Orang Asli (lit. "Native people", "aborigines people" or "aboriginal people" in Malay) are the indigenous people and the oldest inhabitants of Peninsular Malaysia. Officially, there are 18 Orang Asli tribes, categorised under three main groups according to their different languages and customs:
- Semang (or Negrito), generally confined to the northern portion of the peninsula.
- Senoi, residing in the central region.
- Proto-Malay (or Aboriginal Malay), in the southern region.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Aslian languages (Austroasiatic)|
Aboriginal Malay languages (Austronesian)
|Animism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, no religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Semang, Senoi, and Proto Malay of Peninsular Malaysia|
Maniq of southern Thailand
Talang Mamak, Akit, Sakai of Sumatra, Indonesia
The Semang and Senoi groups, being Austroasiatic-speaking, are the indigenous peoples of the Malay Peninsula. The Proto-Malays, who speak Austronesian languages, migrated to the area between 2500 and 1500 BC.
The Orang Asli kept to themselves until the first traders from India arrived in the first millennium CE. Living in the interior, they bartered inland products like resins, incense woods, and feathers for salt, cloth, and iron tools.
The rise early civilisation in the Peninsula, together with later Hindu-Buddhist kings and subsequent Islamic Malay sultanates system during the common era forever revolutionised the dynamics of Malay Peninsular society. With the easement of mobility and contact between various groups of people, the walls that separated the myriad of historical Austroasiatic and Austronesian tribal communities who once dwelled across the peninsula were dismantled, being gradually drawn and integrated into the Malay society, identity, language, culture and belief system. These Malayised tribes and communities would later constitute among the ancestors of present-day Malay people. Other smaller, closely related tribes, often located further inland compared to their coastal cousins managed to be spared from the Malayisation process due to their secluded geographical location and nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyle, hence preserving and developing their own endemic language, customs and pagan rituals.
Some of these Orang Asli groups were not living in complete isolation from their Malayalised brothers, they engaged with economic dealings and trading with the Malays, jungle produce provided by the Orang Aslis was traded in exchange for vital commodities such as salt, knives and metal axe-heads by the Malays. Historical record also witnessed that the Orang Asli sent forest produce as a tribute to the Malay chiefs where they reside in.
By the 18th to the 19th century, some Orang Asli groups suffered raids by the Malay and Batak forces who perceived them to be of lower in status. The Orang Asli settlement being sacked, with the adult males being systematically executed while the women and children being held captive and later sold as slaves. However, the relationship between the Malays and Orang Asli were not always hostile, many other groups enjoyed peaceful and cordial relation with their Malay neighbours. Based on historical records, the enslavement of the negrito tribes commenced as early as 724 AD, during the early contact of the Malay Srivijaya empire. Negrito pygmies from the southern forests were enslaved and some even being exploited until modern times.
During the Malayan Emergency of 1948 to 1960, the Orang Asli became a vital component of national security, as their help enabled the Malayan army to defeat the Communist insurgents. Two administrative initiatives were introduced to highlight the importance of the Orang Asli, as well to protect their identity. The Department of Aborigines was established in 1950, and the Aboriginal Peoples Ordinance was enacted in 1954. After independence, development of the Orang Asli became a prime objective of the government, and in 1961 a policy was adopted to integrate the Orang Asli into the wider Malaysian society.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Malaysia experienced a period of sustained growth characterised by modernisation, industrialisation, and land development, which resulted in encroachments on Orang Asli land. In response to this encroachment, the Orang Asli mobilised and formed the Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Association (POASM), which has given them a stronger voice and greater visibility. The Orang Asli are now known as Orang Kita ("our people") following the introduction of the "One Malaysia" concept by Najib Razak.
Orang Asli living in remote forest areas engaged in some trading with the Malays, with jungle produce being exchanged for salt, knives and metal axe-heads. There was also evidence of trade in blowpipes and blowpipe-bamboo among certain tribes. It has also been shown that the Orang Asli have played a significant role in the Malay Peninsula's economic history as collectors and primary traders as early as the 5th Century A.D. An early 19th century report also tells of Negritos providing forest products as tribute to the Malay chiefs of the river basins they resided in.
In 2000, the Orang Asli constitute only 0.5% of the total population in Malaysia. Their population is approximately 148,000. The largest group are the Senois, constituting about 54% of the total Orang Asli population. The Proto-Malays form 43%, and the Semang forming 3%. Thailand is home to roughly 600 orang asli, divided between Mani people with Thai citizenship, and 300 others in the deep south.
The poverty rate among Orang Asli is 76.9%. In addition to this high rate, the Statistics Department of Malaysia has classified 35.2% of the population as being "very poor". The majority of Orang Asli live in rural areas, while a minority have moved into urban areas. In 1991, the literacy rate for the Orang Asli was 43% compared to the national rate of 86% at that time. They have an average life expectancy of 53 years (52 for male and 54 for female). A high infant mortality rate is also evident with 51.7 deaths per 1000 births.
