“Only descendants of the Orang Laut in Singapore remain today,” said anthropologist Vivienne Wee, who has conducted extensive field research on indigenous communities in Singapore and the Riau Islands. “There is no more tribal context. The younger generations only have the memories of the older generations.
This is true for Asnida, who remembers seeing her late grandmother crushing spices with a batu giling when she was only four years old. Today the same batu giling can be found in his mother’s house as a treasured family heirloom. She has memories of eating boiled belangkas (horseshoe crab) eggs – creamy with a texture and taste similar to salted egg yolk – and siput ranga, blanched with hot water poured into the shell, when visiting Pulau Sudong.
She also remembers learning about Orang Laut dishes which are perceived to have beneficial effects on health. Asnida’s aunt, for example, made nourishing sea cucumber rice porridge to eat after childbirth; while Firdaus’ great-grandmother, a midwife, made a raw sea cucumber salad with buah cermai (Malaysian gooseberry), asam (tamarind), dried pepper, belacan and fried coconut.
“Orang Laut food is not just about survival, but one of the tangible ways of expressing our identity,” Asnida said. “Our dishes reflect the knowledge and experience of our people. For example, the use of asam in asam pedas is no coincidence. Asam has antibacterial properties and its bittersweet taste complements the flavor of fish, the main food source of Orang Laut. protein. “
For Mohamed Shahrom Bin Mohd Taha, Orang Laut’s way of life also indicates how we can live more sustainably. “Food is a gift from the sea. Respect the sea and don’t over-fish,” said the history teacher, whose paternal grandparents were Orang Laut, of the Orang Biduanda Kallang and Bintan Penaung tribes. “Today we are very disconnected from our food chain. I do not fish but I take my children on an intertidal ride, and our vacation is spent by the sea.”