A Glimpse into the Semai Tribe of Kampung Orang Asli Tangkai Cermin

Nicole reflects on her observations as she steps into the Orang Asli village for the first time.

Before venturing into Tangkai Cermin, my perception of how an Orang Asli village looked like was what the media portrayed: Houses made of wood or bamboo. Thatched roofs lined with straws or leaves. No proper toilet. No proper roads. Villagers dressed in sarongs, cooking on the ground with firewood.

That said, I’d never been to an Orang Asli village before, until I had the chance to visit the Kampung Orang Asli Tangkai Cermin.

Located in Perak, Kampung Orang Asli Tangkai Cermin is mainly populated by the Semai tribe. In Malaysia, there is an estimated 34,248 Semai living in Peninsular Malaysia in 2000.

 

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We departed from KL to Perak early in the morning, and gathered in front of UiTM before heading into the village itself. The visit was a collaboration between LokaLocal and MDEC, in hopes of helping the villagers of Tangkai Cermin through better outreach and opportunities.

As we were guided into the village, I realised how remote this village is. There were no signs that showed the entrance to the village! We also had to hope there were no cars coming from the opposite side because we were five cars on a one-lane dirt road.

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Throughout the whole ride, our car brushed against the overhanging leaves, some big enough to blotch out the sun, while others left gaps for the light to peep through. I was extraordinarily happy to take a break from the concrete jungle and appreciate the forest.

Upon arriving in the village, certain parts were similar to what I expected: the dirt roads, trees, greenery, and some houses made of wood. But there is also a mix of civilisation in Tangkai Cermin. There are concrete houses with proper toilets (although not for everyone), just like any other village around us.

A simple way of life

As we were introduced to Tangkai Cermin, the villagers brought out their handicrafts to showcase their work. The ladies displayed their hand-woven handbags, floor mat, jewellery boxes, multipurpose container, and rice bags, while an Orang Asli artist displayed his artwork and started drawing portraits.

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According to the Orang Asli ladies, the daily activities here are fairly simple: the adults head out for their jobs, be it rubber tapping, farming, shop keeping, administrative work, or stay at home to weave and make handicrafts, while the kids go to school.

Nearing the evening, around 4-5pm, everyone would come home to spend time together.

We work to earn a living, enough for the family to eat, to have clothes, have proper shelter, and for the children’s education. And then we head home to spend time with our family and our friends. – Villager at Tangkai Cermin

 

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Seems like something that not all of us could manage! In the city, there are still many who find themselves stuck in the office doing over-time work or bringing work home to continue after working hours, forgetting to spend time with the people we love.

Orang Asli as creative innovators

As I watched a lady weaving the mengkuang leaves into a bag, she shared that she was weaving it for a member of her family. The villagers of Tangkai Cermin typically weave mengkuang leaves into household items like handbags and baskets, to store food like rice and eggs. They also weave rattan into bigger baskets to store goods, and make furnitures such as chairs, sofas and tables. Even the children’s traditional toys were made from rattan and strings.

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Back home, when we need a bag or a floor mat, the first thing that comes to mind is THE MALL! Things are so convenient and accessible for urbanites that we often forget to stop and think, “what can we do with all that we already have at home?”

I realised that Orang Asli might just be one of the most creative, innovative people I know. They utilize all that they have and find to provide solutions for their daily needs and even to make a living. They use firewood to make fire for cooking, rattan to make furniture, leaves to weave into household items for their personal use. To make money, the villagers sell their handicraft at festivals and bazaars.

However, it is not short of challenges.

Although many hold a stable job and income from outside of the village, the artisans find it hard to have a sustainable income on their own. Even selling handiwork at festivals and bazaars can be difficult as it is seasonal.

Sense of community and togetherness

Coincidentally, there was an Orang Asli wedding happening on that day. The ceremony was really simple: a tent is set up on the empty land beside the house, with a stage and some PA system for anyone who liked to perform. Tables and chairs are prepared for guests to sit and eat, while another tent is placed in front of the house, filled with food to be served.

Relatives and members of the family help with plating the food, while the bride and groom sit inside the house all dressed up, receiving all the well wishes from friends and visitors.

The village-appointed Tok Kadi (person in charge of solemnising marriages) will then conduct the ceremony to officiate the marriage of the couple, with several traditional cultural rituals.

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This wedding ceremony made me notice how much the villagers value their family and their community. There is a very strong bond and “togetherness” within the community. In the city, sometimes we may not personally know the people who prepares or serves the food in a wedding.

Final thoughts

From the conversations I had, I learnt that many of the Orang Asli of Tangkai Cermin choose to live a simple life, in which they enjoy. I tend to think, “why would someone like to live in a rural place that is so remote with no internet connection, some might not have proper toilets, when you can live in a comfortable city life with easy access to almost everything?” Perhaps it is their preferred lifestyle, that some of them prefer to live close to the nature, if not within the natural environment.

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All photos by Gavin Choong

This trip reminded me, as cliche as it sounds, to not just be alive, but be truly living. It also showed me the importance of work-life balance. Because there won’t be any meaning to just do things for the sake of “routine” or just to “go higher, be greater”, if it means to lose the very essence of life, including our own wellbeing and keeping our loved ones close to us.

LokaLocal is collaborating with MDEC to bring greater exposure to the people in Tangkai Cermin, as well as connect them to more people around Malaysia. Through their eRezeki program, MDEC wishes to enable citizens, especially those from low-income groups, to generate additional income by doing digital assignments via online crowdsourcing platform such as LokaLocal.

Visit LokaLocal for experiences in Orang Asli villages, new villages and more

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