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Indonesia Mythology

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THE mythology of the Indonesian area presents problems which are in many respects similar to those in Polynesia and Melanesia, though more complex in that a larger number of factors are concerned. In Polynesia the ethnic composition of the population was relatively simple, for it seems to have consisted, as already stated, of a blend of several waves of immigrants from Indonesia, who had, presumably in transit, mixed to a varying extent with the peoples of Melanesia. The relative proportions of Indonesian and Melanesian elements in the mythology have been found to vary in different groups of islands, and indications of several strata of Indonesian myths have also seemed to be indicated. In Indonesia itself, on the other hand, a larger number of distinct racial types are present, for we have here the Negrito, Indonesian, and Malay, as well as not inconsiderable elements from Semitic (Arabian) and Hindu sources. The latter peoples have brought with them the influence of the more highly developed cultures of southern Asia, while the Arabs and later Malays have everywhere introduced factors of Islamic origin. Mythological elements imported from these latter sources lie out-side the scope of the present volume, so that, with some exceptions, we shall here consider only those tales which are primarily local and presumably aboriginal in origin, although it will be apparent that the task of separating the native from the introduced mythology is often difficult.

At the outset we may practically eliminate the Negrito from our consideration, inasmuch as there is, as yet, no accessible material derived from these people, who seem once to have formed the underlying stratum of the whole area. Today the Negrito survives only in the Philippines and the Malay Peninsula, and although it is probable that myth material may yet be obtained from them, none has thus far been published. In view of this serious gap in our knowledge, which, it is to be hoped, may soon be filled, we are restricted to the myths of the Indonesian and Malay population. Rather than attempt to separate them at the outset, it will be more advantageous to consider the material as a whole, discovering any subdivisions into distinct types which we may.

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