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Orang Asli and Melayu Relations:

A Cross-border Perspective1
Leonard Andaya (University of Hawaii) Abstrak
Tulisan ini berupaya untuk mendokumentasikan perubahan-perubahan dalam hubungan sosial di antara suku bangsa Melayu di Semenanjung Malaysia dengan komunitikomuniti Orang Asli. Dalam merekonstruksi kisah hubungan sosial itu, tulisan ini diawali dengan kajian tentang gerakan-gerakan pada masa prasejarah dan protosejarah dari nenek moyang Orang Asli dan Melayu. Orang Asli berasal dari wilayah tengah dan selatan Thailand. Orang Melayu berasal dari Taiwan dan berpindah menuju Semenanjung Malaysia melalui Philippina. Dikisahkan pula berlangsungnya gelombang pertama, kedua, dan ketiga dari orang Melayu hingga akhirnya mereka memiliki dampak yang permanen di wilayah Semenanjung. Tulisan ini menyajikan peralihan hubungan di antara komuniti Orang Asli dan imigran Melayu dari Sumatera sejalan dengan perubahan nilai yang dimiliki orang Melayu terhadap Orang Asli dalam hal perdagangan internasional. Semula, Orang Asli sangat dibutuhkan dalam memungkinkan orang Melayu membangun pelabuhan yang berhasil di Melaka. Selama hasil-hasil hutan seperti damar, kayu cendana, dan rotan tetap diperlukan secara internasional, Orang Asli dihargai dan diterima oleh orang Melayu. Tetapi, dengan adanya perubahan dalam permintaan dari hasil-hasil hutan ke timah dan lada sejak abad keenambelas, dan beralih ke timah, karet, dan minyak kelapa sawit pada akhir abad kesembilanbelas dan abad keduapuluh, posisi Orang Asli menjadi semakin terpinggirkan. Perubahan itu juga tertuang dalam tradisi-tradisi lisan dan tertulis Orang Asli dan Melayu. Pada masa kini, Orang Asli mulai mengupayakan diperolehnya kembali penghargaan dan kerjasama yang sebelumnya telah menjadi karakteristik dalam hubungan sosialnya dengan orang Melalyu. Walaupun prospek keberhasilan itu tidak cerah, kemajuan telah diperoleh dalam mempertahankan ide-ide tentang wilayah hunian dan keaslian mereka di Semenanjung Malaysia. In present-day Malaysia the dominant ethnicity is the Melayu (Malay), followed numerically by the Chinese and the Indians. A very small percentage comprises a group of separate ethnicities that have been clustered together by a Malaysian government statute

of 1960 under the generalized name of Orang Asli (the Original People). Among the Orang Asli themselves, however, they apply names usually associated with their specific area or by the generalized name meaning human being. In the literature the Orang Asli are diInternasional Symposium of Journal ANTROPOLOGI INDONESIA: Globalization and Local Culture: a Dialectic towards the New Indonesia, Kampus Limau Manis, Andalas University, 1821 July 2002.

This article is based on the paper presented at the panel on: Social-cultural Dynamics in the Border Regions of Indonesia-Malaysia: Past Experience, the Present, and Prospects for the Future at the 2nd



vided into three groups: the Semang or Negrito, the Senoi, and the Orang Asli Melayu.2 Among the Orang Asli, however, the major distinction is between themselves and the outside world, and they would very likely second the sentiments of the Orang Asli and Orang Laut (Sea People) in Johor who regard themselves as leaves of the same tree (Logan 1847:247). Today the Semang live in the coastal foothills and inland river valleys of Perak, interior Pahang, and Ulu (upriver) Kelantan, and rarely occupy lands above 1000 meters in elevation. But in the early twentieth century, Schebesta (1973) commented that the areas regarded as Negrito country included lands from Chaiya and Ulu Patani (Singora and Patthalung) to Kedah and to mid-Perak and northern Pahang (Schebesta 1973). Most now live on the fringes rather than in the deep jungle itself, and maintain links with Malay farmers and Chinese shopkeepers. In the past they appear to have also frequented the coasts. Excavations in the early part of the twentieth century of a settlement site on the Perak coast believed to be dated to Hindu-times (most likely sometime in the early first millenium AD), revealed the presence of skeletons showing distinct Negro affinities (Evans 1937:13). The Semang appear to have had a long association with farmers and merchants, and were active participants in international trade (Rambo 1985:44). They were thus favorably placed to exploit the resources of both the jungle and the lowlands. In addition to maintaining their

The origin of the term Semang is most likely the northern Aslian semaaq , meaning people or human being. Senoi in Temiar and Seng-oi in Semai both mean people. Semai is a term which the Temiar use for their southern neighbors, though the Semai themselves refer to their group collectively as Sengoi. There has been a variety of names applied to the Semai in the literature, but the practice is for the group to call themselves by the name of their village or territory (Edo 1998:10,1718).

livelihood from the jungle, they collected forest products to trade or sought wage labor with the lowland communities (Rambo 1985:38; Evans 1937:11,13).Unlike their Malay and Senoi neighbors, who focus primarily on farming with a little hunting and fishing, the Semang adapt themselves to whatever ecological space left by surrounding communities. This fact was also noted early in the twentieth century by Schebesta (1973) who commented that it is a condition of Negrito life that they should be able to attach themselves at will to their technologically more dominant neighbours whenever there is some bounty to be gained.3 The Senoi comprise the largest of the Orang Asli population and are divided into the Temiar and the Semai. The Temiar occupy the upper reaches of the rivers in the remote interior mountains of the Main Range and have limited contact with the lowlands, while the Semai live mainly in the plains and the foothills of Perak. The Orang Melayu Asli are found principally from Selangor southward. Perhaps through long association with their dominant Melayu neighbors, they are seen as far more acculturated to Malay culture than the others. A common misleading conception of the Orang Asli is that they practice a nomadic lifestyle and roam the jungles without any fixed territorial base. Observers have remarked that the Semang do not wander randomly in the jungle but as far as possible remain within their own territories (Schebesta 1973:83,149). The Negrito Batek do move beyond their territories in search of spouses, but they tend to remain within their own familiar territory where they know where food and other resources can be found and where they have close kin (Endicott 1997:49). In the late nineteenth cen3

Quoted in Benjamin, Introduction to Schebesta (1973:viii).



tury Swettenham observed that a Senoi group kept exclusively to its own valley and was frequently at odds with neighbors on either side (Skeat, William, and Blagden 1906:521). In 1915 Evans (1916) cited an example from the Senoi on the Kampar river in the Kinta district of Perak, who moved within a small radius of the foothills and regarded the Pahang border area as an unknown, unexplored land (Evans 1916:23). The Orang Asli practice of remaining for generations within a specific bounded territory regarded as their field of exploitation enables them to gain an intimate knowledge of the resources of their traditional lands. Such knowledge is indispensable in locating and extracting the valuable resins, aromatic woods, and rattans for international trade. Moreover, association with a specific territory nurtures physical and emotional well being among the Orang Asli (Nicholas 1997:3). The marginal role of the Orang Asli in modern Malaysia reflects the rapid transformation beginning in the early twentieth century of the predominantly jungle landscape into one of cleared lands for plantation agriculture. In the past the Orang Asli had an economically important function in international trade as collectors of jungle products. The decline in demand for these goods, coupled with new interests in timber, rubber, and palm oil, had a disastrous effect on the livelihood of the Orang Asli. Not only did they lose a major source of revenue, but their way of life was threatened by the rapid denuding of the jungle. Unable to bargain from a position of strength as in the past, they became increasingly marginalized in Malaysian society. Nevertheless, the Melayu have had to acknowledge the special place of the Orang Asli in Malaysian society because they can legitimately claim to be Bumiputera (sons of the soil), a term created by the Malaysian government to jus-

tify special privileges to the original inhabitants of the land. The Orang Asli themselves view the term cynically and continue to stress that they and not the Melayu were the original people in the land. A reconstruction of the early history of the Orang Asli in the Peninsula supports this contention and highlights the changing relationship between the Orang Asli communities and the Melayu over the centuries.

