| Out of the jungle and into a death trap: the fate of Malaysia’s last nomadic people
| Tuesday, September 10, 2019
|The Aborigines of Malaysia|
The Batek started to die after being forced from their land. Were they
poisoned by the plantations and mines that replaced their homes?
government is in no hurry to find out… by Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Kuala Koh : It swept over the settlement like a plague. First came a fever, then
their throats swelled up, their eyes became bloodshot and their lungs
rattled with coughing. And then they began to die. Over two weeks in May, 15 members of Malaysia’s last nomadic people, the Batek, were killed by this mysterious disease,
while more than 100 were hospitalised. By the end, only about 20 of the
186 people in the tribe living in their Kuala Koh settlement were left
“It was very scary for us,” said Sita Keladi, a member of the tribe.
“We did not know what was happening but people were dying around us. I
got sick, my eight children got sick, my granddaughter got sick too, and
she is four months old.”
A full government investigation was pledged, including autopsies of
bodies that could be recovered from the jungle where they had been given
traditional burials. Yet, four months later, nothing has materialised.
It is the latest never-fulfilled promise to be made to the Batek people
since their jungle home, south of the Thai border, began to be torn down
over a decade ago to make way for palm oil plantations and, more
recently, manganese mines – stripping them of their way of life and
“They cut down our jungle, destroyed our home, and then poisoned our
environment,” said Uncle Johan Tahun, who at 60 years old has become one
of the oldest men left in Kuala Koh. Everyone else his age has died. The Batek are just one of the tribes of Malaysia’s 200,000 indigenous
Orang Asli, which loosely translates as “aboriginal people”. They are
the oldest inhabitants of the Malaysian peninsula, and for centuries
lived as often nomadic hunter-gatherers. It was their
unparalleled knowledge of the jungle that meant that last month one
tribe was called upon to lead the search for London teenager Nora Quoirin, who tragically died in the Malaysian jungle while on holiday with her family.
|posted by Major D Swami (Retired) @ 11:59 PM