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HISTORY | The ‘first people’ of Peninsular Malaysia

HISTORY: TOLD AS IT IS | “Orang Asli”, a term officially coined in 1960, collectively refers to the original or native people of Peninsular Malaysia. Currently numbering about 200,000 (about 0.6% of the total Malaysian population), the Orang Asli are the “first people” or oldest inhabitants of Peninsular Malaysia.

In the words of Colin Nicholas, a leading authority on the Orang Asli, the Orang Asli “are descendants of the earliest known inhabitants who occupied the Malay Peninsula before the establishment of the Malay kingdoms.”

In a similar vein, Harry Lake - the then Johor government’s mining engineer writing in 1894 - states that the forefathers of the Orang Asli “roamed the jungle long before the advent of the Malays”.

This fact was acknowledged by Abdul Rahman, the then secretary to the Johor sultan (Sultan Abu Bakar) as follows: “The aborigines were the possessors of the soil before we [the Malays] came to the peninsula.” Indeed, two reputable historians - Mary Turnbull and Leonard Andaya - have described the Orang Asli as “the oldest known inhabitants” of the Malay Peninsula and “original people in the land”.

Sadly, the above historical fact regarding the Orang Asli is missing in our current school history textbooks. Indeed, the role and significant contributions of the Orang Asli community have not been adequately portrayed in our history textbooks. Hence, this article seeks to throw light on the Orang Asli community...

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