Early habitation of the peninsula

According to one reconstruction of the Orang Asli past synthesized by Peter Bellwood (1997), over the last 40,000 years there were two major races which occupied the Peninsula: the Australoid and the Southern Mongoloid.4 The Negrito population stemmed from the former, while the Senoi were descendant of the later Southern Mongoloid migration. The archaeological record becomes more detailed on the Peninsula with assemblages found in Hoabinhian sites dated between 16,000 and 8,000 B.C. The hunting and gathering Hoabinhians were ancestral to the Semang and to a lesser extent to the Senoi. The latters biological affinity was more with the Neolithic Southern Mongoloid population which migrated into the Peninsula about 2000 B.C. There appears to have been a rather sharp transition from the Hoabinhian to the Neolithic, with the change marked by the introduction of agriculture and Austroasiatic languages.5 The

As Bellwood(1997:70) points out, the use of such terms is for heuristic purposes, and the reality is the intergrading of both.

This is not to say, however, that the Neolithic culture found in the Peninsula was due entirely to the migration of the Southern Mongoloid population. It has been argued that in the later Neolithic in the second half of the first millenium B.C, stone and glass beads found in cist-graves in the Bernam valley and in sites in Kuala Selinsing, Perak, indicate trade links of the inhabitants with India, Sri Lanka, the Mediterra-



Semang adopted Austroasiatic languages, and so today both the Semang and the Senoi speak Austroasiatic languages in the subgroup Aslian, which has distant relationships with Mon and Khmer. 6 The Semang, however, continued to maintain their hunting and foraging lifestyle and did not adopt the agricultural developments of the Neolithic. In this regard they were much more descendants of the Hoabinhians than the Neolithic Southern Mongoloids associated with the Senoi (Bellwood 1997:265266). Geoffrey Benjamin (1985), on the other hand, argues that the present distinction of three major Orang Asli categories is not the result of migration but of conscious choice of groups refusing to become part of a state. These so called tribals then proceeded to adopt certain lifeways, thus creating three institutionalised societal patternsthe Semang, Senoi, and Malayic. The Semang maintained their principally foraging activities; the Senoi adopted swidden agriculture and a more sedentary lifestyle, while engaging in some trade and trapping; and the Malayic (which includes the Orang Asli Melayu or the Aboriginal Malay) combined a basic farming or fishing subsistence with the more important collection and trade of forest and marine products.7 By a comparative analysis of Aslian
nean and possibly Africa. See Nik Hassan Shuhaimi (1997:102).

Baer (2000:6) interprets the results of several DNA studies examining the genetic history of Orang Asli with other groups to mean that ...while Orang Asli show general affinities to other Asians, Semai at least show closer affinity to Khmer.

Benjamin (1985) has maintained this view in a number of his works, particularly in his In the Long Term. A more recent formulation is found in his On Being Tribal(forthcoming). Rambo (1988) supports this perspective by suggesting that the Semang evolved out of a basic Mongoloid population in relatively recent times after the rise of agriculture. The latter development ensured a distinctive lifeway from

languages, Benjamin (1985) suggests that there was a split between the ancestors of the northern Aslian-speaking Negrito (Semang) and the central Aslian-speaking Senoi some 5000 years ago, thereby demonstrating a common ancestry (Benjamin 1976).Bellwood (1997) more recently has acknowledged the possibility that both processesmigration and internal peninsular developmentscontributed to the differences (Bellwood 1997:265). The hope that historical genetics may help determine the early history of the Orang Asli has largely been dampened by the warning that the history of genetic loci is not equitivalent to the history of populations and may tell us nothing useful about recent human history. The findings regarding possible links of the Orang Asli populations with other groups extend as far back as 60 millions years ago and to the more recent 58,000 years ago, far too early for any real use for the reconstruction of the early prehistory of the Orang Asli (Fix 2000:12,15). Baer (2000:8), nevertheless, argues on the basis of genetic findings that Malayan prehistory cannot be encapsulated in terms of separate waves of migrating peoples, thus supporting Benjamins contention that the differentiation of Orang Asli groups occurred within the Malay Peninsula itself. By the time that the Austronesian-speakers began to appear in the region, the ancestors of the Orang Asli were already established on the Malay Peninsula. According to linguistic reconstruction, the ancestors of the Austronesian-speakers began to move out of southern China (perhaps from Zhejiang or Fujian) into Taiwan at about the late fifth or the fourth millenium B.C. The move out of Taiwan southward to Luzon occurred sometime in the third millenium B.C. By at least 2000 B.C there was another move to the south of the
the other two patterns described by Benjamin.



Proto Malayo-Polynesian speakers, who were separating from the other subgroups of Austronesian-speakers on Taiwan. They migrated to the southern Philippines, Sulawesi, Borneo and Maluku. Austronesian-speaking peoples arrived on the Malay Peninsula perhaps sometime in the first millennium B.C. They found the Peninsula already settled by a hunting or foraging and an agricultural Austroasiatic-speaking population which had been there for at least 500 years previously (Bellwood 1997:241242,265266). If we accept Bellwoods reconstruction, then sometime between 2000 B.C and 1500 B.C the Neolithic agricultural community of Austroasiatic speakers had moved down from central Thailand to inhabit the Peninsula as far south as Selangor. It is believed that their having moved into areas where the incidence of malaria was far lower than in their original homelands, the Austroasiatic-speaking population increased substantially and spread both to the coasts and the interior. The presence of these ancestors of the Senoi, and to a certain extent the Negrito, prevented the further expansion of the early Austronesian-speakers into the Peninsula (Bellwood 1997:258259). The picture that is presented by archaeological and linguistic evidence by the first millenium B.C is one of the dominance of the ancestors of the Orang Asli in the Peninsula over the restricted numbers of the later arrivals of Austronesianspeaking populations.

