By Mohd Fharkhan Abdul Ghapar
GUA MUSANG, June 12 (Bernama) -- Since the dawn of existence, they have been living nomadic lives, and while there have been aid in terms of infrastructure development, the Batek tribe Orang Asli community in Kuala Koh continue to hold on to primitive practices.
Their way of life means moving from one location to another, including deep into the jungles of their habitats.
Now, it appears they are on the move again, but it has nothing to do with their nomadic lifestyle.
This time around, it is fear that is driving them away following the deaths of 14 fellow tribesmen from an illness that is yet to be conclusively determined, mysterious deaths that has thrown the spotlight on this reserved community, and which has also got the authorities and the media scrambling over.
Checks by Bernama at their temporary settlement here, housing some 100 Batek people, find about 20 tents made of bamboo, rattan and canvas and leaf tops pitched in the area.
Set up on the fringes of the jungle, this temporary settlement, which is about three kilometres away from where they last dwelled, was a mess and emitted a foul stench, while the sleeping areas were not only infested with flies buzzing around strewn rubbish, they were also where food was prepared.
Water supply comes from PVC pipes connected to nearby rivers and streams.
A tribe member, only known as Imah, 27, said the Orang Asli's embedded culture and beliefs drive them to continue their nomadic and primitive way of life, while also blaming insufficient aid for infrastructure as a reason why they had never opted for permanent settlement.
“We move around and do not stay in one place. For water, we depend on the rivers and hill catchment areas. They (government agencies) have built homes but without electric supply and even the water pumps are mostly damaged,” she said.
Imah said her tribe is used to their way of life, including the apparent lack of proper hygiene.
"We cook anywhere, in or out of the tents...it doesn't bother us, we are used to this,” she said, while adding that mothers in the community have also gotten used to using diapers for their young ones, which are mostly provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
This reporter was also taken to a location slightly further away from the temporary shelter, and there, tribesmen were seen clearing the area for expansion.
Meanwhile, Mohd Fadzli Mamok, a teacher who has been providing religious lessons to Muslim tribesman there, said several more members of the tribe have been brought out of the settlement for medical treatment.
“Earlier today, a few who had been ill were taken (to clinics and hospital). They have been suffering from high fever, just like the ones who died previously,” he told reporters when met in Ladang Aring 10, here.
The pathway to the settlement in Ladang Aring 10 is now off limits to the public, including the media, and since this morning various government agencies such as the Police, the Forensics Department, the Environmental Department and the Chemistry Department have been seen going in and out of the area.