Indigenous peoples in Malaysia

As of 2015, the indigenous peoples of Malaysia was estimated to account for 13.9% of the 31 million total population.

The Orang Asli are the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia. The 18 Orang Asli subgroups within the Negrtio (Semang), Senoi and Aboriginal-Malay account for 205,000 persons, representing a mere 0.84% of the national population (14,457,300).

In Sarawak, the indigenous peoples are collectively called Orang Ulu or Dayak and include the:

  • Iban
  • Bidayuh
  • Kenyah
  • Kayan
  • Kedayan
  • Murut
  • Punan
  • Bisayah
  • Kelabit
  • Berawan
  • Penan

They constitute around 1,899,600 or 70.1% of Sarawak’s population of 2,707,600 people.

In Sabah, the 39 different indigenous ethnic groups are called natives or Anak Negeri and make up about 2,203,500 or 60% of Sabah’s population of 3,736,200.

The main groups in Sabah are the:

  • Dusun
  • Murut
  • Paitan
  • Bajau

While Malays are also indigenous to Malaysia, they ar enot categorised as indigenous peoples because they constitute the majority and are politically, economically and socially dominant.  

Legislation Concerning Indigeneous Peoples

In Sarawak and Sabah, laws introduced by the British during their colonial rule recognizing the customary land rights and customary law of the indigenous peoples are still in place.

However, they are not properly implemented, and are even outright ignored by the government, which gives priority to large-scale resource extraction and plantations of private companies over the rights and interests of the indigenous communities.

In Peninsular Malaysia, while there is a clear lack of reference to Orang Asli customary land rights in the National Land Code, Orang Asli customary tenure is recognised under common law.

The principal Act that governs Orang Asli administration, including occupation of the land, is the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954.

Malaysia voted for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and endorsed the Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, but has still not ratified ILO Convention 169.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Malaysia to learn about major developments and events during 2015.