It’s easy to forget sometimes that culture and history aren’t always about language and translation services alone. Well, maybe it’s easy for document translation professionals to forget that – I’m not sure anyone outside the business really thinks about everything in terms of linguistics the way we do!
For me, at least, it pays sometimes to take a step back and think more broadly. What’s the climate, and how did that affect culture and (yes) language? What are the natural resources the people used before modern technology, and how did that shape their culture and language? And, sometimes forgotten – what’s the wildlife like? After all, much of our modern culture stems directly from the flora and fauna that our ancestors ate or were afraid they would be eaten by! To start with an utterly fascinating place, let’s take a glance at Indonesia and see what’s living in that tropical paradise.
The Continental Shelf
Indonesia and surrounding island nations were once part of the Asian mainland, hard as it is to believe. It’s part of what’s called the Sunda Shelf, a now-submerged portion of the continent. As a result, a great number of animals that we think of as specific to Asia – such as tigers, rhinoceroses, leopards, and sun bears – are still found today in the region. I don’t know about you, but it’s fascinating to think that at some point in the past you might have walked from Jakarta to Beijing!
In Indonesia the most famous animal most people are familiar with is the Orangutan. This literally translates to “Forest Man” from the Malay and Indonesian words orang (person) and hutan (forest). Originally the term was used to refer to humans who lived in the forest! One theory for the crossover of the term is a recorded belief on the part of the Malay people that the ape could speak just like a human, but generally refused to do so because he did not want to be put to work like humans were!
The Orangutan is far from the only amazing animal to be found in Indonesia. You can find Komodo Dragons there, a form of Kangaroo, Gibbon monkeys, Pythons, Pygmies, and one of my personal favourites, the crested black macaque, who always looks like a crazy old man staring at you but who all act with a disconcerting intelligence and even humour.
One fascinating animal found in the area is the Dingiso, a black-and-white tree kangaroo that doesn’t spend much time in trees. The animal is protected by the Moni people in West Papua. The Moni refer to it as mbaiso, which translates to the forbidden animal; it is protected by the Moni people so despite being endangered elsewhere it thrives in West Papua. The Moni regard it as an ancestor and believe it must never be harmed.
Doesn’t that make you want to travel to Indonesia? It certainly makes me wish to do so. And now you know what to look for when you get there!
Image courtesy eomma.blogspot.com