Breaking News
Ad-Free Version. Upgrade your experience. Save up to 40% More details

Malaysia's indigenous people flee into forests to escape coronavirus

CoronavirusApr 03, 2020 12:15AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items

By Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - After blocking the entrance to their village with logs, half the people of Jemeri fled into the surrounding forest in fear as the coronavirus spread in Malaysia, infecting the first indigenous 'Orang Asli' person.

"We are going back into the forest, to isolate ourselves and find food for ourselves," villager and activist Bedul Chemai told Reuters by phone from Jemeri, in Malaysia's Pahang State.

"We know how to get food from the forests and there are some things that we can plant there."

'Orang Asli', original people, are among the poorest and most vulnerable in Malaysia which has the highest number of infections reported in Southeast Asia.

The first Orang Asli infection was detected last week.

A three-year-old boy from a village just outside Cameron Highlands, a popular tourist spot, tested positive for the virus, the director-general of the Department of Orang Asli Development Juli Edo told Reuters.

The village has been put under lockdown, along with another where an infection is suspected. It was unclear how the boy had become infected, Juli said.

The Orang Asli are the descendants of the earliest known inhabitants of peninsular Malaysia and number about 200,000.

As Malaysia enforced strict movement curbs this month to try to stop the spread of a virus that has infected more than 3,000 people locally and killed 50, the Orang Asli said they had been especially hard hit.

Many are struggling to find food after their small income from daily sales of vegetable, fruits and rubber have been cut off, while some are fearful of going into towns to buy food because of concerns of catching the virus.


The Orang Asli are vulnerable to disease because of factors that include poverty and malnutrition. Their reported poverty rate of over 30% compares to the Malaysian average of 0.4%.

Last year, one indigenous village in the northeast of peninsular Malaysia saw 15 deaths and dozens falling sick from measles.

Shaq Koyok, an activist from the Temuan tribe, said people from his village, about 60 km (40 miles) from the capital Kuala Lumpur, had blockaded themselves in.

"Even I cannot go to the village," said Shaq, who is based in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

Indigenous populations around the world, in Australia, Canada and Brazil, have closed their borders to protect communities, as the coronavirus, which has infected more than a million people and killed some 52,000 globally, continues to spread.

Over decades, the Orang Asli say they have seen encroachment of their customary land, with palm oil and timber companies clearing forests.

"In some of these villages, they can't even go out to the forests to forage for food," said Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar of Klima Action Malaysia, part of a collective that is raising money for Orang Asli communities.

One group that has been trying to raise funds for the Orang Asli said it had so many requests from them for help that it trebled its original fundraising target.

But government efforts to get food to some 50,000 Orang Asli families had been held up by the groups' own efforts to seal themselves off.

"One village elder has told me they will either die by the virus or die by hunger," Ili Nadiah said.

Malaysia's indigenous people flee into forests to escape coronavirus

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email