Visit to the Jakun Tribe at Bukit Radan, Muadzam Shah in Pahang

  • By AdminL
  • July 31, 2008
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A group of volunteers and I made a visit to the Jakun settlement in Bukit Redan in the state of Pahang recently. This is a project supposedly to be undertaken by the Melaka Bar Human Rights Sub Committee and I’m on a fact finding mission. The journey there took approximately 3 hours from Melaka town. We started our journey using the old trunk road. The countryside of Melaka was indeed beautiful and the view of rubber estates and secondary jungles was so unlike the usual city view that I have gotten used to. We passed the scenic Jus reservoir dam about 30 kilometers away in the outskirts of Melaka.

The Jakun are the second largest of the nineteen Orang Asli groups of Peninsular Malaysia. The Department of Orang Asli Affairs label them Orang Hulu (People of the Upriver), a term which the Jakun refer to themselves as well. Jakun settlements can be found in the Malaysian states of Johor and Pahang. In the past, their settlements extended over a much larger area of the southern peninsula.

I was forewarned by the volunteers that this settlement is the poorest of the poor. It was my first time making this trip with the volunteers. I was informed that Bukit Redan is located snugly on the borders of Melaka-Pahang. We arrived just before noon at the settlement which is just five kilometers away from the Muadzam Shah town. The Jakun settlement is just 30 meters away from the main paved road. I understand that the Universiti Tenaga Malaysia campus is in its vicinity.

The Jakun settlement is a community of about 100 inhabitants. Upon reaching our destination, the villagers informed us that that their daily staple diet is none other than tapioca. There is also no water piping installed here; thus a lack of integral water irrigation which is also fundamental for the cultivation of agriculture.

Upon further walking, we discovered that there are two ponds 70 meters away from the settlement. The first pond is utilized for washing clothes and bathing purposes. I was relieved to discover that there is a second pond; albeit a not so big one used for drinking water consumption.

The villagers’ living conditions are deplorable and sickening for the faint-hearted. My heart goes out to them. They live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Any one single house is cramped in to accommodate ten people. These houses are just small, wooden houses on stilts without electricity supply equipped.

Most families have ten children due to paucity of birth control. However I did come across two families and upon noticing something amiss in that there seemed to be considerably less children around them, I asked their mothers as to the whereabouts of their children. The mothers replied that six to seven of their children had died before attaining ten years of age.

It probably wasn’t a surprise that the infant mortality rate is higher in regards to the Orang Asli if we were to compare with urban living in the city. We have better facilities and all of our trite necessities are provided for by the authorities. Even if they are not acceded to, we do have the necessary means to voice out our concerns to the authorities.

Sadly, this does not happen here in this settlement. Due to minimal education and lack of exposure beyond the confines of the community, the Jakun are unable to voice out their concerns through the proper channels of bureaucracy. This process also takes time and as a general rule, the administration is more concerned with the plight of the majority off its peoples compared to the ethnic tribal minorities which make up just less than one percent of the total population in Malaysia.

The children who do grow up and survive in these appalling living conditions have to fend for themselves at an early age. They have to do with neither clean water supply, good hygiene nor rudimentary primary education. The surroundings of their living conditions are filthy, unkempt and disorderly. When they reach their teenage years, the temptation for vice is substantially higher as they are more susceptible to negative influence due to their extreme vulnerability compared to urban teenagers.

These children are forsaken by the education system along with the bane of their very existence. I felt like time came to a standstill. Being in the hourglass of time. Up till the evening when we headed back to Melaka, I remembered the faces of the people here and their way of life. Here at Bukit Redan, I felt a surge of melancholy that these people seemed so carefree yet unaware that their living conditions could improve drastically if more constructive effort and affirmative action were to be given by the local authorities and non-governmental bodies. Perhaps then aptly so the maxim “Ignorance is bliss” is for the best.

Due to lack of access to vaccination from mobile clinics, these children are more likely to be sickly and malnourished. The normal education system is of no significance here as the children of the Jakun lack the pre-requisite to academia which is electricity. Try as they may even for the most industrious, they cannot study without proper lighting in their homes; not to mention having proper ventilation in the comfort of a ceiling fan.

Basic study equipment such as tables and chairs; and stationary; I found out; are not a commodity in all homes. As this is sine quo non for a robust education, these unfortunate children would be lagging behind in their studies and placed under the slow learners’ category in school. This would further dampen their spirits to acquire education.

Sometimes one cannot but believe that there are still people living in austere conditions in Malaysia. One has to come out of his enclave to explore in order to know and believe. Thus, I’m thankful that we made this trip.

I had the opportunity to visit their graveyards which is 50 meters away from their settlement. It’s almost like a makeshift grave of unsung fallen heroes of war. The individual tomb stones appeared stacked into the ground hastily and no identification whatsoever can be deciphered from them. The atmosphere was grim. I was surrounded by creepers and shrubs of the jungle. The village headman, called the Tok Batin by the villagers, informed me that only days ago, the village had mourned the loss of a child. It was a simple burial ceremony in which the child was buried on the day he died. Alarmingly, there was no necessity for a post-mortem, added the Tok Batin. The reason was simple enough. The child had died in his homeland – the settlement. Had the child died in town, a post-mortem to probe the cause of death would have been mandatory according to government rulings. It would then take several days before burial.

I was divert when I asked an old lady how old she was. She said that she was as old as the jackfruit tree next to her home. Yet another old lady said she was definitely older than me as she was toothless. She was grinning from end to end.

It was apparent what simple lifestyles they lead here in Bukit Radan; simple lifestyles without guilt nor guile. Yet at the end of the day, it was not enough to lift my spirits. I felt I could do something in my capacity but just what yet I am unsure. Many Jakun are in a state of transition. They have given up hunting and foraging for food towards agriculture in order to survive. Some will need educational and agricultural assistance during this transition period.

I asked for permission to photograph them and their homes in which they readily obliged. I believe that the ever-widening gap between the poor and affluent in our society needs to be addressed. All the more echoed by Albert Schweitzer:

“The fundamental rights of [humanity] are, first: the right of habitation; second, the right to move freely; third, the right to the soil and subsoil, and to the use of it; fourth, the right of freedom of labor and of exchange; fifth, the right to justice; sixth, the right to live within a natural national organization; and seventh, the right to education.”

Let’s not deny the peoples of the Jakun their due right to habitation.

Anthony Chua

Chairman Human Rights and Contemporary Issues Sub Committee

Melaka Bar

July 28th, 2008

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