To My Tiger Page
The Legend Of The Tiger
No matter what the culture or language, the tiger is regarded as the undisputed ruler of its domain and it has had a profound influence on village life in Asia over the centuries. In popular belief the tiger is the oldest inhabitant of the jungle, living there long before humans came. People working in their gardens or in the forest do not dare to call the big cat by its common names. Instead they use respectful titles like 'grandfather/grandmother in-the forest,' 'old man of the forest,' 'general' or 'king of the forest.'
The tiger is variously feared, respected, admired and distrusted depending on the context. The popular beliefs swing between its power to help or harm, save or destroy; although, in Sumatra at least the final analysis is that the tiger is thought of as a good and just animal and a friend rather than a foe, who can be called on in times of illness or difficulty.
Stories also tell of mythical times when a deal was struck between humans and tigers such that they would respect each other's territory - the tiger's forest, the people's village.
In some parts of Sumatra there is a yearly ritual in which this bond between tiger and humans is reaffirmed. Offerings of flowers and rice are presented in the houses, while outside the offerings are of raw meat and the blood of a water buffalo slaughtered for the occasion. It is thought that if the tiger does not get its yearly respect, it will leave the forest and disturb the village.
A tiger or its pawprints suddenly seen on the perimeter means that something in the village is wrong - someone has broken the rules. It may be anything from adultery to a failure to obey the village elders, or that the elders themselves have failed to perform certain tasks. The suspect is fined (in rice or chickens or goats depending on the severity of the crime) and the village chief will bring meat to the forest to inform the tiger that the fault has been corrected. Equally though, if a tiger kills, it has gone too far and retribution must be extracted. The tiger is hunted and killed, although this is done with respect, followed by ceremonial burial.
A number of researchers see the myths as inspired by respect, fear and common sense - common sense because tigers seldom attack humans. If they are left alone the village will be safe. Village youth today holds the same respect for these animals as their parents, so tiger myths are considered a living tradition.
However, a change in attitude can occur when sons leave the village to join the army or the police force, etc. These ideas are eroded when away from the home influence, and the compunction about indiscriminate killing of tigers is lost. Thus the planned government education programs about conservation are being aimed at all sections of the community throughout Indonesia. It is hoped that the message will reach other parts of Asia as well.