The Orang Asli (Aboriginal) community is an entity in the Malaysian society that is scattered throughout the country in Peninsular Malaysia except in Perlis and Penang. The largest Orang Asli population is found in Pahang, followed by Perak, Kelantan and the other states. Orang Asli are traditionally animists and have their own customs and beliefs. They believe in the presence of gods and spirits. Their world view is greatly influenced by nature. As such, they believe forests, mountains, hills, lightning and others have their own meaning in the universe. Such beliefs have given rise to certain r aituals and taboos in the Orang Asli community.
From the social structural and organization aspects, the Orang Asli community still preserve the importance of co-operation in their daily life. The ‘batin” (Chieftain) is responsible to look after and safeguard the well-being of his tribesmen. He is also the contact person with the outside world. As the Chieftain, he has the authority to determine regulations for his tribe and impose punishment on those who have made mistakes or offences. Orang Asli also believe in religious intermediaries (shaman) or the bomoh whose role is to conduct rituals. Since Independence in 1957, the growing influence of other religions including Islam has weakened the belief system of the Orang Asli community.
VIsits to Orang Asli houses are recommened in the afternoon, because in th day time, they are usually busy with their own work. Generally, Orang asli work on their own, such as farming, selling products from the forest, fishing, hunting and so on. When guests arrive at a Orang Asli house, they should wait at the side of the house and pretend to cough to attract attention of the host. Normally the guests will call out the name of the host’s eldest child. For example, if the name of the eldest child is “Alang”, then the guests will ask : “Is Alang’s father at home ?” Afternoons and evenings are time to rest and relax. During this time there is no restriction for visitors. If the guest happens to arrive when the host is having dinner, he will be invited to join in. It is considered rude if a guest refuses to eat food served by the host. The purpose of the visit is usually to chit chat or to listen to old stories that will bring back sweet memories. Some visits are for the purpose of learning curse spells.
A husband will inform his neighbours immediately when his wife is in labour pain. The women folk will go to his house to help. Orang Asli do not like visitors who praise his new born baby. It is believed that if a baby gets praises like “the baby is so cute “ , the words will be heard by ghosts nearby who will come and take the baby away. This is proven if the baby falls sick or has a fever. Several taboos are observed by a pregnant woman. Some taboos also apply to her husband. One of the taboos is that the husband must not go fishing by using the net. Both husband and wife are also not allowed to eat deer meat (venison).
The wedding ceremony (nikah) differs from tribe to tribe. For example, for the Orang Asli in Selangor , both bride and groom must listen to the advice given by whoever present at the ceremony, especially the elders. Such advice are mainly on the responsibilities of husband and wife, and may last for hours. Orag Asli seldom issue formal invitation to wedding reception. Every one in the village and those from nearby villages will attend without formal invitation. Rice and food will be served to all the guests until the food runs out.
When informed of any death in the village, all work such as farming, hunting or building house will be stopped immediately. According to the Orang Asli belief, anyone who continues to work after being informed of a death will fall sick or meet with a disaster. When there is a death in the village, all the children will smear their ears with chalk cast with spell. Charcoal is swept at the eye brows, chest and soles of the feet. In this way, all the ghosts and devils believed to have killed the deceased will not disturb the children who have put on the “pengandang”. The “pengandang” is very important especially during night time. The body of the deceased will be accompanied by a large number of the villagers to the burial ground. After burial is completed, the family of the deceased will bring food and set a fire at the side of the grave every day for 6 days. At the same time, a small fire underneath the house of the deceased will be set. Fine sand cast with spell will be thrown all around the walls of the house, hoping that these will get into the eyes of any ghost that may still remain in the house. This practice will also go on for 6 days because the spirit of the deceased is believed to be still in the house and the grave during this period.