A K a R   U m b i
~ the music, the myths, and the original guardians of the forest ~

Rafique, Peleng and Uja - pic by Antares
Rafique with Peleng & Uja at Pertak Village
(photo: Antares)


Akar Umbi ~ the music, the myths, and the original guardians of the forest is a multi-arts project which aims to document the culture of the Temuan tribe of Orang Asli living in Pertak, Peninsular Malaysia. The project includes the production of a video documentary, a music CD and a book.

This  project was devised by a group called Magick River whose members and supporters include writers, musicians, film-makers, dancers and theatre people. It is our aim to provide a vehicle for artists from different disciplines to work collectively on projects of common interest. Many of the Magick River group have been working in collaboration with the Temuan tribe in Pertak for the last seven years and our interest in their music and mythology has sparked off a resurgence of the tribes’ interest in their own culture.

Most of the tribespeople who remember the old ways are now elderly; in fact two of our sources died last year.  We therefore feel it is important to act now, before it is too late,  and we invite you to participate in this important project.


 2.1 - Project Aims

 The tangible aim of the project is to document the oral tradition of the Temuan people through the production of:
· A music CD by Akar Umbi.
· The production of a 60 minute video documentary about the Temuan.
· The publication of the book, TANAH TUJUH ~ Close Encounters with the Temuan Mythos by Antares

 Once the project has been completed Magick River aims to produce an interactive CD-ROM using material from the above projects.

 2.2 - Project Objectives

· To provide historical documentation on the Temuan tribe

· To revive the Temuan’s interest in their own traditions.

· To begin a process of technology transfer through the Temuan’s involvement in the project, which will lead to confidence building and the acquisition of new skills

· To offer a channel of communication for these largely illiterate people thus giving them a voice and presence in modern society

· To offer a positive experience of working alongside non-Orang Asli people in an equal relationship

· Based on our previous experience  of working with the Orang Asli, we believe that their involvement in this project will further enhance their growing sense of empowerment.

· In the context of the current Decade for Indigenous Peoples (1995 - 2004), the project gives the Temuan an opportunity to share their culture with the global family.

 2.3 - Project Timescale and Funding:

 Because of the extensive and costly nature of this project we are approaching several funding agencies to help share the financial load and we would like to invite your organisation to participate by sponsoring, in part or in total, the production costs of any one or all of the following units of the project : CD, Book, Film / Video Documentary.

 Although work on this project is ongoing, it is also limited through lack of sufficient funding. Our production timescales are not predictable in terms of dates; however, the first draft of the book is finished and would need 2 months to finalize the text and print.  Four of the Akar Umbi songs are already at the final mix stage and the band would need two months to complete the CD. The video documentary will take 10 weeks to complete starting from the date the budget becomes available.

 Although the three facets of the project are complementary to each other, they are not dependent on each other. Therefore it would be possible to complete them all at the same time or in different stages. This means that once funding for a particular part of the project becomes available, work can start almost immediately.

 2.4 - Project Ownership

· Magick River will retain copyright of  the film.
· The copyright of the CD will be held by Akar Umbi
· The copyright of the book will remain with the author

Prominent credit will be accorded to all funding agencies, organisations and individuals in all the above media.

 2.5 - Distribution

Music CD - Universal MCA (international music distribution company) have given a commitment to sponsor the production of 500 promotional CDs and 1000 audio tapes, and to handle future distribution. This is dependent on Akar Umbi providing them with a DAT master.

Book -  Will be distributed through a book distribution company, retail bookstores and through personal contact with independent book sellers. The author’s profile from previous publications in the Malaysian literary scene augments its appeal.

Film/Video Documentary
The film will be distributed through a variety of channels :

a) Film Festivals
It will be submitted to a number of regional and international film festivals under the
social/cultural documentary category.

b) Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
It will be made available free-of-charge to a world-wide network of NGO’s and other non-profit making organisations. This will be achieved by working through an organisation like TVE (Television of the Environment) a European-Union funded organisation which seeks to promote film-making in the developing world.

c) Broadcast
Distribution to individual broadcasters, including cable, satellite and terrestrial networks. The film will be offered at a reduced rate on a limited rights acquisition basis to interested broadcasters in a number of countries, particularly those associated with the sponsors of the project.

d) Home Video/Retail
The film will be offered to home video distributors, retail outlets such as book and record stores as well as through subcription packages to academic and research institutions.

