Play anywhere, anytime!
Having to live in the suburb most of my life, I only read about indigenous communities from online articles, books and newspaper columns. The only time I started to learn about and from them was during my time volunteering at Royal Belum. During our very first visit to the Kelewang Village in Royal Belum, Perak, community members from the Jahai tribe welcomed us really well. The head of the village allowed us to roam around the village guided by one of the park rangers, Pak Akob. As we were walking, we stumbled upon a group of children. Some smiled at us while some looked at us curiously , probably wondering what we were there for.
We said "Hi" to them and started to approach by coming to them closer, but, they continued to keep a great distance from us. It was totally understandable since we were complete strangers who don't speak their language and happened to roam around the village. I pulled out RIMBA deck from my bag and started to arrange 20 animals cards in a grid on the ground. And this particular moment was when the magic happened. The children started to form a crowd near the grid, even a few adults and teenagers decided to join.
"Kaweb", a girl told me while pointing to the Sun Bear card. Our eyes meet but of course only one of us knew what "kaweb" means.
I looked at Pak Akob. He probably knew my intention to ask the meaning of the word.
"Kaweb tu beruang dalam Bahasa Jahai (Kaweb means 'Bear' in Jahai language)", he told me even before I asked.
"Oohhh", we gave our biggest nod. Who would have thought that the word 'Bear' would be a conservation starter for the suburbanites and the indigenous people.
During the 2-month duration of our community project with the children in the village, we usually would start our activities with playing RIMBA. Since the animals from the card game are all local, the children and us, the volunteers are quite familiar with them. These animals are the connecting point where we and the children from this village can relate ourselves to. In the extension of the 'kaweb' as the conversation starter, RIMBA has brought us and the children together into much deeper conversations and connections. We had the chance to listen to their own experience dealing with human-wildlife conflicts as we were playing RIMBA and came across the PYGMY ELEPHANT card. Elephants intruding their village and eating their crops is a major conflict in this area. Listening to this experience first-handedly is such a humbling experience for us volunteers.
They are times that the children taught us the names of the animals in their language and we'd tell them the names in Malay language. This truly felt like a cultural-exchange experience since both communities (us and the children) had the chance to connect by having these simple language lessons with each other.
This whole experience has taught me the importance of building bridges between ourselves and people from other communities. And in the case of ours, RIMBA Card Game was the tool in making this possible. Building 'bridges' between communities are vital in connecting people, help us to better understand each other's challenges, allow us to find ways to help each other and also to show that we do care about each other.
May we all find the strength and wisdom in building these 'bridges' to help developing a better Malaysia.
*Writer's note: Writer was one of the participants for the Roots and Shoots Malaysia Award 2019. Writer and another 5 volunteers did their attachment with Perak State Park Corporation at Royal Belum. They initiated and conducted a waste management program with the Jahai community from Kelewang Village. Above is writer's experience in playing RIMBA with the children in the village.