About half an hour from the scenic town of Batang Kali lies an Orang Asli village of about 200 families, scattered across the mountainous region of the Titiwangsa range. The place, called Hulu Tamu, is located deep within the hills overlooking lush green tropical jungles. Thank God for roads, as I was sent here for an assignment some time back.
A group of volunteers from an NGO dubbed ‘Epic Homes’ traveled into the interior to build houses for families in need. They completed it in just three days, thanks to an ingenious engineering plan laid out by voluntary architects and experts. Led by *the very good looking* John-Son Oei, some 30-odd staff from companies, students and a mix of people from different backgrounds came together in the spirit of togetherness to build a new home for an Orang Asli family.
The way it was designed was so that it could be built easily by people like you and me. It was hot and sunny even in the evening, and the nearby jungle invited loads of mozzies. I didn’t mind though, their work was very interesting. I didn’t join in so I sat at a shed nearby while waiting for the interview.
The Orang Asli are the natives of Malaysia, and are divided into 18 tribes. They lived in the interior, even with the arrival of Malays from Indonesia who formed the Malay Sultanate (ancestors of the modern Malay), and later on Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists. Their way of life is still unchanged in many ways.
Villagers do odd jobs such as gathering forest goods, from bamboo shoots to trapping small wild animals. Regular kapcai bikes are their mode of transport to and from the nearest big town, where they would peddle their wares. Pet dogs roam the place freely and are completely unafraid of strangers. Chickens run around here and there, as do the children who are barefeet, shy when you talk to them but so easy with their smiles.
Their homes are simple; made of wooden planks and rush, on stilts. The neighbours from the next house sit on their porch as they watch the volunteers go about their work.
The communal shed offers some protection from the glaring heat. It’s just a makeshift tent, with logs for seats and a small campfire. I sit and talk to the villager whom the volunteers are building for. Her name is Rinie, and she speaks Malay with a paku accent. Amirul, her five-year old boy, hovers near me curiously, shying away when I try to talk to him.
I am touched by how friendly these people are, even though they live in such simple surroundings. They do not have the luxuries of air-conditioning, or proper lighting, hot showers or cable TV; things we all take for granted in our day to day life. A visit here really puts you in place.
The old house…
….and the new one! :) It’s a sad reality, but many original peoples in Malaysia still live in dilapidated conditions, with no proper housing and amenities. Epic Homes aims to build new homes for all the Orang Asli families, with that acting as an entry point to address more serious issues of poverty and education for the community.
I left the place feeling touched by the plight of these humble villagers. Especially their children. It’s true what they say about young children being untainted by all the problems we grownups are constantly bothered about. They had such open smiles as I got into my car, and they chased after it waving goodbye when I drove off. These are kids who love running barefoot around the place, who know the jungle better than either you or me, and are probably smarter than most city kids out there – they just lack a chance to have a proper education.
One thing city folks don’t have that the Orang Asli do – the ability to live off the land, and to appreciate the beauty of mother nature everyday. :)