- This Land Is Our Land
#VQRTrueStory, Malaysia, loggers, pollution, Orang Asli
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[End Page 16]
"When I was a boy and saw loggers opening up trails in the forest, I was happy. I thought, now we can go to town and buy things," Dendi says. In fact, many Temiar used to work in the logging industry. Who could blame them? As the modern world intruded, the Orang Asli, or "original people," had to hustle like everyone else.
It was only when they saw the polluted rivers and the dwindling fish, when they trapped fewer animals, when they had to hike farther to forage for medicinal herbs, that they realized what was at stake. "People say the Orang Asli are antidevelopment, but that is not true. We just want development that will not destroy our forest," Dendi says. In the interior, they are free to live as they want; they can keep their children away from drugs and alcohol. "Here, there's no hal!" Limat says, laughing. No problem: a mash-up of English and Malay.
In 2011, the Temiar built the first of many blockades to keep out loggers and plantation workers. They fought against the encroachment on their ancestral land, for which they were not given notice nor offered compensation. The blockades, rebuilt every time they were torn down, weren't just a last resort after years of ineffectual complaints; they also demonstrated their territorial control. Eventually, the Temiar captured national headlines, and Gua Musang became synonymous with their struggle.
Now, they've taken their fight to the courts. In an unprecedented move, the Malaysian government is suing Kelantan on their behalf for failing to uphold indigenuous rights. The Temiar learned the law. They learned to use GPS technology to map their territorial boundaries and cultural landmarks. They gathered a team to interview their elders and compile their oral history. Everything once taken for granted now must be proven.
And the fight goes beyond land. They're also struggling against a history of discrimination. "On our birth certificates, we are classified as 'Others,' after Malays, Chinese, and Indians. Why are Orang Asli not recognized?" Dendi asks.
After the sewang rituals that night, the men remain, shrouded in a mist of human heat. With performative seriousness, Dendi gives them news of their court case, while the men, beads of sweat still visible on their backs, listen. [End Page 17]
Emily Ding is a freelance writer, journalist, and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur. Her work has been published at Esquire Malaysia, Vice Indonesia, Roads and Kingdoms, Slate, and CNN. She was also a researcher on a series of historical documentaries about Malaysia that were broadcast on National Geographic Asia and History Asia.