The expansion of the Austronesian and Malayic speaking communities

Elsewhere in the region the Austronesianspeakers had spread rapidly along the coasts, moving inland only after the coasts had been settled. It has been suggested that the primary motivation for the rapid expansion of the Austronesian-speakers was rank enhance-

ment. Founder families achieved the highest status in the community, thus spurring ambitious individuals to open new lands and found new communities. In this way the vast expanse of ocean with its numerous lands were rapidly settled from central Vietnam to New Zealand and Easter Island. As the Austronesian-speaking communities settled areas and adapted to their ecological niches, differences in language and culture developed. the Malayicspeakers were one of the largest linguistic communities that evolved from this development. While most linguists have argued for a west Borneo homeland for the Malayic-speakers Sumatra has also been mentioned as another possible original home. From a homeland perhaps in west Borneo, linguists have suggested that there was a move sometime around 100 B.C of Malayic-speakers down the rivers to the coasts, then out through the Tambelan and Riau islands to the Malay Peninsula, and finally to southeast Sumatra. As with the earlier migration of Austronesianspeakers, the Malayic-speakers met resistance on the Malay Peninsula due to the presence of Austroasiatic-speaking communities. No such obstacle was present in Sumatra, and so they settled the coasts and the interior of southeast Sumatra and perhaps also expanded to other sites on the east Sumatran coast (Bellwood 1995:105106). In southeast Sumatra the Malayic-speakers spread along the Musi and the Batang Hari and their tributaries, and into the interior highlands (Andaya 1993:1516). In the first millenium AD they created a riverine Melayu culture very likely modelled after that which had developed along the interior riverine and lake environment of west Borneo (Collins 1996:3). From these settlements in Sumatra emerged polities known in historical times as Srivijaya and Malayu, which dominated both



sides of the Straits of Melaka and the interior of Sumatra between the seventh and the fourteenth centuries. The traditions established at these two riverine kingdoms spread inland and became reconstituted in the Minangkabau highlands in the mid-fourteenth century. Later that century a prince from Palembang, one of the early sites of Srivijaya, emigrated first to Bentan, then to Singapore, Muar, and eventually to Melaka on the Peninsula. Accompanying him were his loyal Melayu subjects from Palembang, his Orang Laut, and possibly his 8 On this subjects among the forest dwellers. princes peregrinations, he came to marry the Queen of Bentan and the daughters of Orang Laut and Orang Asli leaders, thereby developing a kinship network to support his pretensions in his new homeland. The arrival of these Melayu from Sumatra comprised the third wave of descendants of the Austronesian-speakers to the Peninsula. The first was the initial Austronesian-speakers sometime in the first millenium B.C; the second was the movement of the Malayicspeakers from west Borneo around 500 B.C; and the third was the Melayu from Palembang in the late fourteenth century AD. While the first two waves were apparently unsuccessful in penetrating beyond the coasts and were restricted to only certain areas on the Peninsula, the Melayu established a strong and ultimately extremely successful settlement at Melaka. The Austroasiatic populations, or the Orang Asli, maintained their dominance on the Peninsula and were the primary inhabitants in the interior until the nineteenth century (Bellwood 1997:266). On the coast, however,

the rapid rise and economic success of Melaka enabled the Melayu to deal with the Orang Asli initially as equals and gradually as subjects. This transformation in the relationship was a direct result of changes in demand for Southeast Asian forest products in international trade.

History of external trade among the Orang Asli

Although it is generally believed that Orang Asli involvement in international trade began with the founding of the Kingdom of Melaka, in fact the Orang Asli had a very ancient tradition of exchange with the outside world. About 8000 B.C in the Hoabinhian period, archaeologists have been able to determine that there was a trade in coastal shells for forest products such as rattan, resin, tree bark, and stone for making tools. Then about 3000 B.C this trade involved the Orang Asli with communities as far away as northwestern and central Thailand, with the tempo of trade increasing from about 2000 B.C. There is evidence of an active maritime trade involving forest products at about 500 B.C. This trade would have continued as a result of the presence of important polities in southern Thailand, the Isthmus, and the northern half of the Malay Peninsula from 500 B.C till the founding of Melaka in fifteenth century AD (Suhaimi 1997:103). Among the main coastal ports mentioned by foreign sources are Tambralinga (in the vicinity of Nakhon Si Thammarat or Ligor), Takola (on the northwest coast perhaps in the neighborhood of Trang), Kalah (on the west coast of the Peninsula or in Tenasserim), Kataha (Kedah), Chi tu (interior of Kelantan on the east coast of the Peninsula), Pan pan (Kelantan or Terengganu on the east coast) and Dan dan (perhaps in Terengganu). The

Some have speculated that Demang Lebar Daun was indeed a chief of a forest tribe because of his peculiar name.Demang is a title associated with forest dwellers, and Lebar Daun, or Broad Leaf , resonates far more with the types of names of the interior peoples than the Melayu.



Bujang valley in southern Kedah around Sungai Mas and Pangkalan Bujang was also the site of a major entrepot between the fifth and eleventh centuries AD. Another of the ancient settlements in the north was Sathing Phra, located on the eastern coast of the Isthmus between Songkhla and Nakhon Si Thammarat. According to interpretations of the archaeological evidence, agricultural surplus contributed to the rise of urbanization in Sathing Phra, though it was involved in international trade since the second century AD. After the sixth century there was a great increase in Sathing Phras trade due to the completion of two canals linking the east to the west, and by the conscious decision of the leaders to sacrifice agrarian for trading interests. Between the mid-ninth and the late thirteenth centuries, it is said to have come under Indonesian (Srivijaya and Melayu?) dominance. The presence of moats and long distance canals invites comparison with those associated with Angkor Borei and Oc Eo in present-day southern Cambodia (Stargardt 1986:2425,28,30). Based on these findings, Sathing Phra appears to resemble a number of other settlements in the Isthmus and the northern half of the Peninsula. It was very likely part of an extensive international trade system which extended to the Mekong Delta, where preliminary archaeological findings suggest a complex occupation from approximately 500 B.C, with Angkor Borei being the center by about 500 AD. It may have peaked in the sixth and seventh centuries and declined sometime between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. Angkor Borei may have been part of a larger political and economic system involving Angkor (Stark 1999:8,12,2627,30), and perhaps even the opposite shore on the eastern coast of the Isthmus and the Malay Peninsula The coastal settlements on the Isthmus

and the northern part of the Malay Peninsula became the major redistribution centers for forest products during the period of Indianization in the first millenium and a half AD. In the mid-fifth century Pan pan and Dan dan were among the ports visited by Chinese to purchase aromatic woods. Chi tu brought camphor as tribute to China in 610 and is mentioned as part of Funan (Wang 1998:52,68). By the early eighth century, Arab and Persian merchants sailed from the Persian Gulf to ports in Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, and Tenasserim to purchase aromatics to trade for silk in China (Simkin 1968:84). A tenth century Arabic source cites Kalah as a port where all types of spices and aromatics, including camphor and gaharu wood, were exported (Tibbetts 1979:33). References to this trade are found in foreign sources right into the early modern period. By the mid-fifteenth century, the port city of Melaka had become the heir of a long tradition of coastal international emporia in the region and the direct successor of Srivijaya. Melaka not only served as a redistribution center of the fabled spices from Maluku, but also as the collecting point for the much desired forest products of resins, aromatic woods and rattan from the jungles of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. On the Peninsula the collection of resins, aromatic woods, and rattans was a task that ideally suited the Orang Asli with their knowledge of the jungle. A network of exchanges developed among the different Orang Asli groups because of their areas of habitation. The more interior Senoi would have negotiated the exchange of certain products with the Semang, who then brought these products to the Malay or Chinese traders at the fringe of the jungle or on the coast. The Semang themselves would have exploited the jungles within their territories. As indicated



