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Orang Asli
الشعوب الأصلية
300px-Kutia kondh woman.jpg
Orang Asli Woman with Traditional Face Tatoo
Total population
Regions with significant populations Talmoria
Language Orang Asli
Religion Ahmadi
Related ethnic groups Asli (disputed by some scientists)

Orang Asli (Majatran: الشعوب الأصلية), literally meaning "original people" or "aboriginal people" in the local Asli language, are an ethnic Asli subgroup. The Orang Asli are indigenous to the island of Nashwa, in the UBE. The Orang Asli culture is matrilineal, with property and land passing down from mother to daughter, while religious and political affairs are the province of men (although some women also play important roles in these areas). Today around 10 million Orang Asli live on Nashwa, while about 3 million more are scattered throughout many Badaran cities and towns.

The Orang Asli are strongly Islamic, but also follow their ethnic traditions, or adat. The Orang Asli adat was derived from animist beliefs before the arrival of Islam, and remnants of animist beliefs still exist even among some practicing Muslims. The present relationship between Islam and adat is described in the saying "tradition [adat] founded upon Islamic law, Islamic law founded upon the Qur'an" (adat basandi syara', syara' basandi Kitabullah)

Ethnic identity[]

Anthropologists are divided on the issue of the Orang Asli being a Asli subgroup or that they are a totaly seperate ethnic group. Recently found evidence suggests that the Orang Asli may have been inhabiting the Badaran isles before the Asli arrived around some 10.000 years frghywergcfggfgrgweago. Even the name of Orang Asli, meaning "original people" or "aboriginal people" in the native Asli language, suggests that they are the aboriginal people of the United Badaran Emirates. Scientists believe that the Orang Asli may have been partially assimilated by the Asli newcomers. Part of this is seen in the language of the Orang Asli. While it is similar to that of the Asli, most Orang Asli and Asli cant understand eachother.


The Orang Asli are one of the world's largest matrilineal societies, in which properties such as land and houses are inherited through female lineage. Some scholars argue that this might have caused the diaspora (Orang Asli, "merantau") of Orang Asli males throughout the Majatran archipelago to become scholars or to seek fortune as merchants. As early as the age of 7, boys traditionally leave their homes and live in a surau (a prayer house & community centre) to learn religious and cultural (adat) teachings. When they are teenagers, they are encouraged to leave their hometown to learn from schools or from experiences out of their hometown so that when they are adults they can return home wise and 'useful' for the society and can contribute their thinking and experience to run the family or nagari (hometown) when they sit as the member of 'council of uncles'.

This tradition has created Orang Asli communities in many Badaran cities and towns, which nevertheless are still tied closely to their homeland, the Emirate of Kandala.

Due to their culture that stresses the importance of learning, the Orang Asli people are over-represented in the educated professions in the UBE, with many of them being teachers, scholars and doctors.

In addition to being renowned as merchants, the Orang Asli have also produced some of Badara's most influential poets, writers, statesmen, scholars, and religious scholars. Being fervent Muslims, many of them embraced the idea of incorporating Islamic ideals into modern society.

Ceremonies and festivals[]

Orang Asli men wearing traditional clothing.

Orang Asli ceremonies and festivals include:

  • Turun mandi - baby blessing ceremony
  • Sunat rasul - circumcision ceremony
  • Baralek - wedding ceremony
  • Batagak pangulu - clan leader inauguration ceremony. Other clan leaders, all relatives in the same clan and all villagers in the region are invited. The ceremony will last for 7 days or more.
  • Turun ka sawah - community work ceremony
  • Manyabik - harvesting ceremony
  • Hari Rayo - Islamic festivals
  • Adoption ceremony
  • Adat ceremony
  • Funeral ceremony
  • Wild boar hunt ceremony
  • Maanta pabukoan - sending food to mother-in-law for Ramadhan
  • Tabuik - Muslim celebration in the coastal villages
  • Tanah Ta Sirah, inaugurate a new clan leader (Datuk) when the old one died in the few hours (no need to proceed batagak pangulu, but the clan must invite all clan leader in the region).

Performing arts[]

Traditional Orang Asli music includes saluang jo dendang which consists of singing to the accompaniment of a saluang, or bamboo flute, and talempong gong-chime music. Dances include the tari piring (plate dance), tari payung (umbrella dance) and tari indang. Demonstrations of the silat martial art are performed. Pidato adat are ceremonial orations performed at formal occasions.

Randai is a folk theater tradition which incorporates music, singing, dance, drama and the silat martial art. Randai is usually performed for traditional ceremonies and festivals, and complex stories may span a number of nights. It is performed as a theatre-in-the-round to achieve an equality and unity between audience members and the performers. Randai performances are a synthesis of alternating martial arts dances, songs, and acted scenes. Stories are delivered by both the acting and the singing and are mostly based upon Orang Asli legends and folktales. Randai originated early in the 14th century out of fusion of local martial arts, story-telling and other performance traditions. Men originally played both the male and female characters in the story, but since several years women have also been participating.


Particular Orang Asli villages specialize in cottage industries producing handicrafts such as woven sugarcane and reed purses, gold and silver jewellery using filigree and granulation techniques, woven songket textiles, wood carving, embroidery, pottery, and metallurgy.


