Hma' Meri Tribe , Pulau Carey - Selangor Malaysia

Edward Valentine Carey was born on 14th February 1865 to Margaret Maingay and Arthur Edward Carey , a coffee planter based in Ceylon. Like father like son, Valentine Carey followed in his father’s footsteps pursuing an illustrious career as a coffee planter and later, taking a chance on rubber planting in Malaya. Managers and assistants were normally recruited by holding companies and corporations located in England. Their hiring criteria was either based on the old boys’ network or largely based on whether the candidate could play rugby or cricket well enough! Valentine Carey’s social status as well as 11 years of work experience in planting coffee, cinchona and tea in Ceylon, gained him a job as a manager at the Liberian Coffee Co. Selangor, Straits Settlements. His tenacity and early cultivated interest in tropical planting soon made him an authority in all subjects relating to the rubber industry. In 1892 the European planters set up a Planter’s Association in Selangor in which Carey was elected as Chairman. In 1897, other states followed suit and founded the United Planters’ Association of Federated Malays States.

the mask used at the Mayin Jo-Oh dance

Coffee had been planted as main crop in Malaya’s European plantations since 1880s and was thriving still when Carey first stepped foot on Malayan soil. But he foresaw that coffee would decline in the commodity market due to over supply from Brazil and he advised his fellow planters that the next big crop commodity, rubber, would not follow the way of the coffee any time soon. Carey’s influence and determination helped place Malaya on the world map as the world’s leading producer of rubber until the late 20th century. He slowly but methodically replanted estates with rubber trees and inter planted with coffee plants, making the latter a secondary crop. Through tenacity and hard work, by 1905, Carey had taken charge of large plantations accumulating to 500,000 trees planted in 3 large estates spread over 2000 acres.

In gratitude of his contribution in making rubber a main commodity, Carey was granted an island by the Malay States Government, which he called 'Carey Island.' The area was set up and companies named Carey United and Jugra Land were formed to manage the plantations.

The companies were several of the earliest in Peninsular Malaysia and faired well under the watch of Valentine Carey. However, years in the tropics had taken a toll on Carey’s health. Due to the recurring bouts of malarial fever, Carey’s health began to deteriorate, forcing him to retire in 1910. Carey passed away on 21st April 1914 at age 49, relieving him from his long struggle with the illness.

The Hma (People) Meri (Forest)

Long before Carey arrived, the Hma’ Meri people were already living along the river estuaries on the island. Their settlements (keled) were temporary and they occasionally also lived on boats in which they moored overnight in mangrove swamps. The Hma’ Meri relied on land and sea for food and shelter. The Temuan people on the mainland used to refer the the Hma’ Meri as Hma’ Besise’ - ‘The people with (fish) scales’ due to their fondness in fishing . They were often found fishing along coastal areas. However, they used the rivers as waterways to get to other settlements but hardly ventured into the open sea. Perhaps for fear of bumping into pirate ships or slave traders of which were both common sights in those days.

The people often moved when illnesses or deaths plagued them, or when slave hunters and pirates pillaged their settlements and when food in the area was scarce. By mid-1800s the Hma Meri decided on permanent settlements strategically located at estuaries and mainly at Telo’ Gunjeng (Gunjeng Bay). Gunjeng, a type of edible fern, was once upon a time found in abundance on the island. As plantations started to encroach into primary forests and mangrove swamps, the flora in the area was rapidly replaced by first coconut trees and later , tea and rubber estates. The gunjeng ferns are so rare now that the younger generation have not seen the plant let alone tasted its shoots.

the hma' meri women work hard to provide for the family

The Hma’ Meri speak a Besise’ language, which is a south aslian subdivision of the Mon-Khmer, Austro-Asiatic language. The language is still spoken amongst the Hma’ Meri although they would rather refer to their own as Hma’ Hae, meaning ‘our people’.

