THE MALAYAN COMMUNITY PROJECT
In September 2018, The Malayan Rainforest Station split its project into two key components – Community Development & Empowerment and Conservation & Research Unit – to establish research credibility, allow for more focused initiatives, and ensure that both wildlife conservation and community empowerment receive equal weighting, since they are interrelated and equally significant.
Initially, the community project started in 2014 as part of the Rainforest and Conservation Project to provide the Bateq people with basic education, economic empowerment and support cultural and historic preservation of this indigenous tribe. Over time, the project has gradually evolved along with its primary aim, which now focuses on bridging the cultural gap between the local Malay population and the Bateq. To address this core issue, both projects plan to –
- Include the adults from both communities in its capacity building programs, community events and conservation workshops.
- Continue investing in the local and Bateq children with a vision to build a tolerant society for the future.
Merapoh is a small hub town with several neighbouring villages in Lipis district of north Pahang, Malaysia. Little is known about its origins, but the written record suggests that the town was established around 1929, aided by close ties between families who migrated from nearby rural areas and villages, and also due to Islamic faith among locals. Hence, Merapoh is a traditional Malay village, where the locals practice Islam as their main religion.
In the past, the local Malay people cultivated rice paddy fields, which has now been converted to rubber or palm plantations, and even orchards. Few locals work as civil servants, while young adults translocate to cities for better job opportunities.
THE BATEQ TRIBE
On the outskirts of Merapoh lies the village of the Bateq who have their own unique identity, history, origin, and culture. At present, anthropologists and the Malaysian government generally term the Batek under “Orang-Asli (Original People)”, an indigenous ethnic group found in Peninsular Malaysia who have long-lived within its rainforests for generations. Consequently, the Bateq were considered to be forest dwelling nomadic foragers living in isolation – the ‘survivors’ of an earlier phase of social evolution.
However, anthropogenic studies (past and present) reveal that historically, the majority of the Bateq lived in close contact with the agricultural Malays engaging in a wide-range of economic activities such as occasional wage labour, small-scale swidden agriculture and selling or bartering forest products such as rattan, resins and fragrant woods, which is still practiced today. Regardless, it is clear that the Bateq’s lifestyle and their livelihood depended, and still depends on their surrounding forest; and as such, the Bateq practice animism imbuing the forest with religious significance.
Currently, with the rise in monoculture plantations, and a growing encounter with the local and global flow of ideologies and capital, the Bateq are slowly struggling, or perhaps, even adapting to re-shape their identity, lifestyle, religious beliefs and traditional practices. As an evidence, the Bateq tribe from Kampung Dedari (Dedari village) have successfully established their own ecotourism business to preserve and showcase their identity, tradition and culture.
In Merapoh, the Bateq have settled in permanent villages and work in rubber and oil plantations provided by Jakoa Jabatan Kebajikan Orang Asli (JAKOA), a government agency which focuses on helping the indigenous tribes in Malaysia to eradicate poverty, improve their health, promote education, and improve their general livelihood. Nevertheless, in spite of this provision, the Bateq still choose to practice their way of life and visit the rainforests during the fruiting season, or when it gets too hot in the village. To date, the Bateq settlements are concentrated within rural areas of the states of Kelantan, Pahang and a small portion of Terengganu.
WHY WE DO IT
The Bateq children lack the necessary education for their age group.
The Bateq have always prioritised natural education – the knowledge about their surrounding rainforest – since it was, and is their source of livelihood. Therefore, academic education for the Bateq children is generally disregarded or dissuaded by their parents or the village elders, even if they had attended school in the past.
Consequently, the Bateq attitude towards academic education may have led to Bateq children dropping out of the local school. This seems to be accepted among the Orang Asli as 700 children stopped attending primary and secondary schools last year.
Two communities with different beliefs and perspectives.
In the past, JAKOA funded and built the village settlement for the Bateq in Merapoh, along with providing financial support and incentive by allotting some of the state-owned land to be used for rubber and oil plantations. As such, currently, most of the Bateq males (adults and teenagers) work in rubber and oil plantations. As a result of the social provision and benefit given to the Bateq, the Malays view themselves as being treated unfairly.
Also, the Malays may harbour a stereotypical belief that the Bateq do not contribute to the society or economy since majority are jobless, illiterate and lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle. This could have resulted in a negative bias towards the Bateq passed onto different generations. However, this preconceived belief is fallacious and also, it does not represent the perspective of Malays in general.
The Bateq have always been wary of the ‘outsiders’, and still, view them as such. Also, it seems that their traumatic experiences of the past have greatly influenced their present attitude toward their Malaysian counterparts.
While most of Malaysia has prospered as a nation by embracing modernisation, the Bateq, on the other hand, are quietly struggling to preserve their way of life destroyed by progress and development. With little access to health, education and economic opportunities, perhaps it is reasonable to postulate that the Bateq view themselves as being taken advantage of or treated differently/unfairly.
What we achieved in 2018
We focused on education for the local children
We provided economic benefit to the local community
OUR FUTURE AIMS
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