By Chris Teh
The November/December instalment of Sharpened Word was held on Saturday, December 1 at 22 Hale Street to coincide with the launch of Ipoh International Arts Festival which will last for the entire month of December.
With the theme, “The Life as an Asli Artist”, panellists were Shazni Bhai, Ronnie Bahari and Nanie Nanuel.
As an activist contributing to the betterment of life of the indigenous residents around Perak, Ipoh-born Shazni felt that the Orang Asli are under-represented in any medium of communication.
“We see these videos about racial unity in television and YouTube videos, but how many times have we ever saw the Orang Asli being featured other than the three main races of Malaysia?” he remarked.
“The ongoing issue is that the public, usually open-minded, are not so when these tribes of people are brought to the table,” Shazni added. “There are so many misunderstandings about the Orang Asli, even though they are just as human as we are.”
Shazni hopes that there will be more healthy space for discussion about the Orang Asli’s way of life.
“If our society does not take the initiative to spark ideas to help the aboriginal community, forget about slogans or catchphrases that promote unity because they do not apply to every part of what makes Malaysia a country to be proud of,” Shazni stressed.
A photographer with more than 20 years of experience, Ronnie, born to the Semai tribe, lamented the lack of photos featuring Orang Asli.
“I have been capturing photos of Orang Asli wearing their respective traditional tribal clothes, not only for awareness to the younger generation of Orang Asli today that their ancestors wore those clothes every day, but also to promote and restore that tradition,” he explained.
“Sad to say, the younger generation does not feel proud of their heritage. In fact, they are embarrassed of them. Even worse, some think that the identity of ‘Orang Asli’ is like a curse,” Ronnie added.
“Every time I capture those photos, I cry internally, because I see these traditions starting to fade away,” Ronnie said. “It’s the encouragement I get from fellow photographers that keeps me going.”
Nanie, a dance instructor at Encore, a performing arts theatre focusing on contemporary and traditional art, remarked that she never ventured into the dance traditions of the Orang Asli.
“Growing up, I had a lot of Malay friends, thus I was exposed mostly to Malay culture too,” said the lady of Temuan and Mahmeri heritage.
“I had received requests to teach aboriginal dances, but I refused,” Nanie told the audience. “If I do, the dance will lose its uniqueness. Aboriginal dances are supposed to be a generational gift to convey gratefulness, to honour the dead or to pay homage to fertilisation of the land.”
Nanie shared, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I believe everyone, Orang Asli or not, has to at least sacrifice something to gain success,” she said.
For more information, go to www.facebook.com/sharpenedword.kinta. To collaborate with Shazni, he can be reached at 013 588 7465.