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Natural History



An Insight into the Orang Aslis of Belum

Malaysian Forest Dwellers

By Liz Price (with contributions from Kirsteen Donaghy)

There are 18 tribes of orang asli in Peninsular Malaysia, and those at Belum consist of two main groups, the Senoi and the Negrito. The Jahai is the main sub-ethnic group among the Negrito, whilst the Temiar forms the main group for the Senoi.

Semi-nomadic Jahai

Jehai menThe Jahai are generally shorter, with darker skin and more curly hair than the Temiars. And the Jahai lead a semi nomadic life whereas the Temiar prefer a sedentary life. Some are employed as guides and porters. Today they enjoy medical and educational facilities and have police protection. They are less mobile than in the past due to the gradual change from shifting cultivation to semi-sedentary agricultural cultivation.

Both live at the edge of the Temengor lake. Their staple food is tapioca which they cultivate around their villages, and they collect fruits from the forest and hunt small mammals and fish. They harvest rattan and bamboo which has a multitude of uses.

Sedentary Temiars

Temiar womanH.D.Noone, who was the first anthropologist to study the Temiars, called them the 'happy people'. They are very shy and gentle, living in an extended family social structure. They used to live in longhouses but today most have individual houses made of split bamboo.

They work on plantations or ladang where they grow tapioca, and maybe maize and even hill rice. They used to grow their own fruit and vegetables, tobacco and medicinal herbs, but now buy these products. There is one headman in each village or community; this is a heredity post. They are traditionally animists.

Dreams play an important role in the daily lives of these indigenous people. To them a dream is a mystical experience in which the person's soul wanders about the forests in search of guidance. Even their dances and songs are dream inspired. There are no hard and fast rules in Temiar society. As long as man does not harm or endanger others, he may do as he pleases.

Learning more about the Orang Asli

Orang Asli MuseumIf you are in Kuala Lumpur, it may be worth your while to spend sometime in the Orang Asli Museum in Gombak (on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, somewhat near Batu Caves).

From KL centre, you can hop onto a bus at Lebuh Ampang around the corner from Masjid Jamek LRT (Putra and Star) stations. This bus will take you a 30 minutes drive out of KL towards Genting Highlands along Jalan Gombak. Just ask your driver to tell you when you are at the Orang Asli Museum.

rattan weavingsThe Orang Asli museum is set on top of a small hill off the main road. The walk is not at all long (about 50 metres) or difficult, but there are a couple of shops at the bus stop so you can have some refreshment before or after visiting the museum. This museum has been opened for a couple of years and gives a fantastic insight into the diversity of Orang Asli tribes and their cultural identities. Exhibits include examples of their house designs, their tools for working, clothes, jewelry, masks and ornaments. No entrance fee is charged, but there is a donation box to help run the center and fund small developmental projects.

All the exhibits on the ground floor have labels in English and Malay, but when I was last there the upper floor still only had labels in Malay. It is a lovely quiet museum, but you will be surprised at the number of visitors recorded in their guestbook each day.

Further Information


Photos: (from top) Jehai men, Temengor forests; Temiar woman; Orang Asli Museum at Gombak and rattan mats - © WILDBORNEO.net


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