Topeng (The Mask) - The Art of Orang Asli
The Orang Asli or aborigines of Peninsular Malaysia consists of 19 tribes and can be divided into three ethnolinguistic groups, i.e. Semang (Negrito), Senoi (Sakai) and Proto-Malay. Only two sub-groups of Senoi branch; the Jah Huts of Jerantut, Pahang, and the Mah Meri od coastal Selangor, are reknown for their skill of carving sculptures and masks or topeng.
The former display their mastery and ingenuity at sculpture, whereas the latter in masks and sculptures. Being animists, the wood carving is manifestations of their primitive beliefs of the supernatural world. Their masks are their heritage in so far as myths and legends are told via them. Characters in these stories are outward forms of various ancestral spirits, called moyang, who are either humans, animals or semi-humans. Incidentally, all masks are called moyang. The masks are used during spiritual dances such as joh and tengkeng, as well as sakat buang, a practice that uses the mask to cast away diseases from the sick.
Topeng - made by special wood.
The tradition of carving mask is predominantly a male pastime activity, passed on from father to son. Each carver specialized in specific spirits as there are over 460 types of masks. While Museum of Asian Art has collecting 111 pieces of masks from various types of moyangs. No mask of the same spirit is identical as each carving is individualistic. Very often, each type of mask consists of a pair of male and female spirits.
It takes about 2-4 weeks for a mask to be completed. Only two types of mangrove wood are used for carving; the nyireh batu (Carapa moluccensis) and the tingkong or pulai (Alstonia Spatulata, Blume). The former, the dark reddish brown hardwood is used mainly for sculptures and sometimes for masks, while the latter, the beige coloured wood, is used only for mask as it is lighter and softer
ZAHIRAH NOOR ZAINOL ABIDIN
The Mask : The False Face
The art of making masks have been in existence since the Paleolithic age. Early discoveries made at 30,000 years-old archeological sites in Teyjat, Dordogne and cave paintings in Lourdes, France indicate that people have been masks depicting faces of wild and haunted animals. It is believed that the one who wears such a mask would be granted extraordinary powers.
The Jah Hut tribe in rural Pahang make masks too. Two groups of people – the orthodox elders, still wear masks with strong beliefs in taboos and special powers of the unseen, while the other generation creates masks for commercial purpose through constantly producing new designs. Masks are still used during special occasions amongst the Javanese and the Balinese communities in Indonesia. However, the presentation held to day are mostly to attract tourist.
Hudo (Mask of t he Kenyah and Kayan Tribe of Sarawak)
Hudo is a mask m ade and worn by some of the indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak namely the Iban, Kenyah and Kayan tribes either for cult u ral purposes of simply for entertainment. The mask is worn at the beginning or during the harvest festivals and also to welcome guests to their homes.
The Dayak women of the Kenyah and Kayan tribe, wear Hudo to scare little children who are still playing outside at sunset. The wearer becomes the temporary mediator between his real self and the spirits. These masks are also worn by spiritual healers when conducting rituals and also during funerals.
The Museum of Asian Art has 16 Hudos presented by Mr. Nelson Tan of Sarawak.