Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

'Bangatowa,' 'Patogu' and 'Gaddhungan:' Perceptions of the Tiger among the Madurese

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

'Bangatowa,' 'Patogu' and 'Gaddhungan:' Perceptions of the Tiger among the Madurese

Article excerpt


There are no tigers on Madura now and it is not clear if they even occurred naturally on the island. The tiger (Panthera tigris sondaicus) did live on Java but is now for all practical purposes, extinct. In East Java and Madura, however, the fact of its disappearance is not generally acknowledged. In this paper I explore the reasons for this attitude, looking at the tiger as not just a biological specimen, but as a symbolic construct as well.

The data for this paper were gathered among the Madurese, both on Madura and in East Java where many Madurese have migrated and where they came into contact both with the tiger itself and with Javanese beliefs about the animal. Some of these beliefs were both adopted and adapted and have been taken back to Madura as well. This paper then focuses on these Madurese notions and how they continue to both survive and influence people's lives in the changed circumstances of Madurese life today.

One of the questions underlying this discussion is what happens to symbols when the antecedent object disappears. Elsewhere(1) I have pointed out that the meaning of a symbol is defined by the intersection of the meanings brought to it by the users, predicated on their perception of the antecedent symbolic object. Given the tiger's important symbolic function that will become clear in the following discussion, its disappearance gives rise to this question.

Relations Between Tigers and Man

Tigers used to be quite common in East Java which in 1822 was said to teem with them.(2) At one time the present Baluran National Forest was deemed unsafe for livestock.(3) Tigers and people occupy quite similar ecological niches, both because of their predilection for a forest edge habitat(4) and because of the tiger's liking for hoofed prey(5) found around human gardens and agricultural fields forming part of the village live-stock population.

Actually, the relationship between humans and tigers was an ambiguous one. Tigers protected village fields by preying on pests attracted to them,(6) but they occasionally killed live-stock and on rare occasions attacked humans.(7) As Seidensticker and Suyono(8) mention, "... both were bound together in an integral and fragile web.... Both were molded and bound by the nature of their resource base and the forces of their environment. "

Thus man and the tiger were adapted to an environment that included each other, but the tiger's adaptation was far less flexible. Humans operate on the basis of a cultural, symbolic definition of the environment whereas the tiger did not. This situation persisted in East Java so long as the human population was not very large. Hunting and farming did not produce a crisis as people did not destroy their environment and cleared fields often reverted to forest.(9)

In the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the Dutch colonial powers decided to open the forest lands in East Java for plantations, attracting thousands of workers from Central Java and Madura and reducing the forest cover from about 12 million hectares in 1870 to about 9 million in 1970.(10) These changes initiated a growth in population from about 9.4 million people in the mid-nineteenth century to about 110 million people in 1990 on Java as a whole.(11) Today Java's rural population alone stands at about 92 million persons.

This population shift had a disastrous impact on the natural environment. Natural areas and their wild animal populations were pushed back at an ever increasing rate(12) and the introduction of guns further reduced both the number of tigers and of their prey.(13) The dynamic balance between tigers and villagers, in which tigers were feared but respected and welcomed as a natural control over agricultural pests changed as tigers, displaced and deprived of their prey, were forced to hunt both villagers and their live-stock.(14)

Colonial reports depict the tiger as a ruthless killer of live-stock and humans. …

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