Celebrating Hari Moyang (Ancestors’ Day) with the Mah Meri Indigenous People

I have heard of the Mah Meri indigenous people a few years ago, but never had the opportunity to visit them. So when my travel blogger friend Kathleen Poon of Kat Pergi Mana asked me to join her on an outing to visit the Mah Meri on the day they celebrate Hari Moyang (Ancestors’ Day), I said yes.

The indigenous peoples, known locally as Orang Asli or Orang Asal, are divided into three main groups in Malaysia, according to their language, lifestyle, dwellings, facial features and skin colour. These three main groups, namely the Negrito, Senoi and Proto Malay, are further divided into 18 tribes, each group consisting of six tribes (as shown in the following figure).

Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia

The indigenous peoples of Malaysia are well-known for their handicrafts, and among them, the Mah Meri and Jah Hut are famous for their figure and mask wood carvings.

About the Mah Meri

‘Mah Meri’ means ‘forest people’ or ‘people who live in the forest’. ‘Mah’ refers to ‘people’, while ‘Meri’ refers to ‘forest’. Similar to most of the other tribes, the Mah Meri originally lived in the forest.

According to their elders, the Mah Meri originated from Johor Lama, also known as Kota Linggi. However, researchers are of the opinion that the Mah Meri are not originally from Malaysia. They belong to the Senoi, who are believed to come from Cambodia and Vietnam. Genetic research has so far classified the Mah Meri community as descendants of the Mongoloid people.

In terms of religion, the Mah Meri are animists. The Mah Meri depend on the forest and the sea for their livelihood, and their spiritual life closely revolves around them. This is expressed in their figurines, which are intimately connected to their ancestors and the natural environment. The Mah Meri believe that there are two forms, the good and the bad. Therefore, various ceremonies are conducted as a sign of respect and to appease the spirits or unseen beings, believed to be responsible for structuring as well as meting out punishment on their lives.

Two of the most important ceremonies of the Mah Meri are the Hari Moyang (Ancestors’ Day) and Puja Pantai (Beach Ceremony). We are very fortunate that the Mah Meri has allowed visitors to see and participate in these two ceremonies.

Hari Moyang

Directly translated as Ancestors’ Day, Hari Moyang is one of the most important and biggest festivals celebrated by the Mah Meri community living in Carey Island, Klang. The Mah Meri explained that this festival is celebrated 30 days after Chinese New Year, because they also observe the lunar calendar.

Hari Moyang is celebrated in three locations, which are the house of Moyang Gadeng (who looks after the central part of the village), Moyang Amai (who looks after the areas on the fringes of the village), and Moyang Keteng (who looks after the areas at the northernmost parameters of the village). For the Mah Meri who live near the coast, this ceremony will be conducted on the beach and called Puja Pantai.

Moyang in the context of the Mah Meri refer to their ancestors and also their natural environment. The ancestors who are supposed to be present at Hari Moyang are Moyang Getah, Moyang Melur, Moyang Tok Naning, Moyang Bojos, and Moyang Tok Pekong Cina.

These ancestors are believed to protect the community’s happiness and are also capable of punishment. Thus, the Mah Meri believe in revering and appeasing them. The Mah Meri’s famous statuettes, carved in the form of figurines and masks, are closely connected to their ancestors and environment, and the statuettes’ names are derived from the more famous ancestors.

Here are photos from the Hari Moyang Festival in the form of a slide show:

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I followed the Mah Meri’s customs and received blessings at the Rumah Moyang, and left a Bunga Moyang on the giant cone in front of the building to pay my respects to the ancestors.

Mask Carvings

The Mah Meri’s mask carvings are inspired by their spiritual beliefs and the natural environment, and display their artistic and abstract imagination. The carvings are based mainly on myths and legends.

Here are some of the interesting and enigmatic large masks hanging outside the walls of the Mah Meri Museum in the Mah Meri Cultural Village, Carey Island:


The masks are used in ritual dancing when worshiping their ancestors’ spirits. The masks are worn to represent the ancestors, who are believed to have extraordinary powers, and also believed to have been outstanding public figures during their  lifetimes. The following are photos of some of the prominent masks inside the museum.

Moyang Ketam Impai





Moyang Jabang


Moyang Tumpang



Moyang Tanjung
Moyang Bojos


Here are some of my favourite figurines from the Mah Meri Museum.

The story of Moyang Puting Beliong revolves around a family with seven children. The youngest daughter became the spirit of a cyclone (puting beliong).

Moyang Puting Beliong

The story of Moyang Buaya was about a grieving man who vowed to become a crocodile when his brother disappeared in the river.

Moyang Buaya

The origin of Moyang Pelandok was quite sinister and rooted in meting out punishment. A man was cursed into become Moyang Pelandok because he was always lying.

Moyang Pelandok

The legend of Moyang Sempuar revolved around a story of doom and gloom – a man drowned in the sea because he was taken by Moyang Sempuar.

Moyang Sempuar

The legend of Moyang Galak is somewhat similar to the story line of some of today’s horror movies. It was about the story of a child disturbed by Moyang Galak.

Moyang Galak

Meanwhile, on a positive note, Moyang Sauh is the guardian of fishermen who ensures that their anchor will never get stuck.

