The Orang Asli population command 1% of Malaysia’s population and recognised by the Malaysian government, yet their rights to the land is unbelievably denied or put to test. The state of Kelantan was one of the worst for indigenous land rights and deforestation, the same issues had affected indigenous communities across the country for decades.
On Wednesday, a heated confrontation turned battleground was reported between the Orang Asli community and loggers in the jungle on the tract of land located between Pos Tohoi and Pos Simpor, a two and a half drive from Gua Musang, Kelantan.
The recent land dispute became the center of argument when the Orang Asli claimed as their customary and ancestral land, while the loggers armed with shotgun and chainsaws having the concession from the authorities to clear the land for rubber trees re-plantation. The logging not only threatens the livelihood of the indigenous people, but also desecrates their past when the digging takes place at grave sites.
The situation is notably tense since claims by both party maybe right and justified. The logging licences obtained from the Kelantan Forestry Department cannot be refuted. Then again, for the Orang Asli community one of the indigenous ethnics with its majority living in the interior; the jungle is their settlement and livelihood.
Have we not learned history of the ‘great’ race occupying new frontiers and horizons of the natives? The Red Indians oppressed by the White migrants looking for greener pastures. The Spanish conquistadors conquered and annihilated the Inca civilization. Or the penal settlers from the Great Britain and Europe overrun the Aborigines in Australia?
“When they develop the land, they destroy everything inside the jungle,” said Azmi Badul, chairman of the Kelantan Network of Orang Asli Villages (JKOAK). The logging businesses have long presence in the region's expansive jungles, but the rate of deforestation has increased in the past decade as private companies clear-cut the forests.
Deforestation not only affected the natural resources, it too is making the indigenous communities' traditional way of life difficult to maintain. Rivers runs dry or contaminated and food sources are threatened as a result of persistent logging, threatening the way of life for the indigenous people living in Malaysia's forests.
Land development undertaken by the government in the area of aboriginal land has caused much conflicts between the developer and the local communities, resulting to the Orang Asli involved left homeless and in search of resources to maintain their livelihood.
Astonishingly the National Land Code 1965 gives importance to the land registered in the Land Registry while the ancestral lands inherited from generation to generation not protected under the laws of Malaysia, thus allowing state government authorities to invoke Land Acquisition Act 1960 on the Orang Asli.
According to a 2012 study by the University of Maryland using Google Maps data, Malaysia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. Most of the land is cleared for palm oil or rubber plantations, which have played a major role in Malaysia's economic growth. The logging industry too is inviting to myriads of issues; bribery, abuse of powers, ecological side effects to name a few.
Deforestation is believed the contributing factor to the size of the flooding that hit in December 2014, killing 23 people and forcing more than 200,000 from their homes. While flooding is an annual occurrence, the December floods were the worst on record in Malaysia for 30 years.
"If you don't respect the forest, this is what happens," says one Orang Asli.