Songs of Ecology, Community, and Indigenous Values: The Mah Meri of Carey Island, Malaysia is about the musical life and traditions of the Mah Meri of Kampung Sungai Bumbun, Carey Island, Malaysia from the early 1900s to the early 2000s. Through ethnographic fieldwork, the stories of the Mah Meri villagers about the musicians, musical styles, musical instruments, song texts and interaction with music from various cultures are detailed. This book also presents the relationship between songs and music with the natural mangrove environment as well as how the Mah Meri’s changing livelihood from permanent settlements to modern life styles influence their music. In negotiating national politics, tourism and modernization, the Mah Meri recreate the main jo’oh, their music and dance tradition to assert their identity and sustain their heritage as the indigenous people of peninsular Malaysia.
The Mah Meri are a group of indigenous people who live on the mangrove coastal areas of Selangor in Peninsular Malaysia. They are dually orientated to the land and sea as hunter gatherers in the lowland rain forests and mangroves, fishermen and agriculturalists. The songs, music and dances of the Mah Meri known as the main jo’oh are inspired by their natural environment, cultural traditions, belief systems and worldview. The stories, history, culture, and artistic aesthetics of the people are passed from generation to generation through the main jo’oh. The main jo’oh is the music and dance genre of the Mah Meri of Kampung Sungai Bumbun, Carey Island in Kuala Langat, Selangor.
The earliest songs of the Mah Meri present detailed narratives of the physical characteristics and behaviour of the native Aora and fauna such as the ketu (wild boar), siamang (black handed gibbon), klang (Aying fox), rimau (tiger), musang (civet cat), pendok (deer) and others. The Mah Meri’s livelihood as permanent village settlers were manifested through songs about domesticated animals and plants such as chickens, ducks, cassava, sugar cane and sweet potatoes. Interacting with the multicultural ethnic groups for trade, the Mah Meri songs described the hunt for rhinoceros’ horn and bear spleen to sell to the Chinese towkay (boss). Song texts embodied the changes in their surrounding natural ecology, as well as the social and cultural transformation among the Mah Meri.