The Mah Meri Of Carey Island

This way to the Mah Meri Cultural Village. The Mah Meri welcome board has the Mah Meri saying which roughly means 'If People Are Willing to Come, then we are willing to be good hosts'.
This way to the Mah Meri Cultural Village. The Mah Meri welcome board has the Mah Meri saying ‘Hak Lebak Jug Rumput, Hemak Tibak He Sambut’, which is roughly translated as ‘If People Are Willing to Come, then we are willing to be good hosts’. (@ all rights reserved)

I have heard of the Mah Meri tribe of indigenous people ever since I started work in Shah Alam back in the 1980s.

Back then, at almost every cultural function, be it at state-level or federal-level, the Mah Meri of Carey Island were always present to grace the event with their cultural dances.

Welcome to the Mah Meri Cultural Village. It was officially opened in (@ all rights reserved)
Welcome to the Mah Meri Cultural Village. It was officially opened in 2011 and is still open for business today. However, the Village needs sprucing up, increased publicity and professional management. (@ all rights reserved)

I have never set foot on Carey Island. Looking back, a combination of ‘poor’ excuses was the main reason why I never made it to Carey Island til date.

But the time has come for me to rectify that sorry state of affairs.

The grounds of the Mah Meri Cultural Village. The Village is well looked after. (@ all rights reserved)

The grounds of the Mah Meri Cultural Village. (@ all rights reserved)Despite it being a long Christmas weekend, I had decided not to travel back to my home town of Johor Bahru, as I would have normally done otherwise.

The Panga is made from wood and long leaves and is used as an altar. It is used by members of the Mah Meri to place offerings for the departed. (@ all rights reserved)
The Panga is made from wood and long leaves and is used as an altar. It is used by members of the Mah Meri to place offerings for the departed. (@ all rights reserved)

The thought of all that traffic, with its more than its fair share of F1 wannabees, Malaysians or otherwise, weaving in and out of traffic, just did not appeal to me.

So instead, my wife and son number 2 made the journey up north, to keep me company for the duration of the holiday break.

As for me, I was determined to make that long-awaited trip to Carey Island and try to get to know the Mah Meri tribe etc etc, as if I can do just that with one visit.

It was a journey into the unknown really. At least for me that is.

The 'Balai' or the spirit house, is used by the 'Bomoh' whenever a spirit healing ritual is done. (@ all rights reserved)
The ‘Balai’ or the spirit house, is used by the ‘Bomoh’ whenever a spirit healing ritual is done. (@ all rights reserved)

And with my wife as navigator and Son No.2 as 3rd Officer, we got into the car and before we know it, we were already on the South Klang Valley Expressway (or SKVE) heading towards Carey Island.

The use of the Balai in the healing of the 'sick' is described in this narrative. (@ all rights reserved)
The use of the Balai in the healing of the ‘sick’ is described in this narrative. (@ all rights reserved)

The first reality check for me was that it did not take long to get to Carey Island.

Second, Carey Island is no more an island. I was half expecting to get on a ferry to cross over from the mainland to Carey Island.

But that was not the case.

An sample of the Mah Meri's well known prowess in wood carvings. The Mah Meri's wood carvings tend to be of spirits from the spirit world. (@ all rights reserved)
A sample of the Mah Meri’s well-known prowess in wood carvings. The Mah Meri’s wood carvings tend to be of spirits from the spirit world. (@ all rights reserved)

I did mention that Carey Island is now no more an island, didn’t I?

Well, apparently, Carey Island was an island in the old days and yes, you have to cross a body of water (not that large apparently) to get from the mainland to Carey Island.

A visit to the Mah Meri Cultural Village is an education in itself. The narrative here narrates the origins of the Orang Asli (or the indigenous people) and the different groups. (@ all rights reserved)
A visit to the Mah Meri Cultural Village is an education in itself. The narrative here, in Bahasa Malaysia,  narrates the origins of the Orang Asli (or the indigenous people) and the different groups. (@ all rights reserved)
In English (@ all rights reserved)
In English (@ all rights reserved)

But with progress came a bridge.

