I am recalling some of my memories of travelling in Jungles. Usually, I regard myself as a xylophile ( someone who loves trees ) and always try to find spots with lots of trees.
I went to a jungle with lots of stories in 2012. The forest is called “ Taman Nagara” which is the biggest national forest of Malaysia. It is estimated to be older than 130 million years and covers 4343 square km. It is believed that there are still endangered species of animals such as Malayan tiger and rare species of birds.
I have to admit that I didn’t go many places there as it was a day trip and I didn’t have enough time to explore the area. I was attending a wedding of my colleagues in a town, Jerantut which is 2 hours drive from the rain forest. So me and my travel partner decided to visit the forest in a short time without proper plan.We drove from Jerantut to Taman Negara and the scenery was very nice along the way.
Then we arrived at the jetty and met our tour guide Mr lee.
Mr Lee led us to trek, and showed the rain forest. The water was quite shallow that time and lots of birds fluttering around the flowers.
Then we went for the canopy walk. According to the record, it was the longest canopy walk in the world although it was built recently in 1992.
The guide led us for hiking ( I didn’t go for hiking and waited for them at the base of mountain , resting on the bench, luckily I found interesting people , one is a geologist and two are French tourists, they entertained me while my friend was hiking the mountain
Then, wee were on the boat again and visited a village belongs to Orang Asli ( aboriginal people ).The villagers are short, dark and have curly hair. They look more like short people from Africa, totally different from Orang Asli I found in other places of Malaysia. However, Orang= man, Asli= Origin, so they don’t need to be the same people as different people arrive Malaysia in different places of the country in different time. Our guide Mr Lee said he believes the people are originated from Papua New Guinea.
They looked disturbed when we arrived and children were afraid of us. Many of them ran towards their mothers as soon as they found strangers. One kid was so adorable and I asked permission from mom to carry him, but he struggled out of me and I had to return him to his mom. All of them had Tinea infection ( fungal infection ) and their living condition is not very hygiene.
They live in the huts and raise live stock to eat.
Most of them were on bare foot as they cant’ afford foot wares. They know how to swim, fish and hunt very well. The guide showed us how to make fire out of two stones and how to shoot arrows.
But the more interesting part is about the people.
Orang Asli people in Taman Negara still holding their belief strong. They never bury the dead bodies and instead carry them to the deep part of the forest. The spiritual leader called Bomoh arranged the journey and he only allows less than two people to follow him so that they can carry the dead body. When they arrive the secret spot, they hang the dead body on the trees. The place is kept as a secret and only Bomoh , chosen spiritual leader knows how to go there. Actually, like other Orang Asli, they are very attached to the forest and willing to remain as spirits inside forest after their death. After Bomoh has done his ritual, he orders his followers to cross the river for seven times so that spirits will not follow them on the way back to village. Their belief is once you reach the area of spirits, they can follow you on your way back.
Once they arrive back the village, they observe the nature and behavior of the animals . If the animals seem disturbed or get diseases within seven days of arrival, all villagers pack and leave the village, seeking another spot to settle.
Another ritual which makes me amazed is their marriage. Once man and woman wants to get married, the villagers will lock two of them inside the building ( a house / a hut/ any kind of enclosure ) and lock them from outside for 24 hours. And people are not supposed to disturb the couple. If no one demands to get out before 24 hours ( I have no idea how to do that, they must knock the door or shout from inside ), their courtship means successful. Then after completion of 24 hours, the door will be unlocked and the whole village celebrate the marriage by having a feast. By the way, as I worked in the town which is two hours away from that village, I know they get married very young. One time, my patient who was in labour was only 12 years old. The marriage was arranged by her parents and her husband looked like he was 40 plus. The girl was crying in pain and we couldn’t even ask her the name of her husband because she simply didn’t know and not bother to know as well. She just asked us to call her mom. Usually, most Orang Asli girls marry young and have a lot of children up to 12- 16 children. They rarely use contraception and a man can get married easily when the wife dies. The men prefer to marry young girls. Nowadays, the government gives priority towards Orang Asli regarding education and health care. All of them can get free health care and education although some of them are not willing to go to towns. I have a friend who is an Orang Asli girl and she is a doctor. I hope there will be more educated young people in their population in the future.
