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Frontiers of Fear

Frontiers of Fear: Tigers and People in the Malay World, 1600-1950

Peter Boomgaard
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Frontiers of Fear
    Book Description:

    For centuries, reports of man-eating tigers in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have circulated, shrouded in myth and anecdote. This fascinating book documents the "big cat"-human relationship in this area during its 350-year colonial period, re-creating a world in which people feared tigers but often came into contact with them, because these fierce predators prefer habitats created by human interference.Peter Boomgaard shows how people and tigers adapted to each other's behavior, each transmitting this learning from one generation to the next. He discusses the origins of stories and rituals about tigers and explains how cultural biases of Europeans and class differences among indigenous populations affected attitudes toward the tigers. He provides figures on their populations in different eras and analyzes the factors contributing to their present status as an endangered species. Interweaving stories about Malay kings, colonial rulers, tiger charmers, and bounty hunters with facts about tigers and their way of life, the book is an engrossing combination of environmental and micro history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12759-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. [Maps]
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    This book is about the relation between humans and the three big cats of the Malay world: the tiger, the leopard, and the clouded leopard. Above all, however, it is about the tiger.

    It is difficult to be neutral about tigers. They seem to elicit either strongly positive or strongly negative sentiments, and it is even possible (and far from rare) that one person has both positive and negative feelings about tigers. Indeed, many Westerners clearly have regarded the tiger as a beautiful animal but at the same time as a terrible force of nature and a cruel brute, as...

  7. 2 Meeting the Tiger and the Other Big Cats
    (pp. 10-38)

    The Malayan Peninsula is today the only region of the areas studied in this book where the tiger, the leopard, and the clouded leopard all can be encountered (see Table 2.1), although few people ever have done so. If a meeting with a tiger or a leopard is (and was) rare, very few people, apart from the local population, have ever seen the clouded leopard in the wild. Other areas had only one or two big-cat species in historical times, and it has always been a riddle as to why this was the case. The Malayan Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, Bali,...

  8. 3 The Tiger: Friend or Foe?
    (pp. 39-60)

    Only 50 years ago, the tiger typically was viewed as an enemy to humans. Tigers did, after all, kill people, cattle, and dogs. Although some argued that tigers were content to subsist on a diet of game wherever that was abundant, most people knew hair-raising stories about tigers who had become maneaters or cattle-killers. These stories circulated in both tiger-populated countries and tigerless regions; oral tradition, lurid newspaper accounts, and children’s books that took their cue from Rudyard Kipling’sJungle Book(Shere Khan!) had shaped a global image of the tiger that would take a long time disappearing.¹

    Nowadays, with...

  9. 4 Man-Eating Tigers
    (pp. 61-86)

    Tigers often are divided into three categories, namely game-killers, cattlelifters or cattle-slayers, and man-eaters.¹ Boundaries between the groups are, however, somewhat blurred. “Man-eater” is the term used for a tiger who routinely kills and/or devours humans. It is not applied to those who, because they were disturbed or felt threatened, once or twice have killed a human being. These animals, basically just game-killers or cattle-slayers, occasionally are called man-killers.² Mazák, the Czech writer of the most authoritative singleauthored textbook on the tiger, distinguished two broadly defined causes of man-eating: inability of a tiger to hunt other prey because of old...

  10. 5 Ancestors for Sale: Bounties for the Big Cats
    (pp. 87-106)

    In tropical areas under European overlordship, holding out rewards for capturing or killing fierce animals was a widespread phenomenon. For example, the Dutch offered rewards for jaguars (then also called tigers) in their Caribbean colony Suriname, for lions and leopards (equally called tigers) in the Cape colony in South Africa, and for crocodiles in Sri Lanka. The British offered rewards for tigers, leopards, and various other animals in India and Burma. The story of the tiger bounties in the Malay world is, therefore, part of the much larger story of how Western trading companies and governments attempted to rid the...

  11. 6 Hunting and Trapping
    (pp. 107-144)

    Hunting as a historical phenomenon is associated mostly with kings and noblemen on the one hand and primitive hunter-gatherers on the other. The latter hunted for food, the former for status, and both hunted in order to free the countryside from dangerous predators and pests. The hunting and trapping of tigers—and occasionally leopards—involved a range of motives. Hunting or trapping tigers as food seems to be fairly rare, but killing a tiger in self-defense or in revenge is not. Also, tigers were killed in order to rid the environment of these dangerous animals. Examples of the commodification of...

  12. 7 Tiger and Leopard Rituals at the Javanese Courts, 1605–1906
    (pp. 145-166)

    The rulers of central Java did not often go on tiger hunts and never personally killed tigers or leopards. Instead, they had tiger-killing rituals. This chapter traces the history of two such rituals, involving tigers and leopards, enacted at the royal courts and in some regional centers of Java.

    Rituals are about the social order and the cosmic order, reproduction and the ancestors, life and death. Rituals reflect, often in a convoluted way, natural and supernatural constellations, but also try to influence them. As most of these realities and beliefs are subject to change, rituals cannot be expected to remain...

  13. 8 The Ancestral Tiger: From Protection to Punishment
    (pp. 167-185)

    In the Malay world, the majority of the population did not kill tigers unless the tigers had killed people or livestock first. Many people conceived of tigers as animals inhabited by human spirits, or, to be more specific, by ancestors, and we will now have a closer look at this belief.

    “I have been told that there are villages, visited daily by the tiger, where he will get a certain portion of meat, because that will keep him from causing people harm and from robbing them.” Thus the Swedish surgeon J.A.Stützer, visiting the Cirebon-Priangan region (western Java) in 1786–87,...

  14. 9 Devouring the Hearts of the People: The Weretiger
    (pp. 186-206)

    Not so long ago, most people believed in the possibility of metamorphosis, or shape shifting. In Europe this was represented by a belief in werewolves, people who were supposedly literally transformed into wolves, albeit temporarily. This belief in werewolves has given its name to the term “lycanthropy” (from the Greeklykanthropos,wolfman), used to describe a number of phenomena, past and present, that have in common a notion of people physically turning into fierce animals. In tropical areas around the world a feline animal, such as the jaguar and the puma in Latin America, the leopard and the lion in...

  15. 10 The Rise, Decline, and Fall of the Tiger
    (pp. 207-223)

    The tiger has disappeared from Bali, has disappeared or is about to disappear from Java, and is becoming rare in Sumatra and the Malayan Peninsula. Half a century ago, tigers were plentiful in some of these regions, but less so in others. This chapter examines the reason tigers vanished where they did, the timing of their disappearance, and the development of tiger numbers during the period under consideration. Much of this discussion summarizes the quantitative evidence presented in earlier chapters.

    Regarding numbers of tigers, only a rough estimate is available for the Malayan Peninsula c. 1950. In this chapter I...

  16. 11 Living Apart Together
    (pp. 224-238)

    What was the historical relationship between tigers and people in the Malay world? The present chapter focuses on the main features of this relationship: fear of the tiger, the struggle for power between humans and tigers, and the tiger as a symbol of the frontier between nature and culture. At the same time we are confronted with the notion that people and tigers are somehow related. The current discussion explores whether that notion can be held simultaneously with ideas on fear and power struggles as main features in the tiger-human relationship. Finally, I discuss the mutual influences of the two...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 239-264)
  18. References
    (pp. 265-292)
  19. Index
    (pp. 293-306)