A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth; the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yes, and nothing shall escape them.
The quote above refers to the great battle of good and evil predicted by the biblical prophet Joel. It does illustrate, though, a common theme found in many cultures -- the ancient knowledge of a place at the same time both paradise and hell. On the Austronesian discussion group, I discussed this at length with other participants such as Loreto Bagio, Robin Day and Torsten Pedersen.
The recent sombering and humbling catastrophe in southern Asia is a well-documented example of how a tropical paradise can suddenly become a land of death. Some of the world's most popular winter tourist destinations stretching from Thailand to the Maldives were destroyed within a few hours. Damage was experienced as far as East Africa.
Oppenheimer writes of "superwave" myths common in the Pacific and among the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan. Mountain-topping superwaves are mentioned in connection with flooding events of longer duration.
Paradise is often linked with fire as in the revolving flaming sword that guards the way of Eden, or the Lake of Fire in Osiris' realm in Egyptian cosmology. The dichotomy of the lush tropical island homelands and the fiery wrath of the volcano left its imprint on the dual mind of the Nusantao.
A people living in an area so plagued with volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, tidal waves and typhoons would benefit greatly from close observation and understanding of nature. Among a few peoples still remaining today, remnants of ancient knowledge exist in pieces here and there. One such people are the Morgan Sea Gypsies of Thailand who speak Yawi Malay and Thai.
The news report posted below from CNN comments on how their ancient knowledge saved them and others from the wrath of the tsunami:
Report: Sea gypsies' knowledge saves village
Newspaper says Thai fishermen warned of tidal wave
Saturday, January 1, 2005 Posted: 1:20 PM EST (1820 GMT)
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Knowledge of the ocean and its currents passed down from generation to generation of a group of Thai fishermen known as the Morgan sea gypsies saved an entire village from the Asian tsunami, a newspaper said Saturday.
By the time killer waves crashed over southern Thailand last Sunday the entire 181 population of their fishing village had fled to a
temple in the mountains of South Surin Island, English language Thai daily The Nation reported.
"The elders told us that if the water recedes fast it will reappear
in the same quantity in which it disappeared," 65-year-old village
chief Sarmao Kathalay told the paper.
So while in some places along the southern coast, Thais headed to the beach when the sea drained out of beaches -- the first sign of the impending tsunami -- to pick up fish left flapping on the sand, the gypsies headed for the hills.
Few people in Thailand have a closer relationship with the sea than the Morgan sea gypsies, who spend each monsoon season on their boats plying the waters of the Andaman Sea from India to Indonesia and back to Thailand.
Between April and December, they live in shelters on the shore
surviving by catching shrimp and spear fishing. At boat launching
festivals each May, they ask the sea for forgiveness.
Paul Kekai Manansala