Taman Negara, Malaysia’s oldest National Park.
This ancient rain forest is thought to be 130 million years old. It covers millions of acres and is home to innumerable animals and birds, including tigers and elephants. We were fortunate to spend a week here.
While walking along one of the many boardwalks/trails, that you could actually trek for weeks on end, we came across a guy packing a blowpipe and a knife. Clearly he was hunting. He didn’t acknowledge us, and given his arsenal, we didn’t engage him. We were in the middle of nowhere!
After making a few inquiries, a local said he was probably from the Orang Asli tribe, which translates as “Original People.”
They prefer to call themselves the Batek, the Forest People. Their numbers are small, only a few thousand, and they pitch their villages, miles apart, along the banks of the Tremeling river. In the eighties, the Malaysian government, tried to force them to abandon their primitive ways, not my words! After failing dismally, they forced them to live in the National Park. Today, they live there still, in small communities. They are nomadic and move when the local food supply is exhausted.
They are the only people allowed to hunt in the National Park as they live off the land.
The Batek, the indigenous people, are hunter- gatherers; the men hunt small animals, usually tree-dwelling creatures such as squirrels, monkeys and birds, with blowpipes, one and a half meters long, and can hit a moving target fifty yards away. The blowpipes are dipped in the poisonous sap of the Ipoh tree.
They also trade rattan and wild honey and make small blowpipes which they sell to tourists. They deeply respect the rain forest and believe it belongs to everybody, so all food is shared equally amongst the tribe.
One of the Batek communities has been settled for some years now and invites tourists to visit. A local guide who speaks their language ensures they get a cut of the fee. I was fascinated after crossing paths with the hunter, so went along to find out more.
We boarded a speedboat and braved the endless rapids. Finally, we arrived at this village soaked and a little breathless.
The huts are simple, and constructed from natural vegetation, with a raised platform for sleeping and an open hearth for cooking. Men can only marry when they can hunt, which is usually around seventeen and girls when they can cook, fish and forage for fruit and veg, usually by the time they are thirteen.
Travelling to Taman Negara involved a four hour speed boat ride and I took this picture on-route. I had no idea at the time that I had captured four Batek boys…. fishing? They seemed to be slapping the water. I once watched a documentary were African woman created the most beautiful music by slapping water, so who knows, maybe they were a band, making music, it’s easy to jump to conclusions isn’t it?
An information center claimed that the Batek are afraid of rain and lightening……seriously? It rains half the year, every year!!! Apparently, every time it rains a member of the tribe has to slap his/her shins with a blade until it bleeds, as they feel they are being punished because one of their taboos has been broken.
I have to say, I didn’t see a single bleeding or bruised shin.
At the village, demonstrations of how blowpipes were made from scratch, and used, left us all in awe…..
and fire making looked oh so simple. We got the chance to try both and failed dismally.
So, why the beginning of the end?
It reminds me of the Aboriginal people in Australia. We lived there for a year back in the day and witnessing the demise of their culture was painful. Once civilization hit them, their culture and way of life more or less disappeared. They never stood a chance and are still struggling to adapt.
While visiting the Batek, I noticed many things. NO teenagers or older boys, but lots of women, young children and a few men demonstrating skills. Maybe the only people present were the ones who needed to be, maybe the teenagers got off and fished, or made music, or foraged….who knows….but now they all know what smart phones are and cameras, and speedboats. Surely they must aspire to own a boat and make money to buy items that make daily life easier. There were a lot of sweets being dished out to the children too, sadly.
If we see something that improves our lives we tend to go for it, I’m sure the older members of the tribe may up-sticks and move tomorrow, but that contact and knowledge is now there, how to hold back the tide? Apparently, if a member of the community dies the whole village will relocate….but….It’s already over in my mind…sadly, how to turn back the clock?
If civilization doesn’t ruin their culture, the dreaded palm plantations will, they are decimating the jungle, even though they don’t thrive there. The deforestation is appalling, utterly disastrous.
Worldwide, we all need to boycott products using unethically sourced palm oil!!!
Shame on Procter and Gamble, they are the worse culprits!
How they hammer the rain forests worldwide, especially in the poorer countries, where individual landowners sell land to improve their lifestyles.
There won’t be a rain forest left standing if we don’t stop buying their products!!!
The village had lots of these cats, very vocal, Siamese-like, with these weird curly, kinky tails, we saw cats like this right across Malaysia…no dogs though!