In June, a group of international students attending the Asia Gateway residential training on inter-cultural mission participated in an exposure trip to Perak. Though short, the trip gave them invaluable insight into the lives of the Orang Asli community. More importantly, it helped the students to contextualize what they learned in class during their month-long training. The following is a report written by a student from Bhutan:
STAR2, the editor Kirk Endicott, writes, “…they continue to face oppression against a nationalist framework that valorizes them, in theory, as ‘the original people’ but in practice, ensures that they remain irrelevant and on the margins, displaced in resettlement villages, and left out of educational opportunities that lead to better-paying jobs. Some of the Orang Asli have survived by retreating further back into the forest and refusing the state’s demands to assimilate, convert into another religion, and erase themselves (P.16).”
My initial reaction was one of shock as I heard that the Orang Asli were indeed Malaysia’s “original people.” I didn’t research much as I wanted to see them first hand. So, with much excitement, we embarked on the trip led by one of the directors of Malaysian Care, Mr. Kenneth.
As students of inter-cultural mission, each of us was challenged by the trip to the Orang Asli settlement. Since our journey was from Seremban to Perak, it was quite a long drive to the Malaysian Care farm near Tapah. Amongst other long-term initiatives, Malaysian Care’s commitment is to uplift the marginalized Orang Asli people. Since its inception in 1979, it has committed to serve the poor and needy irrespective of religion and ethnicity. Why has Malaysian Care committed so much for these people? If they indeed are the “original people” of Malaysia, why are they still marginalized? How far has the mission been successful in reaching out to the Orang Asli? John Roxborough, in his book “A History of Christianity in Malaysia,” writes, “In 1847, Father Borie obtained land through a Protestant friend as a base for a mission to Orang Asli (P. 12).” This clearly shows that long before Malaysia gained independence, missionaries had made attempts to reach out to the Orang Asli.
Malaysian Care has done an excellent job in the context of community development services and advocacy on behalf of the Orang Asli. The moment we reached the well-maintained Malaysian Care farm, we were briefed on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ by one Mr. Adidas. Due to my unfamiliarity with the local language, I could not understand his briefing on the rules and regulations of the farm. Kenneth’s translation helped save the day for us.
We were given 10 minutes to keep our bags in the dorms before getting back to the meeting space. As we assembled, we were divided into two groups (men & women) and taken on a tour of the farm. Adidas gave a most insightful presentation on the different plants cultivated for various health purposes. I was utterly amazed at how much the Orang Asli knew about this, putting us urban people to shame. Wow! Their survival instinct in the jungle is impressive. The farm tour was invigorating and an eye-opener for me. Around 12 noon, we were ushered to our lunch. The lunch was so deliciously prepared and we were asked to eat without using fork and spoon. Most of us didn’t encounter much problem eating this way, but it was fun watching both our Dutch lecturers in residence, Ms. Berdine and Dr. Benno eating with their ‘biological spoons (hands)’.
After lunch we had some free time and were asked to report back by 2.30pm. Since we have heard a lot about a waterfall nearby, we asked Kenneth to allow us a brief swim. Most of us just rushed there and made the most of our time. It was so refreshing to enjoy the surrounding nature as we all swam and splashed about with each other. But sadly, our thighs and legs were exposed to leeches! Some were fascinated by the leeches but others (especially the ladies) got goose bumps just looking at them. Just as our time was up, it started to rain and we hurried back to the meeting space for the day’s tasks.
We assembled at 2.30pm and were divided into groups which were given specific tasks as volunteers. The choices were either to fetch grass from the jungle for the goats or to prepare an Orang Asli meal. I joined the kitchen group, partly to avoid the leeches again, in the jungle. We were asked to serve dinner by 7.30pm. I really enjoyed helping in the kitchen. I saw how rich the Orang Asli buffet was. I will never forget this. By being a helper to Adidas, I learned how to make Orang Asli food. I had my first experience of cooking cassava potato together with chicken. The marinated chicken was put in a bamboo hole along with the cassava potato and then closed with a leaf. After this, it was heated in the fire for no less than 2 to 3 hours. I will always treasure this experience and might try to do the same when I return home.
During fellowship after dinner, most of our friends asked about the history of the Orang Asli. It was interesting to discover how they are strongly bonded with animistic beliefs. This is a commonality among every tribal belief system. For some, their belief in the “good and bad” spirits remains strong till today. It is hard to put in context how they have been mistreated and marginalized. In this regard, it was encouraging to see Malaysian Care doing an astounding job of fighting on their behalf for their ancestral land.
On Sunday 11 June, we were given a choice to either fellowship with the Methodist or Baptist Orang Asli. I opted for the Methodist Church, and greatly enjoyed the fellowship there. These people have been marginalized and overlooked by the so-called “modern society.” I saw in them a people filled with simplicity and who can easily forgo many things. I had the privilege of sharing the word of God (Joshua 1:1-9) with them. Within the context that I knew of these people, I encouraged them with three basic points:
- God assures us of Land (Jos 1:1-4)
- God assures us of His presence (Jos 1: 5-7)
- God assures us His prosperity (Jos 8-9)
I consider this trip as very important in the context of the “Gospel, Culture and Integral Mission” modular program. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. I am convinced that the Orang Asli people need our love, support and affection. As evident in Luke 4:18-19, Jesus came for people like the Orang Asli. However, just portraying the concept of morality of our Christian tenets will not work, but we need to proclaim and demonstrate the faith for the body of Christ. I truly salute Malaysian Care for its work among the Orang Asli community. I pray that God will grant the Orang Asli justice and their land!
Asia Gateway is an equipping initiative of AsiaCMS in partnership with national churches and mission agencies in Malaysia for Asia.