The Orang Asli Museum in Gombak stated that, the Orang Asli is considered as part of the natives in Malaysia. As of December 2010, their population is approximately 171, 193 and they are divided into 3 main tribes which are Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malays (Aboriginal Malays). Each tribe is then divided into 6 smaller tribes and they speak different dialect, apart from the local Malay dialect. The Negrito is mostly found inhabiting the northern and eastern parts of Peninsular Malaysia. They represent three percent of the total number of Orang Asli population in Malaysia. They make their homes on the foothills of the Titiwangsa Range in the middle of Peninsular Malaysia. This group is divided further into a few sub-ethnic groupings such as Kensiu, Kintak, Jahai, Lanah, Mendriq and Bateq. They are nomadic and their economic source is derived from hunting and gathering jungle produce. In physical terms, these people are short in stature, with brown skin and curly hair.
The ethnic Senoi make up the largest group and possesses characteristics similar to the Melanesian, Australoid and Nesiot. In terms of their physique, they are slightly taller than the ethnic Negrito, with curly hair and lighter skin tone. This ethnic group represents fifty-five percent of the total amount of Orang Asli citizens in the Peninsular and can be divided into two big groupings, namely the Senoi Temior in the north and Senoi Semai in the south. They still practice hunting, shifting agriculture and seeking out jungle produce such as rattan and the gaharu wood.
Meanwhile, the Proto Malay settles down in the southern parts of the Peninsular. They migrated from Yunan (Southern China) to our country approximately 5000 years ago, making Johor their place of residence. This group represents almost forty-two percent of the Orang Asli community in the country. Fishing is their main source of livelihood, with products from sea being their main food staple.
FESTIVALS, CUSTOMS AND CEREMONY
Since there are many ethnic groups within the Orang Asli, there will be a different culture among them. Most of the Orang Asli get married at a young age. For the men, the most appropriate ages for marriage are 17 to 18 years old. For the women, ages of 13 to 14 and must not be older than the men in order to be suitable for marriage. For some tribes, the plan of marriage needs to be conveyed to the Tok Batin, the village head first before the parents are informed. When two parties have agreed to the marriage, the wedding preparation begins and it will go on for almost a year. The wedding ceremony will begin from merisik until they legally become a married couple. It is not a problem if a man wants to marry a woman from a different tribe, however, the wife needs to join the ethnic group of her husband.
First, there will be a Hantar Tanda which is guided by the deputy village chief to set a day for proposal. Hantar Tanda is usually done by the parents and the elder family members.
Then, on the day of the proposal, the representative of both sides which are their Tok Batin, the village heads will have a discussion in a hall or long house. When the proposing ceremony is finished, a date will be set for the marriage ceremony to happen, typically in seven months or a year. The period of time within the wait will be focused on the wedding preparation.
In the wedding ceremony among some tribes, the bride and groom need to sharpen their teeth because they believe that this practice can lead them away from misfortune. If they have faced a particular problem when they were single, they will not face it again after sharpening their teeth. This can also prove that the couple is mature and are ready to commit to their marriage. The couple needs to perform the Berinai ceremony. This ceremony will be held in the middle of the long house so the other family members can witness. The couple will wear different kind of traditional wedding clothing based on their own tribes. There will be various accessories worn by the bride which are bracelet and necklace of diverse colour that are made of beads. The heads of the couple will be beautified by leaves. On the day of the wedding, both representatives will provide delicious food for all the guests. Lastly, the ceremony ends with the couple having a bath to declare that they are husband and wife.
After the wedding, the couple needs to quickly befriend with their spouse’s family. So, usually the bride will stay at the groom’s house for a few days, then go back to her house and stay for a few days. This can make them familiarise with their new family. All of these are culture transmitted from generation to generation, their knowledge of the wedding customs is gained from their parents. The next generation will then plan their weddings as their elderly would.
