Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Survival of Motifs

The motifs carried by the Nusantao have persisted thousands of years into modern times. In many cases, these motifs are propagated by people who have little idea of their origin or intended meaning.

Take, for example, the various representations of the divine volcano in the form of a mound-like dome topped with a pillar or similar motif. In the following image you will see from top to bottom and left to right, the Sanchi stupa in India, the U.S. Capitol dome, the Vatican, the Bagan Pagoda in Myanmar, the stupas of Borobodur and the Blue Mosque of Amman.

The number of interlinked motifs pertaining to the sacred mountain argues against independent invention, at least in all of the known cases. A random survey of some of the more commonly-found motifs at different distribution nodes shown in the table below suggests coincidence is unlikely as a blanket explanation. This is particularly true when we consider that many of the locations did not have local volcanoes. In half the examples below, the sacred mountain is not considered part of the local geography.

Distribution of Sacred Mountain Motifs









! Opening in cosmic mountain to Underworld
@ "Twin peaks" or "double merlon" motif
# Dual mountain openings to Underworld
$ Truncated pyramid as model of sacred mountain
% Sun rising from or residing in sacred mountain
^ Sun and Moon associated with dual sacred mountains
& Sacred mountain considered local
* "Water of life" associated with sacred mountain
= Cosmic tree of flower associated with sacred mountain
+ Sacred mountain viewed as fiery or as a volcano
- Sacred mountain linked with great heavenly war
? Venus linked with fiery mountain
> Sacred mountain viewed as divided into regions or layers

A list of large Holocene (post-Ice Age) period eruptions can be found at the Smithsonian Volcanism site. Of particular interest to me is the corrected radiocarbon date for a Pinatubo eruption at 3,550 BC with a 500 year margin of error. This event registers at magnitude 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) making it a very powerful eruption at the same level as the 1991 eruptive episode.

The last eruption of near-by Mt. Arayat has not been dated by radiometric means. It is known to have been a Neolithic event as the volcanic strata associated with the episode contains no post-Neolithic artifacts. The boundaries of the Neolithic period for this region are not precisely known.

According to the legend, the great eruptions occured near the time when rice was first introduced into the area. The oldest regional dating for rice is about 3,000 BC, while in near-by Taiwan the dates are at 4,500 BC. Again these dates have significant margins of error. All evidence agrees though with a primarily Neolithic period expansion as suggested by Solheim with regard to the Nusantao.

That the motif-carrying Nusantao venturing over the Pacific revered their ancestors and were strongly clan-oriented might be indicated by the distribution of totem pole-making.

Totem poles carved from trees as pictographic clan records are found among Amerindians of the Pacific Northwest coast, the Ainu of northern Japan, the tribes of Borneo, the Maori of New Zealand, the Asmat of New Guinea, the Malagasy of Madagascar and among various peoples in West Africa.

Haida Totem Pole, Pacific Northwest Coast

Ifugao Totem Pole, Philippines

Maori Totem Pole

Totem Pole, Borneo

The totem pole served as a clan monument to revered ancestors especially recent ones. It was not worshipped neither was it meant as a substitute for oral genealogies.

Paul Kekai Manansala