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ITB Berlin News 2018 - Review Edition

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30 AROUND THE WORLD ASIA © C Messier Mah Meri Cultural Centre Masked male dancer, with his ancestral mask called “Manjus”, accompanied by village girls in traditional attire Malaysia’s Mah Meri “Of men with masks and tigers in chains” If you are looking for culture, intrigue, art and ethnicity, the Mah Meri cultural village on Carey Island is an exceptional source of inspiration, and an amazing personal experience. Mah Meri (meaning “jungle man”) is a group of indigenous people or “orang asli” living on Carey Island, about 28km south of the city of Klang in Selangor state, and just a couple of hours’ drive from Kuala Lumpur. There are five Mah Meri villages on Carey Island with total population about 4,000. Mah Meri is indeed a subgroup of the Senoi ethnic group of indigenous people in Malaysia. Senoi are generally found in the central part of the Malaysian peninsula, and are believed to have come originally from Yunnan via Southern Thailand around 10,000 years ago. Also known as the “Mask Men of Malaysia” due to their wood carving skills, the tribe still preserves ageold heritage and culture. The Mah Meri are thought by many to be among the best mask-makers in the world. Still practicing anismism, it can be noted that most of their wood carvings features animistic characters; one of the factors that contributed to the works receiving the UNESCO Seal of Excellence. And while the men are highly skilled in wood sculpting, the women have exceptional abilities in the art of leaf origami. Carey island has been home to the Mah Meri for a little over a hundred years, following an intriguing past for this people, during which they had once been seafarers, travelling around the Southeast Ocean and living on sampans, before permanently installing themselves on the Malaysian mainland. Today, they remain fishermen and traders, while living in small wooden houses in the forest of Selangor, with minimal modern conveniences or interaction with the outside world. THE MEANING OF MAH MERI MASKS AND SCULPTURES Masks: Mah Meri culture predates modern religions. They believe in two parallel worlds: the human world, which is 24 hours a day, and the spirit world which is 12 hours (midnight to mid-day). One day every year, the gates open between the two worlds. This is a festival day and traditional masks are worn by men as they celebrate the event, while other tribe members wear special costumes while offering gifts and blessings to their ancestors. Sculptures: Mah Meri sculptures depict how a person or an animal became a symbol to be worshiped by the tribe. The sculptures are created to replace something that has been destroyed, as they believe that everything, whether living or inanimate, has a spirit. Each carving is crafted from the nyireh batu trees, which can be found in mangrove swamps. THE MAH MERI ARE THOUGHT BY MANY TO BE AMONG THE BEST MASK- MAKERS IN THE WORLD Perhaps the most famous and certainly the most complex is the sculpture of the spirit of “Harimau Berantai” - the Tiger in Chains, depicting a tiger, which was caught in a trap and left to die by villagers because they were too frightened to release it. Its design is perpetuated today by Husain Pion, son of the master creator, Pion anak Bumbong, who passed away in May 2014. It is a highly sophisticated sculpture with 7 interlocking rings, and a moving sphere in the mouth. The ball inside the mouth means the “stone of power”. The 7 interlocking rings depicts the “sequence of events”. ABOUT THE MAH MERI CULTURAL VILLAGE A gallery/museum and traditional house in the village compound is open to visitors, where one can admire a large number of masks and carvings and learn about the tribe’s rituals. The village is open throughout the year, but the best time to visit Pulau Carey‘s Mah Meri Cultural Village is during Hari Moyang (Ancestor Day), which takes place around March or April each year, Puja Pantai (Oceanic Healing) or during a wedding ceremony. During the festival, the tribesmen and women wear intricately carved masks and perform the mystifying Tarian Jo-oh (Jungle Dance) and Tarian Topeng (Mask Dance), which are main features of the festival repertoire ITB BERLIN NEWS • Wednesday 21 st March 2018

ASIA AROUND THE WORLD 31 A River Where it’s Christmas All Year Round Gliding along a river in silence in the early evening, visitors to Kampung Kuantan, just 56 km from Kuala Lumpur, witness a festival of synchronised fairy lights emanating from millions upon millions of fireflies. Situated around 9 km from Kuala Selangor, Kampung Kuantan has become a major tourist attraction thanks to this extraordinary natural phenomenon, and over the past couple of years, boats and facilities have been upgraded making for safer and more comfortable tours. This unusual phenomenon can be found only in two places in the world, at the Selangor River in Malaysia and on another river in Brazil. The Malaysia Fireflies are locally known as “Kelip Kelip”, meaning “blinking”. The fireflies dwell along the Selangor river banks, feeding on the Berembang mangrove trees (Sonneratia Casolaris) that grow in the brackish water. These mangroves trees can be found 8 km upstream and 18 km downstream of Kuala Selangor. Embarking on eco-friendly rowing boats, visitors are able to observe the fireflies in very close proximity, guided by a local boatman. The attraction is open between 8.00pm and 10.30pm daily (except for rainy days). Asia’s Answer to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni HISTORY OF WATCHING FIREFLIES IN KUALA SELANGOR Watching fireflies in Kuala Selangor initially was done by local and foreign scientists along Selangor River about 25 years ago. News about fireflies in Kampung Kuantan began to attract residents around Kuala Lumpur to come see for themselves the wonder of fireflies along Selangor River, and from that point, Kampung Kuantan villagers started renting boats to local tourist to see fireflies. It was only in 1989 that Gliding in silence on the river near Firely Tour Pier the Malaysia Utility Company, in collaboration with the local council built a proper jetty, ticket counter and rotating system for boatman. Since then Kampung Kuantan has become known as the Kampung Kuantan Fireflies Park. There is no particular season to watch fireflies in Kuala Selangor. It is open 365 days a year regardless of festivals or holidays While Bolivia has its Salar de Uyuni – where people come from all around the world to photograph the reflections on the thin, but seemingly endless expanse of water on the salt plain, Malaysia’s Sky Mirror is a similar natural phenomenon – in the middle of the sea. The Sky Mirror, in the Straits of Malacca, off Kuala Selangor, a little more than an hour from Kuala Lumpur, is a new attraction for foreign tourists – still “to be discovered” by the broader community of international travel agents and tour operators, and an absolute must for photography buffs. The Sky Mirror is about three kilometres off the coast from the fishing village of Jeram, Selangor. Due to tidal activity, it “appears” only a few days every month, during the first and 15th days of a lunar month, and 4 days before and after. When the tide is ideal, the sand bar emerges with a thin sheet of water on top to give a breathtaking mirror-like reflection. While hundreds of people head to the Sky Mirror to take “crazy” photos, the sheer size of the place means it’s not at all overcrowded. Tourists are advised to wear striking coloured clothes or bring “fun” props to make their photos stand-out, with the thin sheet of water giving sometimes amazing symmetrical images. It was discovered a few years ago by Chinese fishermen in the village of Kampung Sasaran. In the Chinese language, it is known as “Shasha Lan”, and in the Malay language this is converted to “Sasaran”. Sky Mirror is home to a multitude of marine flora and fauna. Along with sand dollars, the most common are sea clams and baby clams which scattered abundantly in the sand and glitter like diamonds under the sun. Other interesting marine organisms found are sea anemones, shore crabs, red crabs, soldier crabs, bamboo clams. sea grapes, bailer shells, sea snails and a variety of shellfish ITB BERLIN NEWS • Wednesday 21 st March 2018

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