We are not blocks of wood, say Orang Asli over land encroachment
Published: 20 May 2015
Ista Kyra Sharmugam | The Malaysian Insider
20 May 2015
Heartbroken that their ancestors' graves had been disturbed, the Orang Asli community from the Semai tribe, in Simpang Pulai, is once again appealing to the Perak menteri besar to stop a land-clearing project for an oil palm plantation.
Some 70 people out of the 300-strong population from nine villages travelled three hours in a chartered bus to hand over a memorandum to Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir today to highlight the encroachment into their ancestral land.
Kampung Pawong resident, Bah Leh Anjang, 55, said the effort was the second attempt since September last year, to get Zambry to stop the project by a state government-linked company.
He said villagers used to visit and clear the graves on a monthly basis, but could no longer do so since the site of the plantation was barricaded and guarded by security guards.
"Hundreds of our ancestors bones have been disturbed. We are heartbroken by this.
"They think we are blocks of wood (umpama kayu tunggul), no people living there," he said when met today, at the back entrance of the Perak state secretariat building, where the villagers had gathered before handing over their memorandum.
He added that since the land-clearing work began, the livelihood of the villagers had been affected. He said the majority of villagers depended on the forest for their food and also to sell whatever they managed to gather.
"We really need the state government to pay attention that we are fighting to preserve our ancestral way of life and culture.
"That is why we saved up to RM1,000 since last year to make this trip, by collecting contributions from the villagers," he said.
Another Kampung Pawong resident, Johar Changgang, 44, said the Sungai Raya river, a source of drinking water for the community, had turned muddy since the plantation project began.
"The plantation is located uphill and our villages are beneath it.
"Our catch is affected as well and we are afraid of becoming landslide victims like the Orang Asli in Kampung Sungai Ruil and Kampung Dipang," he said.
Johar, who is also chairman for a working committee to protect the community's ancestral land, said the encroached area included the tribe's roaming area and farming plots.
"It is where special herbs and plants grow, which we collect for food and medicine.
"No amount of money can replace this. We do not want compensation, only understanding from the state government to respect our culture," he said.
Simpang Pulai assemblyman Tan Kar Hing, who accompanied the group, said the area spanning 121.71 hectares was awarded by the State Agriculture Development Corporation (SADC) to a dormant company called Obor Hasil Sdn Bhd.
"A search through the Companies Commission of Malaysia(SSM) last year listed the company's nature of business as dormant.
"The state government need to explain why a 30-year lease could be awarded to such a company.
"Furthermore, the development is situated in an area of the central forest spine, which is an environmentally sensitive area, which by right should be protected from activities such as logging and plantations," said Tan.
The group's memorandum was received by the Perak Menteri Besar's executive officer, Asad Safwan Mazlan, who was the same official who received the group's first memorandum in September last year.
The affected villages including Kampung Chiduk, Kampung Sungai Penuh, Kampung Pos Atap Baru, Kampung Jermol Berkeroh and Kampung Jantung Baru are located in the forests adjacent to Jalan Cameron Highlands, with some located 1km into the forest.
The villages are located in the forest complex of the Titiwangsa range, one of four main forest complexes in the Central Forest Spine under the government's National Physical Plan.