Following our almost 2 hour 4WD ride with Mr. Rizal Belalang and 4×4 Extreme crew assigned by our host, Han Travel, we arrived at Kg. Orang Asli Dedari to spend some time with the indigenous people who lives there.
The indigenous folks in Kampung Dedari are known as the Bateq (also spelled as Batek). According to our guide, the Bateq people are part of the Negrito tribes.The Bateq is still practicing their nomadic lifestyle inherited from their ancestors. The Bateq community is synonymous with nature and can only be found living in three states of Peninsular Malaysia, which is Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu.
Negrito tribes are believed to have migrated to Malaysia since thousands of years ago from Indo-China on foot through the mountains. Compared to Proto-Malay tribes, the Negritos like the Bateqs are a bit behind due to the way of lifestyle and culture. Some may have embraced modernization and subscribed to religions like Islam, Buddhism and the likes, but most are still practicing animism. Animism encompasses the beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical or material world, and that souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in some other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, and shadows.
The Bateq have distinctively unique physical disposition.
Commonly they are dark skinned with slightly noticeable swirl pattern prints on their skin (a genetic condition), afro-like hair and round faced.
The Bateq are shy and wary of outsiders and there were traditions and taboos that you’d have to respect when you visit them.
Some would not allow you to photograph their babies because they believed that the child’s spirit would be disturbed and many also believed that having their pictures taken would bring bad luck or even death, but over the years, those beliefs somewhat wears down a little.
The Bateq are still living in a rather primitive way and I find it difficult to believe that the village is actually in Malaysia. Their village does not even have basic modern amnesties like electricity or tap water.
At best, their houses are merely shacks that functioned to barely shelter them in harsh weather. The village comprises about a dozen huts, all of which are rectangular and raised on stilts.
The settlement is oriented parallel to the river in a sandy, man-made clearing. The raising of the huts is nothing to do with the proximity of the river but rather to encourage air movement beneath the building.
The structure is made from assorted hardwood branches lashed together, while the walls are bamboo, which is hammered flat and held in place by two sticks on either side. Roofs are pitched and overhang the bamboo walls.
Some of the Bateq people settled themselves at one place for a couple of years, and only leave when something bad happened at their village. One of the things that commonly prompt them to be on the move to search for a new spot to live in again is death. It is believed that when a person in their community died, the place that they are living became contaminated and cursed by bad luck, and so the place became inhabitable.
Apart from the complex culture and ritualistic nature that they subscribed to,The Bateq leads an unbelievably very basic lifestyle. Being nomadic, they do not practice any agriculture activities, enabling them to move from one place to another easily.
Their men hunt for food while their women are left behind to take care of their children at home.
Only the head of the tribe remained at their village when the men is out hunting and serve as the protector of his people.
The duties of the men here are simple: make huts, make blowpipes, go hunting and mate. Mating is done solely from within the village and the family units are large. When the family expands, another hut will be build. Apparently having six children or less is to be seen as a lazy man. I’m asked how many children I have when I was talking to one friendly Bateq lady and I told them I only have one child and motioned to my son and husband. The lady who asked me that shakes her head in disapproval and told me in a very pitiful manner. According to her, my husband is an extremely lazy man and does not pleases me in bed. They believed that only when a woman is pleased they can get pregnant. Divided by culture and worlds apart, I only blush in respond. Not quite sure what to make of her criticism of my sex life.
Courtship is fairly simple. To win a Bateq lady’s hand, the man in question must be of age and must be able to prove themselves worthy of protecting his family and of course, needs to be able to provide for the family. Approval on the union is done by Tok Batin; their leader and the elder of the tribe. According to our guide, children’s stomach will be tied with rattan and they will practice using blowpipe. The rattan rope is used to view the strength of the blast of the blowpipe concerned. When the rope that was tied gets disconnected, these children is considered as an adult and is allowed to join the hunt. They will be given their own Sumpit blowgun and each successful hunting session will be recorded by their Tok Batin by carving a line on their Sumpit blowgun. The more lines on it means the more capable the Bateq man is question is and that is what enable them to settle down and have family if their own.
Still living in a primitive way, they do things without the help of gadgets and whatnot, even lighting fire for heat is done the good old traditional way, but rubbing sticks or rattan rope.
A Bateq man making fire from scratch, literally.
Building up the fire.
Expertly done, under 5 minutes. Seriously speaking, it is really impressive.
The Bateq’s hunting weapon is is known as Sumpit. It is a blowgun type of weapon consisting of a small tube for firing light projectiles or darts.
The weapon is used by inserting the projectile inside the pipe and using the force created by one’s breath to give the projectile momentum. Its propulsive power is limited by the user’s respiratory muscles.
Children of the Bateq tribe doesn’t go to school. Their education consists of survival skills like hunting and whatnot in the jungle while the younger ones stays behind in the village and play simple games they made up. Very refreshing scene, considering that they have nothing and yet everything.
They take pleasure in the simplest joy, something urban children are not blessed with. I watched these children in envy. Their parents have no expectations on them and they’re innocently carefree. Considering the circumstances, this is almost an idealistic childhood a child could ask for.
Their clothing are simple and functional at best. The ladies generally seen clad in sarongs and it is variantly fashioned according to their liking from time to time.
Funeral management on the other hand is not quite simple and rather mystical in my opinion. Instead of burying their dead, they place the bodies high up among the trees. Uprooting the village is just the start of a hugely elaborate burial ritual, in which the body is brought by procession to a hut, similar to the ones in the village, but constructed in a tree some 50 metres high. The body is covered and left with its possessions alongside it, together with food for the spirits. It is then left undisturbed for two to three years, upon which time the village returns to procure a bone from the skeletal remains. This is then buried, so returning the family member to the forest.
Time flies and before we know it it is time to head back for the next activity on the itinerary.
Visiting the indigenous settlement during our family trip to Taman Negara was one of our most humbling thing we have ever experienced. My son probably learned more about life and humility here in Kg. Dedari with the Bateq in a few hours over here than a year in school, and I highly recommend a visit to any of the Bateq tribe’s settlement should you are in Taman Negara. I promise you it will be a very interesting experience.
Our trip was sponsored by Han Travel/Han Rainforest Resort and MITA. Han Travel provides one of the best transportation and accommodation arrangement to Taman Negara, so look them up for fuss free experience in Taman Negara at an affordable price.
You can also visit www.rainforestresort.net for more information.
Apart from reading this blog, the updates on our trip can be looked up on social media like Facebook and Instagram by using the official hashtag #GoDomestic #dekatje #mitatourismfair and my personal hashtag #ellietravels #kembaradekatje and #kembarabayau.