Barong (2)

Waruno Mahdi mahdi at FHI-Berlin.MPG.DE
Tue Dec 14 16:57:48 UTC 1999


sorry it took me so long to get back to you on the question of
Barong. I had gone through some books I have at home, and became
increasingly skeptical about that Chinese connection I at first
suggested to you under the impression of the dragon-lion thing.

I found a lengthy entry on Barong and Barongan in the Ensiklopedi
Indonesia of Shadily et al. of 1980. It is in Indonesian. It says
there are various types of Barongs, but the theriomorphic one that
interests us here is Barong Ket. The relevant passage translates
     Barong Ket: has the form of an imaginary animal, the head
     is a combination of featurs of the tiger, lion, and bull,
     the torso is long and has four legs. It is animated by two
     persons, the one doing the head, the other the tail end.
     .... This Barong Ket or Barong Keket is the type of Barong
     that usually appears in story-dances. ....

There is a shorter entry in the Micropaedia of the Encyclopaedia
Britannica (15th ed., 1974):

     Barong -- masked figure, usually representing an unidentified
     creature called _keket_, who appears at times of Balinese
     celebration. He is the symbol of health and good fortune, in
     opposition to the "black widow" witch, Rangda. In a dance-
     drama that includes the famous _kris_ dance, in which the
     performers are in deep trance, Barong defeats Rangda in magic
     combat. Barong is "animated" by two dancers encased in an
     ornately decorated harness. From his mask hangs a beard of
     human hair, decorated with frangipani flowers, in which his
     magic power is thought to reside.

As you see, no allusion to dragons. So that got me thinking, and
I came to the conclusion that the likeliest etymology of the
word would be one that connects it with Malay _beruang_ "bear".
The only endemic species of bear in Indonesia, as far as I know
is the honey bear or Malayan bear (Helarctos malayanus). In the
country it only occurs in Sumatra and Borneo, so Balinese and
Javanese only knew of it by hearsay. Hence, perhaps, the
fantastic representation of the figure.

The protoform is *baRua9, where 9 stands for the IPA symbol for velar
nasal (cf. Ngaju _bahuang_, Timugon Murut _bauang_, Maanyan _wayuang_,
the latter apparently borrowed from a neighbouring language with *R > _y_),
only attested in languages of West Indonesia spoken in regions where the
bear occured in historical times. There is a very recent loan from Malay
in Javanese (_beruwang_ "bear"), and a reflex in Madurese (_bharuwang_)
that could be authentic, but is perhaps also a loan, somewhat older than
the loan into Javanese.

The expected authentic (i.e. non-loaned) reflex in Balinese would
have been  **_bahuang_, or alternatively **_bawang_, neither of which
is however attested. A direct loan from Malay into Balinese would
have given either **_bahuang_ (early loan) or *_beruang_ (late loan).

The likeliest scenario, in my opinion is that Balinese _barong_ is
a loan from Javanese _barong_ "1. mane, 2. tassel, fringe, 3. [in
wayang] a giant-king character type; _barongan 1. a show featuring
a man dressed as a monster...." (Horne, Elinor Clark. 1974, Javanese-
-English Dictionary. New Haven - London: Yale Univ. Press).

The expected authentic reflex of *baRuang in Javanese would have been
**_waong_ (or **_baong_ if the Madurese reflex were authentic). The
expected form of a loan from Malay into Javanese would be **_warong_
(very early loan, well before 7th century AD), or _barong_ (early loan),
or _beruwang_ (recent loan). The early loans would imply that
they were already made in Old Javanese, which would have had either
**_warwang_ (very early loan) or _barwang_. The latter is indeed
attested for Old Javanese with the meaning "bear" (Malayan/honey).

So the impression one gets is:

*baRua9 > Malay _beruang_ > Old Javanese _barwang > Javanese _barong_ >
                     > Balinese _barong_.

The shift in meaning must have taken place between Old Javanese and
New Javanese. This shift apparently resulted in Javanese not having
a word for "bear" anymore, which must have led to the repeated (recent)
loan as _beruwang_.

I'll CC this to AnLang list so that others can comment it if somebody
knows an alternative possibility, particularly in view of the "mane"
and "tassel/fringe" meaning in Javanese......

Regards,   Waruno Mahdi

Waruno Mahdi                  tel:   +49 30 8413-5411
Faradayweg 4-6                fax:   +49 30 8413-3155
14195 Berlin                  email: mahdi at
Germany                       WWW:

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