Borneo’s Prometheus: Mythical Origins of Burning Rainforests

Mythical Origins of Burning Rainforests: The Prometheus of Borneo

Indonesian Myths

“In Laki Oi, we recognize the Kayan ‘Prometheus,’ whose memory is revered by sanctifying the fire procured after his manner of teaching […]”

-Charles Hose & William McDougall, The Pagan Tribes of Borneo

According to some Dayak beliefs, soot and ash symbolize fertility, virility, and progress.

The Dayak tribes of Indonesia have always used fire to clear land. While this may have been sustainable — on a small scale — for tens of thousands of years, incentivized by reckless investments, the oldest rainforests on this planet are now under threat. Local landowners are left to do the job as cheaply and efficiently as possible, and fire is still their go-to, as it has been for millennia.

1-CmwWr86g9ZLxJ7MUByeXkASatellite image from: []

A Kayan Creation Myth

In the beginning there was only rock, which worms then digested and turned into soil. A great tree took root, and from…

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The New Diwali Love Story: Rahwana & Sita

Diwali comes next week! So, here is The New Diwali Love Story: Rahwana & Sita.

Indonesian Myths

rahwana The traditional, non-Indonesian image of Rahwana & Sita.

Diwali Festival: Victory of Light over Darkness

In the West, when a man is romantic we call him Romeo. In the East, men are told to be as Rama, and women are told to be as Sita. Asia’s most popular love story, Rama & Sita is often compared to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Don’t expect to be swept away, however: remember that Romeo & Juliet is a brutal tragedy. The eastern legend serves as a description of a certain flavor of fatalism, concepts of love, reincarnation, spirituality, and philosophy – however modestly the story starts:

In the beginning, wherein many suitors had already tried and failed, Rama launches an arrow from Sita’s especially stiff bow thereby winning the competition to have her as his bride.

Be As Rama

Rama is set to be the next king of Adohya. There is a problem…

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Miners die in illegal Tunnels daily: Jakartans invest — just for Sport!

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A miner in the village of Sungai Luar’s pertambangan liar.

You Have Received an Invitation to Play Miner-Ville©


In the capital city of Jakarta, the super rich can afford to take their hobbies seriously. While the rest of us play Candy Crush and Farmville, these folks enjoy investing in illegal mining operations around the nation. Like horse races, this is sport, and it fits their routine of data analysis, assembling teams, judging key characters involved, and pitting them against one another.

I know this because the owner of a warung I frequent happens to be their third party. A former business person from a country in Central Asia, K quit his job and somehow found himself going down narrow, unsafe tunnels to mine for precious minerals on the island of Lombok. As soon as he had assembled a solid team, though a few also died down the tunnels in the process (and the smell was pretty awful, he says), he took the figures to Jakarta to show potential investors. The hobbyists took the bait, and the illegal mining sector of Indonesia’s wild, resource frontier digs on.

Fights to the death are a daily occurrence in the mining town of Tanah Bumbu in South Kalimantan. The feverish desperation of miners has created an economy of gambling, narcotics, and prostitution. Deaths of up to fifteen miners in one day go unreported. Children are taken out of primary schools to help their fathers in the tunnels, because eleven-year-olds can squeeze into tight spaces tens of meters down, in unsupported canals. I know this because I once strapped a camera to the head of one of these mining tweens.

Demam batu, or rock fever, struck Southeast Asia immediately after the economic collapse of 1998. Only now are miners finally returning to the earth to plant crops, often enjoying government subsidies to make the transition. Though it requires more of an investment, fish farming is also a trend. Sleeping in floating huts on lakes and rivers around the country, the fish-feeders wake every few hours to distribute pellets. They are the sons and daughters of the miners, still trying to escape.

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Natural Resources and Capitalist Frontiers:


“‘Indonesian Miners Revive Gold Rush Spirit of 49ers’ proclaimed a headline in the Los Angeles Times.” On a continent famous for producing knock offs, even this resource frontier seems unoriginal, “shaped by other wild times and places.”

“The activity of the frontier is to make human subjects as well as natural objects. The frontier, indeed, had come to Kalimantan.”

“Frontier landscapes are particularly active: hills are flooding away, ants and humans are on the move. On the frontier, nature goes wild.”

