Indigenous Storytellers In Malaysia Rise Up With Film

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Rise Up: If Not Us, Then Who?

Sherry Tan, a spunky 21-year-old from the Jakun tribe in Malaysia, went live on YouTube for the first time in November last year.

“I was nervous and happy at the same time to be able to carry the voices of young Orang Asli women,” she recalls. “I want my community to be brave and emotional like me, and fight for the rights of the Orang Asli.”

Sherry was a panellist for a recent webinar on indigenous women in film which was held on YouTube Live, together with two fellow participants from the Amplifying Voices of the Young Orang Asli Women programme, Yaliyana Lenab and Maranisnie Mohsin.

Collectively these young women are rising up to claim more spaces for discourse in order to give visibility to their community.

Brave, New Step

“The youth must have a sense of responsibility to work together to defend our ancestral land.” – Maranisnie Mohsin

Her journey towards championing the rights of her community started just over a year ago, when she was asked to be a facilitator at a workshop in the programme.

At that time, she felt she lacked confidence to speak in public, but then she thought to herself, “If others can do it, why not me?”

If others can do it, why not me?

Yaliyana, more affectionately known as Yana, is proud that she and her friends from the programme are now speaking out on public platforms. The gutsy 28-year-old from the Semelai tribe hopes to encourage her community to speak out on their rights and put an end to discrimination against them.

“Since then, I’ve been trying to be more confident in speaking in public to share my experience with others,” she says.

Determined to speak out

Yana is determined to keep speaking out so that more will know about her community and their struggles

Yana says, “Once, someone asked me, ‘Are you from Sarawak or Sabah?’ I said I’m from Negeri Sembilan and this person didn’t even know about the Orang Asli.”

So why do many don’t know about the Orang Asli?

Sherry thinks it’s due to little information and stories about them in books and the media. “Even though the Orang Asli are the first peoples in Peninsular Malaysia, our contribution to the nation is not in our textbooks.”

Our own stories, our own voices

Sherry and Yana feel that they are living in a society where no one knows and cares about them. Both of them, along with many other young Orang Asli women, are now on a quest to change that by telling their own stories in their own voices through films.

“We’re producing short films with powerful messages for all Malaysians,” says Yana.
“We want to tell Malaysians that the forest is important to us. We preserve the biodiversity of the forest and its treasures so we can maintain our beliefs and practices, and we’re able to pass on the traditional knowledge and practices to future generations.

Telling it First in Pictures

“Our ancestors have deep spiritual and physical ties with the forest, and we want to continue this relationship.” – Yaliyana Lenab

Lights, camera, action!

Sherry and Yana filmed their stories in two villages, hundreds of kilometres away from their own villages, in October. It was an eye- and heart-opening experience for them.

“I saw the difference between polluted and clean rivers,” Sherry recalls. “I experienced living in villages where the community didn’t have access to electricity and water supply.”

While she was frustrated with the inequality experienced by her community, she found strength in her community’s cultural and spiritual traditions.

Her spiritual encounter

Sherry (right) is happy to take part in Sewang, a healing ritual, as it has taught her how to maintain the special relationship she has with the spirits. Sherry is seen here with her co-casts from the film Klinik Ku Hutan (The Forest, My Clinic), Linda Ibrahim and Atuk Yam, a traditional healer
Sherry (right) is happy to take part in Sewang, a healing ritual, as it has taught her how to maintain the special relationship she has with the spirits. Sherry is seen here with her co-casts from the film Klinik Ku Hutan (The Forest, My Clinic), Linda Ibrahim and Atuk Yam, a traditional healer

Empower, educate, advocate

As young Orang Asli women from different tribes came together to film their stories, the experience filled them with a sense of pride and courage to rise up and be the generation that would take back not only their rights and identity but also the space for their voices to be heard.

“We want society to stop looking down on us and to stop insulting us. If it’s not us young Orang Asli women speaking out, then who will? Let us all come out of our cocoons to empower, educate and advocate us, our family, community and country,” Yana says confidently.

United we rise up

“We want society to stop looking down on us and to stop insulting us. If it’s not us young Orang Asli women speaking out, then who will?”
“We want society to stop looking down on us and to stop insulting us. If it’s not us young Orang Asli women speaking out, then who will?”

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