· Credits within the film will be accorded to project sponsors on all channels of distribution.
· Wherever possible, sponsorship credits on programme highlights and cross-channel promos for broadcast distribution will be negotiated for on behalf of the sponsors.
· Accompanying all distribution arrangements with broadcasters will be sponsor credits in press releases and print promotions, including programme guides and schedules.


 Orang Asli  participation is integral to this project. The project is about them.

· The film/video documentary - Guardians of the Forest documents their culture, their mythology, their traditions, and their social history. It includes interviews with several of the Temuan giving them an opportunity to tell their story.

· The CD - Akar Umbi, Song of the Dragon - presents their traditional songs in a contemporary setting. At least two of the core members of the band are Orang Asli and all vocals and bamboo percussion come from female members of the tribe.

· The  book  - TANAH TUJUH ~ Close Encounters with the Temuan Mythos - documents some of their myths and compares their mythology with that of many other ancient cultures.

 3.1 - Profile of the Orang Asli involved in the project

 This project is named Akar Umbi (taproot) because Orang Asli tradition is the root culture of what is now a multi-cultural Malaysia.

 The Temuan come from the lowest socio-economic group in the country and many of them are illiterate. They are still predominantly jungle dwellers who survive by hunting, gathering and the sale of jungle produce like durian, rotan and bamboo. As Malaysia becomes more and more developed, the economic gap between the Orang Asli and other Malaysian ethnic groups is getting wider. Although there are several government schemes to integrate the Orang Asli into the mainstream, there is very little help given to those who choose to stay in the jungle and follow a more traditional lifestyle. Poverty and the lack of basic amenities such as piped water and electricity as well as the destructive impact of logging has led to some of them reluctantly leaving the jungle to move into the outskirts of towns.

 Their lack of education means they invariably end up in factory jobs or engaged in casual manual labour such as grass-cutting or construction work. Lack of land rights and the economic exploitation of the jungle for timber is likely to increase urban drift and lead to a fragmentation of tribal culture and values.

 This project directly involves the 230 Temuan who live in Pertak village, located on the banks of the river Luit some 10 km north of Kuala Kubu Bharu  town in Ulu Selangor. The project will also involve 400 other Temuans who live in another jungle village nearby as well as some from the settlement in Kuala Kubu Bharu.

 3.2 - Short biodata of the main Temuan tribe involved in the project

 Utat - A middle-aged single man living in an isolated hut in the jungle about 4km upstream from the main Pertak village. Utat follows a traditional lifestyle: hunting and gathering, cultivating fruit trees and vegetables and harvesting jungle products such as rotan and bamboo. Utat is a major source of the Temuan mythology.

Ruzaini, Ali and their 3 children Halus, Titit and Kusak - A young family living in the Pertak village. Both Zuraini and Ali work full-time outside the village. Ali works as a grass-cutter in the nearby town of Kuala Kubu Bharu and his wife Zuraini used to work in a chicken factory in Kelompang (15 km from KKB). Their two daughters Halus and Titit attend the Orang Asli school in KKB town. Their son, Kusak is still too young for school and is looked after in the village by various members of the tribe.

Bida Chik - The village headman who has used his position to make personal financial gain. This has alienated him from the rest of the villagers.  Bida was a key player in the 1996 logging of the Temuan reserve. On the advice of an Orang Asli Affairs officer, he formed a company called 'Kawasan Orang Asli Pertak Enterprise' and then applied for a logging licence which he sold to a Malay contractor without consulting the other villagers. As headman, Bida is exposed to the government's "development" propaganda and seems to have lost interest in his cultural heritage. Perhaps he sees no real future for the Orang Asli unless they quietly submit to the government's "development" schemes.

Ramsit Angong - The headman of Gerachi village about 5 km south of Pertak. Ramsit works hard to try and improve the life of his villagers. He applied for electricity for his village under the government’s rural electrification scheme but was turned down. He is a much more democratic leader than Bidar and is still personally involved in Temuan mythology.

Sibin Aus -  The Pertak village shaman and bomoh (medicine man). Sibin is middle-aged and married to Mak Awa, a bamboo player and vocalist for the band Akar Umbi. Sibin spends most of his time in the village. His love charms are very popular with the locals. Sibin leads the villagers in the Sawai ritual when he goes into a trance and communicates with the guardian spirits. Sibin is one of the sources for the Temuan mythology and is an accomplished herbalist with extensive knowledge about jungle plants.

