Mah Meri people

The Mah Meri are 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.

Mah Meri
Maq Betiseq / Besisi
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
Semaq Beri people, Semelai people, Temoq people

According to the Orang Asli Office of the Malaysian government,[2] they numbered around 2,200 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 of Pulau Carey are internationally well known for their traditional wood carving skills.[5]


Their ancestors are believed to be associated with the arrival of Austro-Asiatic migrants associated with the emergence of fire-cutting agriculture on the Malay Peninsula and the emergence of rice. Due to cultural exchanges and trade, some Mah Meri and Senoi have intermixed with local Negrito tribes.


The changes in the Mah Meri population are as the following:-

Year 1960[6] 1965[6] 1969[6] 1974[6] 1980[6] 1993[7] 1996[6] 2000[8] 2003[8] 2004[9] 2005[3] 2010[1]
Population 1,898 1,212 1,198 1,356 1,389 2,185 2,185 3,503 2,986 2,856 2,200 2,120


A group forming a "war formation" in Jugra, Kuala Langat, Selangor, Malaysia, 1906.

Mah Meri in Mah Meri language means "Jungle people" (Mah = people, Meri = jungle).,[10] while in another term the meaning of the name means Bersisik (meaning, "scaly" in Malay language)[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

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 an Austroasiatic language. It is part of Southern Aslian sub-branch of Aslian languages, and is related to Semelai, Temoq and Semaq Beri.[14] There are an estimated 3,000 people still speaking the language, but it is seriously endangered.



Mah Meri spider spirit mask.

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.[15][16] 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.[17]

Traditional dances

  • Sewang dance[18]
  • Tarian Jo'oh (Jungle dance)[19]
  • Tarian Topeng (Mask dance)[3]

Political organization

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 to rejuvenate patients with emotional depression, physical fatigue or psychological problems caused by metaphysical forces.[20]

Settlement area

Geographical location of Mah Meri people (located in west coast of Selangor) and other Orang Asli communities in Peninsular Malaysia.

Major settlements of the Mah Meri people are:-

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 978-99-716-9861-4.
  2. "Department of Orang Asli Affairs | Orang Asli". Archived from the original on 2006-12-10. Retrieved 2006-12-22.
  3. 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. Nobuta Toshihiro (2009). "Living On The Periphery: Development and Islamization Among Orang Asli in Malaysia" (PDF). Center for Orang Asli Concerns. Retrieved 2017-10-27.
  7. Colin Nicholas (2000). The Orang Asli and the Contest for Resources. Indigenous Politics, Development and Identity in Peninsular Malaysia (PDF). Center for Orang Asli Concerns & International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. ISBN 87-90730-15-1. Retrieved 2017-10-27.
  8. "Basic Data / Statistics". Center for Orang Asli Concerns. Retrieved 2017-10-27.
  9. Alberto Gomes (2004). Modernity and Malaysia: Settling the Menraq Forest Nomads. Routledge. ISBN 11-341-0076-0.
  10. Asmah Haji Omar (2006). Bahasa Mah Meri. Penerbit Universiti Malaya. p. 11. ISBN 98-310-0242-3.
  11. Ab. Aziz Mohd. Zin (2006). Dakwah Islam di Malaysia. Akademi Pengajian Islam, Universiti Malaya. p. 21. ISBN 98-310-0381-0.
  12. Asmah Haji Omar (2004). Massa: majalah berita mingguan, Issues 425-433. Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Berhad. p. 21.
  13. Clare Chan Suet Ching (December 2010). "Mah Meri Onstage: Negotiating National Policies, Tourism, And Modernisation In Kampung Sungai Bumbun, Carey Island, Malaysia". University Of Hawai’i. pp. 49–50. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  14. Asmah Haji Omar (2003). Language and Language Situation in Southeast Asia: With a Focus on Malaysia. Akademi Pengajian Melayu, Universiti Malaya. p. 30. ISBN 98-320-8556-X.
  15. Patricia Hului (8 July 2014). "Rediscovering the Mah Meri". The Borneo Post Seeds. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  16. Nurul Afida Kamaludin (1 July 2012). "Bringing the world's attention to Malaysia's heritage". The Borneo Post. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  17. Leong Siok Hui (22 July 2006). "Preserving the skill". The Star Online. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  18. "Kekalkan tradisi". Utusan Online. 22 February 2014. Retrieved 2017-10-11.
  19. "Festival Orang Asli, pribumi pukau pengunjung". Sinar Harian. 26 October 2015. Retrieved 2016-11-10.
  20. Rouwen Lin (5 August 2015). "Malaysian shamans brave Islam's ill winds". The Malay Mail. Retrieved 2016-11-10.
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