Saturday, 27 October 2007

Beyond The Frame: Orang Asli

It's been a while since I've written up a Beyond The Frame post for TTP, so here's one.

On my way to the Cameron Highlands in the heart of peninsular Malaysia, I chanced upon an orang asli, an aborigine, who was quite amenable to my photographing him near his hut. He was a hunter, showed off his traditional blowpipe, and demonstrated his skills by blowing a dart at a small target about 50 feet away. Although he wasn't far from the main road, he gave me the impression that he had little contact with the modern world... it may have been an act and he actually went to his real home at the end of the day to watch television...but we communicated in sign language during our encounter.

The term "orang asli" signifies "original people" or "first people" in Malaysia, where there are about about 60.000 orang asli , most of whom still live in the rain forest. Some of the northern orang asli groups speak languages suggestimg a links with the indigenous peoples in Burma, Thailand and Indo-China.

The aborigine I met is in all probability a member of the Negrito group or possibly a Senoi. They live in the jungle and rain forests of the Malaysian peninsula, and are thought to have arrived some 8000 years ago. They hunt with bamboo blowpipes for birds and little monkeys. The darts which I saw are made from the leaf-stalks of palm cones, and are coated with a lethal concoction made from the sap of toxic trees. Fear of the spirits of dead ancestors and hunted animals is very strong among them, and it is an unwritten law that all animals caught in the forests suffer no pain.