While the orang asli have been assisted in cultivating the land they live on, they remain in a precarious position still, as most do not hold title to the land.
THERE are no gazetted orang asli settlement areas in Kelantan,” sighs Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) director-general Datuk Hasnan Hassan. “They don’t allocate for orang asli settlements, so it is difficult.”
In 2010, when the 10th Malaysia Plan was launched, there were just over 178,000 orang asli in Peninsular Malaysia, according to the Population and Housing Census. With the community growing by about 5% every year, Hasnan estimates that this year – when the next plan, the 11th, will be launched in June – there are now over 200,000.
Jakoa is constantly surveying land and applying to state governments for gazettement, he says.
“This involves a collective effort and understanding among relevant agencies, especially state administrations, the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development, and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.”
In its National Inquiry into the Land Rights of Indigenous People, the National Human Rights Commission (in Malay, Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Malaysia, or Suhakam) found that only 3.87ha were gazetted as orang asli reserves between 1990 and 2010, the start of the 10th development plan – while almost 9,800ha that had been approved for gazetting never became orang asli reserves.
A report on the inquiry (tinyurl.com/q9qwy7h) was handed to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low in August 2013. He set up a national task force to review it, and they submitted a report in mid-2014. Since then, there has been no further news.
Until the Government responds to and, hopefully, implements the recommendations made in Suhakam’s report, Jannie Lasimbang, secretariat director of the Indigenous People’s Network of Malaysia (Joas) and a former Suhakam commissioner, hopes that there will be a caveat on land claimed by indigenous people, pending resolution of its status.
Aside from the question of gazetting orang asli land, there is also much debate over how the land should be used.
The 10th Malaysia Plan had a “land development and ownership programme” to enable the orang asli “to become land owners and active farmers”. The Government would “develop orang asli reserve land for agriculture use”, it pledged. “The orang asli communities will be able to cultivate the land and obtain land ownership upon maturity of the estate.”
Jakoa, with other agencies such as the Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (Risda) and the Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Felcra), have planted reserve land with oil palm and rubber, generating monthly dividends of RM450 – again, with the exception of Kelantan.
But some orang asli communities claim they can reap higher yields on their own and would prefer to manage the land themselves. Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Dr Colin Nicholas notes that during the commodities boom between 2008 and 2010, those cultivating their own 2.5ha of land earned between RM4,000 and RM6,000 a month, compared with those with shares in land managed by Jakoa, who got RM450 a month.
Jakoa’s Hasnan explains that orang asli land developed since 2006 “is quite far, scattered, and hilly, and yields about 13 tonnes per year of fresh fruit bunches (from oil palm). It’s below the plantations and smallholders’ average of 23 tonnes per year.”
Universiti Malaya anthropologist Dr Juli Edo hopes the 11th Malaysia Plan will emphasise land issues. “All orang asli land should be gazetted as orang asli reserves on the peninsula and native customary land in Sabah and Sarawak,” he urges.
“It was originally called kawasan rayau, or roaming area, but is now called tanah adat or customary land. It includes areas which are planted and areas for hunting and gathering,” he explains. “All this should be identified and included in the reserves.”
NEXT PAGE: They’ve lived on their land for generations but it still doesn’t belong to them officially.
They’ve lived on their land for generations but it still doesn’t belong to them officially.
THE orang asli of Kampung Chenderong Kelubi live in relatively prosperous circumstances – and yet, many still suffer sleepless nights. They worry because the land on which their economic advances are based, and on which they have lived for generations, does not belong to them officially.
Villager Ngah Anjang, 60, says Perak has designated 600ha of land as tanah adat (customary land); however, the land has yet to be gazetted as orang asli reserve land by the State Government.
“For over 20 years, our headman (Tok Batin Pandak Kulob Samad) has been applying for the land title through the Perak State Government and Department of Orang Asli Development. But we haven’t received any positive news. It is frustrating, as we don’t have a piece of land to call our own,” explains Ngah.
The villagers are carrying on the tradition of cultivating oil palm begun by their parents and also have years of experience working in private palm oil plantations. Over the years, the Rubber Industry Smallholders Authority, Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority, Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa), and the Malaysian Palm Oil Board have also lent a helping hand by providing oil palm seedlings, fertiliser, and farming courses.
But without individual land titles, the Semai are living with uncertainty; they would have no legal standing if it came to asserting their indigenous rights to the ancestral land. There have already been problems with outsiders intruding on the land to illegally clear and develop it.
“Our forefathers lived on this land before the Japanese or even the British set foot in the country. But without any documents, we can’t really do much.
“It is worrisome not knowing when the land might be illegally developed,” says Ngah, a retired police sergeant who was born and bred in Kampung Chenderong Kelubi.
With the 11th Malaysia Plan slated to be announced in June, Ngah hopes the Government will expedite the process of identifying and including tanah adat in the reserves.
“It is of grave concern to us as we want to have our pride and dignity to own our own land. We hope the Government will look into the concerns of indigenous people,” he says.
Former police corporal and oil palm plantation smallholder Idan Long, 59, hopes the Government will provide more support to enable the orang asli community to develop their land successfully.
“Some of our oil palm trees are close to 25 years old and are less productive.
“To make it a lucrative business, we need good oil palm seedlings, a constant supply of fertiliser, and training programmes to help us become better entrepreneurs,” says Idan, adding that the Government should also launch more programmes like Tekun Nasional, the national Entrepreneurial Group Economic Fund, which is a financial services agency for small and micro-entrepreneurs under the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry.