As of 2017, the indigenous peoples of Malaysia were estimated to account for around 13.8% of the national population of 31,660,700 million.1 They are collectively known as Orang Asal.
The peoples of the Orang Asli, Orang Ulu and Anak Negeri groups constitute the indigenous population of Malaysia. While Malaysia adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country's indigenous population faces a number of challenges, especially in terms of land rights. Malaysia has not ratified ILO Convention 169.
The Orang Asli, the Orang Ulu and the Anak Negeri peoples
In 2015, it was estimated that the indigenous peoples of Malaysia represented about 13.8% of the population of 31,660,700 million.
The indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia are collectively known as Orang Asali. The 18 Orang Asli subgroups within the Negrito (Semang), Senoi and Aborigen-Malay groups represent around 210,000 people or 0.7% of the population of Peninsular Malaysia.
In Sarawak, indigenous peoples are collectively known as natives (Dayak and/or Orang Ulu). They include the Iban, the Bidayuh, the Kenyah, the Kayan, the Kedayan, the Lunbawang, the Punan, the Bisayah, the Kelabit, the Berawan, the Kejaman, the Ukit, the Sekapan, the Melanau and the Penan, and the account for 1,932,600 people, or 70.5% of the population of Sarawak.
In Sabah, the 39 different indigenous ethnic groups are known as natives or Anak Negeri and constitute about 2,233,100 people or 58.6% of the population of Sabah. The main groups are the Dusun, Murut, Paitan and Bajau groups.
Although the Malays are also indigenous to Malaysia, they are not categorized as indigenous peoples, because they constitute the majority and are political, economically and socially dominant.
Main challenges for the indigenous peoples of Malaysia
In Peninsular Malaysia, there is a clear lack of reference to the customary agrarian rights of Orang Asli. In Sarawak and Sabah, the laws introduced by the British during their colonial regime that recognize customary land rights and the customary law of indigenous peoples remain in force. However, they are not implemented properly and are ignored by the government, which prioritizes the extraction of large-scale resources and the plantations of private companies and state agencies on the rights and interests of indigenous communities.
In honour of International Women’s Day, we would like to take the opportunity to highlight one of our partner projects, where indigenous women have taken the lead and confronted challenges facing their community. In 2013, IWGIA partnered with the Sabah Women Action Resource Group (SAWO) to address violence against women in the Northern Sabah region of Malaysia, and we have recently renewed the project.
“This is the first time that such a project is being undertaken in Sabah, a state that is one of the poorest in Malaysia and where the needs and rights of rural people, particularly women, are often ignored and overlooked by political leaders and government development agencies,” said Winnie Yee, project coordinator and SAWO president.
In an article in the Daily Express Malaysia from 13 November 2014 the Chief Minister of Sabah, Musa Aman, has made a statement that NGOs such as IWGIA’s partner the Partners of Community Organizations in Sabah (PACOS) are misleading and confusing natives to blame the government for not giving them land.