Exploring the worldviews of suffering among Indigenous people in Malaysia – Risk and resilience

Dr Rachel Ting

Written by Rachel Ting Sing Kiat, Department of Psychology, Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Although there is a growing number of research examining the marginalisation of the Orang Asli, there are no previous studies done to survey how their world-views impact their current predicaments. This project sought to explore the causal attribution, help-seeking behaviour as well as concepts of resilience of Orang Asli (Temiar tribe) located in a rural resettlement area five hours off-road from Sungai Siput, Perak. Over two years across a total of five field trips (each five to six days long), we engaged in cultural immersion with the local community, conducted three focus groups and interviewed 65 Temiar individuals from 12 different villages.

Major suffering events and risk factors reported were poverty, deforestation due to illegal logging, socio-political discrimination, physical ailments and land right disputes. Through qualitative analysis, we found that Temiar interviewees’ explanations of their suffering included the following five major themes - wild animal threats, socio-political explanations, deforestation, cultural misfit reasons and spiritual explanations.

With regards to protective factors, the Temiar Orang Asli reported five major help-seeking behaviours - relying on government help, relying on NGO partnership, relying on self-effort, drawing from traditional resources and relying on family and community - and strategies adopted appeared generally external oriented, communal and traditional based such as planting crops and gathering resources in the forests. Meanwhile, resilience was defined by the Temiar interviewees through these major themes which are religious cultural resources, personal values, perseverance, personal labour and family relationships.

However, we also discovered that a number of Temiar participants have converted to other religions, such as Muslim and Christianity, a conversion reflected in some variations of world-views regarding their suffering which could be explored in future studies. Our overall findings confirm the strong-ties characteristics of Temiar Orang Asli, who draw their resources from their communalism and traditional resources in their ecology.  This study helps to bridge the gap of cultural differences in understanding psychological concepts such as causal attribution, help-seeking behaviour and resilience, as well to give voice to the ethnic minorities in Southeast Asia. Following the movement of indigenous psychology, we hope to advocate for a more culturally coherent and self-determined sustainable development among indigenous people in Malaysia.

Co-PI: Dr. Adriana Ortega (Lecturer, Department of Psychology, Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences), Dr. Pervaiz Ahmed (Professor, School of Business)
Research Assistants: Thong Jian Ai, Francis Lim
Research students:  Alexis Tay, Thong Jian Ai, Sheerin Kaur Dhaliwa, Anne Shirin Beve Pillai, Tomomi Takeuchi