Cameron Highlands notes (an exploration of Nature conservation theology)


Having spent a couple of days in the cool and green Cameron highlands in Malaysia, which happens to bear some ominous signs of increasing development and air pollution from the traffic and from the surrounding regions (specifically the temporary haze from the forest peat fires in Sumatra), and especially after taking part in a tour of a tea plantation and mossy forest that is soul expanding, thought provoking and spirit connecting, I felt a need to type a blog and try to make sense and articulate some of my thoughts while taking a long, sleepy bus ride back to Singapore on the third day.

No (as I would like to clarify to myself), this is not a diary or journal for the sake of romantising Nature or academic meandering (as much as there is sometimes an inclination for me to do so). This blog is neither for development nor against development in an absolute sense. It also isn’t really about modern civilization versus ancient civilization. If anything, it is about bridging the gap between these two (if that were possible at all). Ultimately, it is an attempt to put together seemingly raw unfiltered thoughts, like raw apple cider vinegar, hoping to find a coherent message or two from the mishmash of ideas.

The natives or the original inhabitants of Malaysia who have sought to modernize Cameron highlands, or Malaysia in general, appear to have lost sight of the natural beauty and heritage of their lands. Why? Because in their quest to develop the economy and build infrastructure, they are trying to generate more income at the expense of the environment, the wildlife and the remnants of the indigenous people (eg Orang Asli) who retain their ancient self-sustainable lifestyle and culture.

It takes the outsiders such as the westerners to bring the message of nature conservation to the Malays, to remind them to save their own land and culture. The strange thing is that these westerners do not speak their native language; rather the Malays were taught to speak the English language.

Through colonisation, the Malays became westernized and sought to be modernized and ended up destroying their own environment and culture. Now, westerners – many of whom used to colonise Southeast Asia – are telling the Malays (or more specifically, the government and large corporations) to conserve their own heritage of nature and culture.

Can anything be more paradoxical than that?
One question may arise at this point: why is it considered strange that the westerners do not speak the language of the local Malays? Wouldn’t that be expected of foreign colonialists?

Yes, but I believe there is a significance to this self-evident fact. For example, isn’t there a passage in the bible that says “you shall be ruled over by people whose language is foreign to you”? Doesn’t it sound like the experience of the indigenous people in Malaysia when they were colonised by westerners for a period of time?

Similarly, isn’t there a passage that says “because you have rejected the gospel, it shall be preached to the Gentiles and and those who did not seek me shall find me”? Wasn’t it the case whereby the inhabitants of Malaysia refused to listen to their own native prophets and continued to destroy the environment in the name of development, and the good news of nature conservation is preached to the foreigners, who in turn shall bring back the gospel to the inhabitants of Malaysia, not in their native tongue but in the foreign English language? By rejecting their own and risking doom and destruction to their land, the message of salvation comes from outside their land.

Once again, how paradoxical can it be?

Now, who is the messiah? Who are the prophets? What is the gospel in this context?

I venture to say in this context that the messiah is our true self that defies time and space, and any form of outward identification, such as nationality, gender, race, language or religion. The prophets are the voices of the ancient spirit that reminds people of who they really are and warns the people who are oppressing the less privileged and destroying the environment. The gospel is the good news of our true identity and the call for us to reconnect to Nature, thereby reconnecting to our own soul and humanity.

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