Death among the Orang Asli
The first order of death among Orang Asli is to inform the Tok Batin, he will confirm the death. Then, he appoints a Jurukerah, the village informer to prepare the grave. When there is a death in the village, all the daily routine such as farming and hunting will stop. Orang Asli believe that anyone refusing may bring misfortune. The children in the village will have chalk cast with spell put on their ears, charcoal swept at the soles of their feet, chest and eyebrows. They believe the devils and ghosts will not disturb the children if they have applied pengandang. If the deceased is not buried on the same day as the death, it allows the family members from afar to visit and pay their last respects. After some days, a large group of villagers will accompany the body of the deceased to the burial place. Next, the family members set a fire beside the grave for six days. At the same time, a small fire will be set under the deceased’s house. The walls of the house will be sprinkled with the fine sand cast with spell. They hope that it will get into the spirit’s eyes. The family members are forbidden to wear accessories and make up. They also cannot take part in any celebration within forty days of mourning.
Birth among the Orang Asli
When a wife is in labour pain, the husband will tell the others immediately. The women or midwives will go and help in their house. Orang Asli do not like praises from visitors to their new born baby, they believe that if a baby gets the praises such as “The baby is beautiful.”, the ghosts nearby will take the baby away. If the baby who gets praises has fallen sick or experience fever, it is proven that the ghosts have come before. There are some taboos towards pregnant women and maybe their husbands too. One of it is the husband cannot go fishing by using the net. The couple also cannot eat venison.
For the Orang Asli, they originally live in deep jungles, they use natural materials such as grass and tree barks to make their clothes. These are some things available to them. They also wear hats that are made by grass with their skills.
The masks represent their ancestors’ spirits. Those ancestors who have been dead for a long time and who have had the influence on others or a reputation during their lifetime are the most respected. The masks are made from kayu pulai, a type of wood that is light weight. They are worn on important days especially during the Hari Moyang festival.
TABOO AND BELIEFS
Almost all of the Orang Asli in this country believes in and adhere to taboos related to every aspect of their lives. Non-observance of these taboos can bring around bad luck to the individuals involved and also to the local community. For example, the Mah Meri tribe believes that while a wife is pregnant, the husband must observe some taboos such as not nailing anything for fear that it would cause the placenta to stick.
Death is regarded as the scariest event and as such contains many taboos, particularly during the period of mourning. During this time, many daily activities have to be postponed and family members of the deceased cannot wear their fine clothes or adornments. Those in the community who fail to observe these taboos or tradition would be punished in various ways, for example, they could be possessed by spirits, fall ill, disturbed by evil spirits, and many more.
In terms of beliefs, the Orang Asli have their own unique customs and tradition, which are closely linked to animistic influences. Their beliefs are traditionally entwined with unseen beings, supernatural power, spirits and others. Their views are largely influenced by the physical situation of their surroundings. In this community’s cosmology, the forests, mountains, hills, rivers, thunder, and others are believed to hold their own significant meaning.
Living in an environment surrounded by nature, this community is able to recognize and understand the universe, which has a connection with their daily practices. In general, the Orang Asli beliefs system forms the basis of their interpretation and understanding of existence as well as the origins of the universe, unseen and spiritual elements.
Most of the Orang Asli still believes in the power of spirits who are said to be their sources of help in time of need. Traditional medicine-men or witch-doctors act as a medium to communicate with the invisible power. This communication process is carried out during rituals on special days such as ‘Puja Pantal’ for the Mah Meri, ‘Genggulang’ and ‘Sewang’ for the Semai. and ‘Temiar’ as well as ‘Berjerom’ for the Jakun.
The concept in this perspective is culture is transmitted from generation to generation. It is because this taboo and belief have been practised from the past generation and on to the next. The young generation could inherit the traditions of their ethnic group, else, their culture would fail to be handed down.
Orang Asli have their own unique religious and beliefs. As mentioned above, Orang Asli is not only composed with one type of group. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of beliefs and religious practiced by the variety of Orang Asli groups. For Semelai, which is one of the sub group of Orang Asli, the ghosts and spirits are free and could potentially be dangerous souls. They name those unseen things as “bayan” in other word, “shadow” which means the soul is separated from the body during the occurrence of dreams.
In Negrito, “Orang Hidup” does not refer to the people who are alive, instead it is referring to the supernatural unseen spirits. Iskandar Carey said that the “Orang Hidup” will grow old but by supernatural means they will be able to rejuvenate themselves periodically, thus regaining their strength and youth. There are three most important Orang Asli which is Tak Pedn, Karei, and Yak Manoi. ‘Tak’ in Kensiu means ‘Grandfather’, while ‘Yak’ means ‘Grandmother’. This is how they show their respect to the elderly. People of Negrito believe that Tak Pedn is treated as a kind of created-God while Karei is more concerned with the ordinary affairs of mankind. Tak Pedn is viewed as the highest position compared with those supernatural beings, for it is he who has created the world including plants, the seas, mountains and more. In appearance, he is analogous as a powerful Negrito. The people of Negrito believe that they are the first of the human beings that were created by Tak Pedn.
