The beginning of the end. The Batek/Orang Asli


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!!!

And Finally…

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!

  32 comments for “The beginning of the end. The Batek/Orang Asli

  1. April 11, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    Interesting post Dina, the dreaded Palm Oil is causing havoc amongst forests, and not needed, but the precious forests are!
    My mum (as a nurse) in Zambia, ran a little health clinic and got to know most people in villages around, and she said it was inevitable that the young ones gravitated to the cities.
    You were very intrepid, going down rivers and into the jungle, but what a great experience to share…thanks for the post.

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 7:54 pm

      I agree Gerrie, I’m sure most of the younger men have already left or soon will. It’s such a shame. It’s astonishing how many products palm oil is in, I check everything now.
      We loved the jungle, and that river……it’s surprising how quickly you adapt to going everywhere by boat. xxx

  2. April 12, 2017 at 1:51 am

    One of my favorite dishes in Liberia was palm butter, and of course we did much cooking in palm oil. But there’s a huge difference between tribal people harvesting the palm nuts for food, and the organized rape being carried on by some corporations. There have been more than a few times I’ve had a hankering for good palm butter. It certainly is high in calories, but for people walking everywhere and doing subsistence farming, those calories are valuable.

    There are days when I think we’re as endangered as the Batek. Simple humanity seems to be taking a hit in a multitude of ways. I’ve lived in the bush, and I can’t say I’d prefer that. But there’s something about a cohesive society that’s deeply appealing.

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      Yes, large corporations are destroying irreplaceable habitat and wildlife for profit, I’m amazed they have got away with it for so long. Now many opposing groups are permanently on their case. That’s an interesting thought, us being as endangered as the Batek, sadly I agree with

  3. Jo
    April 12, 2017 at 8:36 am

    What an interesting post. It’s hard to believe in this day and age of modern technology that people live in this way, the difference between cultures is so great and the way they live seems so primitive but as you say, I think the world we live in will make them adapt, there won’t be any alternative once we’ve ruined the planet. Very sad.

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      It’s hard to imagine people living so basically isn’t it, soon there won’t be any places remote enough for any tribe to live. I’m sure modern life will destroy their culture…..what a haunting comment re ruining the planet, we are on course for that. I do hope we all come to our senses sooner rather than later and reverse some of the damage. Thanks

  4. April 12, 2017 at 10:59 am

    Absolutely superb post, D! Love it! Hugs! 💕

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 8:09 pm


  5. April 12, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    A most enjoyable, and interesting, post and wonderful pictures.
    It’s sad that such people have been forced to give up their way of life as they have for the sake of the modern-day world. xx

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 8:10 pm

      Thanks Flighty. Modern life has much to answer for. xxx

  6. Kitty
    April 12, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Loved this post and the accompanying photos, Dina. It is sad to see how indigenous cultures are affected by those “modernized,” if hardly advanced. if only we could lend them the best of our creativity and save them from the worst, but it seems all people gravitate towards ease, sugar, fat, and comfort, when given the chance, and lose the moral insight to judge how these conveniences are produced and at what cost they’re adopted.

    No palm oil products in this house for years, and thanks for the shout-out!

    What a glorious journey, and I feel so blessed to have benefited from your generous heart and keen vision in this post. You always shine light.

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      Thanks Kitty, you are always far too kind to me!!! It is difficult seeing how indigenous cultures are being destroyed, if only we could just impact in a good way and vice versa. It is shocking when looking at the destruction caused for products we really don’t need isn’t it? I now scan every product for palm oil, it’s surprising what you find it in. Hope all is well at Full Moon. Missing your adventures, hoping that new blog appears

  7. April 12, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Wow, that is fascinating. I fear you are right once these aboriginal cultures are exposed to the modern world it is very difficult for them to survive

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 8:19 pm

      Thanks Jason, yes, it’s impossible to turn back the clock,

  8. veggiemummy
    April 12, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    What a fascinating post; I do so envy your travels. xx

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      Thanks VeggieMummy. xxx

  9. April 12, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    Definitely an amazing experience; your trip is very full of layers other worlds and varied ways of life. You say it all.

    The pictures are so good, they are almost filmic, with your words being a very fine commentary.


    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks Menhir, for a lovely comment and a mighty fine compliment!!!

  10. April 12, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    You really are adventurous and really saw things few of us will ever experience. Wonderful images and memories.

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 8:36 pm

      Thanks Sue. We certainly didn’t expect to meet the Batek so that was interesting, I was astonished to see how simply life could be lived. I can’t imagine life without water, electricity and a toilet!!! xxx

  11. April 13, 2017 at 1:00 am

    Great post and images. Another country’s indigenous people under threat.

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 8:55 pm

      Thanks Peter, yes…sadly we never

  12. April 13, 2017 at 1:03 am

    Building up a new blog after losing access to my WP blogs. Haven’t the energy to get back into multi-blogs.

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 9:03 pm

      You’ll have to send me the

  13. April 13, 2017 at 9:03 am

    A fabulous post Dina and thoughtful too, I really enjoyed it. What intrepid travellers you are! I shall come back and reread it when I have more time.

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 9:06 pm

      Thanks Chloris, we did enjoy this trip, we were constantly surprised by something unexpected!xxx

  14. April 13, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    I don’t envy you that river trip one bit but what an experience to share the life of the Batek. One day the tide will turn but I fear by then it will be far too late to undo the disasterous effects of our actions.

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      I loved travelling by boat, we spent the whole week moving around by boat, I do enjoy the water which is odd as I can’t even swim! Flying is my phobia! Yes, I think it’s too late for the

  15. April 13, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    I enjoyed reading this post.
    I enjoyed your photographs too.
    You certainly are traveller’s!

    It is so sad to see ways of life altered, sometimes we take a step too far.
    Sad to read about another country’s indigenous people under threat.

    On a more up beat note
    Happy Easter Weekend Wishes

    All the best Jan

    • Snow Bird
      April 18, 2017 at 9:09 pm

      Thanks so much Jan. It is a shame seeing another culture begin the fading process, I think it’s inevitable though. Thanks for the good wishes, hope you had a fine

  16. April 16, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    Oh dear, little seems changed: the tribes in the East are isolated (we say “nomads” but in reality, they have been pushed away from the settled lands, deprived of their possessions a.s.o.
    In Sumatra I saw several tribes, I remember the Karo Batak or the Toraja (with their fancy for burial sites with the “tau-tau”…) it a fascinating experience which I keep in my heart. One thing I guess is still the same: you said that there were no young around, but only woman and kids, and older people. The answer is that the young move to the cities, where they think they can get a better life. The usual dream that brings to an end the traditions and older cultures… Actually, it was like that in Europe as well, about 100 years ago.
    Thank you for sharing your great adventure, hugs, and kisses :-)c

  17. Snow Bird
    April 18, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    It is all so sad isn’t it? I would love to visit Sumatra, your trip sounded fascinating. I think you may be right about the younger members leaving for the cities. I can’t imagine them enjoying them though. Thanks Claudine. Hugs to you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On Facebook