Unsung heroes of the forest taken for granted

Sharon Tan

WHEN news arrived late at night that their help was needed to find a lost Korean man in the jungles of Pahang, Atan A/L Pulas immediately joined his uncle on the search mission, despite not having any prior experience.

But Atan, a Semai from Kampung Tual, Pos Sendrut, Raub, had something greater than a good track record of searching for missing persons – he knew the jungle inside out.

Atan, 32, was one of the 31 Semai from Kampung Tual and Dusun Pak Seman, Kuala Koyan, who went to Berjaya Hills Resort in Bentong where Korean national Kim Chae Won, 71, had been reported missing for four days in September.

Kampung Tual, near Pos Sinderut, Kuala Lipis, Pahang on Friday. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Kamal Ariffin, October 29, 2017.

The Semai is one of the largest indigenous groups in the peninsular, and have called the remote forests of Pahang their home for generations.

Recounting his experience, Atan said his team decided not to follow the police’s instructions on which area of the jungle to search.

“The police blew their whistle before the other team could go too far. We just went ahead. I don’t know how many kilometers, but it was far.  We just walked through the forest and started to call out for the man,” he said.

Not too long into the forest, some of their team members found Kim, who was weak after four days in the jungle.

Raman A/L Yok Di, 25, also from Kampung Tual, said they quickly made a makeshift stretcher from wood and rattan to carry Kim.

“He threw up the water we fed him. Some of us started to make the stretcher from the wood and rattan we found. A few of us ‘donated’ our T-shirt to slip onto the stretcher so that it would be more comfortable for him,” said Raman, adding that some of them walked barefoot in the jungle and had cuts from thorns and tree branches.

They had to stop a few times to get back to the operation centre as the terrain was steep. Atan said some of them had to double back to show the police where they had found Kim.

Once Kim was reunited with his family, the group of 31 headed home, tired and hungry, but satisfied with the successful mission.

However, they were disappointed to find that, far from being thanked for their efforts, they were treated with little respect by the authorities.

“When we got there (operation centre) about noon, we were really hungry as we left our homes at 7am without breakfast.

“But we were told to wait for the police and Bomba to eat first before we could eat,” said Atan.

Raman said certain officials promised them monetary rewards, which they have yet to receive. The men had to fork out their own money to pay for their petrol home.

Semai children watching their friends play football at Kampung Tual, Kuala Lipis, Pahang, yesterday. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Kamal Ariffin, October 29, 2017.

Kampung Tual A’s Tok Batin Harun A/L Siden said that while they were happy to be able to save the missing man and expected nothing in return, his community only asked that the authorities acknowledge and respect the Semai’s knowledge of the forests.

“I was told the authorities at Berjaya Hills did not think much of our skills,” said Harun.

“But our people managed to find the Korean man in a short time.”

He said the authorities should learn from the Semai people as they were familiar with the forest’s terrain and its flora and fauna.

“Our lives revolve around the forest, where we forage for food and things. We know much more than the authorities,” he said.

“We don’t use GPS but we know the terrain and rivers well.

“We know the forests.” – October 29, 2017.

Semai children learning a traditional dance at Pusat Komuniti Semai in Kampung Tual, Kuala Lipis, yesterday. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Kamal Ariffin, October 29, 2017.

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