Tag Archives: orang asli

Start-Up Capital for Orang Asli


Achu Ngah & wife in front of their shop

Achu Nyah, 39, of Kampong Sungei Plantok, Ulu Kuang is one enterprising Orang Asli who subscribes to the belief that hard work and a little help from friends is the gateway to success. This father of three was relentless in his search for a rewarding job to eke out an honest living. Prior to being the proud owner of a provision shop, Achu did odd jobs to earn enough to support his family. During one of his forays into Chemor he overheard that Menteri Besar, Dato’ Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, had set aside RM4 million to help the poor and the marginalised in Perak.

Micro-credit facility, he was told, is being provided by Yayasan Bina Upaya (YBU), a state-link agency established for the purpose of eradicating poverty in Perak. “I applied, and after the routine screening, my application was approved,” he told Ipoh Echo.

Achu was given a RM15,000 interest-free loan, as capital to start a provision shop in his village. Kampong Sungai Plantok is home to about 400 Orang Asli and Achu’s shop is the first in this Semai settlement off Chemor. He has been operating the shop since January and now makes a tidy profit of between RM30 to RM50 a day. The shop, which is open between 7.00 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. daily, is well patronised by villagers. “I’ve gained acceptance by the village folks and this is a plus point,” he said after a simple ceremony to mark the opening of his shop, “Achu Ngah Entreprise” by Adun of Lintang, Dato’ Ahamad Pakeh Adam recently.

“Hopefully, my success will be a motivating factor for my people,” he remarked. Achu has five years to settle his loan and at the rate things are going he feels he can settle the loan much earlier than anticipated.

Yayasan Budi Upaya has received three applications to build similar shops in other Semai villages, one in Simpang Pulai and two in Grik. “We’ve plans to open up shops in 255 Asli settlements in Perak,” said Ismail Saffian, a member of the foundation’s board of trustees. The plan complements the state government’s ongoing programme to improve the living standards of those on the fringes of society. “Some of the other ventures we’ve in mind are motor repair, hair grooming and food supply,” Saffian added.

“We’ll provide them with both practical and management skills to start their small businesses,” said Ghafaruddin Usulddin, chief of YBU’s micro-credit division. The extent of the assistance is not confined to finance alone but entrepreneurial know-how as well.


Charged for Shooting Tiger



Four Orang Asli men are in the dock for allegedly shooting dead a tiger with a borrowed shotgun belonging to a Rela friend.

The four are being charged for an offence under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment or a fine of RM15,000 or both. The four are being tried at the Tapah Magistrate Court.

On February 7, 2010, Malay daily, Kosmo, reported a case of a tiger attack on an Orang Asli man who was on his way to collect petai. A dead tiger was later found by an officer from the Department of Wild Life and National Parks sent to investigate the incident. The dead animal was shot in the head and caught in a snare in the Bukit Tapah Forest Reserve.

The accused are being represented by Augustine Anthony and Amani Williams-Hunt (Bah Tony). The prosecution team is led by Puan Natrah.

During cross-examination on Thursday, February 24, a witness from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks created a furore when he could not locate the serial number of the shotgun used. Someone from the gallery, through a court official, helped him by unlocking the barrel. The defence counsel protested, as this was a breach in court proceedings. The infringement was placed on records by the magistrate after some heated exchanges between Augustine and Natrah.

Magistrate, Mohd. Fairus Ismail, adjourned the hearing to April 6 and 7.


Did the Orang Asli Help Invent the Diesel Engine?

By Mariam Mokhtar

Who would have thought that the principle behind the fire-piston or api-lantak, once widely used by the Orang Asli to make fire, was adopted by Rudolf Diesel to invent the Diesel engine?

Most Orang Asli make fire by two methods – friction, rubbing two sticks together or percussion, striking stone on stone. The Jakun and Semalai are more sophisticated and use an ingenious device called the fire-piston or as it is commonly known in Malay, api-lantak.

Since prehistoric times, the fire-piston has been used as a means of kindling fire and is found in communities where the blowpipe is used as a weapon. The fire-piston may have developed out of blowpipe construction.

Precision Engineering

These Orang Asli understood the behaviour of gases and used precision engineering to produce the fire-pistons.  The fire-piston consists of two pieces – the plunger (piston) and the base (cylinder). The base is a hollow cylinder about 3 to 6 inches long, with a bore of 0.25 inches diameter. It is sealed at one end and open at the other. The plunger (piston) fits nicely in the base. The plunger has a handle so that a firm grip can be applied to it. A recess to place the tinder is bored out from the front of the plunger. An ‘O’ ring made from natural fibres, moistened with water, or fat, ensures an air-tight seal.

When the piston is quickly rammed into the cylinder, the compression of the air raises the interior temperature to 300 deg C, to ignite the tinder. The piston is then quickly withdrawn and the smouldering tinder transferred to a nest of combustible material of wood shavings, dried fibres or leaves and fanned slightly, to create a flame. A proper fire can then be started with bigger kindling material.

Fire-pistons have been made from wood, animal horns, elephant ivory or bamboo. A commonly used wood is the tempinis (Streblus elongatus). Material for the tinder is fuzz from the young leaves of the tukas or Fish Tail palm (Caryota mitis). The seal or the ‘O’ ring is from the terap fibre (Artocarpus elasticus).