“…to them, the world is a frontier. There is no point in asking how frontiers come to be; they are nature itself.”

The Story of Semar: Divine Hermaphrodite

The story of Semar is dense and outlandish.

Indonesian Myths

Darkness & Light in Creation Myths

In Zoroastrianism, the spiritual Universe was created 3,000 years before the physical one. This belief that the spirit came first is the basis of Indonesian mysticism too, as is the Zoroastrian idea that all of creation took place ‘to ensnare evil’. And once these two universes were combined, Angra Mainyu emerged as the darkness below, while Ahura Mazda was the goodness and light above. All of the rest is interplay of light and shadow. A shadow play.

In the Philippines, the Tagalog origin story of day and night, Apolaki vs. Mayari, plays on the same duality, but with the sun and moon. What is important to note is that the creator in this story is called Bethala – of relation to Indonesia’s beloved, rouge God, Betara Guru.

semar (1) DeviantArt Painting of the one-and-only Semar: The Uncle Sam of Indonesia.

Wayang Purwa: A Creation…

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Kuntilanak: if Miscarriage had a Face.

Have you ever heard of Kuntilanak? Personally I find its backstory the most terrifying of all Indonesian mythological entities. Enjoy! #hanyamitos

Indonesian Myths

Way, way Back Story:

Good old Joseph Campbell suggests that our first myths are 130,000 year old grave goods buried with a group of Neanderthals. Finds like these speak of developed emotional attachments, and more importantly the concept of another dimension where these stone hand tools could be used again. In Mysticism in Java, Niels Mulder writes that the only important truth, at least in Javanese kejawen mysticism, is our emotional one. All else – and I mean everything entirely — comes a distant second, if that. On these grounds we will continue to explore this other dimension, alam gaib, the phenomenal nature; also known as niskala, or the immaterial flip side of audible, visible, touchable, tastable, smellable reality.

And expect to find more than a tall pile of stone hand tools and arrowheads.

The earliest stone hand tools ever found were 3.3 million years ago. They were not grave goods, however. The earliest stone hand tools ever found were 3.3 million years old, but they weren’t grave…

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Tiptoeing around the Tsunami Queen: Nyai Roro Kidul

Expanding on my previous entry about one of the most important mythological figures in a country of 261 million people. #hanyamitos

Indonesian Myths

Nyai Roro Kidul: Made in India?

In Hindu India, devotes are more likely to reach Moksa, the paradise beyond the cycle of reincarnation, if bodies are cremated and ashes scattered in the Ganges rivers. From the Milky Way and through a lock of Shiva’s hair, pouring down from the Himalayan Mountains, the mystical Queen of the Ganges governs these brown tributaries.

As early as the 1st century BC, Hinduism spread 8,000 kilometers southeast, forming the Majapahit Kingdom of Southeast Asia, centralized in what is now Indonesia. During this era, the coasts would have been busy with cremations, ashes, and remains washing out to sea.

Is it possible that Java’s Queen of the Southern Seas is a younger sister of the Queen of the Ganges herself?

jokowi-dan-nyi-roro-kidul Evidence: The President has been meeting in secret with The Queen of the Southern Seas. Read on to understand.

Colonialism and the Ocean Queen…

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Borneo’s Bird King: An Origin Myth

A translation of a myth told in the South of Borneo paints a picture of governance, being the main cause of the destruction of the rainforest for palm oil, and the origins of Borneo’s precious animals. #hanyamitos @indo_myths

Indonesian Myths

In a distant past, the rangkong was still the king of the birds, and trees bowed to the weight of their own fruits. He sought for seeds that would bring the most food to the forest; passing beyond the horizon, he flew by day and he flew by night.

While the hills and valleys were full of celebration, many convocations of eagles were brooding, becoming hateful and jealous of the rangkong. As they feed on baby chicks from the nests of others, the eagles had found themselves in a spot of trouble; the adults that watched over these nests never seemed to fly away anymore, since the fruits they enjoyed were now in abundance.

The hornbill, known as the king of the forest in Borneo. Album of Abyssinian birds and mammals Chicago :Field Museum of Natural History,1930.

The eagles encouraged the hornbill to take over rule of the forest, sacking the rangkong as king. And for the cunning of the…

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