28 September 2012

Celebrating Malaysia: An Astute & Indulgent Forum on the Orang Asli community

Sunway’s MOHE Compulsory Subjects Department chose to honour and remember our Independence Day by conducting a Forum entitled: “Celebrating Malaysia” with its perspectives on “Orang Asli at the Crossroads.” The Forum was put together to educate urban Malaysians on the life, culture and plight of the Orang Asli community.

The Forum was honoured with the presence of 3 distinguished speakers and was moderated by Dr Colin Nicholas, founder and coordinator of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC). The first speaker was Tijah Yok Chopil, an indigenous woman of the Semai tribe who has devoted her life to empowering and uniting the once scattered Orang Asli community of Peninsular Malaysia. The second was Siti Z Kasim, a consummate human rights lawyer who is currently involved in many of the land rights issues affecting the Orang Asli community and finally, Bob Manolan, a social activist who also represents the people in land issues in the state of Pahang.

Dr Colin Nicholas, founder and coordinator of the COAC moderating the forum.

Throughout the Forum, the culture, daily struggles and the unjust law systems hampering the community were brought to light. Tijah explained that the aboriginal community were mostly animists in their religious beliefs, who shared great respect for their surroundings and nature to protect them. This is why land matters to them. “The Orang Asli community are rooted in rich culture and values that are cultivated in each individual from a young age. The community is closely knitted, cooperative and respectful towards one and another. Although the Orang Asli community are poor, they are dignified in nature and do not believe in begging.” shared Tijah in her speech.

Tijah Yok Chopil presenting her talk to the students.

The students also learned that the education system imposed on the Orang Asli, especially those living in rural areas, is not in agreement with the traditions, cultures and value systems of the Orang Asli. Each tribe speaks a different language, thus, when a standardised education system is enforced within this community, reliable results are not achieved.

Siti shared how difficult it is for the community to attain basic needs such as clean water, transportation and accessibility. “Children are transported to school like livestock animals on a lorry through muddy terrains on a daily basis. During recess, they eat their meals by the drain due to a lack of tables and chairs,” she shared. She also highlighted the plight of the community in encroachment of ancestral land matters that are seized for logging and opening of plantations.

Siti Z Kasim, a consummate human rights lawyer delivering her talk.

Bob further elaborated on the difficulties faced by the Orang Asli. Many protests have been held to reclaim their identity, land, resources and cultural heritage. Students learned that recognitions of ancestral and traditional lands and territories, right to self-governance and right to practice indigenous/tribal laws, right to self-determination, rights to access and manage their own natural resources within their ancestral domain and rights to their history and cultural heritage are some of the demarcated areas of their continuous struggle, waiting to be restored.

Bob Manolan educating the students on some of the struggles of the Orang Asli community.

Sunway understands the plights of the Orang Asli community and consistently creates awareness through talks and forums. Since 2009, various community projects have been carried out by Sunway College including the completion of a Computer Centre building (Pusat Komputer Kampung Jelintuh), a donation of 10 unit of computers and the conducting of computer classes to the Orang Asli community at Kampung Jelintuh, Gopeng, Perak,

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