As time goes by, nowadays the group of Orang Asli started to believe in other religions such as Islam and Christianity and their past belief has slowly become forgotten by new generation.
Orang Asli have their own way of healing sickness. They believe in cosmological factor such as sun, moon, stars, and other elements that require a physical channel which they create some kind of rare forms during any healing ritual. This ‘channel’ acts to transfer the patient’s illness. The Mah Meri for example, use the ‘Ancak’, ‘Balai’ (spirit hall) or ‘Sampan’ (small boat) as their channel. The Jah Hut meanwhile, use a ‘Sepili’ figurine in their healing ceremony known as ‘Benisoy’. Most of the Semelai know quite a few of incantations (jampi). The incantations can either curse or heal people. Semelai basically use them as healer because they believe that such illnesses can get better with the incantation treatments.
The different types of art that exist among Orang Asli are music, the art of creating the musical instruments used to produce the music, sculpture carvings and mask carvings.
Music and dancing often accompany the celebration of rituals. For example, cleaning the grounds, celebrating the harvest festival and weddings. They also believe that music can expedite the journey of a deceased soul so that he or she can quickly depart from the real world. Besides that, music serves as a form of entertainment. Basically, their music is produced by using instruments that mainly need to be drummed, blown, strung or plucked. However, these traditional instruments are not as widely played as they were before by the Orang Asli community. Each of the Orang Asli group has their own traditional musical instrument that they made by hand. These instruments enable them to have some sort of musical accompaniment element during ceremonies. Instruments such as the nose and mouth flute, bamboo zither, kereb, sompoton, gong and rebana. The drums are created with materials sourced from the jungle like animal skin. As for the wind instruments, they are usually made with bamboo and wood. In addition to that, the string instruments are also made from bamboo and strings of course, attached to on the outside that has various measurements and the tunes played would be echoing those of the sounds made by animals. An instrument, specifically the rebana which is a short drum is particularly important as it is used during ceremonial dances.
Moving on from music and musical instruments, wood carving and crafts are the products of the Orang Asli’s creativity based on their beliefs and nature, especially in weaving of mengkuang, pandan leaves, bamboo and cane. In wood carving, all the creations are made depending on the imaginations and dreams that depict good or evil forces which are related to the Orang Asli’s beliefs and lifestyle. The sculptures or figurines are carved by people without any kind of formal training beforehand. As the result, they reveal the natural craftsmanship of the carvers and their instinctive understanding of wood. Each of the wood sculptures is carved from a single piece of wood, without nails and interlocks. Some of them reaching up to 1.5 meters. These carvings are merely art pieces and are not meant for worship. On the other hand, masks are worn during dances when celebrating harvest season, weddings, as well as healing ceremonies.
The most common architecture found of Orang Asli would be houses. Other than living space, they do not construct any other kind of buildings. The traditional houses are called Rumah Gadang, which translates to big house. The overall structure, internal and external decorations and the functions of the house represent their values and culture. They are normally owned by the women of the family that lives there and is passed down to the next generation, from mother to daughter. The houses have dramatic curve roofs with multi-tiered, upswept gables. The windows are shuttered and are built into the walls engraved with lavish painted floral carvings.
Through this assignment, we have explored and gained knowledge about Orang Asli in our country. For example, we learnt about their festivals, healing, religious, arts, costumes, taboo and belief. Moreover, we purposely went to the Orang Asli Museum in Gombak to do more research on Orang Asli. In our opinion, the public often stereotype the Orang Asli. Most of the people thought that they live on trees, behave boorishly, and are unknowledgeable. In fact, they are just ordinary people. They same as us, they go to school for education and work to get income.
In a nut shell, Orang Asli is one of the treasures found in our country, we should respect and cherish them. We hope that their unique culture would be inherited and that more people will discover and get to know this interesting and distinctive ethnic group.