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Indonesia Mythology - Summary

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

IN drawing general conclusions regarding Polynesian mythology it was possible to employ a roughly statistical system, though with the clear realization that the use of this method was barely justified in view of the fragmentary character of the material. In the case of Indonesia, this treatment is less available, for here the incompleteness and in particular the unevenness of our material are much greater. No attempt, therefore, will be made to apply any statistical methods, and conclusions must depend very largely on more general features.

Considering first the question raised at the beginning of this section as to a distinction between specifically Indonesian mythology as opposed to Malay, the results are, it must be confessed, rather disappointing. Practically the only data from the reasonably pure and uninfluenced Indonesian tribes are from the Igorot and Ifugao of northern Luzon in the Philip-pines, and even this material is as yet scanty. The Tinguian seem to show fairly clear evidence of some outside influence. From the wilder tribes of the rest of the whole East- Indian Archipelago no myths are available, so far as the writer knows. Judging from this scanty store alone, it would appear that the type of myths characteristic of the Indonesian tribes, who presumably spread over the whole Archipelago before the arrival of the Malays, was distinguished (1) by the absence of any strictly cosmogonic tales, together with those relating to the origin of man, and (2) by the considerable development of flood-legends. So far as known, the trickster tales, so wide-spread elsewhere in the Archipelago, are practically absent; but, on the other hand, a considerable number of miscellaneous myths, pretty widely current in Borneo, Celebes, and the Moluccas, are present, at least among the Tinguian. It is perhaps significant, however, that in several instances these tales are more archaic and purely mythical here than are the somewhat sophisticated versions current in the extra-Philippine area. In many of the stories from the more or less mixed tribes of Borneo, Celebes, and the Moluccas one feels a certain indefinable Indonesian quality, and these elements seem, on the one hand, relatively less marked among the purer Malays, and on the other, are those which most frequently appear outside the Archipelago to the eastward in Melanesia and Polynesia; but it must be confessed that, as far as origin-myths are concerned, Indonesian and Polynesian beliefs have little in common. Affinities in the opposite direction, i. e. on the Asiatic continent, are, it must be admitted, vague. One would logically hope to find indications of relationship with the Mon-Hkmr peoples of Indo-China and the adjacent territory, with whom, on linguistic and perhaps on physical grounds, the Indonesians seem to be connected. Unfortunately, we possess little or no material on the mythology of the wilder Mn-Hkmr tribes, who have been uninfluenced by Indian or Chinese culture; although the few scraps which we have from these latter i. e. from those who have almost certainly been modified by contact with higher culture seem to agree with what has been regarded as the most typical Indonesian material, in that the absence of any real cosmogony and the presence of more or less elaborate flood-myths are characteristic. It would be unwise, however, to lay much stress on these points, and all that can safely be said at present is that, on the one hand, there is no evidence against an affiliation of Mn-Hkmr and Indonesian mythology, which would be probable on a priori grounds; and that, on the other hand, there are suggestions of Indonesian influence extending eastward through Melanesia and beyond.

For the bulk of the myth material from the Archipelago, exclusive of this more specifically Indonesian portion, the questions of greatest importance are (I) the extent to which it has been influenced by Indian and (z) by Islamic culture. The earliest period of Indian contact was one in which Buddhist influence was paramount, and perhaps the clearest evidence of its effect is seen in the Trickster Tales, a large portion of which appear in the Jtakas and other early Indian sources. The same tales have been found, as has been said, in Cambodia and Annam and among the remnants of the Cham, where Indian culture became dominant even earlier than in the Archipelago; and some occur as far afield as Japan, where they are clearly exotic elements introduced during the earliest period of contact with China and Korea, in both of which areas Buddhism had already long been established. In how far other mythic elements in the Archipelago are to be traced to this Buddhist period must be determined by those more familiar than the writer with early Indian literature. Judging only from the evidence of the Trickster Tales, this earliest Indian influence shows itself in the mythology most strongly in Java and parts of Sumatra and southern Borneo. The decline of Buddhism in India and the reaction toward the later Hinduistic cults, which had already begun as early as the fourth century A. D., was duplicated in large measure in the Archipel-ago: Prambanan succeeded Boro-Budur; Hindu epics like the Rmyana and Mahbhrata replaced the Jatakas as a source from which the Hinduized Javanese story-tellers could draw their inspiration; and the spread of literature and writing doubtless aided in the dissemination of this material. Beliefs in a triad of gods, in serpent deities and cosmic eggs, in heavenly beings with magic flying-houses (vidhydharas) and roc-like birds who preyed upon man (garudas) these and probably others seem attributable to this period and to Indian sources. These elements have, as compared with the earlier features, a wider distribution in the Archipelago, being noticeable in the more eastern islands, such as Halmahera and parts of Celebes. How far we may trace their influence among the more interior tribes, such as the Battak in Sumatra and the Kayan in Borneo, is hard to say, but in the former instance appreciable influence must be admitted.

Islamic influences in the mythology of the Archipelago, while observable, of course, among those portions of the population which have become strongly Muhammadanized, seem, on the other hand, much weaker among the wilder tribes, from whom much of our material is derived. Even among the former, however, older Indian influences can often be discerned, as well as a surviving element of original Malay origin; but the difficulty of separating the three constituents here becomes very great.

When from the whole mass of the mythology of the Archipelago we have eliminated everything that may with any show of probability be regarded as due either to Indian or Islamic contact, direct or indirect, there still remains a large body of material which must be regarded as native. The affiliations of this group of tales and incidents are clear, at least in one direction. With Melanesia and, so far as the scanty material bears evidence, with Micronesia the resemblances are patent. It is noteworthy that in the former area similarities occur predominatingly among those peoples which are Melanesian rather than Papuan in language and physical type, and which lie in the track of the assumed migrations of the Polynesian ancestors along the northern coasts of New Guinea and through the lesser islands, extending thence toward Samoa and New Zealand. With Polynesia itself the relations are also unmistakable. Where they are clearest, they coincide with what we have denominated the later strata of myth, rather than with the earlier; with that which is more characteristic of Samoa and central Polynesia than of Hawaii and New Zealand. To the west the congeners of this aboriginal Malay mythology are obscure. Our knowledge of the peoples of south-eastern Asia which have been uninfluenced either by Indian or by Chinese culture is thus far very meagre, and material on their mythology is almost wholly lacking. If we are to look to the Mn-Hkmr peoples for resemblances with the strictly Indonesian myths, we may perhaps expect to find the antecedents of Malay mythology among the Thai or Shan, that great group of peoples which, at the beginning of history in this part of the world, occupied so large an area in southern China and northern Indo-China. Driven south and east by the slow expansion of the Chinese on the north, they have, from the first millennium B. C., pushed down into the south-eastern tip of the continent, pressing in their turn upon the Mn-Hkmr, who apparently occupied much of the Indo-Chinese peninsula. Beset by peoples of Thai origin, on the one hand by the Sinicized Annamese, and on the other by the Siamese, the older Mon-Hkmr power of Cambodia finally perished. Yet it is not to the modern representatives of these conquering Thai peoples that we turn for help, for they have suffered too much outside influence to preserve intact their original beliefs. It is rather to the wilder tribes of Laos, the Shan States, Yn-nan, and the other provinces of southern China that we might look for the prototypes of the Malay of the Archipelago.

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