Air Date: 02-Aug-21
Scientist: Anne Schiller
Sealing our Fate, Just Like Birds
Here’s a program from our archives.
ambience: Palangkarayan- Ngaju Praise song
In our traditions, and beliefs, humans have always taken cues from nature. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
This month, on the Indonesian island of Borneo, Ngaju people will honor their dead with an elaborate ceremony, modeled in part after the mating behavior of a local bird, the Rhinoceros Hornbill.
Schiller: The Ngaju consider a Rhinoceros hornbill as the metaphorical alter egos of humans and they even refer to this world as the village inhabited by hornbills.
Anne Schiller is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at North Carolina State University.
Schiller: Among the most remarkable things about hornbills are that they have a very unusual mating strategy. When a female is ready to make a nest, a male hornbill follows her to the trunk of a dead tree. The female enters the dead tree trunk and the male entombs her there. He takes mud and he daubs it on the outside of the tree trunk, sealing his mate inside. If he were to forget her, the female would certainly die. But every day, for thirty three days, the male hornbill brings his mate bits of food which he passes to her through a tiny hole he’s left in the mud. At the end of thirty three days, the horn bill comes to break open the dead tree trunk and free his mate and the hatchling.
Like the hornbills nesting period, the Ngaju death ritual lasts for about thirty three days. After this time, the soul of the dead is freed from captivity, and granted passage to heaven.
Schiller: So just as a female hornbill is dependent upon her spouse to crack open the tree, so too is a human dependent on their spouse to break open their coffin and free their souls to travel to heaven.
Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.