Sokong Team
Wed May 15 2024

Empowering Indigenous Voices: The Story of Apa Kata Wanita Orang Asli

Arts & Culture

In the heart of Peninsular Malaysia, the Orang Asli community often finds its voices drowned out by mainstream society's clamour. The indigenous people of the Malay Peninsula have long grappled with governmental neglect and cultural marginalisation. Yet, amidst this indifference, hope emerges—Apa Kata Wanita Orang Asli (AKWOA), an initiative amplifying the voices of Indigenous women.

Spearheaded by the Freedom Film Network (FFN), AKWOA empowers Orang Asli women to speak on issues ranging from identity to human rights. Brenda Danker, FFN co-founder, explains, "Apa Kata Wanita Orang Asli was hatched from a series of engagement programs called Amplifying the Voices of Orang Asli Women (AVOAW)." From 2018 to 2020, AVOAW hosted film boot camps, human rights workshops, and story labs, culminating in two films, a book ("Kami Pun Ada Hak Bersekolah: Wanita Orang Asli Bersuara"), and a public performance.


This initiative draws strength from Indigenous women from various tribes such as Jakun, Temiar, Temuan, and Semelai. United by a shared vision, these women reclaim their narratives and assert their rights.

AKWOA’s outreach began with AVOAW workshops organised by FFN and partner NGOs, including Empower and JKOASM. These grassroots efforts led to AKWOA’s creation, offering participants human rights and media literacy education.

Their work has produced compelling short films and videos. Notable productions include 'Selai Kayu Yek' in the Temiar language near Gua Musang, Kelantan, and 'Klinik Ku Hutan,' a Semai film near Bidor, Perak. These films explore issues like land rights and the importance of forests to Orang Asli communities.

Eliana, 23, a program coordinator for AKWOA, notes, "We've seen a shift in perceptions. Young students now look up to us as role models, inspired by our courage to speak out." AKWOA aims to instil pride and empowerment among Orang Asli youth, encouraging them to pursue education and advocate for their rights.


"Through the workshops that were held, we learned about human rights, women's, and indigenous rights from the experts," Eliana said.

The book "Kami Pun Ada Hak Bersekolah" features 18 stories of indigenous women facing educational challenges due to their villages' remote locations. Like many Orang Asli students, Eliana spent her education years in hostels away from her family. The book inspired short films and over 30 YouTube videos

"We've had three short films so far," Eliana shares. "The first is 'Selai Kayu Yek' in Temiar, the second is 'Klinik Ku Hutan' in Semai, and the third is 'Rahsia Rimba,' an animated film in Jakun Johor. We just finished shooting our fourth film in my village of Kampung Petoh, and we hope to premiere it at the Freedom Film Fest in August."


Despite challenges like lack of mainstream media representation and educational materials, AKWOA remains steadfast. "Even in textbooks, there's hardly any mention of Indigenous people. It's as if we're invisible," Eliana laments. However, AKWOA leverages platforms like YouTube to amplify its message.

Screenings at Chinese Independent Schools have been successful, though government schools are more challenging. Eliana recalls a proud moment when her old school, SMK Muadzam Jaya in Pahang, allowed a screening. "The students were very receptive and asked questions. Many said they wanted to be like us when they grew up."

As AKWOA celebrates its sixth year, the journey towards empowerment continues. With each film screening and community engagement, they aim to foster a society where Orang Asli women are recognized and respected. Their story is one of resilience and hope, a testament to the transformative power of storytelling and collective action.


Initial funding from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives has ended, and AKWOA is now seeking new sources, like crowdfunding through platforms such as "We refuse to accept the status quo. We are here, and our voices will be heard," Eliana declares.

For those wanting to contribute to AKWOA, you can make a difference by supporting them HERE.

by malaysiakini

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