Spirits of the Earth and Spirits of the Water: Chthonic Forces in the Mountains of West Java
By Robert Wessing, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois
Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 47, 1988: 43-61.
In the past two decades there has been a growing awareness among anthropoiogists that there often is a close correlation between a people's cosmology and the way in which they perceive their environment (Sperber 1974). Natural or social relations and situations are explained or accounted for in myths and legends and lore about a geographic area. For instance, in a recent study on the rich folk-lore about the tiger in Southeast Asia (Wessing 1986) I showed that the system of beliefs about the tiger is predicated at least in part on the overlap between the ecological niches occupied by the tiger and man. In this paper I will relate stories and lore about some hills near a Sundanese village and show how the purported locale of these stories as being up-hill or down-hill varies with the mythological and symbolic elements with which these stories may be associated. The movement up or down a hill is also correlated with a greater (up) or lesser (down) distance from a source of water and thus also with wet and dry cultivation and the stories and lore interdigitate the mundane labor of food production with the larger cosmic processes.