When Carey started slashing the jungles and opening lands for his rubber estates in 1905, the Hma’ Meri had already been previously moved several times and by 1966 the Hma’ Meri were allocated an area of just over 1,000acres of Aboriginal Reserve and Forest Reserve land within the 35,000acre island. By the 1990’s further encroachment into forest tracts and new land reclamation projects had progressively confined the villages and eventually the villages became land locked. Their link and love with the waters and the coast had been severed and slowly the residents’ reliance on the surrounding land and forests were also reduced..

customs and traditions are important to the Hma' Meri. It provides them with their identity they try so hard to contain in this era of mono-culturalisation

Today, the reduced size of 320acre settlement contains 3 hamlets : Kampung Sungai Bumbon, Kampung Sungai Mata and Kampung Sungai Salang. The hamlets are located so close to each other, they consider themselves just one big village now with 83 families making up 500 individuals (2007). The village is provided with utilities such as potable water and electricity, tarred road, clinic, a school etc and each family is provided on plots of inherited land cultivated with cash crops. The younger generation faces a difficult future ahead. Being land less, they either help their parents with work on their tiny plots, or leave in search of jobs at nearby plantations, restaurants or shops.

With meager means, the young people who prefer to remain in their village turn to craftwork to sell to tourists. The Hma’ Meri maintain their customs and traditions through their craft. Their rituals, customary laws, taboos and spiritual/animistic beliefs remains strongly embedded in their daily lives and they continue to practice them in all they do. Their customary laws (adat) govern their lives and with these they have rules as how they should live. The Batin or head of the village concedes that losing their ‘adat’ is like losing their identity. The Batin and the council of village elders (mengge’ tengah) govern the village. But they lament that many younger villagers no longer respect or adhere to the adat and fear that one day soon, when the older generation is no longer in this world, the identity of the Hma’ Meri will disappear and so will the people themselves.

Ari Muyang

the family alter on the day of Ari' Muyang

The word 'Muyang' refers to their mythological ancestors as well as a variety of familiar plant and animal spirits that live within our Seven Layered World. The Hma' Meri believe that we humans live in the Sixth World ( Ti’ Enam ) while our ancestors live in the Overworld ( Ti’ Tujoh). The five layers below are the Underworld filled with man-eating ghosts, diseases and venomous creatures in existence with sole intentions to harm human beings.

The Muyang are supernatural transparent beings known as ‘orang alus’. During the days of early ancestors, plant and animal muyang could transform themselves into humans, bringing chaos to the human world with their mischief. They were finally defeated and subdued by using the ‘yed Muyang’ curse to permanently return them to their original form.

There are many Muyang - some helpful ones and some resentful ones.

On the eve of Ari’ Muyang, every household prepares their ‘panga’ (each home has their own altar built for their ancestors and is located outdoors).

altar at the spirit house

The panga is decorated with nipah or palm leaf weaving and fresh flowers. Then each family place offerings such as betel leaves, areca nuts , tobacco and an assortment of food and drinks at the panga for each ancestor. The offering is smoked with burning incense as a way to inform the ancestors that they have prepared offerings for them. The smoke becomes an eye wash and makes the offering ‘visible’ to the ancestors.

On Ari' Muyang or Ancestor's Day, the villagers pray to their ancestors and spirits for safety and good health. Their preparation involves offerings of traditional items such as betel leaves and food items, for blessings from the guardian of the spirit house that protects the village.

The exact date of Ari' Muyang is determined by each village ‘shaman’ based on the lunar cycle. Ari’ Muyang celebrations at Kampung Sungai Bumbon occur exactly a calendar month after the Chinese New Year.

the muyang that protects the spirit house the shaman sits at the spirit house on Ari' Muyang day

The figurines are models of spirits that aid them in their everyday lives as well as heal them of their spiritual and medical ailments. Not all figurines are for worship. Some are carved as vessels to contain and dispose of illnesses.