Moyang Sauh
Moyang Udang

I have collated photos of the more interesting and captivating carvings from the Mah Meri Museum and Mah Meri Cultural Village in the form of a slide show:

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Special 3D Origami

I was really touched that the Mah Meri let us view and participate in their festival, and I truly enjoyed the cultural experience. I found their masks, attire and intricate 3D origami particularly interesting.

Their origami is environmentally friendly and 100% biodegrable because they are made from Nipah palm (Nypa fruticans) leaves.

After the Hari Moyang ceremony, we were given the opportunity to learn how to make some of the basic origami.

Here are some of the 3D origami that I liked the most, which reminded me of hanging mobiles:

All in all, I had a lovely time with the Mah Meri community at their Hari Moyang Festival. Before we left, the villagers provided us with a hearty lunch as well, after which our group went back to Kuala Lumpur in the LokaLocal van.

I would love to come back again the following year, and will be looking forward to experiencing next year’s Puja Pantai.

#atozchallenge: Quirky Hin Bus Depot

Across the road from the shiny modern Hotel NEO+ Penang, lies the unassuming and run-down Hin Bus Depot. Definitely looking like it has seen better days, one would think that it was abandoned and left to fall apart. However, on closer inspection, there was actually a cafe visible in there. Out of curiosity, we had to go in to check it out, didn’t we?

Hin Bus Depot (black section on the right is a modern cafe)

Any first-time visitors are in for a surprise. Once an abandoned bus depot, it has been converted into an art space, and there is a pop-up market happening every Sunday from 11am till 5pm as well. Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic held his first solo art exhibition here in 2014, and his larger than life murals have turned the abandoned bus depot into another world altogether.

Ernest Zacharevic – Art is Rubbish/Rubbish is Art (2014)

Ernest combines fine art techniques with a passion for creating art in the outdoors, and is interested in the interaction of murals and the urban landscape. His artwork results from a spontaneous response to the environment, the community and culture.

Exposed walls become large canvases for artistic expression
Walls covered in murals
Mural by Ernest (2014)
Mural by Ernest (2014)

The Hin Bus Depot is continually evolving, and more artists will be leaving their mark there soon, promising more exhibitions in the months to come.

Zodiac (2015) by Thomas Powell of England. Thomas is a fine art graduate from Loughborough University.
Urban Exchange (2015) by Sabek. Sabek is a street artist based in Madrid, Spain. 
Urban Exchange (2015) by Hiroyasu Tsuri (aka TWOONE) from Japan. In 2004, Hiroyasu started to spread his recognisable animal character painting all over Melbourne’s walls. His paintings often depict animal-headed human characters.
Painting without a name done on a door
Decorated pillar
Art indoors
Urban Exchange newsletter distributed at Hin Bus Depot
Tavern in the Park @ Hin Bus Depot
Venue name: Hin Bus Depot Art Centre
Address: 31A Jalan Gurdwara
Opening hours: Daily, 12noon-8pm

Pottery: Handbuilding, Part 1

I’ve wanted to try out pottery for a long time, perhaps from curiosity, if not anything else. In addition, I like making practical and useful things, and with pottery, I could make cups, mugs, plates, bowls, vases, etc. That’s a lot of stuff.

I asked an artist and potter friend to recommend a place for me to learn pottery, and she gave me the contact, but I did not call immediately. After a while, other things came into the picture and the idea was relegated to the back-burner.

Then this year, another friend took up pottery, and it turned out that she went to the same place recommended earlier by my artist friend. So, I finally signed up for pottery classes! The classes were held at Clay Expressions in Subang.

We started off with handbuilding techniques. In my first class, I attempted to make a small vase. By the second class, I started to get the hang of it. I had a fun time making a large jug, consisting of a big, fat puffer fish sitting on swirly waves. LOL. I thought it was a cute fellow. 🙂

I made this large puffer fish jug by hand. Completed in a day on 2 August 2014.
I made this large puffer fish jug using the handbuilding technique on 2 August 2014.


It had to be air-dried first. After it was completely dry, it was fired once, and glazed after that. It was fired a second time to set the glaze. I chose a blue glaze for the water and waves, and a greenish brown for the fish. After the firing, I discovered the fish was more brown than green. Oh, well…


Nice blue and brown glaze
Side view of finished puffer fish jug. Nice blue and brown glaze.


Front of the puffer fish jug
Front view of the puffer fish jug.


In my third class, I made a lotus vase, which was basically a wide-mouthed handbuilt vase with a life-sized 3D lotus inside. Look inside and… surprise! 🙂


With a 3D lotus inside.
Top view of lotus vase. It was completed in a day on 23 August 2014.


View from another angle
Top view – another angle showing the side of the heavy lotus flower. Cindy, the instructor, suggested that I cut 1/3 of the flower off and stick it onto the inside of the vase. Turned out very well.


Hand-built lotus vase, finished in a day, on 23 August 2014.
Side view of the hand-built lotus vase.


The lotus vase has not been glazed yet. I will post photos of it after it has been glazed. 🙂

In my fourth class, I made a salad bowl with a flower-inspired rim. The rim consisted of double layers of petal shapes. I will post photos of it after glazing too. 🙂

~ Hui Min ~