Without Allah who will help? – Orang Asli Christians
adapted from a report by Lee Shi-ian at the Malaysian Insider
Fellowship after Mass at the Orang Asli settlement of Tangkak. Parsih priest Fr Cyril Mannayagam of St Andrew’s Church, Muar, comes twice a month to celebrate Mass
Orang Asli Christians in Johor have been using the word Allah to refer to God since the 1920s when they first became Christians, members of the indigenous tribe said. And 32 copies of hymnals seized by police this month contained hymns they have sung for at least three generations, they said.
Their headman, Bong Alang, 58, said the hymns were passed on orally from generation to generation after the community were taught to worship by French Catholic missionaries who came in the 1920s.
“We are merely following the teachings taught to us by our parents, which we will pass on to our children.
“Without ‘Allah’, who is going to help us? This is our history, how are we supposed to suddenly change God’s name?
“God gave us life, so why the fuss over the use of the word Allah to describe Him? The police were lacking common sense in seizing the hymnals,” Bong said.
About 100 Orang Asli live in the settlement at the foot of Gunung Ledang, near Tangkak, and are parishioners of St Andrew’s Church in Muar, an hour’s drive away.
Rohana Jantan, 41, who was born and raised in the settlement, wondered why the hymnals had caused such a fuss as they were not a product of the church.
“The hymnal book was produced by us, not the Catholic Church. These hymns had been passed down to us by our forefathers. As the earlier generations were illiterate, these hymns were only passed down by memory until the present generation who could read and write,” she said.
This happened in 1992, when some who had received schooling began to write down the hymns, which were later collated into the hymnal – a bundle of photocopied sheets with hand-drawn illustrations on the cover.
“Since then, the book has been modified over the years and photocopied. Hence, we felt surprised when we heard it had been seized by the authorities. We’re not afraid, we’re just wondering what did we do wrong? These hymns are a legacy left to us by our forefathers,” Rohana said.
“We are not attempting to spread the word ‘Allah’ or use it indiscriminately. We are just praising Allah in our hymns which is only used in the settlement,” said the 37-year-old mother of four. We are used to using the word ‘Allah’, it is also written as such in the Alkitab,” she said as she waited as she waited for holy mass, or misa kudus, to begin in the great hall.
The parish priest, Father Cyril Mannayagam, comes twice a month to conduct mass. “We always have full attendance,” he said.
When the mass ended, the hall was turned into a massive dining area, as the villagers laid out dishes of different vegetables for a communal meal. Meat is a luxury. There was only one pot of chicken, and the children began jostling for pieces while the adults contented themselves with rice and vegetables.
“No, we don’t have turkey. We have monitor lizard, monkey, fox, wild boar, chicken and python, whatever the forest provides,” Rohana said when asked to describe the meal. For dessert, some of the women will make jelly, and there will be fruits. The jellies are always a favourite with the children.
Mari Kita Memuji Tuhan Allah Kita – their hymnal
The photocopied hymnal of the Orang Asli which police seized from Fr Cyril on December 5. They were returned on December 18. Fr Cyril was questioned by the police on the day the hymnal were seized from the bookshop where he had left them for photocopying. He was happy that they were returned unconditionally and undamage.
Fr Cyril said he was insistent on getting the hymnals back from the police. He said he could easily have used other books for the Christmas service or even made more copies but decided to fight for the freedom to worship.
“The books are not important here. The thing is, my rights, and the rights of the parishioners were taken away from us.”
Report and photos by the Malaysian Insider
IN FULL: » Seized Orang Asli hymn books with ‘Allah’ a legacy of 3 generations | Malaysian Insider