Saturday, October 28, 2006

Article: Dog reverence in Southeast Asia and Pacific

The first dog remains confidently dated in Southeast Asia go back 14,000 years, but the identification is not that firm. Otherwise, clearly-identified and dated remains go back to 9000 BP. In China, the oldest confident dates go back to 9,500 BP.

Maria Isabel Ongpin excavated four successive layers at Lemery, Batangas in the Philippines including a Neolithic level (8000 BCE-4000 BCE) with dog and horse bones.

These are the oldest remains of both animals in Insular Southeast Asia (ISEA) during the present Holocene period. Interestingly, this site is associated with obsidian microliths.

Obsidian sources in ISEA have been elusive and obsidian found at Bukit Tengkorak in southeastern Sabah (Borneo), and dated to the 5th millennium BCE, is believed to come from the far-off New Hebrides in Melanesia. This indicates long distance trade, the same trade that plausibly could account for the horse and dog bones at Lemery.

Recent research has shown that the dingo of Australia is a species of domesticated dog gone wild again. Some think that the dingo was brought to Australia during the Pleistocene although others assert it was the Proto-Austronesians or Austronesians who transferred the canine species. Either way, it indicates the dog's wild ancestors must have been domesticated much earlier than the dingo's arrival. With this in mind, LV Hayes has reconstructed a Proto-Austric word for "dog" in *asu and *atsu.

As the dog and dingo descend from the wolf, it is likely that either the Chinese Wolf, Canis lupus chanco, or the Indian Wolf, Canis lupus pallipes, is involved. Canis lupus chanco, can be found as far south as Yunnan, while the Indian Wolf ranges eastward to West Bengal and Orissa.

It would seem that one of these species being well-adapted to warmer, humid climates would give rise to the dingo. Dingo-like dogs can be found throughout mainland and insular Southeast Asia, as well as Australia, Papua New Guinea and other parts of Oceania.

Sacred Dogs

In the earliest layers at Non Nok Tha in Thailand, radiocarbon dated to 5000 BCE - 4500 BCE, a full dog skeleton is found at the feet of a buried child with pig leg and jaw bones on the child's chest. This indicates a ritual significance to these animals.

Non Nok Tha and Phu Wiang also show evidence of butchering of dogs although it cannot be said whether this involved dog sacrifice.

Later at Ban Chiang, radiocarbon dated to start around 3600 BCE, we also see this continued use of the dog in burials, and at Nong Nor in central Thailand during the third millennium BCE, dog skulls were interred together with humans.

At roughly the same time as Non Nok Tha, male burials of the Dawenkou culture of Shandong in eastern China are also found together with dog remains.

After this period, dog images turn up frequently on bronze weapons of the Dongson culture, and later we find a child-dog burial at Santa Ana, Philippines during the Sung dynasty period.

The limited archaeological evidence, however, masks widespread significance of the dog in the region of Southeast Asia, and spreading into the Pacific. Indeed, there is evidence of a strong circum-Pacific distribution of dog ancestry myths. Such myths for example, are more strongly concentrated on or near the Pacific coast of the Western hemisphere than elsewhere in the Americas.

Dog ancestry

In the Southeast Asia/Pacific region, myths of dog ancestry can be found throughout South China and Indochina, in Burma, among the Nagas of Assam, in the Nicobar and Andaman islands, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, the Philippines, Celebes, Hainan, Taiwan, New Guinea and New Zealand.

Dog-man myths are spread out as far as Hawai'i.

Chungshee Hsien Liu asserted that the dog ancestry myths in South China were of "proto-Malay" origin. S.I. Rudenko analyzed these beliefs and linked them with early Austronesian or Proto-Austronesian core myths of a people's descent from a goddess that married a dog.

From these core beliefs, different regional branches developed divergent themes and motifs.

Chinese traditions tell of a "Dog Fief" or "Dog Altar/Tumulus" country known as Quan-feng-kuo somewhere in the ocean off Kuai-chi on China's southeast coast. The earliest mention of Quan-feng-kuo in the Shanhaijing says that is the same as a place known as Dog Jung Country (Quan-jung-kuo) in the region of Shanxi and Shaanxi.

However, in his commentary on the Shanhaijing, Guo Pu says that the authors have confused the sounds of feng and jung, and that the Dog Fief/Altar Country is really somewhere off the Southeastern Sea.

Probably Guo Pu is thinking that another place mentioned in the Shanhaijing, the same location as the Fusang Tree is identifiable with Quan-feng-kuo. It is mentioned that in this area is the mountain Yeh-yao-kiun-ti, upon which the Fusang Tree stood, and also where the corpse of the god She-pi was located. The latter god is described as having a human face, with large dog ears and an animal body. He has two green serpents as ear onraments.

It was here that Di Jun, the father of the Ten Suns, became friends with "two birds" who ruled "two sacrificial mounds" that later became associated with the rites of Di Jun (Shun).