above, archaeological evidence of a site dated sometime in the first millenium AD indicates the presence of possibly Negrito remains on the Perak coast. Studies of the Semang have identified a particularly adaptive social system suited to shifts in subsistence or economic situations. With the increase in external trade associated with Indianization, the Semang would have been ideally placed to participate and benefit from this new development. In the southern third of the Peninsula, jungle products would have been collected by the Orang Melayu Asli to be traded to the outside world. The importance of the Orang Asli was further strengthened because they occupied lands through which the trans-peninsular routes passed. Traders from the west often used the trans-peninsular routes leading from the Bay of Bengal to the Gulf of Siam to avoid the dangers of pirates in the Straits of Melaka, particularly at the southern entrance. Even if traders successfully avoided piratical attacks, they still faced the navigational dangers of islands and hidden reefs and sandbanks in the waters off the Malay Peninsula. The narrow Isthmus and the northern part of the Malay Peninsula became favored for these trans-peninsular routes. On the Malay Peninsula ancient settlements were found along these major trade routes or at the site of gold mines (Wheatley 1966:6667). These interior towns would have served as secondary centers feeding the ports on the coast. Once the aromatics and gold were gathered from the Peninsula and the Isthmus, they were transported from the interior forests to the coasts employing a complex series of rivers and streams joined by short land routes serving as portage areas. Wheatley has identified six such transpeninsular highways: the Kedah river or the Perak river via the Perak valley into Patani; the

Bernam valley into the Pahang Basin; the Muar river across the Panarikan land portage to Pahang; the Batu Pahat valley to the Endau; and the ancient route along the Kelantan and Galas rivers towards upper Pahang, which offered different river routes to the west coast. In addition to these six peninsular routes, he has listed a further five routes in the Isthmian region: the Three Pagoda and Three Cedis, the Tenasserim river, the Kra Isthmus, the Takuapa river, and the Trang river. Along the Isthmian region the historic routes went from the west along rivers via low watersheds to the South China Sea (Wheatley 1966:xi,xxvixxvii). In describing the Orang Asli trade in a specific type of bamboo highly prized for making blowguns, Noone (1954/1955) mentions that the major routes across the Peninsula followed the tributaries which run east to west off the major rivers flowing in a north-south direction. The main mountain range posed no obstacle because they could be crossed at various points without difficulty (Noone 1954/ 1955:18). Among the Negrito Batek, for example, the tributary systems are the true waterways and principal focus of their foraging activities (Lye 1997:216). Following these tributaries as a major part of the trans-peninsular routes would therefore have been a natural decision by the Orang Asli in the delivery of forest products to the coasts or in the transshipment of goods between the coasts. The choice of routes would also have been determined by the Orang Aslis intimate knowledge of the lay of the land and the location of trees bearing resins, aromatic woods, and rattans. In this role as collectors of primary forest produce and as laborers and guides in the transshipment of goods across their lands, the Orang Asli became indispensable to the coastal trading kingdoms. Their value to the lowland communities is captured in the stories which



still survive in the traditions of the Melayu people.

Melayu traditions on Melayu-Orang Asli relations

When the Portuguese seized Melaka from the Melayu in 1511, local documents were studied for an understanding of the Melayu foe and for an assessment of the trade possibilities for the Portuguese in the region. The result was a work known as the Suma Oriental, written between 15121515 by the Portuguese apothecary Tom Pires. It contains valuable detail not only of trade prospects but also of certain traditions regarding the Melayu, including the story of the immigration of the Palembang prince and his followers to Melaka. These tales were based on stories read or recited in Melaka at the time of the Portuguese occupation of that city. One of these tales recalls a time when the local inhabitants on the Muar and the Bertam rivers and at Melaka provided assistance to the Palembang prince and his followers in founding the city (Cortesao 1990:235,238). These rivers were in Orang Asli territories, and any outsider would have had to seek accommodation with the inhabitants of the land. The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), a court text believed to have originated during the time of Melakas greatness in the fifteenth century, would have been among the documents which Tom Pires must have consulted for his work judging from the similarity of the tales of the move of the Palembang prince to Melaka. But in the earliest known recension of this work, which was edited in Johor in 1612, some hundred years after Pires Suma Oriental, there is no direct mention of the role of the Orang Asli. The term Sakai is used once in an ambiguous fashion, which could be interpreted as Orang Asli or simply subjects of one of the principal officials in Melaka (Abdul 1998:138).

By the early seventeenth century Johor, the direct successor to the Melaka kingdom, was beleaguered by both the Portuguese and the Acehnese. The timing of the recopying of the Sejarah Melayu coincides with this period of serious challenge to the continuing dominance of Johor as the center of the Melayu world (Andaya 2001). In the established practice of reediting while recopying Malay texts, a Johor court scribe may simply have ignored any mention of the contributions of non-Melayu groups in order to emphasize the glory of the Melayu. But in the Hikayat Hang Tuah (The Romance of Hang Tuah), which is believed to have originated as an oral epic depicting the days of Melakas greatness, the role of the indigenous inhabitants in the success of the Melayu venture on the Peninsula is freely acknowledged. There is frequent mention of the Sakai, but here it is used to refer to the Orang Laut inhabitants in the islands lying south of the Malay Peninsula. In this Hikayat the Sakai are employed in building the rulers palace, repairing the citys canals, protecting Melakas traders from enemies, patrolling the seas and reporting to Melakas rulers, transporting the ruler and the nobility of Melaka to the islands for pleasure trips, forming the fighting fleets for Melaka, and defending the city (Kassim 1975:14,16,24,57,69,353,459460). In many of these activities the Sakai are said to be undertaking these tasks together with the people of Melaka (i.e. the Melayu). There is no hint of antagonism or subservience of one group to another. Among those that are mentioned as offering their support to the first Melayu ruler of Melaka are the batin (Orang Asli or Orang Laut heads) and followers who control the tributaries, and the penghulu (a Malay title used for those with some authority over the Orang Asli communities) and their Sakai



(Kassim 1975:16). The Syair Perang Johor, too, explicitly mentions the role of the Sakai (referring to the Orang Laut) in the defense of the kingdom of Johor against its enemies.9 Another Melayu document begun sometime in the middle of the fifteenth century at the height of Melakas power is the UndangUndang Melaka (Melaka Legal Digest). In these legal prescriptions the Orang Asli are listed among Melakas subjects and fighting force (sakai bala tentara ) (Liauw:1976:68,78, 176). The tenth paragraph (fasal) refers to a law pertinent to the biduanda orang, mudamuda orang, hamba orang, sakai orang, and the hamba raja. Liauw (1976) explains that they refer to the various types of servants or slaves mentioned in the Digest (Liauw 1976:180). It is difficult to know what distinguished the various categories in the Melaka period. Couillard cites Skeat and Blagden in tracing the etymology of the term Sakai to the Sanskrit sakhi , meaning friend, companion, comrade. Apparently the word sakhi often appears with seva or siva (propitious, friendly, dear) in Vedic hymns. Couillard (1984) therefore suggests that Sakai may have been the word used by Indian traders who regarded the Orang Asli as partners in a trading alliance (Couillard 1984:85,9091). Archaeological evidence mentioned above indicates that the Orang Asli communities in the northern half of the Malay Peninsula were indeed active in international trade in centuries past. Wilkinson (1959:1002) believes that the distinction between the various types of Melayu subjects was based on the extent of assimilation to Melayu culture. He suggests a hierarchy with the lowest being the sakai who were aborigines who did not speak Malay; then the rakyat who were aborigines who did speak

Syair Perang Johor stanzas/verses (1761: 284a,92a,143b,290b).

