• Indigenous peoples in Malaysia

    Indigenous peoples in Malaysia

    The peoples of the Orang Asli, the Orang Ulu, and the Anak Negeri groups together constitute the indigenous population of Malaysia. Although Malaysia has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country’s indigenous population is facing a number of challenges, especially in terms of land rights.


The peoples of the Orang Asli, Orang Ulu and Anak Negeri groups constitute the Indigenous population of Malaysia. While Malaysia adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country's Indigenous population faces a number of challenges, especially in terms of land rights. Malaysia has not ratified ILO Convention 169.

The Orang Asli, the Orang Ulu and the Anak Negeri peoples

As of 2017, the Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia were estimated to account for around 13.8% of the 31,660,700 million national population.

They are collectively known as Orang Asal. The Orang Asli are the Indigenous Peoples of Peninsular Malaysia. The 18 Orang Asli subgroups within the Negrito (Semang), Senoi and Aboriginal-Malay groups account for 0.7% of the population of Peninsular Malaysia (31,950,000).

In Sarawak, the Indigenous Peoples are collectively known as natives (Dayak and/or Orang Ulu). They include the Iban, Bidayuh, Kenyah, Kayan, Kedayan, Lunbawang, Punan, Bisayah, Kelabit, Berawan, Kejaman, Ukit, Sekapan, Melanau and Penan. They constitute around 1,932,600 or 70.5% of Sarawak’s population of 2,707,600 people.

In Sabah, the 39 different Indigenous ethnic groups are known as natives or Anak Negeri and make up some 2,233,100 or 58.6% of Sabah’s population of 3,813,200. The main groups are the Dusun, Murut, Paitan and Bajau groups.

While the Malays are also Indigenous to Malaysia, they are not categorised as Indigenous Peoples because they constitute the majority and are politically, economically and socially dominant.

Main challenges for the Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia

In Sarawak and Sabah, laws introduced by the British during their colonial rule recognising the customary land rights and customary law of the Indigenous Peoples are still in place. However, they are not properly implemented, and are even outright ignored by the government, which gives priority to large-scale resource extraction and the plantations of private companies and state agencies over the rights and interests of the Indigenous communities.

In Peninsular Malaysia, while there is a clear lack of reference to Orang Asli customary land rights in the National Land Code, Orang Asli customary tenure is recognised under common law. The principal act that governs Orang Asli administration, including occupation of the land, is the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954.

Malaysia has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and endorsed the Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples but has not ratified ILO Convention 169.

Indigenous World 2019: Malaysia

As of 2017, the indigenous peoples of Malaysia were estimated to account for around 13.8% of the national population of 31,660,700 million.1 They are collectively known as Orang Asal.

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Malaysia: New report calls for respect of indigenous peoples right to withhold consent for dam

Fact-finding mission reports on fundamental human rights violations committed by Malaysian company Sarawak Energy at the proposed Baram Dam, while blockades of villagers against the dam reach day 300.

(KUALA LUMPUR / BARAM, MALAYSIA) - A newly released fact-finding report reveals systematic human rights violations are being committed against the indigenous peoples of Sarawak by the proponents of the proposed Baram Dam in Malaysia.

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Malaysia: New project addresses violence against women

In honour of International Women’s Day, we would like to take the opportunity to highlight one of our partner projects, where indigenous women have taken the lead and confronted challenges facing their community. In 2013, IWGIA partnered with the Sabah Women Action Resource Group (SAWO) to address violence against women in the Northern Sabah region of Malaysia, and we have recently renewed the project.  

“This is the first time that such a project is being undertaken in Sabah, a state that is one of the poorest in Malaysia and where the needs and rights of rural people, particularly women, are often ignored and overlooked by political leaders and government development agencies,” said Winnie Yee, project coordinator and SAWO president.

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Danish news site focuses on indigenous peoples’ rights in Indonesia

The Danish news site on development, u-landsnyt.dk, brings an article about the ruling by Indonesia’s Constitutional Court, which recognises indigenous peoples’ customary forests. The article analyses the ruling and the potential it has to curb the country’s massive deforestation as well as the land dispossession and human rights abuses committed against indigenous peoples all over the archipelago.



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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