She-pi reminds us of the deity known as Hundun mentioned by Zhuang-zi, the earliest form of the pantheistic deity in China. The name Hundun contains the water radical and refers to something rolling or bobbing about in the water. It is related to the word wonton "dumpling." Zhuang-zi's relation places Hundun in the central, possibly equatorial, ocean where he is visited by the gods of the northern and southern seas. They are said to accidently kill Hundun when attempting to create orifices for the deity, which had no eyes, ears or other openings.

Hundun is a form of the cosmic egg, calabash, gourd, etc. floating on the ocean or connected with a great flood that is found in numerous myths especially in southern Asia and the Pacific.

In latter myths of Pangu, that god is said to spring from the corpse of Hundun, which was shaped like a dog. As noted before, the name Pangu is interchangeable with that of Panhu, the dog ancestor of the southern barbarian peoples in China. The "hu" character in Panhu's name means "gourd," thus strengthening the connection with Hundun, the cosmic gourd/egg/calabash. A seventh-century text says that when Panhu died his family was led to the corpse by the sound of crows, which might allude to the sun birds of Fusang. During the funeral, a piercing ritual is mentioned that recalls the piercing of Hundun by the gods of the northern and southern seas.

We have also seen that the name of the Dongyi leader Fu Hsi of Shandong, has characters indicating the dog-man theme combined with that of "sacrifice" or "sacrificer." This sage instituted the feng or mound/tumulus sacrifice at Mount Tai with Heaven facing to the South in the mound ritual. Here we can see a possible relationship with the feng of Quan-feng-kuo the Dog Altar Country, or the Dog Tumulus Country. Thus, the act of facing toward the south during the feng sacrifce at Mount Tai may equate to facing toward the Dog Feng Country.

Quite notable here is the lei sacrifice of the Qin and Han periods in which dog's flesh and rice are offered in a ritual involving a dismembered Shang-ti. The latter god is now fused with Tien, the god of Heaven always followed by his companion the Dog of Heaven, and in the ritual his dismembered body is regenerated. The dismemberment here recalls the disintegration of Hundun and/or Pangu, bringing about the creation of the world.

It was Di Jun who is said to have originated the lei sacrifice to Shang-ti, which we can connect also with the two sacrificial mounds mentioned by the Shanhaijing as located on the Fusang Tree mountain.

Also with reference to rice, we know that the dog ancestor Panhu was credited with the spread of rice agriculture, and this would agree with the south-to-north movement of rice agriculture from tropical Asia along the eastern coast of China with the Lungshanoid-Dongyi culture.

Although the Lungshanoid did not apparently practice dog burial like the Dawenkou before them, the Shang dynasty returned to this ritual. The oldest royal tomb in China, that of Shang Queen Fu Hao, contains ceremonial dog burials.

Kingdom of Women

The first mention of a kingdom of women in the Southeastern Sea occurs in the Huainanzi. Guo Pu, the Shanhaijing commentator, states that Panhu and his wife swam to a land across the sea and their progeny flourished there. Whenever a male is born in that kingdom, Guo Pu says, it is a dog, and every female is born as a woman.

Here starts a long series of Asian legends about a land of women and dog-men.

The account of the Buddhist monk Hui-Shen, despite its geographical divergence with other texts, states that the land of Fusang was inhabited by women "like those of China," and men with "human bodies, but dog's heads and barking voice."

In the many legends of the Kingdom of Women we often hear that they are impregnated by the wind or by bathing in a well or river. The wind theme brings us back to the name of the East Wind in the Dahuangjing which is "Jun," the same name as the progenitor of the Ten Suns in the Fusang Tree myth.

Pangu of Chinese mythology would equate to the Purusa or Prajapati of Indian belief. In each case we have a primordial deity who dies or is sacrificed and the dismembered body parts become hills, rivers, humans, animals, etc. i.e. the world.

While Pangu is linked with the dog in Chinese tradition, Indians equated Prajapati with the horse. The Asvamedha sacrifice, in which the horse is dismembered, is frequently compared to the cosmic sacrifice and disintegration of Purusa/Prajapati. The horse and horse-headed men/gods in India then are comparable to dogs and dog-headed men/gods in China.

If Pangu/Panhu can be linked with the Fusang Tree and the Ten Suns, then there is another point of comparison as the Vedic horse-headed deities, the Asvins, are the sons of the Sun. The Sun is even said to have taken the form of a horse in begetting the Maga people of Sakadvipa in the Milky Ocean.

The horse form is particularly associated with the East in Indian myth. The submarine horse's head is found in eastern oceans, and Visnu's form in the East is equine:

In Bhadrasva [eastern quarter] Lord Visnu is present in horse-headed form, O brahmin; in Ketumala [western quarter] as a boar, and in Bharata [India] he has the form of a tortoise; as Govinda in fish form Janardana is present among the Kurus [northern quarter].

-- Visnu Purana 2.2.50-1

The oldest sources, the Puranas and Varahamihira place Asvamukhadesa, or the Land of Horse-faced People in the Eastern Quarter, although a few latter sources place the land in the Himalayas or elsewhere.

The Asvamedha horse sacrifice appears to have originated from an earlier water buffalo sacrifice indicated in Harappan and Akkadian seal artifacts, but both may find their source in an earlier dog ritual.

