After being in KL, Malaysia’s modern thriving capital city, it’s hard to believe that just 120 miles away a tribe of around 2,000 people live in huts made of palm leaves and produce their meals from hunting and fishing. But that is life in the Batek villages that line the shores of the Tembeling River in Taman Negara.

IMG_1094The Batek is one of the tribes of the Orang Asli, the ‘original people’ of the Malay Penninsular and they remain fiercely independent, refusing offers of aid from the Malaysian government.

Instead they choose to maintain their own traditions and earn what little money they need from tour guides that bring small groups of visitors down river from the Taman Negara park headquarters at Kuala Tahan. Taman Negara is a popular stop for tourists visiting Malaysia and despite having no formal education the Batek have cleverly decided to take advantage of the interest in a way of life that is so different to the rest the country.

IMG_1121The village I visited housed around 10 families who were all related. Apparently this is the norm so its usual to look outside of your own settlement when you want to marry, though only to another similar one. We asked what happens if kids grow up and want to live life differently and were told that never happens.

Never seemed hard to believe considering the regular exposure to Western tourists, but maybe the Batek don’t particularly like what they see. Theirs is certainly a simple, uncomplicated life by comparison. Hunting in the rainforest, fishing and washing in the river and moving on if and when supplies start to dry up.

There are trips to the market in the local village too, but only to buy clothes and I assume cigarettes as they were much in evidence. That for me was the sad part of the visit. Despite rejecting so much of modern life they have embraced an element that can cause horrible damage to their health and have no education available to help them understand the consequences. I hope it wasn’t the result of visits from tour groups like mine, but unfortunately suspect it was.

IMG_1105Certainly the visitors are fascinating to the children in the village, who frequently ran in and out of their huts giggling, despite being called to order by their parents, some of whom were busy keeping us fascinated. Creating fire was one skill shared, along with showing us how to use a blow pipe for hunting. We had the option to try one out, but I didn’t really fancy wrapping my lips around it!

It’s also possible to stay overnight in one of the Batek villages and if you’re as interested in the tribe as I was its probably a great way to really find out what makes them tick. Either way it needs to be arranged through a tour company or guide and there are a fair few in Kuala Tahan including Han Travel, who we booked through for our trip to Taman Negara. You can read more about the trip in my post Conquering the canopy walkway at Taman Negara.

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