The story of the Rampogan Macan and the Disappearance of the Javanese Tiger

Javanese Tiger

The relationship between Javanese people and the Javanese tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) is like love and hate. On the one hand the Javanese respect it by calling it simbah, a nickname for those who are elders. On the other hand, he was once hunted and captured. Even his death becomes part of the show as seen in the tiger rampogan tradition.

Together with the panther and Javanese leopard (Phantera pardus melas) , the Javanese call these three big cats tigers.

Even though in ancient times these carnivorous animals were considered friends by farmers or cultivators whose cultivated land bordered the forest. Tigers help reduce the presence of harmful animals such as wild boars, deer and monkeys. Indeed, occasionally these creatures prey on livestock. This is because each of them lives in a contiguous area.

Quoting the opinion of Robert Wessing, an anthropologist and researcher from Leiden University, the Netherlands, the relationship between Javanese humans and tigers looks ambiguous. Sometimes alliance, other times a source of disaster. Unintentional interference between the two can easily destroy the harmonious relationship that exists.

The rampogan macan tradition, the fight between tigers and humans in Java, is a symbol of how order is reorganized. Although it must be noted that the meaning of the Rampogan tradition itself changes from time to time. At first it was a sacred ceremony, but after that it turned into mere entertainment.

Another version says that rampogan tiger existed since 1605 and ended in 1906, as written by Peter Boomgard , a researcher on the history of Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Two Acts

The rampogan tiger ceremony is divided into two parts. The first is a fight between a tiger and a buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and a bull (Bos sundaicus) . The second part is a fight between tigers and thousands of people armed with spears. In its development, when this ceremony began to spread to several areas, the first part of the procession was discarded.

Wessing also collected information from various sources based on the rampogan tiger tradition which was held at the Kasunanan Surakarta palace. It is possible that the implementation in Surakarta has similarities with that held by the Yogyakarta sultanate palace.

It was stated that before the event took place, a cage made of wood tied with bamboo was prepared in the middle of the square. Circular cage with a diameter of about 3 m to 5 m. While the height is about 5 meters with some having a roof. Inside is a decorated buffalo. There are flower garlands worn around the horns and neck of the buffalo.

The tigers are in smaller rectangular enclosures which are placed around the large enclosure. On the orders of Susuhunan (King), the tiger was reunited with the buffalo.

“He (the tiger) died. But the buffalo are not always lucky,” wrote John Crawfurd, quoted by Wessing. Crawfurd wrote about it in History of the Indian Archipelago , 1967.

To provoke anger, the tiger will be burned using burning wood and doused with hot water. As for the buffalo, the skin is sprinkled with chili and nettle leaves. These leaves are known to cause itching and irritation.

He said, in 20 fights, 19 of them the buffalo always won. If you lose, the buffalo will be pulled out and replaced. In other reports, if the tiger’s fighting performance is not good, it will also be replaced.

The second procession, namely rampog tiger. This is an unequal fight between tigers and thousands of armed humans. The square was filled with about two thousand to three thousand people armed with spears, some poisoned at the ends. They line up from three to four layers. There are reports that some of them are Dutch as well as Chinese. The front row will draw their spears facing forward. While the last row positioned his spear standing.

Several people headed for the cage and released the tiger after receiving the King’s order. In order for the tiger to come out, they scare it away using burnt reeds or poke it with bamboo. Meanwhile the gamelan is played continuously which makes the rampogan procession even more dramatic. Panicking tigers try to save themselves by lunging or jumping. But the unsheathed spears were waiting for him from every direction.

In his article, Wessing wrote, there were times when tigers managed to escape from the encirclement. There is a note that if he passes, then he will be allowed to go free.

There is evidence of how the closeness of tigers and humans has been intertwined for a long time. Both of them even often share living space like neighbors. Wessing interprets the relationship between tigers and humans as not just neighbors. More than that, tigers are brothers and even ancestors. This is indicated by the designation of tigers such as grandmother, grandfather, or guda (Sanskrit).

The tiger is also a symbol of nobility in the eyes of the Javanese, although this also continues to change. In the context of the rampogan tradition, the tiger is symbolized as an element of evil that must be removed. The implementation of the rampogan which is carried out after the month of Ramadan or the beginning of the Islamic new year shows that there is an additional religious dimension to this tradition. Wessing quoted Lizi Hope in Rampok Matjan (1958), that the tiger is an animal that is feared and hated. However, it is only permitted to be killed during Eid al-Fitr.

There was a time when the rampogan tiger also symbolized the conflict between the Javanese and the Dutch. The buffalo or bull represent the Javanese, while the tiger represents the Dutch. Buffaloes are animals that are close to farmers, a job that was mostly done by the Javanese at that time. While tigers are considered intrusive or migrants, like the Dutch. They came from outside who wanted to dominate Java.

Actually fighting using tigers is not the monopoly of Javanese tradition. Wessing found in some literature that fights between tigers and other animals also occurred in several places in Southeast Asia several centuries ago. For example, what happened in Aceh during the time of Sultan Iskandar Muda. In Thailand and Laos there is a tradition of fighting between tigers and elephants. Also in Vietnam and Malaysia.

In a black and white photo depicting the rampogan macan tradition, nine tiger cages and a Javanese tiger called a striped tiger can be seen waddling in the middle of the square. Meanwhile, another photo shows a Javanese tiger and six dead leopards. These photos can tell how many tigers are sacrificed in the rampogan tradition.

The rampogan macan tradition is no longer only carried out in the Surakarta Kasunanan Palace and the Yogyakarta Sultanate. But spread to several areas such as Semarang, Kediri, Blitar. Several studies confirm that. The implementation is no longer carried out once a year. As entertainment, this tradition is often presented to welcome guests.

However, how the Javanese tiger became extinct is very likely due to many factors. Forest clearing for agriculture and plantations on a large scale during the Dutch colonial period was one of the causes.

Wessing in another article entitled The Last Tiger in East Java: Symbolic Continuity in Ecological Change , 1995, said that clearing forests for plantations in the mid-19th century gave birth to population movements and ecological impacts. The use of weapons to kill tigers and their prey further accelerated the disappearance of tigers from Java’s remaining forests. Reports of tigers preying on livestock and even killing humans have also increased.

In 1822 the colonial government was forced to employ people to hunt tigers. In the 1940s it was estimated that there were only 200 to 300 Javanese tigers left. However, several decades later, the Javanese tiger seemed to be hiding somewhere.

The last photo of the Javanese tiger accepted as evidence that this animal was extinct was from Andreas Hoogerwerf in 1938. The black and white photo shows a Javanese tiger walking in its habitat in Ujung Kulon.

Meanwhile, the discovery of evidence for the existence of the Javan tiger was officially reported in 1980 by John Seidenstiker and Suyono from their research in Meru Betiri National Park, which is part of the Jember and Banyuwangi regions, East Java. The research was conducted from June to September 1976. Unfortunately there is no photographic evidence that can be attached.

In the report entitled The Javan Tiger and The Meru Betiri Reserve, they argue that in Meru Betiri there are 3 Javanese tigers and no more than 5 individuals. They concluded the existence of the Javan tiger, among others, from the tracks and dirt left behind.

Based on fecal analysis, it was previously known that they ate porcupines, long-tailed macaques, monkeys, birds and squirrels. These results show that they eat small animals and this is not an ideal situation for the survival of these predators.

The report also said that although it is estimated that there were female and male individuals that could be identified from the tracks, there had been no reports of the addition of new individuals since an adult female Javanese tiger was shot dead in 1971 in Sukamade.

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