That as well as the presence of several large oil palm plantations., making the transportation of either oil palm fruits or processed palm oil, so much the easier.

The bridge must have been so nondescript that I barely noticed it, and assumed that it was just another bridge.

Silly me.

Maybe the authorities should put up a signboard to say ‘You are now entering Carey Island’ or something like that, to tell us Carey Island first-timers that we have finally reached Carey Island.

Admittedly, I have not done any research before making the trip to Carey Island and therefore, I would not know what to expect nor where to go on Carey Island or what is there of interest at Carey Island EXCEPT for the existence of a Mah Meri Cultural Village.

We found the Mah Meri Cultural Village with no problems at all, without the aid of Waze or Google Maps. Ample signboards will direct you there, safe and sound.

A visit to the cultural village, as I found out to my delight, is that they do not only display cultural artifacts but also describe the origins and beliefs of the Mah Meri.

The story on the origins of the Mah Meri. (@ all rights reserved)
The story on the origins of the Mah Meri. (@ all rights reserved)

Historically, it is said that the Mah Meri were originally from Kota Linggi in Johor Lama.

When the then Sultan Mahmud or better known as Sultan Mahmud Mangkat di Julang, was assassinated whilst being palanquined to the local mosque for Friday prayers, the exodus of the Mah Meri from Johor Lama began, to avoid getting dragged into the ensuing power struggles following the Sultan’s assassination.

Exhibits on display at the Mah Meri Cultural Village's gallery. (@ all rights reserved)
Exhibits on display at the Mah Meri Cultural Village’s gallery. (@ all rights reserved)

Their journey ended when the Mah Meri finally settled in the Klang / Carey Island area, where they can be found til today.

Reading through the materials on show, the Mah Meri happens to be a sub tribe of the Senoi indigenous people.

The Senoi happens to be just one of the three main tribes with the other two being the Negrito and the Melayu Proto.

All in all, there are in total three (3) main tribes, made up of eighteen (18) sub tribes.

A wood carving of a spirit from the Mah Maeri's realm of spirits. (@ all rights reserved)
A wood carving of a spirit from the Mah Meri’s realm of spirits. (@ all rights reserved)

Mah Meri literally means ‘people of the jungle’ : Mah meaning ‘people’ and Meri meaning ‘jungle’.

However, Mah Meri can also be said to be ‘people of the sea’ as they mainly tend to reside near the shores of the sea or by the edges of the rivers.

It may be a bit confusing but there it is.

The Mah Meri are said to be mainly animists. Living in the jungle or by the riverbanks or by the waterfronts, it is not a surprise that they have strong belief and links to the spirit world.

Some of the wood carvings of the Mah Meri, which is evidence of the Mah Meri's woodcraftmanship.
Some of the wood carvings of the Mah Meri, which is evidence of the Mah Meri’s woodcraftmanship.

For any community that lay claims to strong links with the spirit world, the shaman or ‘bomoh’ is a key member of that local community.

Especially whenever there are illnesses, unexplained or otherwise. And the Mah Meri is just that.

The Mah Meri are also very good wood carvers and many of their wood carvings have found a place in display cabinets around the world, never mind the country.

However, it is to be noted that, as with any communities who professes strong linkages to the spirit world, many of these wood carvings tend to portray different members of the spirit world, with some of these carvings can be found to be on display on the grounds of the cultural village.

More samples of the different wood carvings of the Mah Meri. These wood carvings are, most often than not, of spirits of the jungle and of the spirit world, according to the Mah Mari. (@ all rights reserved)
More samples of the different wood carvings of the Mah Meri. These wood carvings are, most often than not, of spirits of the jungle and of the spirit world, according to the Mah Meri. (@ all rights reserved)

A word of warning though. For those who are easily impressionable, beware, for these carvings can be quite descriptive.

Apparently, there is a lot more to discover at Carey Island. But we leave that for our next trip to the island, which is no more an island but is still named as an island.

Go figure.

 

Date : 12 February 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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