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MALAYSIA: The Orang Asli (Indigenous People)  are staying put, and want outsiders out.

Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)·Saturday, March 21, 2020

MALAYSIA – The word is out: Social distancing and self-quarantining are our best bet to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The Orang Asli think so too. And they are taking measures to keep the Covid-19 virus out of their villages.


Several communities have constructed blockade-type barricades to prevent outsiders from entering their villages. Be they visitors, NGOs, traders, researchers, anybody without authorization or a very, very good reason.

Once the Movement Control Order (MCO) was announced on 16 March 2020 (but effective from 18 March 2020), there was a steep hike in the level of awareness of the situation among Orang Asli communities (and the general public as well).

Social media and radio (particularly, the Orang Asli radio station ‘Asyik FM’) played a vital part in impressing upon the Orang Asli the seriousness of it all.


The directive from the Director-General of JAKOA on 16 March 2020 (to close all Orang Asli villages to visitors and researchers) also impressed upon the Orang Asli that this was a serious matter. It is also admirable that such a directive came 2 days before the federal government saw it necessary to control public movement and to enforce home-quarantine.

For the Orang Asli in the interior, they are well aware of how an ‘ordinary’ illness like the flu or cough can have devastating consequences in their community. Given their low immunity to outside diseases and their weak body resistance (largely due to malnutrition), such illnesses can cause fatalities. As such, when news of a viral flu that causes many healthy people to die reaches them, it does not take much to motivate them to take precautions.

Community Organiser trainees at their ‘classroom’ in Kuala Rompin.

One sign at a barrier (in Kampung Peta) even said, “Orang luar dilarang memegang gate ini.” (Outsiders are prohibited from holding this gate.)

All training workshops have been postponed until the situation allows for them to go on again. This workshop at Cunex at the and of February was the last before it was decided to put on hold all others.

We have had to cancel our programmes in the villages, including the training for the PDK (community learning center) teachers and the capacity-building workshops for the village AJKs (committee members).

The 10 Jakuns and Temiar youth undergoing their 6-month community organising training will be ending their first stage (2 months of theory and village practicals) at the end of this month. However, it will be a low-key closing ceremony, without their parents and village mates. It was originally planned to be held in Kampung Jemeri, Rompin but will now be held in their (homestay) training venue in Kuala Rompin.

Two of the trainers are Sabahans from JOAS-Belia/PACOS, and their plan to return to their home state is still in a flux. The CO trainees are expected to continue their training in Sabah in May-July, and this too is in flux.

It should be noted that the weather in the villages had been extremely warm the weeks before the national restriction on movement. And although we cursed at the heat then when visiting the villages, it looks like it was a good thing after all.

All training workshops have been postponed until the situation allows for them to go on again. This workshop at Cunex at the and of February was the last before it was decided to put on hold all others.



If the MCO continues after 31 March, we anticipate some communities will face problems in having access to sufficient food supplies. Soap, hand sanitizers, detergents and face-masks will be needed. Free internet and reduced mobile rates will certainly go a long way to keep the Orang Asli on top of the situation. And hopefully, there will be no medical emergencies or Covid-19 cases in the villages.


[Photos from Kampung Cunex (Azahar Akek), Kampung Peta (Nasir Kantan), Kampung Cenawing (Angah), Kampung Leyef (Harun), Colin Nicholas & Koong Hui Yein]

From: Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)·Saturday, March 21, 2020


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