By CELLY AKWAN
Historically, it is chiefly in times of physical, political, economical and spiritual distress that men's eyes turn with anxious hope to the future, and when anticipations, utopias and apocalyptic visions multiply. (C.G. Jung, 1875-1961)
What are the characteristics and functions of most myths? Most of them are religious and spontaneous in their manifestations. Myths with these characteristics can be interpreted as mental therapy for human sufferings and anxieties in general - those caused by hunger, wars, diseases, old age, and death. Jung suggests this function of myths in his statement quoted above. In short, the anxious hope, anticipations, utopias, and apocalyptic visions implied in myths most of which are religious and spontaneous function as mental therapy for the suffering and anxious man.
An Excellent Dissertation
Mental therapy as a function of religious myths can be explicated by referring to the review of an excellent dissertation in cultural-anthropology written in Dutch by F.C. Kamma (1906-1987): De Messiaanse Koreri-bewegingen in het Biak-Numfoorse cultuur-gebied (Leiden, 1954). Kamma studied at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the prestigious Leiden University in Holland and got his Ph.D. for his dissertation at this university. Before that, he worked as a missionary of the Dutch Reformed Church Mission in the northern coast of the former Dutch New Guinea, particularly, in Genyem, a hinterland of Hollandia (now Jayapura), and in Sorong, a town at the north-western tip of Dutch New Guinea, from 1931 to 1962. In his dissertation, Kamma discussed in great details the sacred myth about Lord of the Utopia, the culture hero of the Biak-Numfor people. His dissertation was the result of a ten-year study (between 1932 and 1942) when he and his wife lived among the Biak tribal members who lived in their emigration area: the Raja Ampat Archipelago, west of Sorong. Here, he witnessed three movements related to Lord of the Utopia, movements that he called "Messianic movements". He later revised his dissertation before it was published in English in 1972.
Social-economic, psychological, and cultural problems
Kamma's dissertation aims at placing the Messianic movements and explicating them on the basis of the cultural background of the Biak-Numfor people. According to him, a Messianic movement is understood if it is studied on the basis of the local cultural milieu. The essential problems Kamma discussed are not only social-economic or psychological but also cultural. This essence includes all aspects of life the Biak-Numfor people faced as problems.
What is a myth then? According to Kamma, a myth is a religious "conviction" expressed in the forms of dramas and symbols and is confined by tradition that solidifies and accompanies a traditional society. As a religious conviction, a myth assumes the existence of supernatural reality.
Ideal and actual reality
What is a religious conviction? It is the belief of the Biak-Numfor traditional communities in the existence of ideal reality which is contrary to that of actual reality.
The high sense of insecurity in the factual reality faced by the Biak-Numfor people drove them to yearn for the ideal reality, where there was freedom from their daily life they did not like. The actual world they did not like contained a lot of life crises such as illnesses and death, unfertile land, bloody head-hunting raids, plagues that at times killed thousands of people, occult power that evoked fear, failed crops caused by pests, bad weather, war threats from one clan to another, black-magic practices, and some others. This actual existence caused negative reactions from the Biak-Numfor communities: they did not like it and wanted to be free from it.
However, the limited knowledge and other faculties of their intellects did not provide them with other realistic possibilities to overcome the problems of their daily life. The choice they made was their attempts to break through the mythical reality, the ideal world they believed existed. This ideal existence contained the end of their sense of insecurity. The ideal reality included eternal life, land fertility, abundant crops, healthy and healthful life, good weather, peace, goodness, and other good and beautiful things.
To reach the ideal reality, the Biak-Numfor people tried to realize Utopia. They tried to transcend the actual reality to enjoy the ideal reality they yearned for. The ideal reality was embodied in their mythical hero, Lord of the Utopia.
What was he? He was a traditional ancestor that really existed. He embodied a lot of mythical heroes from Biak-Numfor. In other words, he was the concentration of a lot of mythical heroes from all the Biak-Numfor mythology. He was a mediator between the Utopia, the ideal reality, and the factual reality because he had an absolute connection with the Utopia.
Copyright ©2008. All rights reserved. Published with written permission from the author.