Seletar folk eye a better future
Sea gypsies plan to venture into tourism
MUCH has changed for the folks in Kampung Sungai Temun, a village of Orang Seletar who are an indigenous ethnic group in Johor.
Village chief Tok Batin Salim Palun, 57, said that since development arrived in their area, there were several primary and secondary schools built near Kampung Sungai Temun.
“Our children now have the opportunity to attend school. I know that when we are educated then my people can get a good life.
“It is good because our community is able to mix around with other races and can learn a thing or two from them.”
He said in the old days, it was impossible for Orang Seletar to send their children to school as there were no schools near their villages.
“We have never rejected development as it will bring much benefit to us just as it did for all the other races here.
“My hope for my community is one day, Orang Seletar children have the opportunity to enrol in university,” he said.
Salim ackowledged that the lives of Orang Seletar now were much better than during his forefathers’ days.
Today, many of these seafaring people have houses along the riverbanks in Johor Baru.
“My ancestors used to live in a sampan (boat) as we spend most of our time at sea. If we had a big family, then all of us would sleep packed tight like sardines in our boat.
“Now, we have regular houses with electricity, and there are tarred roads leading to our village,” he said.
Salim said many of the Orang Seletar converted to Islam or Christianity and had left behind their old beliefs.
He said, however, there were still some who practised certain customs and old dialects.
“When we go out to sea or enter the mangrove, we still avoid talking in a boastful or rude manner, as a mark of respect to nature,” he said.
He said the role of Tok Batin -- or Pak Ketuak in the Seletar language -- was still very important to his community as the person entrusted with the position was also expected to be a healer.
He added that the position of Tok Batin was usually inherited but the person must have a good heart.
According to Salim, Kampung Sungai Temun is the only Orang Seletar village that has its own museum, which documents the history and life of the community.
He said busloads of local and foreign tourists had come to the village since the museum opened some six years ago.
The information centre, which resembles a kampung house standing on stilts, is divided into two sections.
The first is a gallery displaying exhibits related to the Orang Seletar lifestyle, beliefs and rituals, including black-and-white photographs captured by Russian photographer Ivan Polunin, storyboard panels and maps with information on these sea gypsies, as well as replicas of traditional boats and fishing tools used by the tribe.
The other part of the museum is an open-air stage where traditional performances such as ketam bangkang are held on weekends.
Kampung Sungai Temun has a population of 86 families with 400 people. Salim said it was one of nine Orang Seletar villages that could be found in the Johor Straits.
He and other Orang Seletar chiefs aimed to get their villages gazetted as orang asli land to ensure the survival of their people.
“We worry that the voices of Orang Seletar will be lost in the ever-changing landscape of Malaysia.
“We also want to chip in to the growing economy,” said Salim.
Looking ahead, he envisions Kampung Sungai Temun as a tourist destination and hopes the Government will provide financial aid to the villagers to help build chalets.
Kampung Sungai Temun Tok Batin Salim Palun with a black-andwhite picture of his forefathers.