Mak Minah - Source of the songs and lead singer with Akar Umbi. Mak Minah has lived most of her life in the jungle and acquired her knowledge of the traditional sacred songs from her husband who, until his death, was one of the tribe’s leaders. Mak Minah began her musical collaboration with Rafique and Antares in 1993 and it has been Mak Minah’s constant willingness to share and integrate her experiences that has inspired much of this project.

Awa Anak Lahai, Nai Anak Lahai and Indah Merkol - These three ladies are the main bamboo players and backing vocalists in the band Akar Umbi.


A small group of writers, artists and film makers established a base in the jungles of Pertak with the intention of setting up a community arts project. They called themselves Magick River. Antares (aka Kit Leee), who was living in Pertak full time, began interacting with the local Temuan tribe and discovered there were still some of the elders who remembered their ancient tribal songs and mythology.

Antares and  Rafique Rashid began collaborating with ceremonial singer Mak Minah to record some of the Temuan songs. The songs are traditionally performed as vocal chants accompanied by the hypnotic beat of bamboo poles. They recount the ancient mythology of the Temuan people. The songs used to be performed annually at the Sawai - an earth healing ritual designed to appease the nature spirits that the jungle dwellers believe they depend on for their existence.

Antares and Rafique realised these songs were worth preserving and that they also had commercial appeal especially since the world music genre was gaining in popularity. They arranged the traditional song Burung Meniyun putting it into a more contemporary setting as part of a musical score for a dance performance by Chandrabhanu at the PJ Civic Centre.  Mak Minah appeared on stage for the first time.

Members of the Magick River group obtained sponsorship from the Rotary Clubs of Rawang and Seremban and organised a short holiday in Port Dickson for the Pertak tribe. This was the first time most of them had ever seen the sea.

Drawing on their extensive contacts with local musicians, Rafique and Antares developed a new way of presenting the Temuan sacred songs. The band Akar Umbi was born with Mak Minah as lead singer. They made their debut at the mammoth Shah Alam stadium as part of a fund-raising concert for Bosnian refugees. The concert was carried live by national broadcaster RTM.

Antares married into the Temuan tribe. Akar Umbi were invited to perform at Out in the Open - an arts festival organised by Instant Cafe Theatre at Carcosa Seri Negara. They have subsequently performed guest spots for Dr. Wan Zawawi’s “Dayung” concerts in  Kuala Lumpur, Bangi, Ipoh and Kuching, Sarawak.

Logging began at Bukit Kutu - one of the Temuan’s sacred sites. Magick River members alerted the press and enlisted the help of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends Of the Earth)  The logging was eventually stopped and several of the tribe began to realise:-
· the value of the media and how they could use it to communicate to a wider audience.
· that they could get support and encouragement to bring about positive change.
· that they had friends and allies in the non-Asli population.

February: Two of the major sources of Temuan mythology, Diap Anak Ketum and Nadi Anak Empok, died within a week of each other.

March:  The Temuans revived the sawai  (their sacred earth healing ritual) performing it for the first time since the Japanese occupation. They began teaching their children the traditional songs and invited their friends outside the Temuan community. They also allowed the ceremony to be filmed.

June: Antares began work on TANAH TUJUH ~ Close Encounters with the Temuan Mythos.

December: Film makers Alan D’Cruz and Mary Maguire, who have been involved with the Temuan for the last 6 years, devised the treatment for a 60-minute documentary on Temuan culture.The film uses Akar Umbi’s music as a backdrop to the entire treatment.

UPDATE: In May 2000, Guardians of the Forest was previewed at the Filmnet Café and had its US premier on October 20 at the United Nations Associations Film Festival held at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. It has been extremely well received and we have received numerous enquiries. For more information please visit http://www.magickriver.net/guardians.htm.


* The total budget for the project is RM178,250

* Total sponsorship required: RM 153,650
 (Approximately US$38,412.50 - early 1999 exchange rates)

  • Magick River’s sponsorship commitment to this project is:
  • · Magick River will absorb 60% of the Professional Fees and Pre-Production Charges for the film (RM24,600)
    · Magick River will provide all of the project co-ordination and administration.

