Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mah Meri people celebrate Hari Moyang on a grand scale

THE rich culture of the Mah Meri people in Kampung Sungai Bumbun, Pulau Carey, became the centre of attraction during the Hari Moyang (Spirit Day) celebrations recently.

Joining in the dancing, ritual blessings and a potluck feast were expatriates from the American and Canadian associations, various members from NGOs and a television crew.

The jo’oh dance: Dancers circle a symbolic mountain made up of woven mengkuang leaves.

According to Maznah Unyan, 41, a Mah Meri housewife turned entrepreneur, Hari Moyang is about giving thanks to the spirits for all the good things that had been bestowed upon the village.

“The Mah Meri sees the celebration of Hari Moyang as a compulsory yearly ritual as they believe that it will ward off disaster. We believe the offerings are a way to appease the spirits and to ensure their continuous protection,” explained Maznah.

A ‘poyang’ (spiritual leader) is assigned to oversee the preparation and to perform the ritual blessings with a batter of rice flour mixed with fragrant roots and lime water. This is then dabbed on with citronella stalks on the foreheads and forearms.

Abdul Rahman Kassim, 52, the poyang for this year, said boons were also granted by the spirits and most request for suitable life partners for themselves or their loved ones, bountiful harvests, good health and a harm-free life.

Man behind the Majus mask: Daiman showing off his costume.

Lending a festive air to the event was the Jo’oh dance where dancers clad in bark and woven leaves dance around a symbolic mountain. It is believed that in addition to the human guests, the spirits are also present to watch the ongoings and the dance is performed to entertain them.

Moving in tune to a percussion band, the jo’oh is believed to have originated during the beginning of time when an elder instructed a young man and a young woman to walk in opposite directions around a mountain. The idea, according to Maznah, was to take the first person that one sets eyes on as a mate and the ending, as one can guess, was inevitable.

Hari Moyang, as the name suggests is also a day to remember the departed and family members of the deceased will perform prayers at the home altars with the burning of incense and presentation of offerings.

Stringing along: A violinist adds rhythm to the beat.

For Maznah, this would be a time to invoke the memory of her late father Unyan Awas.

“Though my father is no longer with us physically, I believe that his spirit is constantly watching over us,” she said.

And for this reason, Maznah affirmed the importance of looking happy on Hari Moyang. Agreeing with her is Piun Bumbun, a well-known master woodcarver in the village. “If our faces are sour, then the spirits of our ancestors will not be happy. It’s only logical for our elders to want to see their future generations living contentedly,” he explained.

Maznah opined that the festival may be another way for the living to come to terms with the passing of their loved ones.

“Yes, it is painful to think that one would never be able to physically touch or speak to a loved one again but life must go on and the living must continue living. Meanwhile that does not mean that we should totally wipe the memory of the departed from our minds. They should be remembered for the lessons they have taught us and all the good they have done while alive,” said Maznah.

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