A friend and I had this conversation about the Orang Asli earlier on, and I related to him several experiences of mine with the Orang Aslis. For those who have been following this blog would know that my ties with the Orang Asli go back to around 27 years ago. However, this one story he found truly funny.
If you look at the above, this is the typical Orang Asli home. It is usually of the studio concept where parents and their 4 to 6 children would co-exist in a tiny space that would make the population density of Bangladesh (2,200 people per square mile) look spacious. That would be where they sleep and eat.
One day, as I visited several families of Orang Asli from the Temuan tribe in south Pahang, I noticed how the men and women were missing; not the older ones, but those young parents. The teenagers were at the horrendously uneven football field playing football barefooted, and the kids were wallowing in dust together with their dogs, playing games. I went up to one of them and asked, “Ayah mak ada?”
“Niak,” the reply would come from each of the children.
“Ayah mak pergi mana? I asked again.
“Pegik tanam ubi.”
That’s about 20 missing couples in the jungle planting tapioca. It must be a cooperative thing that the government has been encouraging the Orang Aslis to do, and this community has chosen tapioca as its source of income. I thought I should go see this tapioca farm.
“Jom ikut akuk caik kek mana mak ayah tanam ubi, nak?” I asked one of the kids.
“Ngan, mak ayah marah,” came the reply from the oldest of the lot. “Pukul tujuh malen baru balik.”
That night as I sat with the Tok Batin and the village elders, I told him how proud I was to know that the community is active in planting tapioca. The Tok Batin and the rest laughed, looked at each other and said, “Owang hempam tu.”
I couldn’t understand what was said, so I just drank my coffee and dunked some Jacob’s Cream Crackers into the cup.
The next evening I decided to go visit this tapioca farm of theirs without asking for an escort. After ten minutes of walking into the jungle it became evident that there was no clearing for them to plant tapioca in. Then I heard voices. I went into the direction of the voices and soon, about 50 meters away, were a couple planting tapioca. I could only observe from far for a moment and then walked back towards the village.
That night, more laughters came from the Tok Batin and his merry men.
Then I knew what kind of tapioca they were planting every evening; then I knew the meaning of the word Hempam; then I knew how they were able to make babies with their children sleeping around them at night.
It was all done during the “tapioca” planting time.
No, not a single tapioca tree was to be found inside that jungle.