Introduction to Centre for Malaysian Indigenous Studies (CMIS) Biodiversity Indigenous Garden

BIG CMIS stands for Biodiversity Indigenous Garden at the Center for Malaysian Indigenous Studies. The garden acts as a model to test the concept of creating microhabitats to promote biodiversity in urban spaces, and to serve as a communication and educational platform for local indigenous groups to engage with the campus community of University of Malaya (UM) and the general public.


To enhance local biodiversity by creating microhabitats for urban wildlife

To explore connections between indigenous culture and biodiversity

To demonstrate sustainable and/or environmental-friendly practices e.g. composting, mulching, rain gardens, drainage system etc. 


The garden is a 30m x 40m compound. It used to be dominated by patches of senduduk (Melastoma malabathricum) plants. The front part of the garden is exposed to sunlight, while most of the remaining parts are shaded by roadside trees. The middle part of the garden is swampy and waterlogged especially when it rains.

The existing flowering vegetation attracted a number of pollinators to the garden. Insects e.g. ants, beetles, bees and butterflies are frequent visitors of the garden. If the weather is humid enough, we can see snails, frogs or toads come out for food. Soil-dwelling animals e.g. earthworms, centipedes and termites are usually less visible unless we purposely look for them. Some common birds such as Javan myna and Yellow-vented bulbul occasionally drop by to hunt for these animals as food. 

A major challenge of this project is to balance between increasing biodiversity by enhancing the existing habitat while maintaining a space that is visually attractive and acceptable to the stakeholders. We did this by pushing for a Microhabitat concept of creating small habitats for wildlife within cultivated and culturally important plants.There are two main parts in BIG CMIS which are the Orang Asal-themed garden and the Reforestation Contemplative garden. The OA-themed garden portrays a typical urban garden layout with plenty of vegetables and herbs used by the indigenous communities. Visually, we intend the reforestation contemplative garden to have a wilder, forest-like design as compared to the OA-themed garden. This part of the garden highlights how  issues of deforestation affects Orang Asal communities, and how reforestation and relooking our relationship with nature and wildness can help us to regenerate land.