Although a Chewong community in Malaysia is well above the flood level of a proposed dam, the government is going to remove the people from their traditional lands anyway. A five-minute movie, “Do They Have a Choice: The Chewong People of Kelau,” by San Hui, was released to the Internet on January 5 to explain the situation.
The Kelau Dam project, costing over 3 billion Malaysian Ringgits (about 855,000,000 USD), will flood the Lakum Forest Reserve, destroy the habitat of protected animal species, and force the removal of local farmers and some Orang Asli communities.
The narrator for the movie, Dr. Colin Nicholas of the Center for Orang Asli Concerns, explains that the small Chewong community affected by the project includes seven families. Located high above the proposed reservoir, it will not, itself, be inundated. But the government has decided that the Chewong will have to be relocated along with a Temuan group (another Orang Asli society), who live below them closer to the expected flood waters. Administratively, the Chewong village is considered to be under the headmanship of the leader in the Temuan community.
Initially, according to Nicholas, the Temuan were 75 percent opposed to the project, but their headman evidently decided to accept the relocation to a site about 40 km away, and the people of the community have apparently agreed with his decision. Nicholas admits his skepticism.
The Chewong, a very distinct people who speak a completely different language, have little cultural contact with the Temuan. They have never lived with the other group and are solidly opposed to the proposed move. “These people here, the Chewong, definitely do not want to move,” emphasizes Nicholas.
He points out that the Chewong have neither been consulted about the situation, nor have they been informed about the resettlement scheme. Nicholas argues that they are getting a very bad deal. Their traditional lands will not be inundated, and they might benefit from their proximity to the impoundment if they were allowed to stay. They could certainly continue with their traditional farming and forest uses practices.
The reason for the resettlement of the Chewong? Nicholas feels that the government wants “to free the land for somebody else to occupy later when the land is more expensive.” He re-emphasizes his point: the Chewong do not have to move. They don’t want to be resettled and they want to stay on their own traditional land.
All the while Dr. Nicholas proceeds with his careful discourse, the camera alternates between shots of him and views of the village itself. People hang laundry on a line, children play, a man lounges on a hammock with children moving about, a family sits on the floor of their open-air house, and more children play.
Nicholas, an expert at confronting injustices toward the Orang Asli, finishes his remarks and the film closes with the wording on a black screen, “ at this point of time, the future of the Chewong people is still not certain.” The harpsichord and recorder music of Bach, which has accompanied the narrative from the beginning, comes to an end. The 29MB MPEG-4 movie, loaded as a freely-accessible podcast on the blog site Smoothriver.net/blog, provides good views of the mountainous Malaysian scenery as well as the chance to listen to the careful reasoning of Dr. Nicholas.