(Used by permission)
by Vivienne Pal
Photos by Abdul Rahman Senin
IT IS usually dark out at night but at Kg Orang Asli Ulu Kemensah, Gombak, it is perpetually dark – and not just outdoors.
In the last 40 years since the first aboriginal families settled in the area, the villagers have never known what it is to light up a room with the flick of a switch.
“We’ve not had electricity since 1963,” said village chief Ebak Pulasan, 66, known among villagers as Tok Batin.
Ebak has lived at the kampung since it was founded, and took over from his father as village chief in the 1980s.
The village, comprising some 14 orang asli families from the Temuan tribe, is rather isolated and located near the Kemensah forest, some six kilometres from Zoo Negara. Follow the signs on the ever–narrowing road, pass Kg Kemensah and a few chalets for rental and you are on the right track when the road ends and civilisation is a few small houses perched – some precariously – on the hill slope.
The aborigines have long been living off the earth, collecting gaharu, damar and rotan from the forest for income. Some take on odd jobs or work with the municipality.
“On good days, we can earn about RM200 from 20kg of gaharu,” said Sabri Ahang, 25, “but that’s not always the case. Even if we chop down 10 trees doesn’t mean we get anything.”
Food mostly comes from hunting game in the forest, or the few chickens reared around the compound.
The houses are small and barely adequate, with as many as three families living within.
Activities cease as soon as dusk approaches, and the village is blanketed in inky darkness when night falls. Villagers choose not to go out for fear of poisonous snakes and the possibility of prowling, dangerous animals.
They rely on illumination from candles and kerosene lamps – if there are any.
“Minyak tanah susah nak dapat, diorang kadang–kadang tak nak hantar sini (kerosene is hard to get because the suppliers don’t want to send it here),” said Ebak.
Villagers are forced to shorten their hunting time to come back before dark, thus affecting their livelihood, while school–going children fall back on their education, as it is difficult to study by candlelight.
Ironically, despite visits from the Department of Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA), the quality of life has only slightly improved, but the Temuans are thankful for small mercies.
Through the department, some houses were built, a kindergarten–cum–community hall was raised, and there is piped water. Occasionally, there is a donation of foodstuff.
But, the houses are overcrowded, there is no proper road, drainage or sanitation; the piped water is only sufficient for drinking, and early education is non–existent because there are no teachers despite there being a kindergarten.
“We had two teachers who left after a short stint. Our children are our future, our only hope of making it in the world,” said Ebak, clearly worried.
Ebak’s anxiety stems from the fact that literacy is only confined to the young. The older generation are unschooled, the only languages they are conversant in being Malay and their native tongue.
Having no literate background to fall back on, the children find difficulty in coping in their studies.
Nonetheless, they have big dreams.
Little Amri Ambu told The Star photographer Abdul Rahman Senin: “I want to be a contractor when I grow up so that I can build proper houses for my people.”
Another child said he “wanted to be a doctor to be able to provide health services for his people” – this in response to the lack of health checks by the district health department.
“The JHEOA is supposed to monitor the condition of the villagers. These people don’t know their rights, they’ve lived in academic and social obscurity for so long,” said Abdul Rahim Shahrudin, 29, an outsider who had taken an interest in the villagers’ predicament.
“Perhaps the department could provide them with seedlings so they can plant vegetables, or young animals to rear to help increase their income, and give them proper sanitation, education and, of course, help them get electricity.”
Villagers complain that the past three assemblymen of the area were aware of their plight, but nothing had been done.
“We feel abandoned,” said a villager.
When contacted, Gombak MP Datuk Dr Rahman Ismail said he was not aware of the severity of the matter until he visited two weeks ago.
He said he had spoken with Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), and both the estate development department and district health officers, and hoped that basic needs would be provided for the villagers before the year–end.
“We will look into adequate water supply and education, improve the hall and roads and medical services,” he said.
“Setting up electricity cables is very costly, so for the interim we will try to install generators and provide subsidies for gas to run the generators before the end of the year.
“I am concerned, and am looking into everything comprehensively.”