Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mak Minah would have celebrated her 81st birthday...

Video footage featuring the Chiling, Luit and Selangor rivers in Ulu Selangor, Malaysia edited to the song 'Sungai Makao' by Akar Umbi. This video officially launches the Ecowarriorz blogspot and is my personal tribute to Mak Minah who was a true guardian of the environment and an inspiration to many. ~ Mary Maguire

A Tribute to Mak Minah
(14.9.1930 ~ 21.9.1999)

Ceremonial singer... noblewoman... cultural representative of the Temuan tribe... free spirit and a friend to all.

Mak Minah (Menah Kuntom) was born in Pertak, Ulu Selangor, between the First and Second World Wars. Those who remember her in her youth report that she was extremely feisty and perhaps even a little wayward. But her second husband, Batin Angong of Gerachi, was a mature tribal leader who groomed Minah for the important role of Batin’s wife, and taught her all the songs he knew. They had a daughter and five sons – the eldest of whom, Ramsit, is now Batin of Gerachi.

When Batin Angong died, Mak Minah moved back to Pertak to live with her sister Indah. It was around this time that Minah befriended Antares and Rafique, two musicians seeking sanctuary in Kuala Kubu Bharu from the clangor of the Klang Valley. Before long a musical collaboration began which led to the formation of Akar Umbi – a “trance-ethnic” fusion group – and widespread acclaim for Mak Minah as a cultural representative of her tribe. Her goodnatured willingness to be a friend to all made her an ideal ambassador for the marginalized Orang Asli community.

Audiences everywhere were uplifted by Mak Minah’s soulful voice. Her songs reflected the love and reverence indigenous peoples feel for the land. They were a powerful antidote to the cynicism and myopia of a “modern” worldview centered on money and power.

Offstage, Mak Minah was a fearless and outspoken advocate of cultural and spiritual autonomy for the Orang Asli. She fiercely opposed the State government’s plan to relocate two Temuan villages for a dam project on Sungai Selangor which would destroy the wild beauty and sanctity of the Pertak area.

“I will fight the dam as long as I live,” Mak Minah repeatedly said. But it is a heart-rending fight that has set brother against brother, mother against son, neighbor against neighbor. The psychological conflict and uncertainty exhausted her.

Mak Minah’s passionate love for the rainforest where her tribe has lived for countless generations is an inspiration to all of us who share an alternative vision – one where mutual respect for all tribes and the healing of the earth take precedence over economic and political


The last time I saw Minah alive was around midday on the 21st of September, 1999. The day before I had taken her to the clinic because she was complaining of aches all over her chest and back, and she had no appetite. The doctor said Minah had a viral infection and prescribed some medicine, suggesting that she drink lots of Glucolin to get her energy back. I was on my way to Kuala Lumpur and told Minah I'd look in on her the next day.

At 3 a.m. I received a phone call informing me that she had died in her sleep at 7:03 p.m. at the Kuala Kubu Bharu hospital.

Her granddaughter Sembo and another friend were by her side. A week ago she turned 69 and three weeks earlier she had returned happy and fulfilled from Sarawak, after performing with Akar Umbi at the 2nd Rainforest World Music Festival.

Mak Minah had a very sweet smile on her face when they buried her on a hill we shall henceforth call Bukit (Mount) Minah. Ironically, she was the first to be interred in a virtually inaccessible new tribal gravesite allocated to Gerachi Villagers in view of the government's determination to inundate the old Temuan burial site with the proposed Selangor Dam. Minah swore to resist the dam to her last breath and she did.

[Source: Magick River website]