The Birth of I La Galigo (I La Galigo Lahir)
On May 3, 2019 | 0 Comments

Book review by Lisa Hill

This short book is my introduction to an ancient myth from Indonesia.  It’s this month’s selection for our Indonesian book-group, and this is the blurb:

I La Galigo, the vast Bugis epic myth, is one of the most voluminous works in world literature. Set in Luwuq, the cradle of Bugis culture, the cycle tells the story of the initial residence on earth of the gods and their descendants. “The Birth of La Galigo”, the poem found herein, represents a contemporary retelling of one of the epic’s most popular sections.

Wikipedia tells us this:

Sureq Galigo or La Galigo is an epic creation myth of the Bugis from South Sulawesi, written down in manuscript form between the 18th and 20th century in the Indonesian languageBugis, based on an earlier oral tradition. It has become known to a wider audience mostly through the theatrical adaptation I La Galigo by Robert Wilson. (Wikipedia,lightly edited to remove most links, viewed 13/4/19)

(What’s really nice about this Lontar Foundation edition is that it includes double page B&W stills from the theatrical performance to illustrate scenes from the story.  You can see some of these images here.)

Interesting, isn’t it, that we know the ancient myths of Greece and Rome, and increasingly we are encountering the ancient stories of our Indigenous people, but that we tend not to know the stories of our near neighbours?  It’s a pity because La Galigo is a great story. As the Introduction tells us, the original epic of about 300,000 words, is longer even than the Indian Mahabarata (200,000 words) and Homer’s Odyssey – but the episode that is best-known and loved is the story of the tempestuous relationship of Sawérigading and the princess I Wé Cudai, a union which produced the hero I La Galigo.

The tale begins with the creation of the world, which as in other classic myths, consists of the Sky, the Earth and the Underworld.  The creation of people to populate the earth comes about because the King of Destiny is challenged to recognise a fundamental truth: gods need people to worship them.

After a moment’s silence,
the King of Destiny conferred with his consort,
‘What do you think of this idea, Datu Palingé?
What if we settled our children there,
encouraged them to plant their roots on earth,
to give that barren place inhabitants?
Can we call ourselves gods at all
if there is no one in the land beneath the sky
to worship us as gods?’ (p.11)

(This lyric translation by John H McGlynn is published side-by-side, page-by-page with the Indonesian poem by Sapardi Djoko Damono, which is derived from the original Bugis version translated into Indonesian by Muhammad Salim.)

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