According to stories from the elders, the Mah Meri tribe was said to originate from Johor Lama, otherwise known as Kota Linggi. Upon the late Sultan Mahmud’s demise, all his subjects dispersed in many different directions to protect themselves from being killed by robbers and pirates. Some of them ran away following the land route and coastal routes of the Straits of Malacca. during the course of their escape, they made several stop overs, namely of the beach of Batu Pahat, Muar, Melaka, Kuala Linggi, Kuala Sungai Lukut, Sungai Sepang Besar/Kecil and Sungai Rawang. A small number of them meanwhile went towards Ulu Chuchuh ,Bukit Bangkok and subsequently to Tanjung Sepat ,Pulau Carey (Carey Island) and Pelabuhan Klang (Part Klang).
Reseachers opine that the Mah Meri are not the original inhibitants of this country. They bilong to the Senoi tribe who are believed to originate from Cambodia and Vietnam. According to some genetic research carried out by reseachers , it was found that Mah Meri community is classified as descendants of the Mongoloid people. Physically, they have slightly dark complexion, with curly wavy hair, dark eyes, are around 156cm to 168cm in height, and are somewhat chubby in stature and wirh a body weight of around 50kg to 65kg.
The word ‘Mah Meri’ means ‘forest people’ or people who live in the forest . ‘Mah’ is the word for people and ‘Meri’ refers to the forest. Just like most of the other indigenous tribes, the Mah Meris originally lived in the forest. This is the reason why there are tribes who refer to this group as people who live in the forest or Mah Meri. Terminologically meanwhile, Mah Meri means ‘sea people’ because they live near the sea and are mostly fishermen . However, there is yet any accurate historical evidence that can shed a light as to their origins prior to coming to this country. Their culture and social structure are similar to that of the Proto-Malay while their speech is Mon Khmer.
In terms of their beliefs, Mah Meris practise animism. They turn to the forest sea for their source of livelihood and spiritual life. These will be realised the form of figurines, which would be connected to their ancestors and natural environment. There would often be two forms- the good or the bad. This is the reason why they conduct various ceremonies as a sign of respect and to appease the spirits or even unseen beings who they belive are responsible for structuring as well as meting oul punishment on their life. Apart from the Batin, ‘Jenang’, ‘jukerah’, ‘penghawa’ and ‘laksamana’, the Payang or shaman is regarded as an important person in their social structure as he is among the conduits to the unseen beings. Photo by: SYED AZAHAR SYED OSMAN.