SUNGAI PETANI: A genetic researcher says the Semang Orang Asli group should be protected and gazetted as a national heritage as they are at risk of extinction.
According to Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) associate professor Dr Zafarina Zainuddin, the Semang Orang Asli are one of the world’s oldest populations at over 60,000 years old.
Zafarina, who is director of USM’s Biochemical Analysis Centre, said a genetic study using multiple DNA markers had recovered much older DNA from the Orang Asli of Bateq, Kensui and Lanoh tribes as compared with aboriginal groups found in Australia and Irian Jaya.
“Based on the study, it was found that their genetic makeup differs from modern society, which causes them to be less adaptable to today’s environment,” she said.
She added that medications consumed by modern society might not be suitable for the Orang Asli community and could poison them.
“Genetic testings performed to protect the body against a certain type of disease also result in loss of genetic variations among the Orang Asli, which can make them vulnerable to disease,” she told Bernama after a recent Kedah Malay Congress event here.
She said the genetic research led by UiTM Integrative Pharmacogenomics Institute (iPromise) director, professor Dr Mohd Zaki Salleh in collaboration with USM and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, involved a complete genome sequence of the Orang Asli.
“Once this population is gone, it is gone forever. As such, this study was aimed not only at developing an Orang Asli DNA database for forensics and medical purposes, but also to formulate better policies in protecting the community from threats of extinction.”
According to the website of the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa), the Negrito/Semang Orang Asli group consists of six tribes: Kensiu, Kintak, Lanoh, Jahai, Mendriq and Bateq.
The Kensiu tribe, for example, comprises 204 people from 39 families who are mostly found on the outskirts of Baling, Kedah, while the Lanoh tribe comprising 359 people of three communal groups, live in the interior of Perak.
As the Orang Asli community was regarded as very fragile, Zafarina said the relevant authorities should adopt new approaches to ensure their survival.
“With their inability to adapt to the environment, different methods must be applied, and these measures must be taken immediately before they disappear as a people through modernisation.”
She also urged the government to reconsider giving the community contraceptive pills as a family planning measure, and to look for other alternatives in addressing the problem.