Malaysia’s Tamara Negara: The World’s Oldest Rainforest and the Orang Asli Tribe

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An overview of Taman Negara. By taylorandayumi (Flickr)

A view of Taman Negara. By taylorandayumi (Flickr)

Though the Amazonian, Madagascan, and Australian forests are widely known to be ancient, the rain forest which tops them all in age is Tamara Negara in Malaysia, which is a whopping 130 million years old. It was established as a National Heritage Site by UNESCO, and named a National Park in 1964. Tamara Negara translated simply means “national park”.

Flora and Fauna

This 4343 km² area often makes visitors feel like dwarfs in an unknown land, as everything here is big. Not big like a MacDonald’s BigMac big, but gargantuan in comparison to counterparts around the world. From the ants to the trees themselves, you’ll wander around this paradise gazing in awe at the towering surroundings. There are over 250 bird species, and animals that call this habitat home include tigers, elephants, and gibbon’s monkeys, though they tend to stay well-hidden from sight. If you take a perahu (riverboat) into the area, you’ll get to spot a variety of birdlife soaring through the sky and nesting in the trees.

One of the unique flora to be found within Taman Negara. By taylorandayumi (Flickr)

One of the unique flora to be found within Taman Negara. By taylorandayumi (Flickr)

There are 240 tree species and over 14,000 plant species in the park. The flora ranges from the ordinary, such as ferns, to the extraordinary such as glow in the dark fungi. You may also come across the rafflesia which has only a large flower, and no roots, leaves, or stems.

Visitors to this forest will enter on the Pahang side, as the flora isn’t as dense here as it is in other areas. The best time to come is between February and September, the dry season, as during the wet season the walking paths become rather treacherous bogs. The Canopy Walkway within the forest is the longest one in the world, spanning 500m across the tree tops. While here, keep your eyes peeled for the various animal species, which will be carry on with their daily life, unawares below you.

Tribal Traits

A look at the Orang Asli village. By Honza Soukup (Flickr)

A look at the Orang Asli village. By Honza Soukup (Flickr)

The tribal group known as Orang Asli are one of the original aboriginal groups of Malaysia, and they are commonly referred to as the Batek by Malaysians. They are nomadic groups who now live in Tamara Negara, as today’s lumber camps and farms occupy the regions they once dwelled in. They live in small hunter-gatherer groups which numbers from 10 – 30 people, usually made-up of around 10 families forming an encampment. They forage for greens and use blow darts to bring down small game, such as squirrels, monkeys, or birds; as they only believe in eating things found above ground.

The food is shared among the group members. The hunter gets the first pick of the meat (usually the offal and tail), then his family, then extended family, and finally the rest of the tribe. Selfishness is quite a rarity, as they live in open-huts, so hoarding of food is nearly impossible to do.

Share the Love

The Bateks are very communal-orientated groups, and as such only blow pipes and hair combs are considered personal property. As each tribe member is considered equal, they have no distinct leader. So when two members disagree and can’t settle the matter privately by talking it out, they each share their story with the tribe and await advice from others. The only problem with this is that they are left at the mercy of the Malay Government, which does not recognise their sovereignty. This is clearly evident above as their habitat has shrunk from the entire island, to only Tamara Negara.

A quote on Wikipedia from a Batek tribesman sums up their lifestyle nicely:

We Batek are rich if we have a cooking pot, digging stick, bush-knife, lighter, tobacco, salt, and fishing pole. Also a man is sad if he doesn’t have a blowpipe. We only want four or five sarongs, we don’t need trousers. If we live here (in Pos Lebir), we need money, if we have money we buy a lot. But if we have no money, no problem, we reject possessions. When we live in the forest, we don’t need them. We can dig tubers. If someone doesn’t have food, and others give it as in the old days.

Author Bio: Roseanna McBain is a writer for TravelGround, a Durban accommodation and booking website. She enjoys exploring the various outdoor opportunities, and enjoys reading up on destinations around the world that she one day hopes to visit with her husband in tow.


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