Friday, December 17, 2004

The Water Buffalo

The Chinese legendary histories tell of us warfare between totemic clans that preceded the formation of the dynastic Chinese state.

The information given on the Yi peoples is of primary importance to us particularly the history of the Dong-Yi who inhabited the coastal region between the mouths of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers.

Here we hear of the king Chiyou mentioned as the overlord of the Dong-Yi peoples. It appears that Chiyou's Juili tribe is linked with another clan union, this time between the serpent/bird clan and a people who had a bull totem, either an ox or a buffalo.

Chiyou himself is often described as a man with a bull's head. This image is an important one since the union of these totemic clans becomes a driving force among the Nusantao. The bull totem clans seem linked with various peoples living along coastal Southeast Asia of the time. These peoples may have spoken Austro-Asiatic, Hmong-Mien and Daic languages.

The image of a water buffalo or a man with buffalo horns appears also in the iconography of the Sumerians. Indeed, we see that the water buffalo in Sumer is none other than the Southeast Asian swamp buffalo. Remains of this species have also been found at Sumerian archaeological sites.

The swamp buffalo is different than the river buffalo of India. It originates in Southeast Asia but is historically absent from India. It was however found in ancient Sri Lanka apparently brought by sea from Southeast Asia.

Swamp buffalo on the Seal of Sharkalisharri, 3rd millennium BC, Sumer

To see some Powerpoint slides from Stephen Oppenheimer's presentation of swamp buffalo in Sumer, click here (large file).

A Mesopotamian seal with swamp buffalo, humans with buffalo horns, peacock, rhinos, sea-goats and the "Master of the Animals" motif

The combined emblem for the new clan union involved three elements -- serpent/dragon, bird and ox/buffalo.

The serpent could be found as a common spiral or a coiled "embryo" design. The bird totem could be represented by feathers or a bird's head. Also, by a tau symbol representing the tree of life, which in local mythology has a bird resting in its branches. The buffalo motif comes in the form of the bull's head or horns.

These motifs can be seen in the bicephalous jade ornaments of the Sa-Huynh-Kalanay culture of the mid to late 3rd millennium BC in which the dual heads would represent both horns and a hybrid bird-serpent creature. These motifs also appear in that culture's lingling-o ornaments. The Sa-Huynh-Kalanay culture represents the Nusantao in Southeast Asia during this period.

We will discuss these symbols more as we go along.

The warring clan confederacies believe in their symbols. These were a very spiritual people. While some among them undoubtedly used religious elements only as a means to an end, the evidence points more toward people who believed in the supernatural. We only have to look at some of behaviour and actions of some of history's more recent kings, sultans and emperors from this region to know that magic played an important part in the people's beliefs.

Any clan competition going on in this world was only an extension of something greater happening in the spirit world. Magic plays a large part in their culture.

Paul Kekai Manansala


PinoyApache said...

Interesting post about the swamp buffalo.