Setting the facts right about the Gunong Arong Jakuns

Published: 14 June 2015

While the general public has been very sympathetic to the plight of the 50 Jakuns whose homes were demolished by the authorities on 2 June 2015, there have been negative rumblings of them being recent migrants to the area, of their 'stubbornness' not to resettle in a government-allotted site, and even accusations of trafficking in wildlife.

In order to get the Jakuns' side of the picture, our 10-member team from COAC-JOAS made a visit on Saturday, 7 June 2015. It was very hot when we arrived there at midday. There was very little shade. Even the temporary shelters they put up were heat traps.

A few other visitors dropped by while we were there, some to take pictures, one to 'do his duty' and tell the Jakuns that some lawyers from a church group are willing to help if they need any.

Photos of the visit can be viewed at this link: Gunong Arong Post-Demolition.

Based on our interviews, and checking back with our notes of an earlier visit in 2012, we were able to get a different story than from what has appeared in the newspapers and on Facebook. Here is a brief response to those allegations.


Allegation: The Jakuns here are recent immigrants from Johor

A long-standing allegation from the authorities, including JAKOA, is that the Jakuns here are actually recent migrants from Rompin in Johor. This is far from the truth. While the community leader here, Awang Rambai, originates from Kampung Kerpal in Rompin, Pahang, he moved to this area in 1985 when he married Kamisah Alan, his wife of 30 years.

Kamisah is originally from the Labong area, which is adjacent to the current site. Her father had also lived in the area all his life.  This was a time before the gold mine was set up on the other side of the forest from where their disputed settlement is. They would move about every one month to a year, but always in the Labong-Gunong Arong area. They eventually settled in the area they call 'Dam'. But the Labong Reservoir was constructred there and they were forced to move elsewhere.

Kamisah clearly remembers the time she used to follow her father into the forest to eke out a subsistence. Some parts of the forests she had not entered as she was strictly forbidden by her father to do so as it was a 'keras' area – a 'hard' or spiritually dangerous taboo area. She can still point out where those areas are.

So it is not true that the Jakuns at Gunong Arong are recent migrants from Johor. The seven families here are of their children. Earlier there were 18 families, but the first demolition exercise in 2013 scared some of them away.


Jakoa offered them houses in Pahang

Yes it did. This was a few years ago. But when they went to see the houses in Kampung Kerpal, Rompin, the houses were already given to others by the headman there. 

When the Director-General of JAKOA visited them on Friday, the day before our visit, he again promised them 5 houses. But they say he couldn’t tell them where the houses would be ("tak ada alamat dan lokasi") or when they will be ready. Or whether it will be for them. It is obvious to us that this is a case of the Jakuns here having no faith in JAKOA's promises.

Besides, the Jakuns prefer the current place as it possible to eke out a living here than in the settlement at Rompin. They will only agree to move if they are given sufficient houses and land in the new area.



It is a forest reserve and therefore no development is allowed in it

Since when has the categorization of an area as a 'forest reserve' been an obstacle for developing that area, or a part of it? Especially in Johor.

On the other side of the forests of the disputed settlement, a gold mine and a Malay village had been allowed to operate and exist there. Along the Kahang-Mersing road you can see areas of forests cleared for plantations and other development projects. Even some of the buffer zone and corridor-forests flanking the Endau-Rompin Park to the east have been given up to oil palm or rubber plantations.

The Orang Asli here are only occupying about  2 hectares now. Not like the 50 or 500 hectares or more that are granted to corporations and connected individuals to log and mine and plant and develop.


Involved in wildlife trafficking and poaching

A conservationist in a Facebook posting has branded the group here as being traffickers of wildlife:

"The Rompin group at Arong is from a village that is well known to be doing illegal hunting and selling of wildlife, and after they have reached Gn Arong,they have been doing the same. Intelligence source proven they are not only hunting and selling common found wildlife illegally (commercial hunting is banned in Johor except wildpig), tigers and sunbears have been taken out as well."

We put this allegation at them and they were shocked at it. While they do hunt for animals (usually wildpig and small game), whatever they get is for their own consumption. They have never caught bears or tigers. They gather or harvest forest products such as medicinal roots and petai and sell these by the roadside. These stalls were also demolished by the authorities that day.

They do know of others from other Orang Asli communities nearer to Kahang town who do participate in such activities. It is possible, they say, the conservationist's 'intelligence' is from these people.

The allegations, and generalizations, nevertheless are serious and they were very angry when told of it. They were visibly upset with the allegation and wondered why anyone would say this of them without any proof.



Johor Jakuns v Pahang  Jakuns

The same conservationist also alleged that:

"There is a general dislike of 'Rompin OA' (mainly those from Muahzam Shah area) among the Johor OA as they see the Rompin OA as samseng and uneducated ppl. …. This group is not approved by the Johor Jakun community even though one of the guy say he married to a Johor Orang Asli."

I put this supposition to a few 'Johor Jakun' leaders and they seemed surprised by this statement. One Johor Jakun leader actually went to the village two days after the demolition and spent a night there, in a show of solidarity with the community.

At the very least, such statements are gross generalizations. But more seriously, they are unfair statements to make knowing that the affected party would not get to read such comments, let alone get a chance to chance to reply.

We, for one, would like to know which 'Johor Jakun community' has been given the right to approve or reject Johor Jakun membership. We certainly hope we are not seeing the emergence of a 'divide-and-rule' strategy being used against the Orang Asli.



No Choice

We see this incident as one of gross dehumanisation and a show of gross arrogance and might. The authorities came in when the men were out in the field working. Only the women and children were in, including a 2-month-old baby.

When the men came back after being contacted, they were held back by the authorities and prevented from being with their families. Or allowed to retrieve more of their possessions. A disabled man lost his OKU card. School books and uniforms were destroyed. Lives and livelihoods were shattered. And remain in ruins.

But the families are adamant that they want to stay. They really have no other choice.

Photos of the visit can be viewed at this link: Gunong Arong Post-Demolition.

CN-COAC | 12 June 2015