The Malaysian Government has undertaken various measures to eradicate the poverty level among the Orang Aslis, many of them have been relocated from their nomadic and semi-nomadic dwelling to a permanent housing estate under the relocation program initiated by the government. These settlements are equipped with modern amenities including electricity, running water and school. They were also awarded plots of palm oil land to be cultivated and as a source of income. Other programs initiated by the government includes various special scholarship for the Orang Asli children for their studies and entrepreneurship courses, training and monetary funds for Orang Asli adult. The Malaysian Government aims to increase the monthly household income for Orang Asli from RM 1,200.00 per-month in 2010 to RM 2,500.00 by year 2015.
|Orang Asli population by groups and subgroups (2000)|
|Bateq (1,519)||Cheq Wong (234)||Jakun (21,484)|
|Jahai (1,244)||Jah Hut (2,594)||Orang Kanaq (73)|
|Kensiu (254)||Mah Meri (3,503)||Orang Kuala (3,221)|
|Kintaq (150)||Semai (34,248)||Orang Seletar (1,037)|
|Lanoh (173)||Semaq Beri (2,348)||Semelai (5,026)|
|Mendriq (167)||Temiar (17,706)||Temuan (18,560)|
The division of Orang Asli into three categories is not due to linguistic differences but is merely sociological: linguistically they divide into two groups.
Kulanchi was one of the major and trade and business oriented tribe of the then era. It is also believed that Kulanchi later traveled to east Asian countries to save interest of their own and interests of monach,The first group speak Aslian languages, which form part of the Austroasiatic language family. These are further divided into the Jahaic languages (North Aslian), Senoic languages, Semelaic languages (South Aslian), and Jah Hut. The languages which fall under the Jahaic language sub-group are the Cheq Wong, Jahai, Bateq, Kensiu, Kintaq, and Mendriq languages. The Lanoh language, Temiar language, and Semai language fall into the Senoic language sub-group. Languages that fall into the Semelaic sub-group include the Semelai language, Semoq Beri language, and Besisi language (language spoken by the Mah Meri people).
Besides these, most Orang Aslis are fluent in the Malay language, the official language of Malaysia.
Lifestyle and religion
Orang Asli are traditionally animists, where they believe in the presence of spirits in various objects. However, in the 21st century, many of them have embraced monotheistic religions such as Islam and Christianity following some active state-sponsored dakwah by Muslims, and evangelism by Christian missionaries.
In June 2007, an Orang Asli church was allegedly torn down by the state government in Gua Musang, Kelantan. As of 2008, a suit has been filed against the Kelantan state authorities. The affected Orang Asli also sought a declaration under Article 11 of the Constitution of Malaysia that they have the right to practice the religion of their choice and to build their own prayer house.
Negritos of Peninsular Malaysia
According to the Encyclopedia of Malaysia, the Negritos, who number approximately 2,000, are regarded as the earliest inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula. They are of Australo-Melanesian affinity and probably descend from the people of Hoabinhian cultural period, with many of their burials found dating back 10,000 years ago. They speak the Aslian languages which is part of the Austroasiatic language family, as do their Senoi agriculturalist neighbours. Negritos belong to various subgroups, namely the Kensiu, Kintak, Lanoh, Jahai, Jakun, Mendriq and Bateq. Those from Perak, Kedah and Pahang are also known as Sakai, the meaning of "Sakai" is debt slaves, while those from Kelantan and Terengganu were called Pangan, the forest peoples. The Senoi and Proto-Malay arrived much later probably during the Neolithic period.
Social and legal status
The government agency entrusted to oversee the affairs of the Orang Asli is the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (Department of Orang Asli Affairs) (JHEOA). This body is under the Malaysian Ministry of Rural Development, and it was first set up in 1954. Among its stated objectives are to eradicate poverty among the Orang Asli, improving their health, promoting education, and improving their general livelihood. There is a high incidence of poverty among the Orang Asli. In 1997, 80% of all Orang Asli lived below the poverty line. This ratio is extremely high compared to the national poverty rate of 8.5% at that time.
Some legislations which concerns Orang Asli are the National Land Code 1965, Land Conservation Act 1960, Protection of Wildlife Act 1972, National Parks Act 1980, and most importantly the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954. The Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 provides for the setting up and establishment of the Orang Asli Reserve Land. However, the Act also includes the power accorded to the Director-General of the JHEOA to order Orang Asli out of such reserved land at its discretion, and award compensation to affected people, also at its discretion. A landmark case on this matter is in the 2002 case of Sagong bin Tasi & Ors v Kerajaan Negeri Selangor. The case was concerned with the state using its powers conferred under the 1954 Act to evict Orang Asli from gazetted Orang Asli Reserve Land. The High Court ruled in favour of Sagong Tasi, who represented the Orang Asli, and this decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal.
The Orang Asli are classified as Bumiputras, a status signifying indigenity to Malaysia which carries certain social, economic, and political rights, along with the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. However, this status is generally not mentioned in the constitution.
Mahathir Mohamad, made controversial remarks regarding the Orang Asli, saying that Orang Asli were not entitled more rights than Malays even though they were natives to the land, as posted on his blog comparing the Orang Asli in Malaysia to Native Americans in the US, Māori in New Zealand, and Aboriginal Australians. He was criticised by spokespeople and advocates for the Orang Asli who said that the Orang Asli desired to be recognised as the true natives of Malaysia and that his statement would expose their land to businessmen and loggers.
Notable Orang Aslis
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- Haradian Shah Hamdan (1 June 2016). "Kerajaan sedia rumah moden Orang Asli". Utusan Melayu. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
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- Malaysian Orang Asli Foundation
- Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Graduates Association (PSOA)
- Department of Orang Asli Development/Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli - JAKOA
- Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
- Perak Orang Asli Foundation
- MOASF ( Orang Asli on Facebook )
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