In Jan 2012 I had the opportunity to travel to one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world, Taman Negara. Spanning across three states in Malaysia, it is one of the few areas in the world that still has areas untouched by modern civilization.
With few roadways leading to the jungle, we took a long motorized banana boat to reach the floating village of Kuala Tahan. I soon realized I was no longer in Kuala Lumpur – I had intelligently brought my huge rolly suitcase into the depths of the Malaysian jungle, which was probably the poorest traveling choice I had ever made. Struggling up the hillside in 85 degree (F) weather, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful manfriend that kindly sweated over the pounds of clothing I had decided to bring with me (did I mention this was a poor choice?).
The four day trip held many interesting critters and rare animals, but by far the most interesting part of the trip was the day spent with the indigenous populations of the jungle.
I have long been fascinated with the indigenous populations of the world that try to preserve their culture in the face of growing technology of the outside world. These people are no different from those I have experienced in Lao PDR, Rwanda and Argentina.
The government of Malaysia is faced with an interesting question when it comes to these people, called ‘Batek Negritos’, as they try to bring them into the modern world. They send convoy’s monthly offering medical care, free education for children and other modern niceties such as rice and sugar. Yet the Batek people reject much of these modern attempts to bring ‘civilization’ to their hunter and gatherer lifestyle.
When I asked our tour guide, Agung, why this was he said “they say modern world is boring. They do not know it or understand it. They grow up in the jungle from a young age being taught how to survive, what to eat and track.” The concrete jungle simply is boring when given the opportunity to climb, swing and hunt amongst tigers, rhinoceros’ and elephants.
This brings me to an interesting question – is modernization really the answer? Do we really have a superior lifestyle to these people with our cubicles, box lunches and treadmills? What is our obligation to these types of groups throughout the world? Is it to understand, watch and modernize? Turn them into tourist destinations?
Or maybe we have a thing or two to learn and/or remember how we were meant to live. Free and wild under the scorching sun, in the humid air protected only by the trees above you and the leaves beneath your feet.