Prominent Malaysian activist and Seksualiti Merdeka co-founder Pang Khee Teik recently paid a visit to his friend, an orang asli (indigenous people) activist called Mustafa Along, in his village located at Gua Musang, Kelantan.
In a Facebook post yesterday (6 May), Pang shared that he is meeting up with Mustafa, who is the chairman of the Jaringan Orang Asli Kelantan (Kelantan Indigenous People Network) to discuss a programme with Innovation for Change – East Asia.
As they made their way deep into the forest, Mustafa, 32, regaled Pang and his partner Gavin with the battle he is facing with “loggers, durian company Musang King, and the Kelantan state government”.
Hailing from the Temiar tribe, Mustafa said that “he needs to win the hearts of his own people” to convince them that their heritage is worth fighting for.
Malaysians typically stereotype the orang aslis as being “anti-development, anti-progress, lazy, and refusing education”.
“As far as Mustafa is concerned, the forest provides us with everything we need. There is no need to pay bills, no need to queue, everything is at an arm’s reach. This is their way of life. They see themselves as guardians of the forest”, Pang wrote.
They were headed to one of the blockade sites, which are “barriers set up to prevent loggers from coming in” by the orang asli who try to defend their forest despite being arrested by state police and forestry authorities.
During the 90-minute bumpy ride, Mustafa shared with them about how he loves to skid down these paths with his bike like the Ghost Rider” when it rains. He also mentioned the names of passing villages, such as one which was named Guling (Rolling) “because a bear and a tiger once fought there and rolled around in the tall grass.”
As they passed by a river, Amirx from Suaram pointed out its teh-tarik colour that was “due to the activities of loggers tarik-ing (pulling) from the land”. Mustafa later told Gavin that “if humans cannot see in this water, neither can fishes. So in one instant, they lose clean water, source of food, and a lifeline.”
Later along the journey, Mustafa also showed them the hiding place of the children who went missing in August 2015.
Seven children aged between 7 to 11 years from the Pos Tohoi village ran away after they were threatened with punishment from their teacher for skipping school and swimming in the river.
A search party was only conducted two days later.
“At first, the authorities did not allow the orang asli themselves to conduct the search as they accused the villagers of hiding their own children. So they sent soldiers carrying guns to do the search. According to Mustafa, the children saw the rescuers early in the search. But when the kids saw guns, they got scared and hid further,” Pang wrote.
After 50 days, only two of the children, aged 10 and 11, were found alive. Two of them who passed away happened to be Mustafa’s god-grandchildren.
“He (Mustafa) told me, I am a tough guy, I don’t cry easily. That day I cried so much I had to run away from the hospital.”
Mustafa also told them that the Malaysian school and government “have specific ideas for helping the orang asli” yet he “wonders about this so-called help from outsiders” who think that these orang aslis are “uncivilised” and try to “change their ways in order to be assimilated”.
He likened their situation to the LGBT community, stating that “they bully us because we are minorities, because they have power.” Pang commented that “just like LGBT people, orang aslis are expected to change before they can be accepted. But that means they never really accepted us, to begin with.”
Once they arrived at the Luag Tak blockade, Pang begin to realize the struggles these people go through and the sacrifices they make together to guard their home.
“A few months ago, the federal government initiated a suit against the Kelantan government on behalf of the orang asli of Gua Musang.”
“Meanwhile, they will continue to camp out here where it is hot in the day and cold at night, hours away from their villages. They won’t leave their post until everyone knows this land is their land,” he ended.
Presently, Mustafa and his people have no documentation of land ownership the way we have strata land title, which makes it easier for the state to sell their lands to corporations and plantation owners.
This is why the orang aslis are working on a big project of mapping their lands.
“This map will be their living document. It is not just a geographic map, but a historical one that includes stories passed down through generations from way back before independence,” Pang explained in his post.
He requested those who come across his post to contact him in case anyone knows people who are familiar with the Geographic Information System (GIS) and “can help train orang asli activists to use the software”.