That Tree Was The Temple

A story about humanity’s war against sacred trees.

Tjahaja
The New Outdoors

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Bamboo altars near a tree in Bali. Photo by the author.

This month, ten years ago, I took part in two weeks of field research in the village of Cemara, documenting the local dialect of Javanese. The village was so high on a volcano, Mount Slamet, that it was always covered in clouds; January was a rainy season. During my research, a local family hosted me in their house.

Local beliefs

The family that hosted me was an old lady and her granddaughter. Due to her seniority, people in her village called her Simbah.

It wasn’t her name, but a Javanese title of respect, which literally means “the grandparent.” No one addressed her with her name, so I followed the custom.

Studying local beliefs was not my expertise, but I liked listening to Simbah talk about spirits and beliefs held by people in the village. Most residents in the village were Muslims, but they also believed in local spirits.

She told me about a spirit named Bowong, from the Javanese words kebo (buffalo) and wong (human). It was a half-human and half-buffalo, said to roam the village.

She also talked about the cuckoo of the bird kedasih (a real bird, not a spirit). Its cuckoo was an evil omen that someone was going to pass away.

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Tjahaja
The New Outdoors

Indonesian translator. Translating from: English, Indonesian, Javanese, Dutch, and Greek. Translating to: Indonesian, Javanese, and English.