Malaysia: The indigenous people are crying

KUALA LUMPUR (Sin Chew Daily /ANN) - The measles outbreak has killed more than 10 indigenous people, the Bateq tribe in Kuala Koh, Kelantan raising concerns. 

The series of death involving the indigenous people, the Bateq tribe in Kuala Koh, Gua Musang has raised concerns. 

Initial investigation showed the Bateq died of measles outbreak.

If not because of outbreak of illnesses in the settlements of the indigenous people, also known as Orang Asli in Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang, the indigenous people in West Malaysia who have been neglected for long period of time, may die in isolation.

The status of Bateq reflects the plight of indigenous people in the country. The flood in end of 2014 had huge impact on the Bateq tribe. The water sources were polluted and their health condition deteriorated. 

Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) executive director Colin Nicholas said it was a sad episode on what happened to the Bateq. The tragedy can be foreseen since 2011. 

“We have stressed that the cause of death of the indigenous people is not due to medical but stemmed from a long-term disregard and the destruction of land and their customary rights in the name of development and progress. This is the direct impact of the destruction caused,’’ he said.

In an interview with Sin Chew Daily, Nicholas said the Bateq were happy and contented people when COAC visited them between 2009 and 2012 in Kuala Koh. 

“However, most of the land has been given to The Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), especially the northern edge of Taman Negara and their resources destroyed.

“Mining and logging activities have also opened up more areas and cut them off from their traditional way of life as nomads. They became malnourished and underweight,’’ he said.

The Bateq was also fuelled with the anxiety of losing their living environment. They did not have the resources to maintain their lives and they could no longer live the traditional way. 

Nicholas said the Bateqs suffered from malnourishment, loss of weight and depression. This has lowered their immunity. The measle outbreak was just the last straw that broke the camel’s back. 

According to record of Department of Orang Asli Development in 2010, there are 215,000 indigenous people in Malaysia which is 0.6% of total population in Malaysia.

The Peninsula Malaysia has 869 communities in Malaysia. The Semang or Negrito (Bateq is one of them) are found in northern Malaysia, Senoi in central Malaysia and 18 Proto-Malays.