Sele­tar folk eye a bet­ter fu­ture

Sea gyp­sies plan to ven­ture into tourism

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Malaysia Day - By MOHD FARHAAN SHAH farhaan@th­es­

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.

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