Location: Kuantan, Pahang
Date: 11 & 12 December 2009
Call it coincidence. Call it chance. It was 6 years since I last saw my Sunday School friends.
Debbie Lai, Justin Lee, Christopher Khaw, the Charles twins…
If not for attending my ex-Sunday School teacher’s wedding I wouldn’t have met them.
And I definitely wouldn’t have been on this road trip to the rural areas of Kuantan, Pahang.
The RYM (Revolution Youth Ministry) organized a 2-day trip to the Orang Asli settlements to spend time with them, preach the word of God, sang songs, and also bring gifts and supplies for the Christmas holidays season.
It’s been a long time since I was last active with the church, so why not? When Debbie invited me, I jumped at it right away. Besides, up until then I have been rather ignorant of the Orang Asli (Aborigine Malay).
I do know they are around and I’ve read about them in history books, but that’s just it.
The Trip to the Settlements
Friday morning came. Met up with the group for the excursion. Mostly new faces to me, so I got acquainted with the youth. (gotta admit I felt rather ‘old’ and ‘senior’!)
We convoyed in 4 cars and drove to the St. Thomas church in Kuantan, which took about 3 hours to get there. We were to spend our night there.
The RYM met up with Father Danny and one of his Sunday School students, Dominique.
Then we drove for another 2 hours to reach the Orang Asli settlements Batu 3 and Batu 8.
Upon reaching the settlements, it felt like I went back in time. The children would shy away even though I’m sure they get visitors like us every now and then. Probably ashamed of their humble home.
However the ice quickly broke with hand shakes and smiles. The church contributed supplies like rice, cooking oil, food, etc. to each of the settlements. Also, a mass service in Bahasa Malaysia was held in each settlement.
After the mass service was concluded, the RYM spent time with the children, bearing gifts and goodies.
Of course, not to forget snapping pictures of those lightened up smiles. 🙂
Orang Asli: My Initial Impression
Don’t laugh though; when I heard we were going to visit the Orang Asli I actually thought we were going to be seeing this:
Or something like that.
As you can see from the photos now, the Orang Asli appears totally different from what I thought at first. 🙂
Orang Asli Exposed
After lunch, a few of the RYM members and I listened to one of the nuns at the St. Thomas church about her experience with the Orang Asli.
Even though the Orang Asli are said to be the first people to walk the lands of the Peninsular Malaysia centuries ago, to this day the Orang Asli are denied of many basic rights, and are often seen as the lower rung of the society.
In the 17th to early 20th century, it was common for Malays to raid the Orang Asli settlements and enslave the people. The Orang Asli were considered ‘sub humans’ or ‘savages’. Reminds me of the show Pocahontas when John Smith and his crew of English men met the Red Indians for the first time.
While this is obsolete in practice, the negative impression and label on the Orang Asli by the modern society is far from being worn off.
The needs of the Orang Asli often fall into the blind spot of the local government. The children are teased in school for being and looking ‘different’, so as a result most children drop out after primary school. The lucky ones finish high school.
The Sister went on to tell of a case when a team of land developers were excavating a forest, affecting the Orang Asli nearby. The Orang Asli tried to appeal to the court to stop the developers from ‘disturbing’ the land, claiming that they see visions and dreams of their un-rest ancestors.
Today is the 21st century, but the lifestyle of the Orang Asli hardly changed, if any at all, for decades. And their belief system is no different from their forefathers from centuries ago.
However I was pleasantly surprised to find the Orang Asli faring considerably well when I met them for the first time with the RYM group.
By ‘considerably well’, they have their essentials covered. I was told we visited the ‘higher class’ settlements; the deeply impoverished ones are deep into the woods and we didn’t have the means to reach out to them.
Although Catholic Christians by religion, the aborigine malays speak only Bahasa Malaysia (BM). Father Danny told us many more tales of the Orang Asli.
All in All…
This 2-day experience reminded me to be grateful for every blessing I have. I came to realize many things I took for granted in life – my essentials coming to the top of my mind right now.
And to think that there are many other people in the world living without them!
We had a great experience bringing some joy to the kids and families at the settlements, and I sincerely hope and pray they fare better through generations. 🙂