I have just landed in Indonesia, a country so full of mysteries and old stories you wouldn’t really know where to begin collecting them. In fact, fairytales and old fables are so embedded into peoples everyday life here it’s even hard to distinguish what people actually believe to be true and what is just old ‘wisdom.’
And this mix of myth and reality is exactly what enthralls me about this country, so before I left my home in Norway I was going through some old books that my brother had from his travels in South East Asia almost two decades ago, anxious to see what I could find.
One in particular caught my attention. It was a small book he had bought from the Dayak people of Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, and contained a collection of stories about their beliefs on how life on earth began, and later evolved. The book begins with the origin of the world: The origins of the heavens and the earth.
In the beginning, before there even was a world, there was a vast and empty space blacker than the darkest night. Within this space there was, it is said, a web that swayed slowly back and forth as though blown by a gentle breeze.
Perched within this web was a giant bird called Beniank Lajang Langit – meaning ‘Wild Eagle of the Skies.’ On the eagle’s back stood a spirit known as Wook Ngesok.
On the left shoulder of Wook Ngesok was a place called Belikutn Tana Bengkolok Langit, literally meaning ‘A Handful of Earth; a Bulge of Sky.’ On his left shoulder was a place called Tana Kuasa, Bengkolokng Tana, Meaning ‘The land of Power, a Bulge of Earth.’ Wook Ngesok’s arms were made of rock and were stretched out before him, his thumbs almost touching.
At Belikutn Tana Bengkolok Langit grew eight trees and near them lived a family, eight generations of them together. The youngest a man called Imang. Similar, at Tana Kuasa, Bengkolokng Tana there were also eight trees growing, and next to them a family of eight generations, the youngest a girl called Lolang Kintang, meaning beautiful Kintang.
Imang had been seven times married, seven times a widower, seven times a father and seven times left childless. Beautiful Kintang had also had seven husbands, was left a widow seven times, had been a mother seven times and also her left childless seven times. Both felt their fate unbearable and each decided to end the suffering and their life. Imang, wanting to kill himself, walked towards the end of the rock that was Wook Ngesok’s right arm. Beautiful Kintang, determined to seek death, walked along the other arm. At the end of the rocks, the tip of the arms where the tumbs almost touched, they met and where able to speak across the gap.
They both heard about the others misfortune, the story being so similar to their own and each confining to the other their wish for death. Even though Imang didn’t know this beautiful woman he still said: “We have both had so full a share of misfortune, and we have both come to this place with the same purpose. This being the case, maybe it is better we follow a different path?” He then opened his hearth and proposed that they marry. Beautiful Kintang accepted and they made a house spanning the distance between the ends of the rocks where they lived. Not long thereafter came the first of many children, a son – The Spirit of the Sun. Then the next child – The Spirit of theMoon and thereafter countless others, The Numberless stars.
The tale then goes on and tells us how the earth was created and how the spirits of the sun, moon and all the stars then left the earth allowing humans to inhabit the space. But the most interesting thing I think was this: Just as in The Bible, according to the Dayak, the first human female was created by a man’s rib. I know that this isn’t the only example of how stories that had nothing to do with Christianity ended up in the Bible, still though, I can’t help but smile of the fact that thousands and thousands of years before The Bible was even thought of, people we now would regard as illiterate created stories that are taught in modern schools worldwide.
Source: Temputn – Myths of the Benuaq and Tunjung Dayak