JAYAPURA, KOMPAS.com – Historical records about the beginnings of Papua’s age-old cultures are few and far between.
But Papua based archaeologist Hary Suroto believed that the mermaid carving he found on the shores of Lake Sentani might provide a piece of the puzzle behind one of the province’s many tribes, namely the Sentani tribe living on the waterway’s shores.
“The mermaid carving is remarkable as it is the first to be found in Papua,” the Papua Archaeological Office member told Kompas.com of the artefact, which he found in a pillar of a traditional obhee house ini Dondai village, Jayapura regency.
Hary added that the figure might indicate the age-old origins of the tribes around Lake Sentani.
“The artefact is also the first of its kind to be found near a freshwater lake in the world. Usually mermaid motifs are found in coastal areas, instead of lakes further inland,” he said.
“[The mermaid carving] seemed related to the creation legends of the Sentani tribe, namely that their ancestors were from the so-called ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ to the east of Lake Sentani, across the Pacific Ocean. This served as a reminder that their ancestors were seafarers.”
Yet Hary believed that they were not merely seafarers who adapted to life on land as they moved inland. “Aside from the mermaid motif, another carving of a saw-toothed shark was found on the pillar of an obhee house, as are mollusc shells at the Yomokho prehistoric site nearby,” he said.
“This is consistent with geologic evidence that Lake Sentani was once part [of the Pacific Ocean] thousands of years ago which retained marine life that adapted as the lake became freshwater. They include a freshwater saw-toothed shark that was caught on Lake Sentani in the 1970’s.”
Hary believed that the mermaid motif proved the sea’s enduring hold on the Sentani tribe’s psyche. It is also a reminder them of the maritime origins that they sought to preserve.
Donday village elder Daud Wally shared Hary's view. “The mermaid reminds [the Sentani tribe] of their maritime roots. That is why the mermaid is the symbol for [one of the Sentani tribe’s] clans.”
Archeologists estimated that Papua is home to over 300 tribes.
Whether it be the Sentani tribe living on the eponymous lake, the coastal Kamoro tribe near the mining town of Timika, or the Dani and Asmat peoples of Papua’s highlands, the peoples of Papua are renowned for their skill in adapting to Papua’s various terrain.
(Writer: Dhias Suwandi, Jayapura Contributor | Editor : Dheri Agriesta)
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