Rendang, a traditional Orang Asli dish

The staple ingredients of the Orang Asli diet are rice, fish, coconut, green leafy vegetables and chili. The usage of meat is mainly limited to special occasions, and beef and chicken curry are commonly used. Pork is not halal and therefore not consumed, while lamb, goat and game are rarely consumed for reasons of taste and availability. Spiciness is a characteristic of Orang Asli food, and the most commonly used herbs and spices are chili, turmeric, ginger and galangal. Vegetables are consumed two or three times a day. Fruits are mainly seasonal, although fruits such as banana, papaya and citrus are continually available.

Three meals a day are typical with lunch being the most important meal, except during the fasting month of Ramadan where lunch is not eaten. Meals commonly consist of steamed rice, a hot fried dish and a coconut milk dish, with a little variation from breakfast to dinner. Meals are generally eaten from a plate using the fingers of the right hand. Snacks are more frequently eaten by people in urban areas than in villages. Majatran food has had little impact upon Orang Asli consumption and preference to date.

Rendang is a dish which is considered to be a characteristic of Orang Asli culture, and is cooked 4-5 times a year. Other characteristic dishes include Asam Padeh, Soto Padang, Sate Padang, Dendeng Balado (beef with chili sauce).

Food has a central role in the Orang Asli ceremonies which honor religious and life cycle rites.

Orang Asli food is popular among Asli as well as Majatrans and restaurants are present throughout the UBE. Nasi Padang restaurants, are known for placing a variety of Orang Asli dishes on a customer's table along with rice and billing only for what is taken. Nasi Kapau is another restaurant variant which specializes in dishes using offal and the use of tamarind to add a sourness to the spicy flavor.


Rumah gadang (Orang Asli: 'big house') are the traditional homes (Asli: rumah adat) of the Orang Asli. The architecture, construction, internal and external decoration, and the functions of the house reflect

Rumah gadang in an Orang Asli village of the Emirate of Kandala, with two rice barns (rangkiang) in front.

the culture and values of the Orang Asli. A rumah gadang serves as a residence, a hall for family meetings, and for ceremonial activities. With the Orang Asli society being matrilineal, the rumah gadang is owned by the women of the family who live there - ownership is passed from mother to daughter.

The houses have dramatic curved roof structure with multi-tiered, upswept gables. Shuttered windows are built into walls incised with profuse painted floral carvings. The term rumah gadang usually refers to the larger communal homes, however, smaller single residences share many of its architectural elements.

Oral traditions and literature[]

Orang Asli culture has a long history of oral traditions. One oral tradition is the pidato adat (ceremonial orations) which are performed by panghulu (clan chiefs) at formal occasions such as weddings, funerals, adoption ceremonies, and panghulu inaugurations. These ceremonial orations consist of many forms including pantun, aphorisms (papatah-patitih), proverbs (pameo), religious advice (petuah), parables (tamsia), two-line aphorisms (gurindam), and similes (ibarat).

Orang Asli traditional folktales (kaba) consist of narratives which present the social and personal consequences of either ignoring or observing the ethical teachings and the norms embedded in the adat. The storyteller (tukang kaba) recites the story in poetic or lyrical prose while accompanying himself on a rebab.

A theme in Orang Asli folktales is the central role mothers and motherhood has in Orang Asli society, with the folktales Rancak diLabueh and Malin Kundang being two examples. Rancak diLabueh is about a mother who acts as teacher and adviser to her two growing children. Initially her son is vain and headstrong and only after her perseverance does he become a good son who listens to his mother. Malin Kundang is about the dangers of treating your mother badly. A sailor from a poor family voyages to seek his fortune, becoming rich and marrying. After refusing to recognize his elderly mother on his return home, being ashamed of his humble origins, he is cursed and dies when his ship is flung against rocks by a storm.

Other popular folktales also relate to the important role of the woman in Orang Asli society. In the Cindua Mato epic the woman is the source of wisdom, while in whereas in the Sabai nan Aluih she is more a doer than a thinker. Cindua Mato (Staring Eye) is about the traditions of Orang Asli royalty. The story involves a mythical Orang Asli queen, Bundo Kanduang, who embodies the behaviors prescribed by adat. Cindua Mato, a servant of the queen, uses magic to defeat hostile outside forces and save the kingdom. Sabai nan Aluih (The genteel Sabai) is about a young girl named Sabai, the hero of the story, who avenges the murder of her father by a powerful and evil ruler from a neighboring village. After her father's murder her cowardly elder brother refuses to confront the murderer and so Sabai decides to take matters into her own hands. She seeks out the murderer and shoots him in revenge.

Adat and religion[]

Animism has been an important component of the Orang Asli culture. Even after the penetration of Islam into Orang Asli society in the 10th century, animistic beliefs were not extinguished. In this belief system, people were said to have two souls, a real soul and a soul which can disappear called the semangat. Semangat represents the vitality of life and it is said to be possessed by all animals and plants. An illness may be explained as the capture of the semangat by an evil spirit, and a shaman (pawang) may be consulted to conjure invisible forces and bring comfort to the family. Sacrificial offerings can be made to placate the spirits, and certain objects such as amulets are used as protection.