Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Akiya Dalam Akbar

PROFILE: Using books to liberate minds

Orang Asli don’t see literature as a vehicle to fight for their rights, says Mahat

Mahat anak China who writes not for money but to share his Orang Asli stories with people outside
the community and inspire the Semai produce more literary works, writes AMIRA LEILANI
IF there is anything that Mahat anak China could wish for, it is for his people to read and become more aware of the issues surrounding them.

"My people just don't read and learn enough. That's why we're still far behind compared to the other ethnic groups in the country," he says.

Mahat should know. The 55-year-old Orang Asli (from the Semai tribe in Perak) who is also a radio producer and deejay at RTM's Radio Asyik (91.1fm), has been trying to get his people to get involved in literary works for years now.

"It's sad to read things about the Orang Asli when those works are not by them. Because of that, the Orang Asli were always wrongly portrayed. Who would better understand the issues and problems faced by the indigenous community as well as its character, if not the Orang Asli themselves?"
Mahat himself has published two books. Using the pen name Akiya, he published Tuntut, a compilation of short stories on the lives of Orang Asli, in 2001. His first novel, Perang Sangkil, hit the shelves late last year.

"Perang Sangkil is special to me in many ways," he says. "First, it was published in the year when Malaysia celebrated her 50th birthday and this is like my gift to the country.

"Secondly, although the characters were fictional, the story is based on true events -- things that happened to the Orang Asli community in the 1800s.

"And thirdly, I try to use the Semai language as much as possible (with translations) so as to expose readers to the language."

Mahat's journey in publishing the book was not easy. The research alone took three years while the writing took another. It took him several years for the publisher, PTS Fortuna, to finally publish the book. And even then, no book promotion awaited the country's first Orang Asli author.

"You can get the book at MPH bookstores though," Mahat quips. "I've seen my books there."

But Mahat, like a true, gentle Orang Asli, doesn't want to pick a bone with anyone. In fact, he doesn't even know what happened to his book royalties when Tuntut was published a few years ago.

"I don't even want to know. I don't write for the money. Most authors are not rich, anyway," says Mahat, who has two other manuscripts, including one on his life story, waiting to be published.

For Mahat, what is important is getting his message across through his books -- sharing his Orang Asli stories with people outside the community and, hopefully, inspiring his people to produce more literary works.

"Orang Asli don't see literature as a vehicle to fight for their rights, unlike the Malays who used it in their fight for independence.

"Orang Asli feel they are not intelligent enough to dabble in literature because to them it is for the learned," says Mahat, who is inspired by renowned authors Datuk A. Samad Said and Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

In Perang Sangkil, Mahat depicts Orang Asli's fears and struggles against sangkil, bad people from outside the jungle who want to take over their land.

According to history (as told by the elders), many Orang Asli were killed during that time; the men were taken as slaves, while the women and children were raped and killed. This resulted in the Orang Asli becoming afraid of "outsiders", forcing them to run further into the jungle, far from modernisation.

"The (Orang Asli) younger generation must know all this. Only then will they be inspired to change their lifestyle and improve the way they live. The Malays, through literature, saw what their ancestors went through to gain independence.

"Because of that, they tried hard to improve themselves so that they won't have to go through life like their forefathers and look where they are now," says Mahat.

Unfortunately, Mahat's passion and enthusiasm for literature is not shared by many Orang Asli. Even his children (he has three girls and one boy) don't seem interested in literature.

" I doubt they've even read my books," he says.

When he received 10 complimentary copies of Perang Sangkil from his publisher, he distributed them to his villagers in Perak, hoping to inspire them to pick up the book and learn more about their history.

"I don't think they even know how to read but it's okay. At least, they're keeping it. Who knows, one day there may be an Orang Asli who will find my books interesting."

For now, Mahat's mission is to collect as many stories as he can from the elders for future reference.

He believes that is the only way to ensure the Orang Asli stories don't get lost over time.

He is even collecting pantun and poems as well as serapah used in the traditional healing process so that the language itself will not be forgotten.

"It's not an easy journey but I'm willing to do it. This is my wadah perjuangan (fight) for my people.

"And yes, hopefully, there are more Orang Asli who will join me in my struggle," says the multilingual Mahat, who speaks the Semai language, Bahasa Malaysia and English

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jumpa Akiya

Jumpa Akiya di pelancaran Koleksi Sajak -
Suara Perjuangan Akiya di KLCC pada 24/4/2009,
Jam 9.00 pagi - 12.00 tengah hari

Jumpa di sana..!

Salam Dunia

Salam Dunia,
jumpa di alam maya tanpa sempadan.

"Anggo mahu jadi gop" keluh Balun dalam hatinya.
"Dia mahu meninggalkan bangsanya. Hina benarkah menjadi orang dalam, orang bukit,
orang hulu, orang asal? Mulia benarkah enjadi Gop? Pertanyaan itu berulang kali melintasi
fikiran Balun.
m/s 314 Perang Sangkil.
Fortuna PTS Publications & Distributor Sdn. Bhd