Thursday, 20 February 2014

A Hunting Prayer from Flores, Indonesia

Here's another translation, this time from German.  It's a short prayer for success in hunting, and it comes from the Silesian missionary-ethnographer Paul Arndt's 1951 work, Religion auf Ostflores, Adonare und Solor (Vienna: Missionsdruckerei St Gabriel).  Arndt says that the prayer comes from a village called Lama Ojang (I assume the modern spelling is Oyang), and according to the map of the Solor region at the back of the book, it's in far northeastern Flores, Indonesia, where the island hooks back into the Flores Sea.  He says that this prayer is said in the burial ground in the presence of the dead.  Arndt includes the original language (I assume it's some kind of Lamaholot), but as I don't know Lamaholot, I'm translating from the German:

Mother over there in the trees, Father over there in the great cliffs,

Let yourselves down, come, sit, and turn your face to us,

You, ancestors, with chest bent forward and outstretched hand,

Set my bows and arrows right, pray for the skill and luck of my dogs,

We young people are going into the bush and hurrying our hounds,

To make our way to the hunt and the killing of game,

Mother, bring luck to my dogs, Father steer my arrow to the target;

We young people want to get some deer with antlers and pigs with tusks!
 This is one of the only references to bows and arrows that I've found so far in my collection of Indonesian texts, and it refers only to hunting - arrows are notably absent from war prayers.

The other things you might notice about it are the appeals to ancestors and to the mother (ema) and father (bapa).  You may also notice some parallelisms here, a literary device common in eastern Indonesia that uses paired phrases and concepts, sometimes expressing the same idea in different words.  The mother and father (1) are set in parallel phrases, as are 2) the bent chest and outstretched hand, 3) the bows and the dogs, 4) the people and the dogs, 5) the hunt and the killing of game, and 6) the deer with antlers and the pigs with tusks.  If you look at the original text, you can see the parallelism much more clearly in the structure of the prayer:

Ema lau kadzo bala, bapa lau wato tonu,

tobo piku ae dai, pae parét ae géré,

ema lau dong korong, bapa lau te l
énga lima,

é wuhu ae dai, péhén aho ae géré,

nubung pana si pata, barang gaw
é lani mai,

ema nat
é aho adzong, bapa neing lekang bola,

nubung kai hoba lota, barang kai goka ulen.

 This kind of parallelism in eastern Indonesian prayer and oral poetry has been discussed by J. J. Fox and other contributors in To Speak in Pairs (1988), and it is possible that this kind of structure is a part of shared Austronesian heritage (although this is debatable).  It's certainly found widely throughout the Indo-Pacific, including, for example, the Hawaiian Kumulipo, but that may mean only that it derives from a shared (possible) Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian heritage.  Parallelism is also widely found worldwide, even in the Hebrew Bible.

Obviously, there's not a lot that can be discovered from this short prayer about archery, except perhaps that bows were first and foremost hunting weapons, and that they were used in combination with dogs for hunting fairly big game.  But it's interesting nonetheless.


  1. perhaps it's Lamaojan in Desa Bahinga, Kec. Tanjung Bunga, Kab. Flores Timur. concluded from here and here.

    The blogspot article mentioned that according to Camat Tanjung Bunga, Lamaojan is part of Demon Lewohiwa community [need further verification].

    1. That would make sense and the location is right - exactly where Arndt puts it in his map. Thanks again! Your help really is invaluable.


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