From Demo to Patent

In 1871, Professor Carl von Linde, a physicist and head of the Thermodynamics Laboratory of the Technical University of Munich, toured the Far-East and stopped in Penang to deliver a talk. A fire-piston was presented to him as a souvenir, and told that it came from the indigenous peoples in the peninsula.

When the professor returned to Germany, he had a “show-and-tell” demonstration and used the fire-piston to light a cigarette. One student, a young man called Rudolf Diesel sat enthralled. Europeans then, were competing to develop the internal combustion engine and the automobile. The rest, as they say, is history for Diesel successfully applied for the patent in Britain and Germany and invented the world’s first self-ignition internal combustion engine.

OA Inspiration

Thus, it was the Orang Asli’s api-lantak technology which inspired Diesel. The fire-piston can be used one-handed, requires minimum physical effort and is not weather dependent – it can be used to make fires wherever and whenever. The principle is simple – compression of air. One thrust of the piston is all that it takes to instanta-neously ignite tinder.

Research tells us that the api-lantak disappeared as matches, and later lighters, were introduced into the Orang Asli communities. There was a brief resurgence when the Orang Asli were driven deeper into the jungles during the Japanese occupation because the men lacked matches to light their much needed cigarettes.

Tragedy of Modern Culture

Sadly, few, young Orang Asli are interested in the older methods. Even museums in Perak, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have no fire-pistons on exhibit. Three are on display in a Jakarta museum.

The shame is that there is neither appreciation nor recognition of this simple yet scientific but sophisticated tool in our culture. It is left to western enthusiasts and hobbyists, wood-crafters, pyrologists and bush-crafters to be enthusiastic about this ancient heritage and tradition of the Jakun and Semalai.

That is the greater tragedy. We live in an age where access to information and technology is greater than before but in our desire to adopt modern technology, we allow memories of the past to slide past us.

Those interested in how an api-lantak is constructed may go to the following websites:

Goodbye Ahha – An Illustrious Son of the Orang Asli Community

Ahha and community members posing with the PTA President's Award

The Orang Asli community, especially the Semai tribe, has lost one of their most illustrious sons.

Thirty-eight-year-old Sahak bah Udal or better known as “Ahha” passed away last month due to a lung infection.

Ahha, a Semai lived at Ulu Geroh about 12km up the Titiwangsa Range from Gopeng. As chairman of SEMAI (Friends of Ecotourism and Nature Conservation), he almost single handedly introduced to the world the gentle culture of the Semai community by empowering his entire village to participate in its ecotourism activities.

He also encouraged the community to practice tidy habits to enable tourists to have a comfortable stay. Ulu Geroh now has a visitors’ centre which houses a dormitory and their E-Semai project, a programme for its residents to enable hands-on exposure to ICT.

Ahha receiving the award from Sultan Azlan Shah

Ahha, who had earlier worked in the hotel industry, saw potential in promoting his Semai culture as an eco-tourism product and encouraged its residents to showcase their lifestyles such as mat weaving and their traditional Sewang dance. Other recent activities include herbal garden, insect sanctuary and the teaching of English.

All of these activities introduced reflect a community that cares for its environment and is able to make a living out of it sustainably while preserving a community’s culture and its indigenous knowledge.

Being the main coordinator and facilitator between the NGOs and the community, Ahha had been able to receive funding from various NGOs and corporate organisations, among them MNS, DANIDA and Shell, to carry on their activities.

His efforts also received recognition for the Village of Ulu Geroh when the Perak Tourist Association presented their 2009 President’s Award for being “a proactive community for showcasing their lifestyle and activities.”

Yes, Ahha will be missed by many but his dedication in helping to upgrade the livelihood of his community will be carried on through the ecotourism activities he initiated. For details of the villager’s activities please go to their web page: www.esemai.org.


An “Eye-Opener” Journey into Heartland of Orang Asli


Members of the Lions Club of Sunway and its branch club, Ipoh Riverview Club, had an “eye-opener” journey into the heartland of the Orang Asli in Cameron Highlands recently. It started at Batu 3 along the Tringkap-Kampung Raja Road.

“It was a narrow, winding and bumpy route. On top of that it was treacherous and we held onto the side bars of the four-wheel-drive for our dear lives”, described C.A. Lau, president of the Ipoh Riverview Club.

“Upon reaching the kampong where the dilapidated huts were a common sight, we alighted from the vehicles to be welcomed by the Orang Asli folks especially the children. They were curious of our presence especially when we were in our Lions Club T-shirts.”

The village headman, whom they had contacted earlier through a friend, came out and greeted the group.

He said the journey to the heartland was made possible by volunteers in Cameron Highlands who helped to ferry 1,000 kg of rice, 250 kg of oil and loads of dried rations. Well-wishers and supporters had contributed about RM5,000 for the project to be realized.

“It was an arduous task loading and unloading the goods. It was back breaking but it was all for a good cause. The pain was easily forgotten”, said Lau.

Rice, oil and dried rations were then officially handed over to the Penghulu. After that, the members took the opportunity to mingle with the children who swarmed around them.

“The undernourished children and living conditions dawned upon us how lucky we were. It was truly an enlightening trip that gave us new awareness of our roles as humans”, he added.

Jerry Francis