The Selangor Indigenous Arts Festival, held at the Shah Alam National Botanical Garden in conjunction with the International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples 2016, ended yesterday.
The week-long cultural gala was organised by Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Joas) in collaboration with Tourism Selangor and the regional Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP).
The festival saw the gathering of 21 domestic indigenous tribes from Malaysia, as well as indigenous tribes from Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Although the festival was only opened to the public on Aug 6 and 7, it has been ongoing since Aug 3, with various workshops and youth fora on issues faced by the various indigenous tribes.
With a record high attendance of more than 5,000 people over the two-day period, the event was aimed at increasing public awareness on the unique culture and heritage of the native peoples.
The closing ceremony was conducted by leaders of three domestic regions, with each leader performing a special ceremony.
Candles were lit and the smoke of a cigarette-filled the room as the heads of the peninsula region bathed themselves in cigarette smoke before proceeding to spray the attendees with water as a blessing for a safe journey home.
Ethnic songs were also played as as participants happily clapped and danced along to the rhythm of bamboos hitting the wooden floorboards.
Niloh Asun, 55, head of the group from Kuching, Sarawak, expressed her gratitude for being a recipient of an appreciation award from Tourism Selangor this year.
She also noted the difference in atmosphere in this year’s festival, compared with the previous ones.
This year a special one
“This year is quite special for us, as we were visited by Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali, on our collaboration with Tourism Selangor,” said Niloh.
Zurdi Baharu, vice president of Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Joas) was also delighted with Azmin’s attendance.
“The thing that makes us the most happy was that during the officiating ceremony by Azmin, he said he was committed to supporting the rights of the indigenous people and cooperating with them in their efforts to win acknowledgement of their land,” Zurdi added.
Sitoh Dalian, 50, an attendee from the ethnic Murut group in Sabah, added that the festival was a great strategy.
“I attend every year. It is one of our strategies, for as we get to know one another, the future generations can continue at much higher level than before to preserve our culture,” Sitoh said.
The festival also saw the inclusion of foreign indigenous tribes for the first time.
Kim Chishi, 27, from India, praised the dedication of youths in their struggle for acknowledgement of their various rights.
“The main highlight is in the interest of the youth in trying to promote their culture, especially with the land rights struggle.
“In my place, we don’t have much struggles now, because the land is owned by the people so seeing here the problems that they are face, I think it’s kind of an encouragement for me,” Kim said.
During the closing ceremony, a delegation from the local indigenous community headed to Putrajaya to pass on a memorandum that they had discussed the night before.
Zurdi explained that the memorandum, which lists six demands from the community, is a representation of the voices of the indigenous people in Malaysia.
“We hope that with this memorandum, all our important assets will be preserved by the Malaysian government,” he said.
“Indigenous peoples’ rights are already acknowledged because the Malaysian government has committed to this by signing an agreement, twice, with the UN for the declaration of international indigenous peoples’ rights.
“The Malaysian government should follow the international will of the UN resolution,” Zurdi added.