Malay; and finally the biduanda who were aborigines who spoke Malay, accepted Melayu culture, and had been received as equals into Melayu community. In the RiauLingga archipelagoes the term Sakai ranked above that of rakyat. Despite the neatness of Wilkinsons conception, there is evidence that such categories were never static. During the Melaka period there was already the beginning of a shift in the meaning of the word biduanda . Melaka-born Chinese were given the honorary title biduanda as a favor by the ruler, as were the Sakai and the rakyat (Wilkinson 1959:137138). The eighteenth century Melayu text from Perak, the Misa Melayu, makes a number of references to the sakai, which could be interpreted as either subject or Orang Asli. There is, however, no doubt in one particular passage that the Sakai accompanying the Panglima Larut are Orang Asli. They are listed as the Orang Bukit Gantang (the people of Mt. Gantang), the Orang Pengkalan (People of the Landing Places, which are usually located at a confluence of rivers and land routes and serve as major intermediary collecting and redistribution points), and the Pematang (the people who inhabit the banks of the marshlands) (Raja 1962:99). The text that perhaps best captures the early mutually respectable relationship between the Orang Asli populations and the Melayu is the Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa. Although the earliest known recension of the text is in the first half of the nineteenth century, most scholars acknowledge the inclusion of oral legends from the early history of Kedah and the northern areas of the Peninsula. The Hikayat recounts the arrival of a stranger prince, Raja Kelana Hitam, who seeks to become ruler of Kedah because it has no king. He thus asks the penghulu or leaders of the



bangsa (ethnic group) Semang, Wila, the hill people (rakyat bukit ), and the Sakai to meet in council to help him find a good land where he could settle. They perform this task, and then come to serve him faithfully. When the Raja Kelana Hitams kingdom is attacked by monsters (gergasi), these four bangsa suffer the brunt of the fighting and their bravery is measured by their dead piled in heaps like mountains (Sitti Hawa 1991:61,63,67). The use of the term bangsa to refer to different groups among the Orang Asli is noteworthy. Sometime in the past each group was considered to be a unique ethnic entity defined by others by choice of habitat and state of civilization as defined by the lowland groups, such as the Melayu. In this text the Semang refers to the populations who are located more in the jungle areas and have less contact with outsiders; the Wila or Semang Bila are described in later commentaries as those Semang who live close to the Melayu or Chinese communities and are closest to assimilation into the dominant lowland culture; the hill people is a reference to the Senoi, most likely the Temiar; while the term Sakai is used either for the Semai or the sea and riverine populations in the north. There is a striking similarity between the legend of the foundation of Kedah as told in the Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa and that of Melaka in the Sejarah Melayu. In both cases there arrives a stranger prince seeking to become king over a land without a ruler. The indigenous populations of Orang Asli and Orang Laut are not only instrumental in guiding the prince to a desired site, but they also then offer their allegiance and their lives in defense of their new lords. There is, however, a distinction in the tales of the roles of the indigenous populations in Kedah and Melaka. In the former the Orang Asli populations of Semang and Senoi were relatively well-popu-

lated, and so their intervention on behalf of a stranger ruler would have been crucial factor in the success or failure of the venture. For Melaka, the more important indigenous populations were the Orang Laut because of Melakas orientation to the sea and international trade.10 Of those texts originating from Melaka and Johor, the word Sakai refers almost exclusively to the Orang Laut populations of the islands. But in all of the texts, many of which were recopied in the nineteenth century, the indigenous populations are never described in a demeaning fashion. On the contrary, their contributions are openly acknowledged and their sacrifices, as in the Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa , poignantly described.

Orang Asli traditions on Orang AsliMelayu relations

Equally illuminating is the perception of this relationship from the viewpoint of the Orang Asli. Writing in the early twentieth century, Skeat, William, and Blagden (1906) describes an Orang Asli tale of a batin (an Orang Asli chief) called Chief Iron Claws ( Batin Berchanggei Besi). He leaves Minangkabau with his followers and goes first to Java, where some of his people remain behind, and then to Melaka, which was then uninhabited. After establishing a settlement called Pengkalan Tampoi, he goes to Kelang where he disappears. His position is taken by Hang Tuah, who had been made batin of Pengkalan Tampoi. He builds a house on a hill overlooking Melaka, and when that settlement becomes too large to contain the Orang Asli population Hang Tuah decides to go south to Johor. The Orang Asli communities along the Muar river settle in the two new communities

As a descendant of the rulers of Srivijaya, the Palembang prince would have known the value of control of the seas.



established by Hang Tuah, one in the interior called Benua Dalam and the other on the coast called Benua Laut Jagun. One day the Melayu from Kedah demand the land occupied by the Orang Asli at Pengkalan Tampoi. The latter refuse, an attack ensues, and the Orang Asli are defeated. Hang Tuahs sons Hang Jebat and Hang Ketuwi (Kasturi in Malay) were chiefs in settlements to the east and north of Pengkalan Tampoi. With their followers they flee southward, but the two brothers quarrel over possession over lands and kill each other. As a descendant of the rulers of Srivijaya, the Palembang prince would have known the value of control of the seas. Meanwhile, another son in Kelang gives his daughter in marriage to a Minangkabau chief settled downriver. Hang Tuahs daughter becomes batin in Muar and his youngest son batin in Sungei Ujong. Hang Tuah and his offspring thus become the founding batin in Sungei Ujong, Kelang, Johor, and Melaka. When he and his descendants die out, the Orang Asli never again enjoy the privilege of electing a batin with the powers and duties formerly held by Hang Tuah family (Skeat, William, and Blagen 1906: 267273). In this Orang Asli tale three important elements are stressed. The first is the assertion that Hang Tuah and his family, including Hang Jebat and Hang Kasturi, were important early leaders of the Orang Asli community. These three heroes are well known in Melayu folklore and in the most popular of Melayu literature, the Sejarah Melayu and the Hikayat Hang Tuah. In the former they are archetypal Melayu heroes, while in the latter work they are associated with the islands and implied to be of Orang Laut origins. In this Orang Asli tale and in a number of others, these heroes are clearly Orang Asli who are prominent leaders of the community. Only after the disappearance of this family does the fate of the

Orang Asli decline. A second feature of the Orang Asli tale is the emphasis on the prior settlement of the Orang Asli on the Peninsula and their large numbers in the past. Archaeological evidence discussed above leaves little doubt that the Orang Asli were descendants of both Hoabinhian period settlers and the later Southern Mongoloid population, hence perhaps settling the Peninsula about a thousand years earlier than the Austronesian-speakers from whom the Melayu descended. What is perhaps less known is the fact that the Orang Asli population in the past, perhaps even up to the early twentieth century, was much larger in relation to the Melayu than is the case today. Oral tales describe the natural increase of the Orang Asli population which leads to the founding of new settlements. Here again archaeological evidence indicates the widespread settlement of the Orang Asli and their occupation of the prime lands on the Peninsula, resulting in the restriction of early Austronesian settlements to the coast. The third aspect in the tale is the link with Minangkabau. A younger son (culturally regarded as the most spiritually endowed) goes with his followers to Pagaruyung in the Minangkabau highlands of central Sumatra. Among the people of Sumatra the rulers of Pagaruyung have always been regarded with great awe because of the supernatural powers associated with that royal house. The origins of the Minangkabau royal family can be traced to its founder Adityavarman in the mid-fourteenth century. From the beginning this family based in Pagaruyung 11 periodically dis11

