Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Orang Asli who call the sea their home

At Kampung Sungai Temun, in Perling, Johor, most of the villagers work as fishermen, breeding mussels for a living.

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A fisherman wades out to sea to collect mussels at low tide, pulling his boat behind him.

Another fisherman smiles as he and his wife head back to shore with a harvest of mussels.

Yet others pull a row of plastic barrels towards their boat before removing the mussels that cling to the sides.

The youngest among them is a 15-year-old boy who, like the grownups, heads out to collect mussels in a boat which he steers alone.

The green of young mussels shows in flashes of colour through the mud on one of the ropes. Normally, mussels take eight to nine months to fully mature.

A man resurfaces after diving into the sea to harvest mussels. This is another way of collecting the molluscs although it leaves the divers open to dangers such as encounters with saltwater crocodiles.

A fisherman leans over the side of his boat to rinse a basket of mussels in the sea.

Foreign objects such as small stones are also removed as these will hamper the cleaning process after the mussels are brought to shore.

Villagers sit on makeshift stools as they clean and sort the mussels brought in by the fishermen.

Sometimes, customers ask for the mussels to be shucked. To do this, the villagers place them in a large wok full of boiling water which makes it easier to remove the meat from the shells.

Once the shells are removed, the meat from the mussels is placed in baskets for delivery to customers.

It is tedious work, but the villagers take turns to rest and sometimes even entertain the others with live music.

There are also ice cold drinks to be bought at the small warung or shop in the village.

The villagers work steadily through the day, making sure that the mussels are ready to be delivered to their waiting customers.

Full-grown mussels in their bright green shells can measure the breadth of a man’s hand.

A fisherman scoops up handfuls of mussels, their shells covered with white barnacles.

Out on the water, other fishermen begin making their way back to the village jetty.

A group of women enjoy a break at an outdoor kitchen where the remains of a birthday party can still be seen.

Another woman gets started on the preparations needed for dinner.

A woman dressed in her best smiles as she heads by boat to a nearby village to buy supplies.

At that village, too, fresh seafood is in plentiful supply at the market.

An Orang Asli child grins as she plays at a deserted restaurant in Kampung Sungai Tenum.

Out in the sun, another child glances back as he walks barefoot on the hot tar road.

On weekends, some of the Seletar Orang Asli sell their seafood at the market in Permas.

Even the children pitch in, carrying baskets of seafood, their feet black with mud.

The village stands on wooden stilts in the water, against the backdrop a huge reclamation project which the villagers fear will change their way of life forever.

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