I have heard of the Mah Meri tribe of indigenous people ever since I starting out work in Shah Alam back in the 1980s.
Back then, at almost every cultural function, the Mah Meri of Carey Island were always present to grace the event with their cultural dance.
As for me, a combination of excuses was the main reason why I never made it to Carey Island til date.
I won’t deny that. But the time has come for me to rectify that sorry state of affairs, and make amends.
For the better part of the past year and a half, I have been staying at my mum’s place in Putrajaya, working out a contract somewhere in the northern part of the Klang Valley.
I guess the project must have gone well enough for me to have my contract extended til thus far.
And despite it being a long Christmas weekend, I had decided not to travel back to my home town Johor Bahru as I would normally have done whenever there is a long holiday weekend.
The thought of all that traffic, with its more than its fair share of F1 wannabees weaving in and out of traffic, just did not appeal to me. So instead, my wife and number 2 son made the journey up north.
Somehow, I always envision the traffic going the ‘other way’ to be much lighter during these kind of holidays. And so it was proven to be.
Taking advantage of the long Christmas weekend, 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.
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 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.
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.
But with progress came a bridge. Progress as well as several large oil palm plantations.
The bridge must have been so nondescript that I barely noticed it and assumed it to be just another bridge.
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 a 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.
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 in the ensuing power struggles.
Their journey ended when the Mah Meri finally settled in the Klang / Carey Island area, where they can be found til today.
The Mah Meri is a sub tribe of the Senoi indigenous people, one of the three main tribes of indigenous people with the other two being the Negrito and the Melayu Proto tribes. There are in total eighteen (18) sub tribes.
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 riverbanks or waterfronts, it is no wonder they have strong belief and links to the spirit world.
For any community that has strong claims to links to the spirit world, the shaman or ‘bomoh’ is a key member of that local community.
Especially whenever there are illnesses, unexplained or otherwise, deaths and other important dates in the local communities’ calendar.
And the Mah Meri is just that.
The Mah Meri are also very good wood carvers and it therefore is not surprising that many of their wood carvings make it to display cabinets around the world.
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 the different members of the spirit world.
Some of these carvings can be viewed at the gallery on the grounds of the cultural village.
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 named as an island.
Date : 12 February 2017