A 23-year old Semai graphic designer has written and illustrated a children’s book that shares a folk tale he first heard as a child. He hopes it will help preserve the traditions of his people. The book, written by Saluji Yeok So Alu in Malay and translated into Mandarin, was officially launched at the Selangor International Indigenous Arts Festival 2018 on August 4. News stories on August 3 and August 5 described the author and his reasons for producing the book.

The cover of Nenek Dengan Yeok Luat by Saluji Yeok So Alu
The cover of Nenek Dengan Yeok Luat by Saluji Yeok So Alu

The book by Bah Saluji, titled Nenek Dengan Yeok Luat, focuses on Semai traditions and the ways the lives of the people are influenced by nature. The stories are about the life of Yeok Luat, a nine-year old Semai boy, his dog Cooq Leek, and his grandmother as they collect honey, eat lizards, and have other such adventures in the Malaysian forests. They are stories he first heard his father and his uncle tell in Semai which he then wrote down as a child in Malay. He was determined to preserve the oral traditions in written form.

He also started painting the illustrations for the stories with watercolors. His mother kept them and subsequently showed them to a care worker who was visiting the village. She translated the stories into Mandarin and introduced the talented young man to his publisher, Bridge Communication. Saluji hopes to follow up his first success with additional books featuring Semai folk themes.

Kampung Bersih, an Orang Asli village along the Slim River
Kampung Bersih, an Orang Asli village along the Slim River (Photo by Oxbold Sports on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Saluji told one of the journalists that he began drawing with colored pencils at age eight. He had a friend in their village, located on the Slim River in Perak, who also liked to draw and he remembers sitting and quietly drawing with the individual. They would share comics and books in school and then go home to draw the pictures. When he grew older, he started painting with watercolors and oil paints.

As he became obsessed with developing his work into a book, some of his friends in the kampung (village) were less than encouraging. They would stop by his house, see him working on the book, and make disparaging comments about the likelihood of it being published. But he persevered, determined to use his talents to preserve the Semai culture.

It took Saluji over a year to complete the book and he admits he is busily planning a sequel. “There are many more stories about adventures in the forest,” he says. He also has a scholarship at the IACT College Training Academy for Professionals where he is studying graphic design.