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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_8177b.jpg
Moyang Ketam Impai

 

 

 

IMG_8178b.jpg

Moyang Jabang

 

IMG_8179b.jpg
Moyang Tumpang

 

 

IMG_8180b.jpg
Moyang Tanjung
IMG_8181b.jpg
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).

IMG_8187b
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.

IMG_8189b
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.

IMG_8195b
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.

IMG_8191b
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.

IMG_8197b
Moyang Galak

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

IMG_8161b
Moyang Sauh
IMG_8224b
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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Advertisements

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

What am I?

Riddle

I come in a pair
That the dainty wear
Embroidered in thread
Of silver, gold or red

Adorned with shiny beads
Colourful and tiny as seeds
Flat or set on high heels
Wear me and elation feels

I flatter all who slip me on
Kebayas and sarongs worn
Match your favourite colours
Admire your finery for hours

Can you guess what I am?
I am a pair of Peranakan beaded shoes.

An original riddle by
Khor Hui Min
27 June 2014

Beads to be sewn into traditional peranakan or nyonya beaded slippers
Beads to be sewn into traditional Peranakan or nyonya beaded slippers
Beaded work to be sewn into traditional peranakan or nyonya beaded slippers
Beaded work to be sewn into traditional Peranakan or nyonya beaded slippers

The Peranakan community, also popularly referred to as the Baba-Nyonya, is unique and only found in certain parts of Asia. In the Malay Peninsular, the community is commonly centred around the former British Straits Settlements of Penang (northern), Melaka (central) and Singapore (southern). The community came into being when Chinese traders married the local Malay women and settled down in the area, which is mainly why the communities are found largely in regions with ports. The ladies were referred to as ‘nyonya’, while the men were referred to as ‘baba’.

The origin of the Peranakan beaded slippers can be traced back to the early 20th century. Back then, the beaded slippers were worn by both men and women, but in modern times, only ladies wear them now. The beaded shoes were symbols of status, because they were handmade by highly skilled artisans,who took many hours to complete each pair. The shoes were worn by ladies to complement their ‘sarong kebaya’ outfit. Other adornments worn with the outfit include the ‘kerongsang’ (elaborate chained brooches) and a multitude of beautifully crafted jewellery.

A set of three chained brooches or 'kerongsang' worn by nyonya ladies. The 'kerongsang' is used to pin the embroidered kebaya blouse together (in place of modern buttons).
A set of three chained brooches or ‘kerongsang’ worn by nyonya ladies. The ‘kerongsang’ is used to pin the embroidered ‘kebaya’ blouse together (in place of modern buttons).

The three photos above were taken at the Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum, Melaka, Malaysia, on 6 December 2013.

To read up more on the Peranakan community and culture as well as their unique beaded shoes, see:
1. The Penang Heritage City website.
2. The Wikipedia page on Peranakan beades shoes.
3. The Wikipedia page on the Peranakan community.

To learn more about writing riddles, visit the Young Writers’ website.