Thursday, 1 September 2016

When Did Horses Come to Indonesia/ISEA? [old post]

I'm taking part in an induction week here in Leiden and things are very busy at the moment. I'm writing a few brand new things for this site but I haven't had time to finish them, so here's some old content while you wait. Things will suddenly be a lot quieter at the weekend and for most of next week, so expect new posts then.

      Horses (Equus ferus caballus) are not native to Indonesia or Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) and their bones are not commonly found at archaeological sites in the archipelago. They were first domesticated on the Eurasian steppe, with the earliest known sites discovered in Kazakhstan, and were introduced to Indonesia at some point in the last few thousand years. Precisely when is difficult to ascertain, although horses appear in inscriptions and texts from fairly early periods.
      A recent article in the Jakarta Post talks about horses and their introduction to Indonesia in the context of rock-art depictions from Liang Kobori on Muna Island, NW of Buton, off the southeast coast of Sulawesi. Rock art is notoriously difficult to date, and so far no dating methods have been applied to the depictions from Liang Kobori as far as I'm aware, so the JP article is necessarily speculative. Either way, the images clearly show horses (as you can see at the link).
My sketches of Austronesian Painting Tradition (APT) rock art from Dudumahan, Kei, Indonesia, including what is apparently an image of an adze. Copied from Ballard (1988).
     I suspect they're metal age images for three reasons: 1) they're in a cave near the sea, 2) they're painted red, and 3) they depict things that we have no reason to believe were present in Indonesia until the late Holocene, including horses. That's consistent with other rock art from eastern Indonesia in the 'Austronesian Painting Tradition', most of which appears to be fairly late in date and often depicts relatively recent technologies, including probable metal tools. I could be wrong, of course.

More of my sketches from one of my notebooks - these are APT petroglyphs from Racolo, Baguia, Timor Leste. One of the images matches the shape of excavated bronze axeheads from eastern Indonesia. See O'Connor & Oliveira (2007).
     Horses probably weren't introduced way back in prehistory, as the writer of the piece seems to suggest, and the images from Liang Kobori do little to change that (although it might help with a relative chronology of Indonesian rock art). But when were horses introduced? There isn't a lot of archaeological evidence to go on in answering that question; fortunately, though, there is some linguistic evidence to consider.

     There are two sets of 'horse' cognates in use in ISEA. One is an Old Javanese coinage: ajaran, meaning 'trained animal, horse, talking bird', from a root meaning 'to learn' (compare modern Malay ajar). This was loaned into Makassarese (Sulawesi) and Manggarai (Flores) as jaraŋ, into Ngadha (Flores) as dzara, and Kambera (Sumba) as njara, all meaning simply 'horse' (Blust 2002:98). The modern Javanese word is jaran.

     The other set of words derive from Malay kuda, which means simply 'horse'. Tetum (Timor) and Sundanese (West Java) borrowed this directly in presumably quite recent times, and cognates are found in the Philippines (Maranao, Tagabili, Manobo). Kuda was previously thought to come from Sanskrit, which has a lot of different words for 'horse', or perhaps from another Indic (Indo-Aryan) language - see, for example, W. E. Maxwell's A Manual of the Malay Language (1907, London: Kegan Paul). But Robert Blust, perhaps the world's foremost expert on Austronesian languages, suspects a Dravidian origin (compare Kannada kudure and Tamil kuthirai). Blust is also clear that he believes horses came to Indonesia from India - and whatever the case, kuda came from a language with South Asian origins.

     In any case, '[n]either kuda nor ajar has an ancient Austronesian pedigree', as Blust puts it (2002:98). There is no Malayo-Polynesian protoform meaning 'horse', and therefore no reason to believe that horses were present when Austronesian speakers first settled in Indonesia a little over 4,000 years ago. Horses are, however, mentioned fairly frequently in medieval works from Java. For example:
Now was the time for the king to set out to visit
the holy river of Narmada,
And the queen, who was like the goddess of flowers, accompanied him beautifully adorned,
All the tributary kings and the officers accompanied him with their weapons, vehicles and armies in readiness;
The trumpeting of elephants and the neighing of horses were thunderous and tumultuous.
(Victory of Arjuna 22:2, by Mpu Tantular, fourteenth century - quoted in Creese (2004:63).)
       The horse seems to have swiftly become an essential animal in Indonesia, for ritual, trade, transport, and war, both in the east and the 'Indianised' west (where horses, at least in literature, took on much of the character and many of the tropes from ancient India). Islands in both the east and west specialised in raising horses in historic times, including Sumba and Buton, and they seem to have had a radical impact on the nature of warfare on larger islands like Timor, where warriors would ride decorated horses to show off their wealth and power. You might also think of the now-rather-famous Sumbanese spectacle of pasola, in which men hurl blunt javelins at one another from the backs of Sumba-raised horses. You can find a sensationalised account of pasola here (warning: it's Vice).
Timor ponies. h/t J. Patrick Fischer.
      Anyway, the point is that horses were an introduced species in Indonesia, and they were almost certainly introduced from India in late prehistory or the very early historic period. This is true of several animals that we think of as normal, fundamental domestic creatures - including the domestic cat, which may have been introduced to Indonesia as late as the seventeenth century.

     Finally, check out this blog about Indonesian horses. Some interesting posts over there.

More next time.

Ballard, C. 1988. Dudumahan: a rock art site on Kai Kecil, S.E. Moluccas. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific prehistory association. 8:139-161.

Blust, R. 2002. The history of faunal terms in Austronesian languages. Oceanic linguistics. 41(1):89-139.

Creese, H. 2004. Women of the kakawin world. New York: M. E. Sharpe.

O'Connor, S. & Oliveira, N. V. 2007. Inter- and intraregional variation in the APT: a view from East Timor. Asian perspectives. 46(2):389-403.

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