In January and February 2010, two aboriginal village heads, aged 70+ and 40+, in my research areas in Pahang and Perak, died of colon cancer.
I have been conducting socio-economic research among the Orang Asli, the aborigines in Peninsular Malaysia, for the last 21 years. The Orang Asli were known to be relatively healthy as they obtain much of their food sources from the natural forests.
In the 1990s, I hardly met any case of aborigine complaining about their health problems.
By the turn of the century, things begin to change. It was observed that obesity is an emerging phenomenon among the aborigines. The villagers are beginning to face modern diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and severe headache.
Since I was greeted as “Dr Lim”, some aborigines, thinking that I was a medical doctor, even requested modern medicine.
Why are modern diseases coming to the aboriginal villages?
First, natural food resources are depleting when the surrounding areas of the aboriginal villages are either logged or developed into commercial plantations. The rivers also do not produce much fish. It is now difficult to have wild meat and fish compared to 10 years ago.
Second, many aborigines have to purchase meat, fish, vegetables from retailers coming to the villages. In short, many aborigines are now adopting the modern eating habits which are often not healthy.
Like the majority of the people in our modern society, little does the aboriginal community realize that modern farmed and processed foods are jeopardizing villagers’ health.
The government is likely to spend more money taking care of the health of the aborigines in the years to come.
Health awareness and prevention activities need to be intensified among Malaysians, including the aboriginal communities.