• Indigenous peoples in Malaysia

    Indigenous peoples in Malaysia

    The peoples of the Orang Asli, the Orang Ulu, and the Anak Negeri groups together constitute the indigenous population of Malaysia. Although Malaysia has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country’s indigenous population is facing a number of challenges, especially in terms of land rights.


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

As of 2017, the Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia were estimated to account for around 13.8% of the 31,660,700 million national population.

They are collectively known as Orang Asal. The Orang Asli are the Indigenous Peoples of Peninsular Malaysia. The 18 Orang Asli subgroups within the Negrito (Semang), Senoi and Aboriginal-Malay groups account for 0.7% of the population of Peninsular Malaysia (31,950,000).

In Sarawak, the Indigenous Peoples are collectively known as natives (Dayak and/or Orang Ulu). They include the Iban, Bidayuh, Kenyah, Kayan, Kedayan, Lunbawang, Punan, Bisayah, Kelabit, Berawan, Kejaman, Ukit, Sekapan, Melanau and Penan. They constitute around 1,932,600 or 70.5% of Sarawak’s population of 2,707,600 people.

In Sabah, the 39 different Indigenous ethnic groups are known as natives or Anak Negeri and make up some 2,233,100 or 58.6% of Sabah’s population of 3,813,200. The main groups are the Dusun, Murut, Paitan and Bajau groups.

While the Malays are also Indigenous to Malaysia, they are not categorised as Indigenous Peoples because they constitute the majority and are politically, economically and socially dominant.

Main challenges for the Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia

In Sarawak and Sabah, laws introduced by the British during their colonial rule recognising 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 the plantations of private companies and state agencies 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 has adopted 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 not ratified ILO Convention 169.

Malaysia: The Special Rapporteur gathered key information during visit

Representatives provided oral and written information on various issues including lands, territories and resources with a focus on extractive industries; militarization and impact of national security measures of Governments; and self-determination and identity. Indigenous peoples from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar were represented at the consultation.

Continue Reading

Malaysia: Another victory for the natives of Sarawak

The Kayan community of Long Teran Kanan, Tinjar, Miri Division finally got the justice they deserve after fighting the legal battle at the High Court for more than 12 years to get recognition of their native customary rights to their native customary land.

Malaysia: Court rules in favour of indigenous orang asli

On 19 December, in what lawyers call a landmark decision, a high court in Malaysia has order parts of Malay reserve land to be degazetted. Judge khtar Tahir ruled that the reserve land was subservient to orang asli rights as they were the earliest inhabitants. The Malay reserve land in question encroached into more than 2,000ha of disputed orang asli customary land in Bera. The judge directed the Pahang Land and Mines Office to gazette the whole area as orang asli customary land within a year.



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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