Wildlife in Asia: Cultural Perspectives

By John Knight | Go to book overview

10

‘PRIMITIVE’ TIGER HUNTERS IN INDONESIA AND MALAYSIA, 1800-1950

Peter Boomgaard


Introduction

Killing tigers is wrong. These words neatly summarize a broadly held consensus on a topic that appeals to increasing numbers of people, as the numbers of tigers steadily drop. In many present-day Western European countries, hunters in general have a bad reputation. In these areas, where wildlife has almost disappeared or is vanishing rapidly, the hunter is seen as an upstart who tries to imitate the gentry of former days, as a backward trigger-happy rural or even as an ecological criminal. The reputation of those who kill tigers is even worse. Such strong feelings are no doubt generated by the near certainty that tigers will become extinct if the tiger killers are not stopped. Also of influence is the popular notion that animals such as wolves, bears, lions and tigers are far less dangerous than people assumed. If these animals started to kill humans, so the argument goes, it was almost always because of human interference (for example, McDougal 1987).

In this chapter, which deals with the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, we encounter hunter-gatherers and semi-sedentary peasants living alongside tigers in what are now Indonesia and Malaysia, sometimes called the Malay world. 1 I shall address the following questions. How did people who actually lived next to tigers relate to them? In what circumstances did they kill tigers, and in what ways did they go about it? The language of ‘coexistence’ is widely used in wildlife conservation circles today But to what extent did people co-exist with tigers in the past?

Numerous studies of the hunting activities of hunter-gatherers and semi-sedentary peasants are mostly concerned with hunting and trapping as a means to acquire food. This is hardly relevant for tiger hunting, where nutritional considerations were either absent or unimportant. I have recently published elsewhere on hunting in general in Indonesia’s past, but there the emphasis was

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