Malaysia’s Indigenous People: Land Rights and Livelihoods

Malaysia in Transition Seminar Series


About the Seminar

Malaysia’s indigenous people make up about 12 percent of the population and can be a decisive voting bloc, especially in Sarawak and Sabah. GE14 was the first time that the DAP fielded an Orang Asli candidate, and there were only three state seats with Orang Asli representatives in Peninsular Malaysia. Usually seen to be part of the Barisan Nasional vote bank, 2018 did not result in an indigenous tsunami for the opposition. Popular understanding of Orang Asli (indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia) and Orang Asal (indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak) concerns is that their priorities are their immediate survival and basic needs. With 34 percent of indigenous Malaysians falling under the poverty line, the new Pakatan Harapan government will need to take real action to win the support of this electorate in the next elections. This seminar will provide more insight into the core issues faced by Malaysia’s indigenous people, and demonstrate how land rights, access and even basic recognition as equal citizens of Malaysia are of great concern to these communities.

About the Speaker

Dr Colin Nicholas founded the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) in 1989 to advance the cause of the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia. He has helped the indigenous people through countless court cases involving Orang Asli rights, through lobbying and advocacy, as well as by disseminating accurate news and information about their communities. Dr Nicholas received his PhD (with Distinction) in 1999 from the Institute of Advanced Studies, Universiti Malaya on the topic of Orang Asli: Politics, Development and Identity. He is the author of several popular and academic articles as well as several books on indigenous and Orang Asli issues.

Ms Vilashini Somiah is the Head of Research at IMAN, a Malaysian think tank that focuses on religion, security and society. Her work focuses on understanding the different perspectives and motivations behind the narratives of underrepresented communities in Borneo. She has studied issues related to fishing communities and irregular migrants in Sandakan and their concerns related to maritime policy and usage. Ms Somiah has been involved in filmmaking (Living Stateless, 2014) and has a number of published articles on ethnography and the socio-politics of Malaysia.

Nicholas Mujah is the Secretary-General of the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA), and the 2013 Recipient of the United Nations’ Human Rights Defender Award. He is also a member of the Permanent Indigenous People’s Council within the Forest Stewardship Council and part of the Technical Working Group for the Malaysian Oil Palm Certification Council (MPOCC). Nicholas Mujah has a long history of working to defend native land rights in Sarawak, as well as educating and empowering Sarawak’s native communities so that they are able to better protect their lands and livelihoods. s.


For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 17 January 2019.


Jan 18 2019


10:00 am - 12:00 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2