A group of volunteers and I made a visit to the Jakun
settlement in Bukit Redan in the state of Pahang recently.
This is a project supposedly to be undertaken by the Melaka
Bar Human Rights Sub Committee and I was on a fact finding mission. The journey
there took approximately 3 hours from Melaka town. We started our journey using
the old trunk road. The countryside of Melaka was indeed beautiful and the view
of rubber estates and secondary jungles was so unlike the usual city view that I
have gotten used to. We passed the scenic Jus reservoir dam about 30 kilometers
away in the outskirts of Melaka.
The Jakun are the second largest of the nineteen Orang Asli groups of Peninsular
Malaysia. The Department of Orang Asli Affairs label them Orang Hulu
(People of the Upriver), a term which the Jakun refer to themselves as well.
Jakun settlements can be found in the Malaysian states of Johor and Pahang. In
the past, their settlements extended over a much larger area of the southern
I was forewarned by the volunteers that this settlement is the poorest of the
poor. It was my first time making this trip with the volunteers. I was informed
that Bukit Redan is located snugly on the borders of Melaka-Pahang. We arrived
just before noon at the settlement which is just five kilometers away from the
Muadzam Shah town. The Jakun settlement is just 30 meters away from the main
paved road. I understand that the Universiti Tenaga Malaysia campus is in its
The Jakun settlement is a community of about 100 inhabitants. Upon reaching our
destination, the villagers informed us that that their daily staple diet is none
other than tapioca. There is also no water piping installed here; thus a lack of
integral water irrigation which is also fundamental for the cultivation of
Upon further walking, we discovered that there are two ponds 70 meters away from
the settlement. The first pond is utilised for washing clothes and bathing
purposes. I was relieved to discover that there is a second pond; albeit
a not so big one used for drinking water consumption.
The villagers’ living conditions are deplorable and sickening for the
faint-hearted. My heart goes out to them. They live in overcrowded and
unsanitary conditions. Any one single house is cramped in to accommodate ten
people. These houses are just small, wooden houses on stilts without electricity
Most families have ten children due to paucity of birth control. However I did
come across two families and upon noticing something amiss in that there seemed
to be considerably less children around them, I asked their mothers as to the
whereabouts of their children. The mothers replied that six to seven of their
children had died before attaining ten years of age.
It probably wasn’t a surprise that the infant mortality rate is higher in regard
to the Orang Asli if we were to compare with urbanites living in the city. We
have better facilities and all of our trite necessities are provided for by the
authorities. Even if they are not acceded to, we do have the necessary means to
voice out our concerns to the authorities.
Sadly, this does not happen here in this settlement. Due to minimal education
and lack of exposure beyond the confines of the community, the Jakun are unable
to voice out their concerns through the proper channels of bureaucracy. This
process also takes time and as a general rule, the administration is more
concerned with the plight of the majority off its peoples compared to the ethnic
tribal minorities which make up just less than one per cent of the total
population in Malaysia.
The children who do grow up and survive in these appalling living conditions
have to fend for themselves at an early age. They have to do with neither clean
water supply, good hygiene nor rudimentary primary education. The surroundings
of their living conditions are filthy, unkempt and disorderly. When they reach
their teenage years, the temptation for vice is substantially higher as they are
more susceptible to negative influence due to their extreme vulnerability
compared to urban teenagers.
These children are forsaken by the education system along with the bane of their
very existence. I felt like time came to a standstill. Being in the hourglass of
time. Up till the evening when we headed back to Melaka, I remembered the faces
of the people here and their way of life. Here at Bukit Redan, I felt a surge of
melancholy that these people seemed so carefree yet unaware that their living
conditions could improve drastically if more constructive effort and affirmative
action were to be given by the local authorities and non-governmental bodies.
Perhaps then aptly so the maxim “Ignorance is bliss” is for the best.
Due to lack of access to vaccination from mobile clinics, these children are
more likely to be sickly and malnourished. The normal education system is of no
significance here as the children of the Jakun lack the pre-requisite to
academia which is electricity. Try as they may even for the most industrious,
they cannot study without proper lighting in their homes; not to mention having
proper ventilation in the comfort of a ceiling fan.
Basic study equipment such as tables and chairs; and stationary; I found out;
are not a commodity in all homes. As this is sine quo non for a robust
education, these unfortunate children would be lagging behind in their studies
and placed under the slow learners’ category in school. This would further
dampen their spirits to acquire education.
Sometimes one cannot but believe that there are still people living in austere
conditions in Malaysia. One has to come out of his enclave to explore in order
to know and believe. Thus, I’m thankful that we made this trip.
I had the opportunity to visit their graveyards which is 50 meters away from
their settlement. It’s almost like a makeshift grave of unsung fallen heroes of
war. The individual tomb stones appeared stacked into the ground hastily and no
identification whatsoever can be deciphered from them. The atmosphere was grim.
I was surrounded by creepers and shrubs of the jungle. The village headman,
called the Tok Batin by the villagers, informed me that only days ago, the
village had mourned the loss of a child. It was a simple burial ceremony in
which the child was buried on the day he died. Alarmingly, there was no
necessity for a post-mortem, added the Tok Batin. The reason was simple enough.
The child had died in his homeland – the settlement. Had the child died in town,
a post-mortem to probe the cause of death would have been mandatory according to
government rulings. It would then take several days before burial.
I was divert when I asked an old lady how old she was. She said that she was as
old as the jackfruit tree next to her home. Yet another old lady said she was
definitely older than me as she was toothless. She was grinning from end to end.
It was apparent what simple lifestyles they lead here in Bukit Radan; simple
lifestyles without guilt nor guile. Yet at the end of the day, it was not enough
to lift my spirits. I felt I could do something in my capacity but just what yet
I am unsure. Many Jakun are in a state of transition. They have given up hunting
and foraging for food towards agriculture in order to survive. Some will need
educational and agricultural assistance during this transition period.
I asked for permission to photograph them and their homes in which they readily
obliged. I believe that the ever-widening gap between the poor and affluent in
our society needs to be addressed. All the more echoed by Albert Schweitzer:
“The fundamental rights of [humanity] are, first: the right of habitation;
second, the right to move freely; third, the right to the soil and subsoil, and
to the use of it; fourth, the right of freedom of labor and of exchange; fifth,
the right to justice; sixth, the right to live within a natural national
organization; and seventh, the right to education.”
Let’s not deny the peoples of the Jakun their due right to
Chairman Human Rights and Contemporary Issues Sub Committee