DUBLIN, IRELAND - Earlier this year, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation published an article by Caroline Tiriman in Tok Pisin entitled, ‘Ol Melanesian Pipal blong Asia’ ['The Melanesian People of Asia'].
I was struck by the resemblance of the Batek people of Malaysia pictured in the article to the Melanesian people we know in Papua New Guinea and nearby countries in the Pacific.
Tiriman’s piece included this photograph of a group of Batek people, who live deep in the hinterland of Malaysia.
“If you see these people, they look identical to the people of Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu,” Tiriman wrote [translation].
More recently The Guardian had an article that told of many deaths among the Batek people, which also included some photos of them.
The Batek started to die after being forced from their land and journalist Hannah Ellis-Petersen wondered whether they were poisoned by the plantations and mines that replaced their homes.
“The [Malaysian] government is in no hurry to find out,” she wrote.
You can read Ellis-Petersen’s complete article here, ‘Out of the jungle and into a death trap: the fate of Malaysia’s last nomadic people’.
These other photos are from The Guardian article, and to my mind the Batek people do indeed look very much like people from Melanesia. I would be interested to know if readers know of other places where where the people have a Melanesian appearance.
Caroline Tiriman also wrote in her article [translated]:
The Melanesian people of the Southwest Pacific have a similar group of people who live in an Asian country.
So says Dr Patrick Pikacha, a scientist from Solomon Islands who is an Associate Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.
Dr Pikacha said that in October 2018 he and his family travelled in Malaysia and went to the Taman Negara National Park where they saw and talked to some Melanesian people.
They talked with these people about the history of the Negrito-Melanesian people who left Africa in ancient times and eventually settled in the Southwest Pacific.
Dr Pikacha said this Malaysian tribe is called the Batek and they are one of the original people’s who settled in Peninsular Malaysia.
He said that, as a Melanesian man, who wanted to find out more about these people and that’s why he and his family went into the Malaysian jungle to meet them.
Dr Pikacha also said the homes of the Batek people are the same as Melananesians build.