Updated: Oct 31, 2020
Efly Yap Photos by All is Amazing On the evening of Merdeka Day, a lady’s voice, resounding yet humble, greeted everyone at the floor, “My name is Hanim binti Apeng, I am Orang Asli, a mix of Jakun and Jah Hut myself. I am really proud to say to you that I am, Orang Asli.” That was Hanim’s first appearance at The Rojak Projek exhibition in Ketuk Ketuk Festival. The exhibition was part of the #RojakNation movement to advocate Malaysia’s multicultural identity.
Hanim represents the voice of Orang Asli, specifically the Temuan people who resides in the Kampung Orang Asli Sungai Buloh. As the community leader in her village, Hanim is well-respected for her vocal leadership and her passionate works in uplifting her people. Having been set free from the ways of backward living and inability to compete in mainstream society, it is Hanim’s great interest to empower the young generation of Orang Asli with education. The youth needs to rise up and acknowledge education as a way forward to improve their lives and preserve their lands, cultures and beliefs in the future.
It was a get-to-know session for Hanim at the Festival, and her enthusiasm demanded everyone’s attention that day. Speaking about her works in promoting education, Hanim addressed the psychological challenges most often faced by indigenous groups such as parents’ attitudes towards education, extreme shyness and low-self confidence among youths.
The older generations of Orang Asli, especially the parents, are typically illiterate but they would want their children to succeed better than them in life. They are slowly realizing that children need proper education to compete for survival in the modern future. In spite of this awareness, many youths continue to drop out of schools, lacking family support and encouragement. Sadly, this happens very often due to poverty and the tendency to revert to living age-old traditions.
“I am saddened to see that my younger generations are still not interested in education even though we have tried so many methods,” said Hanim. Every month, there are teaching programs to help the youth and children to cope with their studies that are taught in the school. “Boring-lah” is the main response coming from the children as they are unable to relate to classroom subjects. In school, discrimination and isolation towards the indigenous students only dampen their self-confidence. They are vulnerable to become victims of bullying instead.
Yet despite trials, there is hope.
While formal education struggles to align with the Orang Asli’s aspirations, a simple and casual karaoke session is proven effective to improve language because of the song learning method. Laila Apeng, sister of Hanim and a radio DJ for Asyik FM, frequently organizes karaoke programmes in Orang Asli settlements in Pahang, Perak, Melaka and even travel as far as to Kelantan, Terengganu, and Johor as well. The karaoke programme is a social gathering for the community to sing and dance while general news and latest information pass around.
Illiteracy shouldn’t prevent Orang Asli from being ignorant about their surroundings. For the past 18 years in her broadcast career, Laila always encourages her people to listen to the radio as a means to educate themselves. Orang Asli is a very close-knitted community and they are naturally in tune with the music. “This is why the karaoke programme is always a successful event because the whole village gathers round, and then they sing and dance away with songs” said Laila.
Hanim also believes that collaborating closely with “outsiders” such as the NGOs would help overcome extreme shyness among Orang Asli and promote knowledge exchange as well as greater awareness about indigenous people.
Hence, in June she was connected with The Rojak Projek (TRP), a Malaysian unity movement for a collaborative project that highlighted the status of Orang Asli identity as Malaysians.
Conceived at the end of 2014, the philosophy of TRP champions “inclusiveness” for those who belong to a more specific box of race categorization – the Lain-lain (Others). Think Nyonya, Chindian, rich ethnicities among Sabahans and Sarawakians as well as Orang Asli’s very own sub-ethnicities.
This year, TRP launched the “Dan Lain-lain” project to uncover the multifarious cultural identities of Malaysians. It has gathered a remarkable list of over 250 ethnicities throughout the Peninsular and East Malaysia region. The exhibition was held in Ketuk-Ketuk Festival 2019 to spotlight the list in hopes to inspire Malaysians to rediscover and help one another to bridge racial differences together. Just like many other “dan lain-lain” groups, Hanim backed the project. The portraits of her Orang Asli people were created with elements of nature such as plant and soil and those artworks were showcased in the exhibition too.