Documents from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries call the court of the Minangkabau rulers in the Barisan highlands of Sumatra Pagaruyung, though the court shifted to different centers in accordance with the matrilineal and matrilocal succession principle.



patched royal scions from the court bearing letters from the Maharajadiraja (Great King of Kings, translated by the Dutch as Keizer or Emperor) to the various rantau, or areas of Minangkabau settlement outside the homeland. These letters commanded the Minangkabau to lend assistance to the letter-bearers or face supernatural punishment. The long preamble of these letters listing the powers of the ruler to control the natural elements to his purpose or to invoke the dreaded supernatural sanction known in Minangkabau as the bisa kawi were widely known and feared.12 Stories of the sacred powers of the Pagaruyung rulers would have arrived in the Peninsula during the Melayu immigration of the late fourteenth century or even earlier with the free flow of goods and information across the Straits of Melaka. It is likely that these stories preceded the arrival in the sixteenth century of the Minangkabau settlers to present-day Negeri Sembilan on the Peninsula. This reputation of the Minangkabau would have made the Orang Asli leaders as eager as the newcomers to create or, in accordance with their oral traditions, reaffirm a familial bond through marriage. Thus were created the Orang Asli tales explaining how the Minangkabau were really descendants of earlier Orang Asli who had gone to live in Minangkabau and were thus returning home to the land of their ancestors. Hood Saleh (1986) has recorded a creation myth from an Orang Asli Melayu community, the Biduanda , that also refers to a Sumatran connection. According to this tale, the origins of the group is attributed to the batin Sri Alam who seized a walking tree trunk and kept it in captivity. The trunk then produced forty-four eggs, which the batin then buried until they

hatched into forty-four children. When they grew up he supplied them with barkcloth for clothes. Half of these children he sent to Sumatra where they colonized the coast as far as the borders of the Batak country (i.e. in the interior of Sumatra), while the other half remained on the Peninsula and became the Biduanda (Hood Saleh 1986:57). While the Biduanda myth does not mention the Minangkabau specifically as relatives, its description of a people straddling both sides of the Straits of Melaka is very likely a reference to the Minangkabau. Since the sixteenth century the Minangkabau had begun moving in large numbers to both coasts of Sumatra and to the Malay Peninsula. Juli Edo, an anthropologist from the Semai group, collected a number of true tales (chermor) from his people. According to one chermor the Orang Asli were the last descendants of Adam living in Mengkah, the land created by God. 13 On their journey from Mengkah, some leave the raft at Sumatra and establish the settlement of Pagaruyung. Another group goes ashore at Siam or Siap on the Maluk mountain (said to be in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula); a third group continues southward to the Sahine mountain (believed to be in the eastern side of central Perak); and the last disembark at Melaka and settle at Mt. Ledang.14 Centuries later there is a second exodus from Mengkah, which also includes the Melayu, the secondlast of the descendants of Adam, who leave to join their younger brothers, the Orang Asli. They land in Sumatra and occupy the entire island. Initially, they settle among the earlier

Mengkah is clearly Mekka, indicating a tradition influenced by the Melayu.


For an excellent account of the powers of the Minangkabau court and examples of these letters, see Jane Drakard, The Kingdom of Words.

Mt. Ledang is the legendary mountain mentioned in the Sejarah Melayu as the abode of a supernatural princess.



migrants at Pagaruyung, but their aggressive ways force the Pagaruyung people to flee to Melaka. At Mt. Ledang the people from Pagaruyung reunite with their relatives from the first exodus, and they become known as Temuan because they had met (temu ). They decide not to stay at Mt. Ledang but to occupy the coastal areas of Melaka. Centuries later the Melayu from Sumatra come to Melaka led by a prince who is unsuccessful in becoming a ruler in his own land. The Royal Shaman advises the prince to marry an Orang Asli woman from Mt Ledang who is said to be the bearer of luck and fortune (bertuah). He follows this advice and thus acquires the support of the Orang Asli in the establishment of his kingdom at Melaka. The Orang Asli then become his palace workers, guards, and army, tasks which they continue to perform for the descendants of this first Melakan ruler. Among these Orang Asli retainers of the ruler are the Orang Asli brothers, Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat. Later there is a quarrel between the brothers, which results in the death of Hang Jebat. Hang Tuah, accompanied by his wifes family and those of Hang Jebat, as well as the Orang Asli from Mt. Ledang, moves northward and settles the area. Part of the group remains in central Perak and comes to be known as mai bareh (i.e. the lowland Semai), while Hang Tuah proceeds further northward and becomes the leader of the Orang Asli in Upper Perak. The last group eventually settles in an area now called Lambor (Edo 1997:35). The story then turns to an episode involving a Johor prince, Tok Betangkuk (or Nakhoda Kassim according to others), who marries an Orang Asli woman with white blood (hence possessing supernatural gifts) and establishes the kingdom of Perak. Though the Melayu then come to occupy the whole of the Perak river, the relations between the ruler and

the Orang Asli remain good and the Orang Asli come to perform such duties as palace workers, guards, and hunting partners of the ruler. Other tales collected by Edo (1997) have similar themes of marriage between Melayu princes and Orang Asli women (with only one example of a Melayu princess marrying an Orang Asli man). In these tales the Melayu has a dream of the supernatural partner among the Orang Asli and goes in search for the latter. Before the marriage is contracted, the Orang Asli always asks and obtains a commitment from the Melayu prince to assure good treatment of the Orang Asli and to accept them as subjects (rakyat ) (Edo 1997:56). Certain themes are found in these Orang Asli true tales from the Semai. The first is that the Orang Asli are the original inhabitants of the land. Although one chermor mentions a common origin in the land of Mengkah (Mekkah, a name which is obviously a later addition), there is an acknowledgement that the Orang Asli, the younger brothers of the Melayu, were the first to come to the Peninsula. A second theme is the special relationship established between the Melayu ruler and the Orang Asli population because of an ancient agreement between the founder prince and an Orang Asli woman. In return for good treatment from the prince, the Orang Asli promise to serve as his fighting force and as palace workers. This particular theme is mirrored in the Melayu texts, where the military contribution of the Orang Asli groups is openly acknowledged. Finally, there is the theme of a blood link with the Melayu established in the beginning of time and reaffirmed in the marriage between a Melayu prince and an Orang Asli woman endowed with supernatural gifts. For both the Orang Asli and the Melayu, a blood relationship created trust and loyalty within a family.



