The term Orang Asli translates as “original people”, and is a generic term for 18 indigenous minority groups in Peninsular Malaysia. In this thesis I examine some of the recent changes that have taken place among the Chewong, one of the smallest Orang Asli groups. My empirical data from 2005 is compared with Signe Howell’s writings based on a number of studies among the same group since the late 1970s. I have looked at four main areas of change; education, economy, health and religion. The local changes – attributable to increased interaction with the outside society – are examined in relation to a wider politico-historical framework of structural power. I am arguing that a lack of recognition of the Orang Asli as a people and a failure to recognize their needs and rights have important repercussions for the course of change in the Chewong society. The government’s policies for assimilation and the dominant development discourse put a strong pressure on the Chewong and other Orang Asli to leave their indigenous cultural identities behind and assimilate into the dominant Malay group. Notions of cultural superiority can be detected both in formal and informal relationships between the Chewong and outside agents.
Because the traditional Chewong areas partly overlap with the Krau Wildlife Reserve, the group has been lucky to retain access to a large portion of their ancestral land. While some of the Chewong prefer to continue their autonomous lives deep inside the rain forest, others have settled at the village on the fringe of the forest and, in various degrees, have been part of the new developments brought about by an opening up of the area through deforestation and road extensions. However, the Chewong lack the possibilities and rights to partake in the new opportunities on equal terms with the dominant groups, and thus tend to end up in a subordinate position in encounters with outside agents and institutions. Simultaneously, the previously crucial cosmological prescriptions and traditions embedded in forest localities seem to be of decreasing importance to the inhabitants of the main fringe village. These cultural changes have an impact on social relations of sharing and equality, and leave the villagers vulnerable for further assimilation pressur