Silence of the Masks: Revitalizing the Mah Meri Oral Tradition

Author: Faridah Noor Mohd. Noor (University of Malaya)
Speaker: Faridah Noor Mohd. Noor
Topic: Nonverbal semiotics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


The Malaysian oral tradition about Mah Meri masks is sadly fading away. No longer are they being told by elders as in the past. The magic of this oral tradition has disappeared as storytellers have stopped passing this oral tradition to the younger generation. In Selangor, the Mah Meri community of Carey Island is known for the only mask carving and oral tradition heritage. More significantly, each mask comes with its own story. Therefore, keeping this indigenous oral tradition alive is crucial for the preservation of mask stories told in the Mah Meri language, an Austronesian language. Fortunately, a few elders and Mah Meri carvers still keep the oral tradition of the mask spirits. This presentation shares the new digital forms used to record, document and preserve the oral tradition of 61 masks in the Mah Meri language. As such, this is in line with the changes in technology and the society itself that encourages oral tradition to be presented in new forms (Belcher, 2018). This includes a community event that introduced the collection to the community with storytelling activities conducted by two storytellers for the Mah Meri schoolchildren from two primary schools in Carey Island. With the support of community’s headman, teachers and parents, this event was conducted with a long term aim to repackage the oral tradition in new formats and revitalize the art of storytelling for the community. As the oral tradition was used in the past as a vehicle to transmit indigenous knowledge and traditional customs, preserving this unique art form and the oral tradition of the mask stories is crucial. In fact, it is a shared responsibility to assist the Mah Meri people with their effort to preserve the oral tradition of the masks for the sake of their future generation and indigenous cultural heritage.

This work was supported by University of Malaya research grants (B28500 and RU0092017V


Asmah Haji Omar (Ed). (2014). The Mah Meri Language: An Introduction. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press.

Oral traditions and expressions including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage. Retrieved at
Keywords: Mah Meri, Masks, Oral Tradition, Preservation, Cultural Heritage, Indigenous, Carey Island