    5.1 - MUSIC CD
    Rental of studio time to produce the master:
    TOTAL:  RM 30,000

    5.2 - BOOK
    Production and printing costs:
    TOTAL:  RM 15,000

    Production costs for a 60 minute documentary on Betacam SP format:
    TOTAL:  RM 108,650

    Script - 3,000
    Producer fee - 17,000
    Director fee - 14,000
    Research and Recce - 4,000
    SUB TOTAL: 41,000
    Magick River’s contribution: (24,600)

    Equipment Rental in RM
    13 days Betacam SP video camera package - 19,500
    Additional digital sound recording - 10,500
    Special Effects - 9,750
    SUB TOTAL: 39,750

    Additional Requirements in RM
    Tape stock - 3,000
    File footage (RTM/TV3) - 1,500
    Production expenses - 3,000
    SUB TOTAL: 7,500

    Post-Production Package in RM
    15 days off-line editing (package cost)
    8 days on-line editing (package cost)
    Graphics and titles (package cost)
    Sound studio for voice-over recording and audio mixing (package cost)
    SUB TOTAL:             45,000

     TOTAL COST:     RM 133,250
     Magick River’s Contribution :  RM   24,600
     Sponsorship required:   RM 108,650



    Film Producer and Scriptwriter:  Mary Maguire
    A British national married to a Malaysian who has been living in Malaysia since 1988. She has 16 years experience in the broadcast industry working as a news and documentary producer for CBS, BBC, ITN, ABC (Australia), Shedd Productions (US), Yorkshire Television and Radio Television Malaysia (RTM). Mary has also been involved in the production of several corporate videos since she has lived in Malaysia. Mary is a founder member of Magick River, and now lives in Kuala Kubu Bharu were she has daily contact with the Orang Asli. Mary’s long time involvement in the broadcast industry brings quality expertise in editorial and production management skills to the project.

    Film Director and Scriptwriter:  Alan D'Cruz
    A Malaysian national with 10 years experience in the industry.  Alan completed his training in the UK and has since worked on many news and documentary projects for a whole range of programmes including Yorkshire Television, Shedd Productions (US), BBC, Channel 4 (UK), ITN, SBS, ABC (Australia) and RTM as well as directing corporate videos for key Malaysian companies. Alan is a long time member of  Magick River and brings his professional expertise, contacts and networking skills to the project.

    Archivist, Author and Musician: Antares
    A Malaysian national, Antares is better known to most Malaysians as Kit Leee, musician, columnist and author of three books. He also has wide-ranging experience in the communications industry. Antares is a founder member of Magick River and now lives in the Orang Asli village with his Temuan wife and son. Over the years, Antares has encouraged the elders of the village to recount their ancient traditions and beliefs. This has acted as a catalyst and has re-stimulated the tribe’s interest in their traditional culture. His documentation of their ancient stories will be utilised in the documentary script as well as providing the bulk of the text for the book. The first draft is already completed. Antares is also a key member of the band, Akar Umbi.

    Composer, Musician and Musical Arranger: Rafique Rashid
    A Malaysian national, Rafique is a well-known professional musician and entertainer. He is also a founder member of Magick River and has been involved in a musical collaboration with the Orang Asli for the past 6 years. Rafique has been instrumental in helping the Orang Asli develop their musical ability and has provided most of the arrangements for the songs that will constitute the Akar Umbi CD. Rafique has already sponsored the professional recording of some of these songs.


    Available soon on this website: an outline of the film/video documentary, a sample of Akar Umbi’s music and a selection of images of the Temuan tribe.

    If you would like more information on this project please contact us at :

    Magick River
    44000 Kuala Kubu Baru

    Tel: (60-3) 60643643
    email: Antares@magickriver.com

    NOTE: A lot of changes have occurred since this multimedia project was proposed. In September 1999 Mak Minah died of septicemia and other complications (arising perhaps from losing her will to live after a bitter dispute with her eldest son, Ramsit, over his capitulation to the Selangor Dam consortium).  Pertak headman Bida Chik became a fierce opponent of the dam and turned out to be a stronger leader of his community than everybody expected, openly expressing his dissatisfaction with the Orang Asli Affairs Department. The village shaman Sibin Aus is no longer married to Awa Anak Lahai, while Ruzaini and Ali's second daughter, Titit, got married in October 2005 and no longer resides in Kg Pertak.

    Akar Umbi's Songs of the Dragon CD was released in August 2002, thanks to a cultural grant from the Japan Foundation and has been warmly received locally and globally. However, Universal Music did not take up the distributorship it earlier promised, and thus the circulation has been limited.

    The book,
    TANAH TUJUH ~ Close Encounters with the Temuan Mythos, will be published in late 2006 by Silverfishbooks.

    Plans to produce an interactive CD-ROM have been scrapped, as this medium is no longer in general favour, having been superseded by new technology.

    Magick River
    24 April 2006