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.

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Moyang Ketam Impai

 

 

 

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Moyang Jabang

 

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Moyang Tumpang

 

 

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Moyang Tanjung
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Moyang Bojos

Figurines

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Moyang Galak

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

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Moyang Sauh
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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.

Bali Day 2: Taman Ayun Temple

After visiting Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple in the morning, where we also witnessed a ceremonial procession, we savoured a nasi padang lunch in a small little shop in a nearby market. Despite the light rain, I browsed among the colourful stalls and bought cinnamon powder for my culinary and baking pursuits.

Thereafter, we headed to Taman Ayun Temple, which was a landmark located 17km northwest of Denpasar.

Taman Ayun Temple
The main temple entrance, a large candi bentar

Built circa 1634 by the then ruler of the Mengwi kingdom, the temple is situated in the village of Mengwi, Badung regency. Taman Ayun Temple was restored in 1937.

Considered the ‘mother temple’ of Mengwi, this temple complex is famous for its wonderful traditional architectural features, including expansive green gardens with lotus and fish ponds. The name ‘Taman Ayun’ means ‘beautiful garden’. It is considered to be one of the most attractive temples of Bali.

Besides being well-known for its beautifully landscaped gardens, the hallmark of the Taman Ayun Temple is the series of Pelinggih Meru with towering tiers. The pagoda-like Pelinggih Meru shrine is a distinctive feature of Balinese temples.

Taman Ayun Temple
The towering shrines of Taman Ayun Temple

Balinese temple architecture is significantly different from Indian Hindu temple architecture. Within each Balinese temple, there are some common distinctive features, which are the bale, meru, kulkul and shrines. The bale are pavilions in the courtyards, each with its own specific function. The meru is a multi-tiered structure, and it is usually dedicated to a god or goddess. The number of tiers must always be odd, and the highest number must not exceed 11, which symbolises the highest respect. The kulkul is a hollow log which functions is similar to that of a church bell. It is used to call the community to come to the temple. Lastly, each temple will have a number of shrines. Each shrine will be dedicated to a god or goddess. Women will present the offerings to them.

The Taman Ayun Temple served as a main site of worship among the Mengwi people so they did not have to travel far to the main large temples, the likes of the Besakih ‘mother temple’ in Karangasem, Batukaru Temple in Tabanan, or Batur Temple in Kintamani.


Taman Ayun Temple is a pura tirta, or a water temple. Besides their religious function, the water temples also serve a water management function as a part of the irrigation system. Pura Ulun Danu Beratan, which I had visited in the morning, also belonged to this category.

Taman Ayun Temple
The towering tiers of Taman Ayun Temple
Taman Ayun Temple
Within the utama mandala (jero), which is the holiest and the most sacred zone within the pura

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Taman Ayun Temple
Skilled craftsmen constructing galungan or penjor kuningan by hand.
Taman Ayun Temple
The penjor, which are bamboo poles with offerings suspended at the end, are the most obvious sign of the Galungan festival. These penjor are installed along roads, and at the entrances to temples.
Taman Ayun Temple
A paduraksa or kori agung gate marks the entrance into the main sanctum of the temple

Other articles I wrote on Bali:
Bali Day 1: Uluwatu
Bali Day 1: Tari Kecak and Fire Dance
Bali Day 2: Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple
Bali Day 2: Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple

Bali Day 2: Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple

I was at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple between noon and 1.30pm on 24 September 2016. First of all, I was happy that I was lucky enough to visit Bali during the tail-end of the Galungan Festival, one of the most important festivals in Bali. You can read more about the Galungan Festival in an earlier blog post of mine about visiting Uluwatu on my first day in Bali.

Just before we left the temple, we saw a long procession of Balinese ladies and men in their traditional attire, walking towards the paduraksa or kori agung, the roofed tower gate that opened into the inner sanctum of the temple complex, the utama mandala (jero). I thought we were really lucky, because we did not know there was going to be a procession at 1.00pm, but there it was, coming towards us!

The lady at the head of the procession was dressed in a white Balinese kebaya embroidered with beautiful multi-coloured flowers. She balanced a tall package of boxes tied up in a plastic bag on her head with ease, and held an umbrella in one hand.

Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple
The lady at the head of the procession was dressed in a white Balinese kebaya embroidered with beautiful multi-coloured flowers.

In fact, all the ladies had mastered the art of balancing various objects on their head, and could walk gracefully without holding the things with their hands. They were carrying stuff hands-free! 🙂

Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple
The ladies had mastered the art of balancing various objects on their head

The procession was complete with musicians wearing matching outfits. They were beating drums of various sizes and shapes. There was even the Balinese version of cymbals.

Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple
Musicians wearing matching outfits and beating drums of various sizes and shapes

Next, a grand Balinese procession would not be complete without an assortment of flags, spears and poles with ornaments.

Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple
Balinese carrying an assortment of flags, spears and poles with ornaments

Groups of ladies in colour-coordinated matching Balinese kebayas carried offerings already arranged on trays on their heads.

Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple
Ladies in colour-coordinated matching kebayas carried offerings

Some of the offerings were quite fancy-looking, with tassels and all.

Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple
Ladies wearing matching bright pink kebaya tops

Some of the ceremonial offerings were quite elaborate, requiring two to four people to carry them on small litters or mini ‘sedan chairs’.

Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple
Elaborate ceremonial offerings that require two persons to transport

A few groups of musicians were interspersed with the people carrying offerings.

Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple
More musicians with drums and cymbals

This particular group of musicians seemed to be a complete traditional gamelan group, and they were actually playing their music while walking! Each gong was transported on a pole carried by two people.

Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple

The musicians even carried the largest gong. Wow, it looked very heavy!

Procession at Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple

All in all, it was wonderful being able to see the beauty of Balinese culture in action, and we had a blast the whole time we were there.

Other articles I wrote on Bali:
Bali Day 1: Uluwatu
Bali Day 1: Tari Kecak and Fire Dance
Bali Day 2: Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple

Bali Day 1: Tari Kecak and Fire Dance

With the coming of sunset at Uluwatu, a crowd starts to gather at the open theatre near the temple or pura at the peak. It is time to find a good spot to sit, in order to view the highlight of the evening – the famous Tari Kecak and fire dance of Uluwatu.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
A prayer before the Tari Kecak starts

The exact origin and development of Tari Kecak is not known, but there is some agreement that it was a song or music produced by a series of sounds, combined to form a melody, used to accompany the sacred dance Sanghyang, and first developed into a performance in the village of Bona, Gianyar. Historically, Sanghyang could only be staged in a temple.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The kecak ‘musicians’ enter the open theatre

In the 1930s, artists in Bona developed a kecak dance based on the Ramayana, focusing on the part of the story where the Goddess Sita was abducted by King Rahwana. This dance was eventually staged for the general public.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The kecak ‘musicians’ form a circle around the centre of the theatre

By the 1970s, other villages had also developed their own tari kecak, and the dance groups congregate at kecak dance festivals.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The kecak ‘musicians’ sit down

In tari kecak, the music is generated from a combination of ‘cak’ sounds from about 50-70 people in a cappella, which is choral music sung without accompaniment from musical instruments.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The kecak ‘musicians’

A person will act as a leader who gives the leading tone early, while another person will be in charge of changing the tone to high or low. Someone else might act as a solo singer, while another will be in charge of delivering the story.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The kecak ‘musicians’ making their music solely with their voices

The dancers in the kecak dance do not have to follow the beat of the accompanying ‘cak’ music strictly. Therefore, the dancers are more relaxed, because the main priority is the telling of the story and the choral sound mix.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
Tari kecak just started. The ‘musicians’ are doing their intro before the dancers appear

The story told by the tari kecak

The story from the Ramayana featured in the tari kecak goes like this:

Prince Rama, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Ayodya, and his wife Sita, were banished from the kingdom by King Dasarata. The story started with the arrival of Rama and Sita in the forest of Dandaka. They were accompanied by Rama’s brother, Laksmana.
Unbeknown to them, they were being observed by the demon Rahwana, King of Alengka, who wanted the beautiful Sita for himself.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The heroine of the story, Goddess Sita

Rahwana sent his prime minister Marica to try to isolate Sita to enable Rahwana to kidnap her. With his magical power, Marica turned himself into a golden deer. When Sita saw the golden deer running in the forest, she was so enchanted by it that she asked Rama to capture it for her. Rama chased after the deer, leaving his brother Laksamana behind to protect Sita. Then, Sita thinks she hears a cry for help from Rama. She forced Laksamana to go after Rama by accusing him of cowardice. Reluctantly, he goes off after drawing a magic circle on the ground around Sita. He told her not to step outside the circle for her own safety.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The story unfolds

Sita, left alone in the forest, becomes vulnerable. Rahwana disguised himself has an old priest, who was cold and hungry. He begged Sita for some food. Sita fell for his trick, and stepped outside the circle to give him some food. Rahwana kidnaps her and takes her to his palace. Back in his palace in Alengka, the demon Rahwana tried all kinds of tricks to seduce Sita without any luck.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The demon Rahwana disguised himself as a beggar, and begged Sita for some food

In the palace of Alengka, Hanuman appears to Sita, telling her that he is Rama’s envoy and proved it to her by showing her Rama’s ring. Sita gives Hanuman a hairpin to show she was still alive and sent him back to Rama with a message to rescue her.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
the demon Rahwana, King of Alengka

Meanwhile, Rama and Laksamana are searching the forest for Sita when Meganada, Rahwana’s son, appeares and starts a fight with them.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The Goddess Sita

The giant bird Garuda, king of all birds, a good friend of King Dasarata, observed Rama was in trouble from high up in the sky, and came to the rescue.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
A prayer before the fire dance starts

Rama and Laksamana continue on their way to rescue Sita. They are joined by the Monkey King and his monkey army.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The sunset in all its glory

The story comes to a climax with the battle between the Monkey King and his monkey army, and Meganada and his demon Army, which ends with the defeat of Meganada.

Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The Monkey King prepares for war
Tarian Kecak Uluwatu
The Monkey King doing the fire dance

Other articles I wrote on Bali:
Bali Day 1: Uluwatu
Bali Day 2: Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple

Bali Day 1: Uluwatu

I went to Bali in September 2016. However, for this second trip, I brought my parents and brother with me. Bali is one of my favourite places, and I was sure they would like it there too.

Since we touched down in the afternoon, Kadek brought us to the Uluwatu temple complex, because then we could stay till sunset to watch the Tari Kecak, and it was all good. Tari Kecak will be featured in my next blog post. 😉

I took over 600 photos over three days, and here are some of the photos I finally selected from our visit to Uluwatu.

Uluwatu
My favourite photo of Uluwatu 🙂

Uluwatu is such a breathtakingly beautiful place that I just could not stop taking photos. There was a pathway all along the cliff, linking the various temples in the complex, and I walked a long stretch of it. Since our visit coincided with Galungan, the temple complex had more visitors than usual, and was beautifully decorated.

Uluwatu
Up the pathway to the peak in the Uluwatu templex complex

There is a signboard outside the temple complex that says visitors should keep their spectables and other shiny objects such as mobile phones hidden, because the monkeys will steal them. This warning should not be taken lightly. I was wearing my specs while walking near a place where people engaging in ceremonies walked down a tiny steep flight of stairs down the cliff to the beach below. There were a few monkeys there, and one particularly big and fat male just walked towards me on the stone wall and grabbed my specs off my face! There was a large group of caucasians there. Although they were not speaking in English among themselves, they understood me, and started to throw food items at the monkey perched on the wall, until he threw my specs into the bushes behind the wall. Thankfully, my specs were not broken, and I thanked all the people who helped me retrieve it.

Uluwatu
Down the pathway, all along the cliff of Uluwatu

Our trip to Bali conincided with Galungan, which celebrates the victory of dharma over adharma. The festival period stretches over a 10-day period, where a series of Hindu religious ceremonies are performed. Galungan is considered to be a very important festival in Hindu Bali. To read more about the series of Hindu ceremonies performed during Galungan, visit the Galungan ceremonies page of Wonderful Bali.

At Uluwatu temple complex
At Uluwatu temple complex

The specific ceremonial days of the festival start with Tumpek Uduh and end with Tumpek Kuningan. Here is the list of specific ceremonies of Galungan:

  1. Tumpek Uduh
  2. Sugian Pengenten
  3. Sugian Jawa
  4. Sugian Bali
  5. Penyekeban
  6. Penyajaan Galungan
  7. Penampahan Galungan
  8. Galungan Day
  9. Umanis Galungan
  10. Ulihan
  11. Pemacakan Agung
  12. Tumpek Kuningan
Galungan at Uluwatu temple complex
Galungan or penjor kuningan at Uluwatu temple complex

The most obvious sign of the Galungan festival are the penjor – bamboo poles with offerings suspended at the end. These penjor are installed along roads, and at the entrances to temples. Penjor are also called galungan.

Galungan at Uluwatu temple complex
Galungan or penjor kuningan at Uluwatu temple complex

Preparations start at Tumpek Uduh, which is 25 days before Galungan Day, at the Saturday of the 7th week of the Balinese Pawukon calendar, Wariga. Thus, the total length of the ceremony period of Galungan is actually 35 days. This is equivalent to 5 weeks, which is one Balinese month.

Elephant statue at Uluwatu temple complex
Elephant statue at Uluwatu temple complex

There are often two Galungan celebrations per solar year. The Galungan dates for 2015-2017 (as listed in Wikipedia) are as follows:

2015 July 15 July 25
2016 February 10 February 20
2016 September 7 September 17
2017 April 5 April 15
2017 November 1 November 11
Uluwatu
A Caucasian couple dressed in traditional Balinese garb on their way to participate in a ceremony in Uluwatu

To see more 2016-2017 events in Bali, visit Bali Spirit.

Other articles I wrote on Bali:
Bali Day 1: Tari Kecak and Fire Dance
Bali Day 2: Ulun Danu Keberatan Temple