Another interesting thing is their belief about spirits. They don’t have religion and they usually worship on spirits. As they live in jungle and live on farming and hunting, the favor of spirit is very important to them. For example, you must pray to spirit of river if you want to have fish, and have to be careful not to piss the spirits of land if you want to harvest. The children have to be careful not to venture at night into jungles as the spirits can make them sick etc. Some Organ Asli do sculpture of spirits out of wood and keep at their house. One time, I went to museum to observe these sculptures. The museum was deserted and to save electricity, the room was poorly lit. I looked at the faces of these spirits and it made me feel scared. I was wondering they might see the spirits , otherwise how can they make sculptures out of imagination.
I don’t know whether spirits really exist, but the guides who are educated are also very careful about jungle spirits. My guide told me some tour guides lost their way in Taman Negara although they were not far from the village. They believe it is because the spirits hide the way. And a lot of tourists have tragic events in Taman Negara such as drowning. Let me tell you my experience. We took a package tour organized by a well experienced tourist guide. We were on the boat and observed lots of beautiful birds from the boat.
The tour guide allowed us to swim in the river. I was not a good swimmer, in fact I know very little how to swim. So I decided just to waddle in the shallow water. As I wanted to see the trees, I walked further and further away from the crowed. Although I was walking in the shallow water, suddenly I plunged into a deeper part of water. It really made me scared especially the soil of river bed was not sand and very sticky mud. I tried to call out my friend to help me, I felt like I was drowning. She thought I was joking with her as the river looked shallow to her. But I swear that that time, my legs couldn’t reach the floor of river bed anymore and I was struggling to float. And the current, it was pretty strange that I felt that the current was pushing me further only at that particular spot. I was drifting away from the crowd. My friend herself doesn’t know how to swim , but she is much taller than me. She waddled and walked towards me and finally her hand griped mine. Then she told me “ how come you look so afraid? The water is very shallow.” I can say that that is the most weird thing I have encountered in my life. After she reached me, I felt the water was not deep anymore. It was at the level of my breasts. Suddenly, I could feel that my legs could stand on the ground. It was extremely creepy.
The interesting part is after I came back from Taman Negara, I had a chat with a colleague about the place, just discussing about jungles in general. She was smiling uneasily and said “ oh, Hnin, my parents would never allow me to go there”. I only thought overprotective parents usually don’t allow daughters to travel far. But she continued that “ do you know that my brother who was a swimming champion died in Taman Negara out of drowning. He was 19 that time. That’s the reason my parents didn’t feel good about the place”
Back to our story, after I had nearly drowning experience, I didn’t feel like staying there at night anymore. I nagged my friend to go back. But she was very keen to stay there and finally I gave in. She booked a night safari tour for us and we were about to observe nocturnal animals . Around 8 pm, the tour guide came and fetched us to go to the palm plantation area. It was not the deep jungle. But we were at the back of the van without roof. The driver told me to hold a bottle and I thought it was like a water bottle. He told me “ this is the holy water and keep it with you. We usually carry it when we have night tour “. So, I gripped the water bottle tightly with me. We found wild pigs, pythons, fogs and lots of birds already resting on the trees.
We spent the night at a cheap motel and I couldn’t sleep well because I had a very unsettled feeling. The next morning, we drove almost 4 hours back to our town, Kuantan.
The good thing is we met a group of tourists who became our friends .
But the thing I want to tell you is my feelings after the trip. Once I arrived back home, I took out my camera and tried to download the photos into my laptop . The photos were both day time and night time taken. But when I looked into night time photos, I felt very uneasy feeling as if some images were inside my photo. In one photo, I found a woman sitting on the tree. ( I just wish it’s not real and I just wish it’s all my creepy ideas). Finally I shut down my computer and deleted a lot of photos. For weeks, I felt like there was someone with me, especially when I stood in front of mirror. It was very bad until I was afraid to stand in front of mirror. I called my friends and they shared me some prayers. Finally with the help of prayers, I no longer feel the woman was around me anymore.
Well, if someone ask me “ do you wana visit Taman Negara again?”. My answer is “ No…..”