At the beginning of the Asvamedha ceremony, the horse is led into a pond for ritual bathing, and a dog is also brought and forced to swim in the water at which time it is killed. The horse is envisioned in the Vedas as originating in the water or sea, and the swimming dog may allude to the canine's earlier position in the ritual.

A black "four-eyed" dog is used, which reminds us of the four-eyed dogs of Yama. The first horse used in an Asvamedha sacrifice was characterized as 'Yama's horse,' seemingly an allusion to a dog (or a buffalo). The sacrifical dog is also called in the Taitiriya Brahmana, the 'fraternal enemy' indicating some kinship between the dog and horse that eventually resulted in confrontation and the ascendancy of the latter in the brahminized system.

Dog rituals and magic

Chinese ethnologist Ling Shun-sheng found many comparable instances of dog sacrifice in the Pacific and in China.

In ancient Hawai'i, as in ancient China, the dog was associated with the male gender. Dog flesh was generally kapu (taboo) for women in Hawai'i, where it was classified as a male species. In the Dawenkou culture, dogs appear mainly in male burials, just as spindle whorls are associated with female burials.

Ancient Hawaiians often chose a puppy to raise together with a child, both suckled by the mother of the child. If the dog died, the child wore the teeth of the dog to protect against evil, if the child died first, the dog was sacrificed and buried with the child as a protector in the afterlife.

The use of dog teeth as protective (apotropaic) amulets usually worn as necklaces is attested to in numerous Pacific and Southeast Asian cultures. Such necklaces are particularly worn by children to protect against evil, sickness and ghosts.

Dog's teeth also served as a sort of currency and was especially used for bride-price purposes. In the Solomon Islands, for example, dog's teeth were the gold standard with one dog tooth equivalent to five dolphin teeth according to one source.

In the Philippines, a type of sorcerer-priest known as Asuang, Osuang, Aswang, etc. existed in pre-Hispanic times. The name of the sorcerer-priest is apparently derived from the native word asu "dog." Some have suggested it is a contraction of asu-asuan "one with dog characteristics" or "one with a dog-double."

The Asuang are often said to be able to change at will into animals, bats and birds, but most commonly dogs. Although "asuang" among Christianized Filipinos now denotes a type of witch, the early commentators usually describe the Asuang as male sorcerers. Jagor et al. and other sources state that the Asuang are found in Asuang families, probably indicating that the sorcerer-priethood was once hereditary with the priests having the 'blood of the asuang' or the 'blood of the asu.'

These sorcerers were closely connected with the tictic bird, which acted as a spy, helper and friend. The Asuang are also linked with the afterlife where they are said to dwell with the spirits of the ancestors. In some areas, the Asuang were propitiated to protect the ancestral spirits.

Children of Tala

In the Kapampangan legend of Tala as preserved by Mike Pangilinan, the culture hero-god can be seen as the progenitor of the dog-line, as I have suggested using local sources.

Dog messengers of the supreme god are found also in other regional myths. The barking of the dog Kimat in the form of thunder is said to relay the messages of the supreme Tinguian deity Kadaklan to the people. Kadaklan is also said to send Kimat in the form of lightning to strike evildoers.

One myth tells of how Kadaklan sends a spirit, almost certainly Kimat, to a woman for instruction on how to grow the rice plant. This mirrors the legend of Tala bringing rice agriculture to the people after a great flood.

An Igorot myth states that the god Lumauig sends his dog, or his dog and his deer, to bring fire to a boy and girl who have survived the great world flood.

These myths relate to a widespread Southeast Asian theme linking a dog with the great flood and the bringing of rice-planting and other cultural items.

In Bicol to the south of the Pampanga region, a local version of the dueling volcanoes myth pits the deity Gugurang of the Mayon volcano against his brother Asuang, the god of Mount Molinao, in the latter's attempt to steal Gugurang's volcanic fire.

Tala, the son of the rooster of Pinatubo and the serpent of Arayat, marries Mingan, whose name alludes to the newly-discovered rice agriculture, and begets the lineage of the dog -- the asu-asuan.

Paul Kekai Manansala

Related links

Dog as deity, ancestor and royal animal
Deluge, Gourd, Dog Husband
Interpretations of the Dog Husband Theme
Rajasuya , Sunahsepa and the Royal Dog
Single origin for domesticated dog in Southeast Asia and South China


Doniger, Wendy. Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, University of Chicago Press, 1990, p. 15.

Isabel Ongpin, Maria. Bone recoveries from the Obsidian Non Geometric Microlith Cultural Level, Lemery Archaeological Site, Manila: Ateneo de Manila University, 1981.

Liu, Chungshee Hsien. "The Dog-Ancestor Story of the Aboriginal Tribes of Southern China," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 62:361-368, 1932.

Raisor, Michelle Jeanette. Determining the antiquity of dog origins,, 2004.

Service, Robert F. "Pacific Archaeology: Rock Chemistry Traces Ancient Traders," Science 20 December 1996:Vol. 274. no. 5295, pp. 2012 - 2013.