Mah Meri people

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Mah Meri
Maq Betiseq / Besisi / Bersisik / Persisir
Pagan races of the Malay Peninsula (1906) (14594821020).jpg
A Batin (village chief) of the Besisi people from Kuala Langat, Selangor, Malaysia, 1906.
Total population
(2,120 (2010)[1])
Regions with significant populations
 Malaysia (Pulau Carey, Selangor)
Mah Meri language, Malay language
Forest & Natural Spirituality, a type of Animism and a significant population practicing Islam or Christianity.
Related ethnic groups
Senoi subgroup which includes the Che Wong, Jah Hut, Semoq Beri, Semai & Temiar

The Mah Meri (pronounced [max mri]) is an ethnic group native to western part of Peninsular Malaysia. They are one of the 18 Orang Asli groups named by the Malaysian government. They are of the Senoi subgroup. Most of the members of the Mah Meri tribe live along the coast of South Selangor from Sungai Pelek up to Pulau Carey, although there is at least one Mah Meri Community on the other side of the Klang River.

According to the Orang Asli Office of the Malaysian government,[2] they numbered around 2200 in 2005.[3] Most of the Mah Meri live in small villages (kampungs) on the fringes of other cities and on Pulau Carey, which has five separate villages of Mah Meri.[4]

The Mah Meri people are internationally well known for their traditional wood carving skills.[5]


Mah Meri in Mah Meri language means "Jungle people" (Mah = people, Meri = jungle).[6], while in another term the meaning of the name means Bersisik (meaning, "scaly" in Malay language)[7] or Persisir (meaning, "coastal" in Malay language). They are also considered as Orang Laut due to them residing in settlements that are nearby seasides and work as fishermen.[8] They are believed to have migrated from the islands in southern Johor to the coastal shores of Selangor in order to escape from their enemies.[9]

Today Mah Meri community has undergone changes in terms of mentality and development as a result of integrating with other neighbouring communities.


The Mah Meri language, also called Besisi is a native language of the Mah Meri people. It is part of Semelaic sub-branch of Aslian languages which is part of Austroasiatic languages and is related to Semelai and Temoq in Pahang as well as Semaq Beri in Terengganu. The language also borrowed various loanwords from Malay. There are an estimated 3,000 people still speak the language.



Many among them are skilled in carving statues that are made from wood. Their carvings include deities, humans, flora and fauna figurines. These carvings have gained recognition from the UNESCO.[10][11] Handicrafts produce of the Mah Meri community in Sungai Bumbun, Kuala Langat have high artistic value and the potential to be recognised at an international level.[12]

Traditional dances[edit]

  • Tarian Jo'oh (Jungle dance)[13]
  • Tarian Topeng (Mask dance)[3]

Political organization[edit]

In common with other Orang Asli Villages, each kampung elects its own Batin (Village Headman) and a council of "elders" to represent the people living in the kampung. The Batin is paid an annual salary by the Malaysian government. The Bomoh, who functions as a shaman in their society, plays an important role in the kampung. Main puteri (meaning "Playing princess"), a dying ritualistic form of treatment due to Islamisation; is performed by the Mah Meri shaman with the purpose to rejuvenate patients suffering from emotional depression, physical fatigue or psychological problems caused by metaphysical forces.[14]

Settlement area[edit]

A group forming a "war formation" in Jugra, Kuala Langat, Selangor, Malaysia, 1906.
Name of Kampung Nearest Town
Kampung Orang Asli Bukit Bangkong Sungai Pelek

Kampung Orang Asli Tanjung Sepat

Kampung Orang Asli Sungei Kurau Pulau Carey
Kampung Orang Asli Sungei Judah Pulau Carey
Kampung Orang Asli Sungei Bumbun Pulau Carey
Kampung Orang Asli Sungei Jugra Pulau Carey


  1. ^ Kirk Endicott (2015). Malaysia's Original People: Past, Present and Future of the Orang Asli. NUS Press. ISBN 99-716-9861-7. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Selangor Tourism (5 April 2014). "Celebrate Mah Meri’s cultural diversity". Sinar Harian. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  4. ^ Soong Phui Jee (8 June 2013). "Palm tree shaded island". Sin Chew Daily. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  5. ^ Rouwen Lin (2 February 2016). "Mah Meri carvers do it with spirit". The Star. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  6. ^ Asmah Haji Omar (2006). Bahasa Mah Meri. Penerbit Universiti Malaya. p. 11. ISBN 98-310-0242-3. 
  7. ^ Ab. Aziz Mohd. Zin (2006). Dakwah Islam di Malaysia. Akademi Pengajian Islam, Universiti Malaya. p. 21. ISBN 98-310-0381-0. 
  8. ^ Asmah Haji Omar (2004). Massa: majalah berita mingguan, Issues 425-433. Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Berhad. p. 21. 
  9. ^ Clare Chan Suet Ching (December 2010). "Mah Meri Onstage: Negotiating National Policies, Tourism, And Modernisation In Kampung Sungai Bumbun, Carey Island, Malaysia" (PDF). University Of Hawai’i. pp. 49–50. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  10. ^ Patricia Hului (8 July 2014). "Rediscovering the Mah Meri". The Borneo Post Seeds. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  11. ^ Nurul Afida Kamaludin (1 July 2012). "Bringing the world’s attention to Malaysia’s heritage". The Borneo Post. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  12. ^ Leong Siok Hui (22 July 2006). "Preserving the skill". The Star Online. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  13. ^ "Festival Orang Asli, pribumi pukau pengunjung". Sinar Harian. 26 October 2015. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  14. ^ Rouwen Lin (5 August 2015). "Malaysian shamans brave Islam’s ill winds". The Malay Mail. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 

External links[edit]