Who are the Orang Asli?
The Orang Asli are a group of indigenous populations in Peninsular Malaysia. They comprise 1% ( 250,000 individuals) of the total population of Peninsular Malaysia and comprise roughly 18 ethnolinguistic groups (traditionally sub-divided into three categories: Semang, Senoi, and Aboriginal Malay) that have traditionally practiced varied forms of subsistence including hunting and gathering, swidden horticulture, fishing, and collection of non-timber forest products. Peninsular Malaysia is modest in area (329,847 sq km), yet there is remarkable variation in the traditional cultural practices of Orang Asli groups, including differences in economic and subsistence mode, diet and food processing, physical activity patterns, settlement systems and residential mobility, technology and material culture, social organization and stratification, and gender relations and divisions of labor.
Where do the Orang Asli live?
Orang Asli territories also span a range of ecological gradients, from coastal to interior rainforests, and lowland to montane habitats.
What kind of lifestyles do the Orang Asli lead?
The majority of Orang Asli groups still adhere to traditional subsistence patterns and cultural practices. This may include hunting monkeys, pigs, and other animals, in addition to gathering fruit and vegetables from the forest or engaging in small-scale farming of cassava and banana. But many communities are now in proximity to expanding urban or industrial areas. Even in remote regions of the rainforest, the lifeways of Orang Asli have changed because of road building, deforestation, and market expansion related to natural resource industries, as well as government-organized resettlement programs.
What languages do the Orang Asli speak?
Most Orang Asli groups today have their own languages, but almost all individuals speak Malay, the official language of Malaysia.
Some relevant links and PDFs:
Homepage for the Center for Orang Asli Concerns
Short overview of the Orang Asli
Article on Orang Asli distribution and population
Orang Asli languages
Article on the history of Orang Asli studies
Review paper on the health of indigenous peoples
Overview of Orang Asli healthcare
Influence of regroupment schemes on health and nutrition
Indigenous rights and ethnicity
Recent Batek deaths at Kuala Koh, Kelantan (first article in The Guardian here, and a follow-up here)