Merak, Sundanese and virility

Luc Pardon lucanlang at SKOPOS.BE
Fri Oct 26 12:01:40 UTC 2012

Hello all,

I am new to this list but I have a (weird?) question about the Sundanese
language and it was suggested that I ask here.

I'm writing an article about an upcoming concert in Belgium by a Greek
ensemble that goes by the name "Merak".

The word "merak" exists both in Greek and in Turkish and there is a
certain symbolism behind it, which is why the group choose it as their
name. I can deal with that.

It is well known that the Greeks borrowed it from Turkish but I was able
to trace it further "upstream": from Turkish to Old-Persian, where it
referred to a "Männerbund", and that in turn is supposed to have come
from the Indo-Iranian márya-, "violent, virile, bold". And it may be
even older than that, since Männerbünder are supposedly a common element
in many (or all) Indo-European cultures and a common word is not to be

So far so good.

Then I found out that "merak" in Sundanese is the name of a species of
peafowl that is native to Java.

Now it gets intriguing. There are several possibilities:

1. it is just a coincidence
2. it is a loan word, probably imported by the Muslim traders
3. it comes from the ancestor language of Indo-European and Austronesian

Problem is that there are objections to all of these:

1. Coincidence? Yes, but: In an old Dutch ornithologist publication I
read that you can't have the male of this particular species (the
"Javaansche pauw") roaming free in the garden because he'll vigorously
attack any and all intruders (obviously to defend "his" territory). Is
it a coincidence that the meaning of the Indo-Iranian word fits him like
a glove?

2. Loan word? Yes, but: The peafowl in general is native to the area,
and the merak is native to Java. The species must have had a name before
the Muslim traders came, no? It may have evolved after they came, but
would there have been enough time for that? And there is also the
supposedly traditional "Tari Merak" dance, doesn't that predate their

3. Ancestor language? Yes, but ... (can of worms goes here). One obvious
(to me) objection would be that this would require the word to have
evolved from "XYZ" in the ancestor language, along one path via "márya-"
(in Indo-Iranian) and onwards to "merak" (in Old-Persian and
derivatives), and along a quite different path into the Austronesian
family, to finish its journey at precisely the same "merak" in Sundanese.

As you probably can tell I'm not a linquist (nor an ornithologist),
and I'm not even a scholar. I just want to write an interesting article
(for which I won't be paid, if that matters) and I don't want to make
(too much) of a fool of myself.

Besides, the issue raised my "merak" ("curiosity, desire to know" in
Turkish). So here I am, asking for your expert opinions.

NB: References for the "facts" above are available if desired.

Many thanks in advance,

Luc Pardon

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