Indo Myths 4: Half-Human Apes of Borneo (How Mythology Affects Ecology)

manusia setengah orang utan

Would orang-utan people look something like this?

Myth Affects Sea Turtles (intro)

In Bali – as in parts of India – sea turtles are sacrificed in major temples under each full moon. Shells cut open, their blood is then drunken – to show thanks to Lord Wishnu for coming to Earth as a giant sea turtle and lifting the world out of the ocean, at the time of creation.

Why are critically endangered animals allowed to be killed – in the thousands? Well, if you don’t believe that anything dies, then how can you be wronged? In the Hindu cosmogony, they’re sending these creatures to a better place – while the multi-national NGO’s rallying against this blood-letting are the senseless ones standing in the way of progress.

On the Californian coast, however, the Seri peoples thank the turtle for the creation of the ‘world on a turtle’s back’ (which is America) – by praying and singing and watching over them as they lay eggs on the beach.

The Southern coast of Java and all the sea turtles that nest there benefit from folklore that suggests the Queen of the Southern Ocean (Nyi Roro Kidul) prefers a natural and undeveloped shoreline. Too much sprawl and beach development and you’re asking for a tsunami.

These are just three examples of how mythology affects ecology. The next one is more interesting though, don’t worry.

orang utan kalsel

The team, happy on our way out of the woods…

Half-Man Not Myth: The Hybrid People of the Forest

For the orang-utan of South Kalimantan, the myth-roulette spun, and the fiery-orange people of the forest may come out on top – thanks to local folklore.

On our way into the forest, we picked up a man from a village-on-stilts, in Northern Kalsel. He was to conduct a blessing before the team walked off into the forest to find the orang-utan. The blessing involved burning some incense and saying a prayer to help us find, document, and protect the orang-utan – disproving the claims of those with invested interests in natural resources there, saying that there are no great apes in the province (as their existence might delay the progress of palm oil plantations and mining operations).

Later I would learn that this man wasn’t especially gifted at making blessings but rather came along because he was once forcefully ‘courted’ by a female orang-utan. After a while hanging out in the trees, he made his way back to the village, and months later a young boy arrived. He had long arms, doe-eyes, long lashes, and his hair was burned sunset-orange. The community accepted this man’s son. The half-man-orang-utan went to a school-on-stilts in this village-on-stilts, and all was well until he began to grow and started bonking people with his powerful forearms.

The villagers built this troubled teen a home on the outskirts of the forest and left him some food; his father came to visit often. Finally though, the boy found freedom in the trees.

It was this myth that had spread around the village that inspired the community leaders to contact someone from a local University. And that’s why we were there, with our cameras and gallons of water, for a mother and her baby, and a local man owning up for his illegitimate family (and just how illegitimate it all was, I’ve stopped caring).

guys holding up a banner

I (right) holding up a banner for South Borneo Orangutan Care with friend & Ecologist Tom Haley.

“There’s actually a whole village of them now – half-orang-utans,” explained our driver on the way back to Banjarmasin. “Do we have time to go? I’ll take you guys in!”

“Yes!” I say.

“Ah it’s already 6:30,” he said. “We’d be waking them all up. Besides we have to be at the airport pretty early tomorrow morning. And anyway, sometimes I go there and I can’t see them. If they don’t want to be seen, they can’t be seen.”


One thought on “Indo Myths 4: Half-Human Apes of Borneo (How Mythology Affects Ecology)

  1. Pingback: My Thoughts on Cock. | IGNEOUS BOMB IGNEOUS BOMB

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