Fighting for Their Land

The Orang Asli community was probably the last to be notified about the Coronavirus pandemic in Malaysia. Scattered throughout Peninsular Malaysia—some at the edge of towns, others deep in the remote jungles—the indigenous people, or Orang Asli (‘original people’ in English) are far away from the epicenter of the pandemic that has been largely concentrated in urban areas around Malaysia, including its capital, Kuala Lumpur. 

Those who live in the villages rely on Whatsapp messages to communicate with each other and get their latest news. Up until the WHO declaration of Covid-19 as a global pandemic on 11 March, weddings and sewangs—ritualistic ceremonies for healing and worship involving the entire village—were still being held. 

When information started trickling in, many Orang Asli tribes started barricading their villages from outsiders: from loggers to city “holiday-makers” who, bored with the Movement Restriction Order enacted to contain the outbreak, headed out to the forests to camp out in nature. 

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