Songs of Ecology, Community, and Indigenous Values: The Mah Meri of Carey Island, Malaysia

CLARE CHAN SUET CHING is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the Music Department of the Faculty of Human Ecology at Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Penerbit UM (First Published, 2023)
256 pages including References and Index


In stock

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.

List of Figures and Tables
List of Song Texts
List of Abbreviations
Notes on Orthography, Translations, and Music Notation

1. Introduction
Main Jo’oh
The Mah Meri
Mah Meri Settlements in Malaysia
Origins of the Mah Meri name
Tulah and Kemali
Mah Meri Origins and Worldview
Migration and Settlement
Kampung Sungai Bumbun during the 20th Century
Encroachment of Territory
Livelihood and Lifestyle
Kampung Sungai Bumbun: Early 21th Century

2. The Musical Life of the Mah Meri of Kampung Sungai Bumbun
Musical Life: Early 1900s
Musical Life: Late 1900s
Cultural Contact through Music
Musicianship: Ascribed or Achieved?
Function of Music
Kutai Music
Musical Life: Early 2000s
Musicians and Singers
Musical Instruments
The Context of the Main Jo’oh Musical Ensemble in Southeast Asia
A Revisit to the Village

3. Song Texts of the Early 1900s and Late 1900s: Environmental Degradation, Sedentary Agricultural Livelihood, and Cultural Contact
Songs from the Early 1900s
Songs with the Names of Places
Songs Addressing the Supernatural
Songs Describing Physical Features and Behavioural Traits
Songs Representing Cultural Contacts
Songs of Communality
Feasting Songs
Songs from the Late 1900s
Jo’oh Songs
Moyang Songs
Animal Songs
Nature Songs
Song of Rejected Love

4. Contemporary Song Texts (Early 2000s): Singing to Recapture the Ethos of Communality
Pastiche in Contemporary Song Text Composition
Indigenous Versus National Notions of Progress
The Culture of Individualism
Calling for a Return to Communality, Moral Values, and a Collective Society
Contemporary Song Texts
Lagu Pera Gunting (Pera Gunting Song)
Lagu Ganding (Ganding Song)
Lagu Musang (Musang Song)
Lagu Sidud (Sidud Song)
Lagu Balaw (Balaw Song)
Lagu ‘Ari Moyang (‘Ari Moyang Song)

5. The Music of the Main Jo’oh: From Ritual Enactment to Stage Representation
Sources of Musical Recordings
Songs of the Late 1900s
Kampat Song
Labos Song
Summary: Songs of the Late 1900s
Contemporary Songs (Early 2000s)
Lagu Jaboi (Jaboi Song)
Comparative Characteristics between the Labos (Late 19005) and Jaboi Song (Early 2000s)
Jo’oh-style Songs
Joget-style Songs
Mah Meri and Malay Joget Songs

6. Performing the Environment and Culture through Assertion of Place and Presence in Performances
Place and Presence
The Mah Meri’s Sense of Identity
Tourism in Malaysia
Staging Authenticity for Tourists
Tourist Views
Continuity, Change, and the Staging of Authenticity
Masked Dancers
Dance Movements and Choreography
Hand Movements
Combining Dance Movements
Song Texts
Moyang Song
Animal Songs
Nature and Daily Activities

7. Staging Performances for Tourists: Complying, Negotiating, or Resisting Hegemony
Externally Influenced Musical Presentations
Staged Wedding with Mah Meri Agency and Minimal External Intervention
A Staged Wedding in Kampung Sungai Bumbun Mediated by a Tourist Agent
Non-Staged Contemporary Mah Meri Weddings
Traditional Wedding at Kampung Sungai Bumbun
Mah Meri Mimed-Music Drama at the Rainforest World Music Fes Mediated by a Cultural Officer
Main Jo’oh Performance with Outsider Participation
“The Legend of Moyang Lanjut” Choreographed by Famous Artists

8. A Push Forward and a Pull Backward
Future of Mah Meri Music


Weight0.412 kg
Dimensions22.7 × 15 × 1.5 cm




Year Published


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