Until the establishment of British colonial rule in the late nineteenth century, the Orang Asli retained their importance as collectors of resins, aromatic woods, and rattans from the jungle. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many adapted to a changed economic situation by also becoming involved in the extraction of tin or as casual laborers and the producers of food for mining communities. Their commercial value was still recognized, and there was very little pressure for the expansion of the Melayu or the Chinese into Orang Asli lands in the interior. Only after sizeable Straits Chinese and European capital began to flood into the Peninsula in the late nineteenth century for the development and extraction of tin, rubber, palm oil, timber, and plantation crops did intense pressure begin to dispossess the Orang Asli of their lands. Relations between the Melayu and the Orang Asli became increasingly strained as the Melayu grew in dominance while the Orang Asli began to lose their value to the Melayu. The shift in attitude was reflected in the increasing scorn and contempt with which the Melayu began to treat the Orang Asli. Increasingly to the Melayu, the refusal of the Orang Asli to embrace Islam and to abandon their foraging and shifting agricultural lifestyle was evidence of their lack of civilization. The beginning of a shift can already be detected in the early seventeenth century in the Sejarah Melayu, but is far more obvious in the various episodes recounted in Malay and foreign accounts from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By contrast, the Orang Asli tales collected over the last two centuries attempt to recall an earlier period of harmony and cooperation with the gop , a term which they use for the Melayu. Yet sadly evident in these tales is the increasing violence committed by the gop on the Orang Asli.

The question of ethnicity

Because of the desire of the Malaysian government to assimilate the Orang Asli communities, the question of ethnicity has become an important part of the debate. Melayu civilization has been termed an expansive ethnicity because in the past it has tended to absorb many different ethnic groups into its fold. Even today the Constitution of Malaysia defines a Melayu as one who speaks Malay habitually, practices Melayu culture, and is a Muslim. In the past the principal determinant of Melayu ethnicity was Islam because many other ethnic communities in the Straits area shared the same language and culture with the Melayu. The Melayu language gradually became the dominant language in Sumatra as a result of the importance of the kingdoms of Srivijaya and Malayu between the seventh and the fourteenth centuries. The process of establishing a dominant language in the region resulted in the absorption of many smaller Malayic dialects. With the establishment of the prosperous kingdom of Melaka in the fifteenth century, the prominence of Melayu language and culture continued. Many groups living around the Straits of Melaka thus became bilingual in Malay and in their own language. Though Melaka attempted to make the Malay spoken there the standard form of the language, the Hikayat Hang Tuah recounts an episode that perhaps reflects the thinking of many of the Melayu in the period prior to the twentieth century. In this episode Hang Tuah visits the kingdom of Indrapura on Sumatra, and he asks the maidens of the court to sing a Melayu song for him. They demur, saying that they are embarrassed because their Malay is mixed (kacokan ), not pure as that of Melaka. Hang Tuah then explains that the Malay of Melaka is also mixed with Javanese, and therefore not pure as the maidens of



Indrapura believed (Kassim Ahmad 1975). The Malay spoken in Aceh in the seventeenth century was regarded as the standard for Malay in the period, but Malay speakers in the court of Banjar on the island of Borneo found it difficult to understand because of the Acehneseisms.15 In other words, the Malay language was spoken in many different ways without a fixed standard dialect. The Malay spoken in Indrapura or Aceh or Melaka was equally valid, and therefore by mastering Malay one fulfilled a major prerequisite for assuming Melayu ethnicity. With regard to Melayu culture, the long domination of Srivijaya (and its successors in Jambi and the highlands of Minangkabau from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries) (Andaya 2000b:2526) and Melaka introduced many of the customs of the Melayu to groups in Java, Sumatra, and the Peninsula. So dominant were the Melayu that in 1365 the lands of the Melayu extended the whole length of the east coast of Sumatra and around to the west coast as far down as Barus, and to the interior areas up the Batang Hari river into the Minangkabau highlands. It did not, however, include any lands on the Peninsula (Robson 1995:33). The story of the Melayu on the Peninsula only begins with the arrival of the Palembang immigrants and the foundation of Melaka in the beginning of the fifteenth century. These lands of Melayu on Sumatra are today inhabited by groups as diverse as the people of Palembang and Jambi, the Minangkabau, the Batak, the Acehnese, the Melayu on the east-coast, and the numerous

50In seventeenth century Aceh, Nuruddin al-Raniri wrote the Sirat al-Mustakim (The Straight Path) in Malay. But a certain Muhammad Arsyad al-Banjari of Banjar decided to compose a companion book called the Sabil al-Huhtadin in order to clarify the many Acehnese words and expressions found in it (Liauw 1992/1993:50).

Orang Asli and Orang Laut groups along the east coast of Sumatra. Archaeological evidence indicates that all of these groups would have been subject to the culture developed in Srivijaya (Schnitger 1937). When Melaka became the most powerful Melayu center in the Straits, it continued the tradition of Srivijaya in extending Melayu culture to areas on the Peninsula and to courts involved in the Melaka trade network. Melayu culture was available to many groups on both sides of the Straits of Melaka, thus facilitating the adoption of Melayu ethnicity. Melayu religion, Islam, then became the only major hurdle for those wishing to claim to be Melayu. It was a requirement that did impose considerable hardships on those who maintained strong beliefs in local deities and spirits and were particularly fond of the taste of pork. For some, too, the pig was associated with community solidarity at special gatherings of the group. All this had to be foresworn if one became Melayu. Yet even this restriction proved less of an obstacle than expected, and references abound of cases of conversions leading to a change in ethnicity. Although many of the Orang Asli on the Peninsula did not have the same cultural heritage as those on Sumatra, their long contact with the Melayu gave them an intimate knowledge of their language and their customs. A cultural practice among the Orang Asli further facilitated adoption of Melayu ethnicity. Individuals generally joined a band dominated by their maternal or paternal relatives, but they often also simply attached themselves to a new group for personal reasons. One could thus be born into one group, but in the course of ones life come to join and become a part of other groups. Edo (1997) cites an example of one Orang Asli man in the past who wanted to work in a territory inhabited by another Orang



Asli band. He therefore moved into the village of the latter group, married one of its women, and thus became part of that community (Edo 1997:20). The mutual intelligibility of the languages spoken by some of the Semang and their shared lifestyle facilitated movements of individuals between bands (Endicott 1997:36). Those Orang Asli communities who had frequent intercourse with the Melayu could in time decide to masuk Melayu, or become a Melayu, by following the clear prescriptions identified with that ethnicity. But for the Orang Asli and for the Melayu, the defining boundary separating the two was lifestyle. An Orang Asli who came to lead a sedentary existence as an agriculturalist and fulfilled the other requirements of language, culture, and religion, could become accepted as a Melayu. Such shifts in ethnic identity often occurred on the fringes of two worlds: the jungle of the Orang Asli and the agricultural lands of the Melayu. In the past the Malays used to designate the Semang by exonyms reflecting the types of ecological zones in which they lived. The Semang Paya were those of the plains and lands bordering the marshes; the Semang Bukit were found in the hilly areas, the Semang Bakau frequented the coasts and the mangrove forests; and.the Semang Bila were those who had abandoned their Orang Asli style of life and had frequent intercourse with the Malays (Anderson 1965:xxxviii). It would have been the Semang Bila, the most acculturated to Melayu civilization, who would have made the transition to Melayu much quicker than the others. Dentan has also observed a similar pattern of naming among the Semai, the largest group among the Senoi. Unlike the case of the Negrito (Semang), however, the terms used are not imposed from the outside but are Semai endonyms. For example, there are the mai

