this doesn't disturb the villagers as many of them own handphones.

In the day, the village appears to be quiet. The men are out working in a nearby Felcra oil palm estate while their wives may be out to catch fish for dinner or resting at home.

There are three parked cars and occasionally a group of children can be seen frolicking on and along the road. Some smiled coyly upon realising that there are 'outsiders' in the village.

Ethnography Study

For Kiew Yeng Meng, despite some improvement in the villagers' standard of living, their children's life is still far too simple.

"There are those who go to school, but many decide to play truant due to lack of interest and awareness," the National Museum Curator conducting a study on Kanaq ethnography at Kampung Sungai Selangi, told Bernama.

The Kanaq children get their primary education at Sekolah Kebangsaan Mawai Baru, located some two km from the village. Numbering 17 in all, they are standards one to three.

Kiew said the school authorities are not too happy with the children's attendance. Their poor attendance causes their standard of education to wane and none of the villagers' children have so far made it to secondary school.

"Even though JHEOA provides a van to ferry the children to school, the response is very poor. At times, there are only three students using this service.

"There is lack of awareness on the importance of education and the parents' lackadaisical attitude is of no help at all," said Kiew.

Oil Palm Estate

In 1983, JHEOA gave Felcra the green light to develop an oil palm estate on 24.7 hectares of land at the village. The Felcra Mawai Baru II project provides jobs for 12 families.

On the average, each Kanaq employed by Felcra as a manual worker earns RM300 a month but some are hired to harvest the palm fruits and they can earn up to RM600 a month.

The Felcra participants also earn dividends from Felcra. With money from the Felcra project, the villagers no longer need to look for jungle produce like rattan for their living unless there are special requests from buyers.

However, the petai season would see the Kanaq men disappear into the jungle to harvest this wild and pungent jungle delicacy.

Money earned from selling petai is much more than harvesting oil palm fruits. Hence during the petai season, the Felcra estate that they work on often faces an acute shortage of labourers and is forced to hire Indonesians to harvest the oil palm fruits.

Health Status

The Kanaq community converted to Islam en masse in 1994. They still practise traditional healing and would go to their "tok batin" (medicine man) for medication.

However, they began to respond positively to modern medicine after receiving visits by a nurse from the Mawai Baru Clinic.

Since getting better health services, including health checks on children and pregnant mothers as well as tips on family planning, their standard of health has improved.

However, much is still to be desired on their personal hygiene and those of their dwellings, said Kiew, adding that medical problems like diarrhoea, malaria and respiratory tract infections are still rampant in the village.

"Most of the villagers have anemia, believed to be due lack of nutritious food. They consume anything (halal) but their diet is not balanced," said Kiew.

Negative Perception

Kiew said the JHEOA has initiated various efforts to "develop" the Kanaq community but these initiatives have not borne much fruit despite the village's existence since 1965.

"Is this scenario caused by outside elements, and not by the villagers themselves who only want development according to their own pace?" he asked.

"If we assume that the lack of the community's development is due to their own attitude, then we should also ask ourselves the question why they appear to have a negative perception against outsiders to the extent of rejecting development," he said.

He hazarded a guess that the community could have been slighted by outsiders who did not give them due respect like what they had accorded to others.

Used Clothing

Kiew said this after he discovered that a lot of used clothing "donated" by the public were found strewn on oil palm trees that lined the route used as the short cut by the Kanaq villagers to board town-bound buses.

But is it appropriate and polite enough to simply discard these apparel along this route instead of handing over the garments directly to the villagers themselves.

Logically, is it proper for us to pick up clothings found at the roadside without knowing who the owners were and why were they were discarded there?.

This situation alone tells the lack of respect shown by some of their neighbours to the Kanaqs who definitely deserve better.

Contented with what they have

According to the Kota Tinggi JHEOA officer, Amir Fauzi Baharudin, the Kanaq villagers do not care much about worldly things and appear to be contented with what they have.

The Kanaq Felcra labourers can spend their RM300 monthly wages within a day, and the very next day, the villagers would return to catching fish for their meals.

Amir Fauzi said the Kanaqs adopt the concept of "whatever today is for today as tomorrow is a different story."

This concept, to a certain extent, has prevented the community from making progress, he said.

He said something has to be done to motivate the Kanaq villagers realise that education is the only way to improve their standard of living.

"Only via education, the Kanaq villagers can progress and be on par with the other communities in the country," he said.

Despite various efforts undertaken by the JHEOA, the Sungai Selangi Kanaq villagers lag far behind their Orang Asli cousins in the Kota Tinggi district -- 600 Kuala villagers in Sungai Layau, the Jakun clan at Kempas Semenang (160 people) and Pasir Intan (145).

Sense if Inferiority

"There is a deep sense of inferiority. At school, the Kanaq children with worn-out uniforms and exhibiting slow learning would feel uncomfortable and begin to isolate themselves.

"At school, there are teachers to give guidance. Unfortunately, when the children reach home there is no person to push them to study.

"It is different when they are in the kindergarten, the children appear to be happy when they are among their own," said Amir.

Amir said the situation may change if there are volunteers willing to teach the Kanaqs the importance of having good personal hygiene and education.


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