Quiet. This is the only proper word to describe Sungai Berua settlement in Hulu Terengganu, following the migration of the Orang Asli community from the Semaq Beri tribe over the concern of a disease outbreak over the last two weeks.
A survey by Bernama found that not only were most of the houses left deserted but also many pupils did not attend school as they followed their parents to the nearby woods, including the Kampung Gerdong forest area.
The latest number of pupils recorded was only 12 out of 104 Orang Asli pupils in Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Berua in Hulu Terengganu.
The school's headmaster, Nor Suhaimi Abdul Latif, said this is the worst situation that the school ever faced since its inception in the 1980s.
The school, that has 12 teachers, including the headmaster and two general workers, operated as usual and some teachers were assigned to conduct visits from house to house to call the pupils to attend school early in the morning.
Nor Suhaimi said the sudden quietness of the school started after Aidilfitri and it was getting worse when the parents chose to bring along their children when they were entering the woods.
He said those who were still attending school were from the households where the occupants decided to stay in Sungai Berua and with only the father going into the forest to collect rattan.
Although the sudden ‘loss’ of the pupils was common due to the fact that the lifestyle of the Orang Asli people moved from one place to another, the latest situation was unexpected as it involved a large number of pupils.
“Of the 12 pupils attending school today, some came on their own will while others attended after being advised to come to school by the teacher who visited their homes,” said the headmaster who was with Bernama, tracking the Orang Asli in the forest area of Kampung Gerdong in Hulu Terengganu last Saturday to persuade them to return to the Sungai Berua settlement.
According to Nor Suhaimi, this session of ‘persuading’ the Orang Asli was not the first time. In the past, he and other teachers often entered the woods and even used to rent a boat down the river, for the sake of the children’s future.
It is estimated that the Sungai Berua Orang Asli settlement has about 600 people from the Semaq Beri tribe, also known as the forest tribe, with 119 households.
Meanwhile, Kamal Komel, 37, said he, his wife and five children did not leave the place because the situation in the area (Sungai Berua) was still under control and he cared for his children's education.
“Two of my children are still going to school... when I went out, I went alone. The area surrounding my house is almost empty… so many people have left to enter the forest. I'm not sure in which direction they went.
“Some are worried about the disease, but I think it’s better to stay because there is a health clinic here,” Kamal said.
The Orang Asli settlement in Sungai Berua was established more than 35 years ago and usually, the residents enter the forest to look for rattan for not more than two weeks and then return to the settlement.
However, the recent transfer of the Orang Asli from the Bateq tribe in Kuala Koh, Gua Musang, Kelantan, to Sungai Berua, have struck fear to the local community after being informed that many died in Kuala Koh due to an infectious disease.
So far, 15 deaths of the Bateq tribe members from Kuala Koh had been reported while 12 Orang Asli were receiving treatment for symptoms of respiratory tract infections in the Hulu Terengganu Hospital.