KUALA LUMPUR: Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) director-general Prof Juli Edo has asked the PAS government in Kelantan to give the Orang Asli land instead of trying to convert them.
Juli, who is of the Semai community, said the Orang Asli lead a semi-nomadic life and are not able to gather enough food because of land clearing activities.
He said land matters fall under the state government, which can help to uplift the lives of the Orang Asli.
“That (conversion) is not the answer. Give them land, they need land,” he told reporters after launching the Tropical House for Orang Asli (THOA) design competition.
The function was also attended by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P Waytha Moorthy.
Juli was commenting on the statement by Kelantan Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (MAIK) deputy chairman Nik Mohd Azlan Abd Hadi that 5,000 of the 16,000 Orang Asli in the interior of the state had converted to Islam.
Azlan was also reported as saying the state plans to convert all the Orang Asli within 30 years.
Over the past month, 15 Orang Asli from Kampung Kuala Koh in Gua Musang have died from a measles outbreak. Cases of malnutrition among the children have also been reported.
Juli said the federal government has given the Orang Asli in Kuala Koh clean water and homes.
“They have free water. But they cannot just depend on clean water. They need food to eat and to be able to return to the jungle,” he said, adding that due to the scarcity of land, they do not have enough food.
“At the moment, the community does not have any choice as their land has been turned into oil palm plantations.
“If there are plantations in the areas, it should be for Orang Asli. Oil palm is not for them,” he said.
Juli said Jakoa is proposing ways to counter poverty and help the Orang Asli get an education while sustaining their culture and lifestyle.
“It is at the proposal stage. We want to strike a balance so the Orang Asli can have an education, food and other necessities,” he said.
Initiatives in the proposal include programmes to plant fruit trees and harvest honey both for consumption and sale.
He said there are 220,000 Orang Asli in 556 villagers in Peninsular Malaysia.