Among the oldest inhabitants of Malaysia

The New Straits Times has a feature on the Orang Batek, one of the Orang Asli, or Malaysian aborigines belonging to the Negrito subdivision. Recent genetic studies indicate that the negritos could have inhabited the Malayan Peninsula as early as 60,000 years ago.

Simple life of the Negritos
New Straits Times, 21 April 2010

The Negritos form only three per cent of the Orang Asli population in the peninsula. A census in 2000 recorded only 1,519 Batek people who are considered the earliest inhabitants of the peninsula. They are of Austro-Malenesian/Asiatic origin from the Hoabinhian period. This has been determined by archaeological discoveries of burial grounds and cave drawings indicating that the Negritos’ history date back 10,000 years!

They speak a version of the Jahai language though many of the Bateks (sometimes spelt Bateq) are quite fluent in Bahasa Malaysia. None of the children here attends school though efforts are being made to enrol them in the nearest school, 30km away in Kampung Aring Satu.

The Bateks were a nomadic race but since resettlement by organisations such as Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Majlis Agama Islam, they can be classified as semi-nomadic.

Other Orang Asli settlements near urban areas, for example Gombak, outside Kuala Lumpur, can be considered permanent villages. But many are still semi-permanent settlements established on the fringe of jungle so that they can continue with their traditional way of living.

The Tengku Mahkota of Kelantan paid a visit to this Ulu Kelantan Orang Batek settlement in 2001, resulting in increased attention and aid.

The Batek Negritos may be a vanishing race as their livelihood and way of living are threatened by deforestation, construction of dams and encroaching plantations.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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