Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Respectful Enemies

June 15th, 2012 · No Comments


Rampok macans were Javanese ceremonies which centered upon the slaying of tigers, perhaps as a symbolic way for humans to confirm their dominance over nature. The tigers were not sacrificed, per se, but rather forced into combat that virtually guaranteed their deaths—either against spear-wielding humans or, far more spectacularly, water buffalos. An eyewitness described the tiger-versus-buffalo fights like so:

The first encounter is usually tremendous; the buffalo is the assailant, and his attempt is to crush his antagonist to death against the strong walls of the cage, in which he frequently succeeds. The tiger, soon convinced of the supreme strength of his antagonist, endeavours to avoid him, and when he cannot do so, springs insidiously upon his head and neck. In the first combat of this nature to which I was witness, the buffalo, at the first effort, broke his antagonist’s ribs against the cage, and he dropped down dead. The buffalo is not always so fortunate. I have seen a powerful tiger hold him down, thrown upon his knees for many seconds; and in a few instances, he is so torn with wounds that he must be withdrawn and a fresh one introduced. In nineteen cases out of twenty, however, the buffalo is the victor. After the first onset, there is little satisfaction in the combat; for the animals, having experienced each other’s strength and ferocity, are reluctant to engage, and the practices used to goad them to a renewal are abominable. The tiger is roused by fire brands and boiling water and the buffalo, by pouring upon his hide a potent infusion of capsicums, and by the application of a most poisonous nettle (kamadu) a single touch of which would throw the strongest human frame into a fever.

I am saddened by the fact that the human observers could not be satisfied by the animal combatants’ obvious respect for one another’s skills. The tiger and buffalo’s reluctance to rengage would seem to signal something truly wondrous about nature—namely, the capacity for creatures to learn from past experiences, and to exist more harmoniously as a result. That heartening truth seems to have been lost on the rampok macan attendees, alas.

(Image via KITLV Collections)

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