chenan (they of the mountains), mai kuui teio (they at the heads of the waters, i.e. upriver people), and the mai bareh (they of the lowlands, i.e. people living near the Malay and Chinese towns found in the lowlands) (Dentan 1968:1). Because of the location of the mai bareh, they would have found it easier to shift ethnicities than those of the mai kuui teio living in the mountainous areas . Of the three major categories of Orang Asli, it was the Orang Melayu Asli who were closest to the Melayu in language and lifestyle and therefore best positioned to change ethnicities. In his History of the Peninsular Malays (1923), Wilkinson cites the example of the Besisi (Orang Melayu Asli) in Selangor and Negri Sembilan living in Malay houses and imitating the Melayu way of life. Except for language, they were indistinguishable from their Melayu neighbors and were becoming more like them through intermarriage and conversion to Islam (Wilkinson 1971:1819). The reverse process of Melayu becoming Orang Asli is mentioned by Annandale writing in the beginning of the twentieth century. Referring to the area around Kuala Lumpur, he states that it is not unknown for the Melayu to go to the jungle and become members of the Sakai (Orang Asli) group (Annandale 1903:51). Dunn believes that Aboriginal Malay groups in the southern half of the Peninsula are in fact descendants of earlier Malayo-Polynesian speakers (hence among the first wave of Austronesian-speakers on the Peninsula sometime in the first millenium B.C). By the time the Melayu immigrants from Sumatra arrived in the Peninsula in the late fourteenth century, these early Malayo-Polynesian speakers would have adopted the lifestyle of the dominant Orang Asli communities. The closeness of their language and cultures with those of the Melayu may reflect a much older common cultural heri-



tage and may not be due simply to greater intercourse between these two communities. There are fewer examples of the process of Melayu becoming Orang Asli because of the steadily deteriorating status of the latter vis vis the Melayu since the establishment of British colonial rule in the late nineteenth century. Collection of forest products continued to be important in international trade and even became intensified with the establishment of the settlement of Singapore by the British in 1819. As the primary collectors the Orang Asli were deemed indispensable to this trade and thus regarded with some respect. Nevertheless, even by this time the trade in forest goods was a minor part of a larger export economy involving tin, plantation crops, and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries rubber and later oil palm. The decline in the demand for forest products left only occasional wage labor in the mining and plantation sectors open for Orang Asli employment. Melayu attitudes toward the Orang Asli thus shifted from one of respect and even awe in earlier centuries to one of contempt for their nomadic lifestyle, superstitious beliefs, and now their menial occupations. There was less reason for a Melayu to become an Orang Asli, but an overwhelming incentive for the latter to become Melayu because of economic and political rewards and an enhanced status in Malaysian society.

Summary and conclusion

Melayu-Orang Asli relations can be traced back to about 1000 B.C when the ancestors of the two group first encountered each other on the Peninsula. This initial encounter favored the Orang Asli who had settled the land some 500 to 1000 years previously and were numerically the larger of the two. The Austronesianspeakers who remained were limited to the

coasts because the interior was already populated by the Orang Asli. From the early Austronesian-speakers in the south developed some of the early Orang Melayu Asli. In the center and the north developed the Negrito and the Senoi populations who evolved from Hoabinhian and Southern Mongoloid ancestors and became Austroasiatic-speakers. Archaeological evidence indicates that both coasts in the northern part of the Peninsula and the Isthmian area in present day southern Thailand were sites of major civilizations in the first millenium and a half AD. They flourished primarily through international trade that flowed between one coast to the other through a series of river routes connected by short land passages. One of the major attractions of these ports to foreign merchants was the resins, aromatic woods, and rattans which were found in the northern forests in the Peninsula or across the Straits in Sumatra. This network of collectors, distributors, and buyers spanning the northern region of the Straits of Melaka operated as a unit, allowing for the separate development of the northern from the southern regions of the Peninsula and Sumatra.16 One of the principal beneficiaries of this northern international trading network was the Orang Asli populations of the Semang and the Senoi. Specialized knowledge was needed to locate the resin bearing trees and the aromatic woods and rattans. Because of the nature of rainforests in which a plot of land would contain numerous different species rather than just one stand of a specific tree, knowledge of the forest was required to locate the desired product. Moreover, the ability to determine which particular tree contained the resins required another type of specialist skills. The Orang Asli practice of roaming within a

I develop this argument in greater detail in Andaya (2000a), History of Trade.



fixed territory enabled them to acquire an intimate knowledge of what the forest contained. Years of practical experience passed down by oral tales as groups revisited sites also helped to maintain within the group the secrets of detecting the elusive but profitable forest products.17 Furthermore, the principal trans-peninsular or trans-Isthmian routes went through Orang Asli lands. The latters role as guides and porters made them an indispensable part of the international trade network in these early centuries. Change to the position of the Orang Asli communities in the north and center of the Peninsula shifted gradually after the foundation of Melaka in the fifteenth century. More of the trade went through the Straits and southward, and though the northern land routes were still being used into the seventeenth century they were now truly secondary routes. At approximately the same period between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries, tin and pepper came to replace forest products as the primary exchange items of the region in international trade. The mining of tin and the growing of pepper came to be dominated more by other groups, including the Melayu and the Chinese, thus relegating forest products to a minor role. The decline in the use of the land routes in the north, combined with lower demand for forest goods, eroded the economic and the social position of the Orang Asli. The final blow came with the establishment of British colonial control in the late nineteenth century, when the jungles began to be cleared in order to create rubber estates and oil palm plantations. Not only was the habitat and hence

Lye (1997:150,196) explains the practice among the Batek, one of the Negrito groups, who return to old sites where they have travelled, hunted, collected. At such sites they remember and narrate continuities and changes and reproduce this knowledge to the younger generation.

the nomadic jungle lifestyle of the Orang Asli threatened, but their economic participation in the international economy severely curtailed. Thus began the rapid decline of the economic and social status of the Orang Asli in the modernizing economy of Malaysia. The radical change in the economic position of the Orang Asli had a major impact on Melayu-Orang Asli relations. Whereas in the past one could speak of the movements of individuals from one group to the next, in later centuries there were far fewer documented cases of Melayu becoming Orang Asli than the reverse process. This shift in attitude is also reflected in the traditions of the Orang Asli themselves collected toward the end of the twentieth century. Even the tales of the origins of Orang Asli groups either state or imply the dominance of the Melayu. Other stories try to justify physical difference and the lack of writing by referring to deeds or misdeeds of their ancestors. Traditional trickster tales are employed to demonstrate superiority over the Melayu, but they nevertheless imply that power actually lay with the Melayu, much in the way that the Sejarah Melayu uses such stories to demonstrate unconvincingly Melayu superiority over China or Majapahit. The situation had deteriorated to such an extent for the Orang Asli that the Melayu became convinced that salvation for the Orang Asli lay in becoming Melayu through the adoption of Islam and a sedentary agricultural way of life. Although this effort toward assimilation continues in Malaysia today, the outcry raised in international circles against the perceived genocide of indigenous peoples around the world has brought some respite for the Orang Asli. Buoyed by other indigenous groups, a strong international lobby, and the United Nations, the Orang Asli have begun to organize and to make a case for their preservation



as the original inhabitants of the land. They are now seeking to have restored to them lands wrongfully seized based on the legal argument that the Orang Asli had no sense of a fixed bounded territory belonging to the group. Such arguments are now being countered by scholars and legal experts to demonstrate that the Orang Asli have indeed a developed idea of a specific bounded territory as the home of their ancestors and as a source of the transmission of knowledge to the younger generation. Assimilation efforts by the Melayu have also spurred a growing move among the various

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