Second Orang Asli church under threat

By Stephanie Sta Maria

9/20/10 Malaysia (FreeMalaysiaToday) – A second Orang Asli church in Kelantan is facing the prospect of demolition for reasons still unknown to the native community there.

The church is located in Pos Pasik, a forested area about 70km from Gua Musang, and only accessibly with a four-wheel drive vehicle. The 600-strong population is of Temiar ethnicity, with most them having converted to Christianity since 2001.

“The community has always had bamboo churches which have to be replaced once every two years,” said Moses Soo, a pastor who oversees the Orang Asli churches in Kelantan. “Two years ago, the government began providing brick houses for the villagers and this sparked the idea of a brick church too.”

The money for building the church was raised by the community with the assistance of Soo and work commenced in May this year.

“As a gesture of courtesy, the villagers sent a letter to the Department of Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA) informing it of their plans,” he said. “In August, they received a reply from the JHEOA deputy director-general Nisra Nisran Asra Ramlan saying that permission was denied and they were to stop work immediately.”

With the church due for completion next month, the angry Orang Asli stood their ground and protested that they didn’t seek permission from the JHEOA.

“The land belongs to the Orang Asli and they consider it their right to build a church on it,” added Soo. “Furthermore, the JHEOA didn’t provide any reasons for its decision so the villagers sought legal counsel.”

Natural living area

Their lawyer, Lum See Cheng, advised them to ignore the JHEOA’s letter and proceed with their plans. The church is now 70% completed.

Lum also sent a reply to the JHEOA informing it that its permission was not being sought and requesting reasons for the rejection of the church building.

“The JHEOA is only responsible for the Orang Asli welfare,” he clarified. “It has no authority to issue such orders. And by denying the Orang Asli a safer building, it is in fact going against its role of taking care of their welfare.”

He added that although the Orang Asli had no land title, the land still belonged to them by default of it being their natural living area.

“This is a religion-related issue,” he claimed. “Otherwise, I don’t see why the authorities would be so interested in meddling in the affairs of people who live deep in the heart of the jungle.”

FMT contacted Nisra Nisran but was informed that he was still on leave.

If the church in Pos Pasik is eventually demolished, it would be the second such incident in Kelantan. In June 2007, an Orang Asli church in Gua Musang was torn down following orders by the Gua Musang District Council.

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