Blogging – for whose benefit?

Well, here I am – talking to myself again. Not a soul has viewed my blog for over two days. So my views on international politics have gone unread – which may be just as well. Not really my forte, perhaps. Still, I suppose one of the benefits of blogging is that one gets things off one’s chest. If no-one else reads them, what the hell?

When I re-visited Malaysia in 2004 – forty years after I lived and worked there – I spent a couple of days camped on the shores of a huge lake in the north of the country; Tasek Temenggong was its name. As well as hiking into the rain-forest, hoping to see wild elephant, and clambering up a hillside to see the world’s biggest flower, the Rafflesia, we visited the village of a group of orang asli – the aboriginal people who lived in the jungles there long before even the Malays arrived, and who still follow their traditional way of life to a large extent, hunting with poisoned darts and blowpipes and meeting most of their needs from the forest. Their village was on the lake shore, and they got about on simple rafts made from a few lengths of bamboo lashed together. They seemed thoroughly adapted to lakeside life.

Yet when I left the country in 1963, no such lake existed. It is actually a huge reservoir, created a few years ago by damming the river which drained these hills. Jutting from the water in many places are the stark white skeletons of drowned jungle trees. A generation ago, the orang asli had never seen a lake; yet such is human adaptability that they now seemed completely attuned to it.

They were, moreover, well-used to being visited by tourists such as ourselves – and no doubt the tour operators made it worth their while. But that, of course, raises a difficult question: should such people be encouraged to preserve their ancient way of life – only to be gawked at as curiosities by ‘civilised’ travellers? Or should they be provided with all the benefits of modern life and technology and absorbed into the mainstream of society – which would mean so much of their own unique culture being lost for ever? I don’t pretend to know the answer; but I suspect that ‘progress’ will overtake them eventually (if, of course, the whole world hasn’t gone down the swanee in the meantime . . .).

In my next post I will put up a few pictures I took during my visit. Meanwhile, if nobody else sees this, I might contribute a comment or two, to keep myself company.

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