indonesia corners

indonesia corners

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Mystery of Prehistoric Megaliths

Far remote in the dawn of human history, there was a period when people used to erect huge stone monuments, which today is called the megalithic era. The monuments were intended either to commemorate the dead, to praise the Creator of the universe or to call for the local gods in providing their blessings.

Megaliths are specifically defined as monolith erected monuments which include menhir and obelisk. The term of megaliths, in general, may include Stonehenge in Great Britain, the obelisk in Egypt, dolmen (offering stony altar) and sarcophagus for the burial of noted persons.

Menhirs can be found in various parts of the world and sometimes it is difficult to explain how and why ancient, prehistoric people managed to construct such a huge stony monument weighing up to 250 tons. 

A speculative explanation points out to giants who possibly lived before the Floods more than 30,000 years ago, the only individuals capable to manage such heavy stones. However such reasoning is unjustifiable as there are some which are just 8,000 years old or less.

Indonesia inherits the remains from the megalithic era shown by numerous menhirs found spread out throughout the archipelago. The origin of menhir in Indonesia as in everywhere else is still a mystery. A certain theory asserts that megalithic tradition came from Central Asia following several waves of migration southward to various parts of Indonesia and westward to Europe starting from 2,500 BC up to  800 BC.

Menhirs erected for the purpose of animism ritual activities found in Batusangkar and Limapuluh Koto Regency, West Sumatera, taking the forms of swords, horny beasts or human heads of around 4,500 years old.

The stony monuments found in Tunjungmuli village, Purbalingga regency, Central Java are believed to be used as offering altars. Some menhirs in the form of wrapped dead body were found just recently which is supposed to be used for rituals to expel bad omen.

Toraja area, in South Sulawesi, preserves around 100 menhirs, some of which are huge measuring not less than 8 meters height. The ancient Torajanese erected those stony monuments right in front of the noble person’s burial place.

Menhirs in Sumba which stand together with dolmens and sarcophagus,  the noble families’ graves, were erected for the purpose of rituals to preserve the harmonious interaction of the immaterial and material worlds.

Menhirs in Flores had been intended for various purposes such as for declaring wars, opening the forest for agricultural cultivation and for praising local gods. Unfortunately, only a few menhirs are preserved and today treated as anthropological remains.

Menhir has lost its function as a sacred place, and merely becomes an anthropological remain, except in Nias island, offshore of North Sumatra. Until today  Nias people still preserve the megalithic rituals and even erect new menhirs for those purposes.  UNESCO plans to enlist Nias in World Heritage because of its “living megalith culture”.

In this island, most menhirs were constructed in the form human bodies complete with their phallus or stand-alone big phallus of 2 to 3 meters height symbolizing the human fertility. Dolmens erected near those menhirs were used for offering altars.  

All menhirs were erected in purpose at around 500 meters above the sea level to avoid the possible damage from tsunamis which from time to time swept the Nias coastal area for thousand-year period.

Who were really these megalith people? Was there any relationship between Indonesian prehistoric cave people and megalith people? Were they the same or different people? Why were menhirs erected in different places around the world separated by such long distances such as Europe-Indonesian archipelago-Easter Island far away in the eastern part of Pacific?

Could it be that Nias people are the clue to open the mystery? Too many questions are unanswered and too many happenings still remain mystery.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Prehistoric Cave Paintings and the Lost East of Eden

Indonesia is not only rich in traditional and contemporary cultures but also in olden cultures reflected by many temples erected from around 500 AD. There are even numerous prehistoric remains such as megalithic and cave paintings discovered spread out throughout the archipelago.

The worldwide prehistoric era is still tightly covered by mystery. The civilizations seem to emerge out of sudden rising those of Sumerian, Babylonian and ancient Egypt around 10,000 BC. Before that time barely any information handed down to us except some artifacts in the form of cave paintings from prehistoric cave-dwelling people.

These artifacts survive for a very long time from the period as old as 35,000 years ago such as prehistoric paintings in Lascaux and Chauvet caves, France and 25,000 years ago in Western Cape, South Africa, and Santa Barbara, California, all measured by means of the radiocarbon date.

Indonesia seems also to be inhabited by numerous prehistoric people among other in Maros (Sulawesi) with the age estimated between 30,000 to 10,000 years, in Tewet (Kutai Regency, Kalimantan), more than 10,000 years, in Seram, Kei Islands, and Papua.

In Kalimantan, around 1,000 caves have been inventoried spread out throughout East Kalimantan province of which several caves are for burial rich of ceramics and 20 caves ornamented with prehistoric paintings. The paintings in those caves were made of the same non-organic materials, namely hematite, manganese dioxide and dust of karsts as a binder.

The models, techniques, and materials used for paintings are the same as the ones found in Australia. Some experts hold a chronological human ancestor distribution theory stipulating that early Aboriginal-resembled tribe lived from as far as Kalimantan in the west spread out throughout southern Moluccas archipelago down to Papua and Australia in the east.

The most dominant prehistoric cave paintings in Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Seram, Kei Islands, and West Papua are palm hands, both left and right. One of the paintings, “tree of life”, has attracted the attention of the expert worldwide. Aside from palm hands, others are paintings of animals, birds, and fish. As it was difficult for prehistoric people to gather materials to draw paintings, we can conclude that those paintings should have been drawn on special purpose.

The prehistoric tribes living in Maros cave painted the picture of anoas (dwarf buffaloes), horny-pigs or megapode birds with the hope that they could easily catch those animals during their hunting season. Inside the cave, the experts also found stone tools including ax, arrows and human bones.

That the prehistoric people could do any artistic works, it indicated that they had started to settle in a certain place, contrary to nomadic people, which had to wander here and there and had no time to express their feelings or to commemorate something with paintings.

Maros paintings have survived thousands of years but only a few years after discovered by locals, the paintings began to suffer from destruction. 

As more and more people come to the site, it is the obligation of the local government to take the necessary steps to protect the cave and its contents properly.

Like Maros, Tewet cave paintings in Kutai, Kalimantan, need serious attention of the local government to conserve them. The destruction of the nearby forest might also change the humidity of the weather and in turn, might disturb the condition of the paintings.

It is interesting to note that some western authors claim that Indonesia was the East of Eden, a “paradise” that has been lost submerged below the sea level during a series of big floods to become a large archipelago as we know it today. The cave paintings discovered in numerous areas throughout the archipelago may support such postulate.