The shaman sits at the spirit house during the the ari' muyang festival. Anyone can approach the shaman who will then bless the well wisher by rubbing bedak paste (a paste made of rice flour and leaf mixture) onto their hands to symbolically wash away bad luck and to invite wealth. The bedak also makes the person wearing it, visible to the Muyang.

in a trance

The Hma’ Meri people are known for their carving skills. A popular item is the mask used for the traditional dance called Mayin Jo-oh performed during Ari' Muyang celebrations to entertain Muyang Gadeng (the guardian and protector of Sg Mata hamlet) and all others present. In the early days, the mask was made of paper. In the 1950’s through encouragement from Ahmad Muntil, an advocate of Hma’ Besise’ culture, persuaded the people to celebrate their culture and traditions through their dance, songs and carving skills. Hence was born the carved masks for the Mayin Jo-oh.

Mayin Jo-oh

the Mayin Jo-Oh dance

Mayin Jo-oh was originally performed in a succession of 7 song cycles. However, this is no longer practiced and even the lyrics have been modified according to the different performers over the years.

During the dance, the womenfolk, adorned with nipah leaf ornaments dances counter clockwise in a circle around the ‘bunot’ (this structure is meant to depict a mountain and used to be made of compacted earthern mounds but are now bamboo frame structures).

The story tells of 2 Hma’ Meri siblings who survived the Great Flood and circum navigated round the So’ (mountain) for 7 yrs before realizing they were the only people remaining in the world. The couple then took on the task of repopulating the world. Despite the notion of this tale, the subject of incest is prohibited in their custom (adat)

Womenfolk of Kg Sungai Bumbun, Carey Island are in charge of a variety of tasks namely the weaving of pandanus leaves to decorate the alters, preparing the kenduri for the villagers and guests, and also they perform for the Mayin Jo-oh dance. The women nowadays supplement their livelihood by weaving handicrafts sold to tourists..

the women sing, dance and play intruments the elders also participate

Wood carving has brought the Hma’ Meri to the forefront of Malaysia’s skilled Orang Asli craftsmen. Pieces of these intricate carvings have been displayed at exhibitions locally as well as internationally. However, wood carving used to pose a greater role for the Hma’ Meri apart from just a sculpture for display on a mantelpiece.

Carving is intrinsically woven into their ‘adat’. For example, to rid of an illness, a member of the patient's family will carve a figurine from wood or mold one of earth which represents the ailment eg a headache or tummy ache. This figurine is then presented to a witch doctor. A ritual will be performed to transfer the sickness from the patient to the figure, which is then disposed off into the jungle or sea.

The Hma' Meri rely heavily on the dwindling forests nearby. Much of their daily lives are linked to the tiny jungle. With plantations ever expanding on the island and encroaching into the reserves, they find it more difficult to find wood for their carvings. ”The nyireh batu wood is a very hard wood to work with but it has such a beautiful sheen and glow to it. It's hard to find now because irresponsible people have damaged the trees.", remarks 48-year-old Diaman Kisah , a local carver. Other types of wood used include nyireh bunga which is used for carving masks and toys or the durable tengkho roots (Alstonia sp.) most appropriate for carving.

Skills like these should never be allowed to disappear, not only their talents but more so their beliefs in their customs and teachings. Without that, a carving is a mere sculpture with no association. Below is collection of sculptures that the carvers of the Hma’ Meri and Jah Hut tribe have produced over the years.

Best Time To Go

The exact date of Ari' Muyang is determined by each village ‘shaman’ based on the lunar cycle. Ari’ Muyang celebrations at Kampung Sungai Bumbon occur exactly a calendar month after the Chinese New Year.

Other days are also good for visits especially when the craftsmen & women are at work in the morning and late afternoon

Getting there

By Car

Take the North Klang Valley Expressway towards Klang.

Once off the highway,turn right at the traffic lights near Jaya Jusco Bukit Raja and drive straight through the heart of Klang via the main flyover and over the the bridge. Take the road on the left leading to Jalan Langat. This road will take you past the Tunku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital on the right. From Klang, take the Klang-Banting Road. Just after the small town of Telok Panglima Garang, head straight at the three-arm roundabout. The narrow road leads to Pulau Carey

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