Celebrating The Selangor International Indigenous Arts Festival 2016

Celebrating The Selangor International Indigenous Arts Festival 2016

Saturday mornings at Taman Botani Negara Shah Alam are always a teeming affair. The park is visited by all walks of life from busloads of school children on a day trip to the thrill-seekers climbing the tree canopies of Skytrex.

This Saturday morning however has a carnival atmosphere to it – the botanical gardens is hosting the second annual Selangor International Indigenous Arts Festival 2016 (SIIAF16).

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SIIAF16 is a celebration of indigenous people, also known as Orang Asal, found throughout Malaysia and their regional neighbors like the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. It’s a colorful festival that offers a glimpse into the lives of these ethnic groups via engaging activities.

Here’s a snapshot of my day at the SIIAF16.

Cultural Performances

Dance performances are one of the cultural hallmarks of indigenous groups. They serve many purposes such as celebrating a harvest and giving thanks to their ancestors or gods. At the main stage, visitors were treated with melodies of singing and chanting accompanied by harmonious sounds of their hand-made instruments.

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The Jahut and Temiar combo, from Pahang and Kelantan respectively, started off with a  trance-like incantation followed by the Temuan and Jahai brethren. Meanwhile, a dash of international flavor was served by two lovely ladies from the Da’ang hill tribe of Chiang Mai, Thailand who captivated the crowd with their graceful movements.

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Arts and Craft Exhibition

An arts and craft exhibition was located beside the main stage. The mini expo is a fine mixture of stalls selling indigenous handicrafts, booths advocating the diverse issues faced by the Orang Asal and a mini photography gallery showcasing the daily activities of these people.

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I was happy to see Gerai OA as part of the exhibition. They are a volunteer-run stall selling indigenous handicrafts whereby each item is labeled with its origin and 100% of the proceeds are paid to the artisans. Gerai OA is a noble effort to connect the Orang Asal with the rest of society through the sales of their hand-made items.

I should know – I proudly own a bookmark made by a Mah Meri and have been using it ever since.

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Traditional Houses

There were two traditional houses set up on a lawn nearby, depicting homes of two major indigenous tribes in Selangor – the Temuan of the lowland valleys and Mah Meri of the coastal shores. Both houses look similar in terms of design and materials – bamboo, nipah and rattan are extensively used to construct these cute little huts.

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While the Temuan hung bouquets of woven nipah leaves, the Mah Meri decorated their whole house with origami-like birds and flowers. This could be due to their belief system where the former believes only spirits inhabit natural formations like rivers and mountains while the latter sees that every living and inanimate object possess spirits that interact with their daily lives.

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Food Demonstration & Tasting

What’s a Malaysian festival without food? The communal cooking section is the most bustling place to be as groups of Orang Asal were studiously churning out their traditional fares to the masses. I witnessed a Temiar from Kelantan steadfastly making a rice and cassava leaf-stuffed bamboo cooked over slow fire.

IMG_9586A nearby booth was open for visitors to try the culinary creations of the indigenous people. I tried everything from the wrapped glutinous rice to the the stuffed cassava leaves and came out with a sense of appreciation on the origin of food. It might not be fancy and flavorful but it is definitely wholesome and healthy for the body.

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 SIIAF16 was my first experience with a diverse set of indigenous people under one roof. The hands-on activities were fun and engaging as visitors could see, eat, feel and dance with this group of people who are the first inhabitants of this country.

Festivals like this elevate the awareness towards the Orang Asal and the issues they face when it comes to their survival in this modern era. I do hope to see a continuation of this two-day festival with a greater emphasis on us understanding and respecting their roots and rights  because like you and me, they too are Malaysians.

On A Side Note…

Many thanks to Tourism Selangor and PCP Publications for selecting my photo below as the Grand Prize Winner of the SIIAF16 Instagram Contest!

 

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