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August 12th, 2009 02:55

Myths, Urban Legends Could Help Save Lakes

Myths, Urban Legends Could Help Save Lakes
Situ Gintung (Lake Gintung) before Bursting.

Jakarta- Evil lurks in the waters and may it continue to spook people from drawing too close or exploiting it.

This was the sort of message that Adhisa tried to convey through his doctoral thesis about the benefits of using myths to preserve and manage water ecosystems.

"It works," he told The Jakarta Post Thursday, after defending his thesis completed at the environmental science study program at University of Indonesia, "These old myths surrounding water ecosystems actually play a large part in preserving those ecosystems.

He cited the Situ Gintung dam in Ciputat, South Jakarta, as an example, "Some myths surrounding that dam could actually have prevented what happened," he said.

The Situ Gintung dam collapsed in May, releasing an enormous flood that killed almost 100 residents and devastated hundreds of surrounding homes.

According to Adhisa, the legend of the buaya buntung (tail-less crocodile) that lurks in the Situ Gintung waters could have kept the dam intact longer.

"The myth kept people from extracting too many fish from the dam," he said, "And it also kept them from building constructions in locations that were too close to the outer limits of the dam because they were afraid of the crocodile."

The myths were apparently compatible with government regulation that stipulates that no construction is allowed within 50 meters of the dam`s circumference.

"The locals abide by that rule," Adhisa said, "However, people from other areas started arriving and constructing houses within dangerously close proximity to the limit."

The local authorities, along with private developers, worsened the situation by constructing tourism facilities and a jogging track near the dam, he elaborated.

Adhisa explored the benefit of myths for other water ecosystems in the country, such as those relating to the Tanang River, the Yeh Sanih, which is a Laguna in Bali, and Situ Mangga Bolong in Jagakarsa, South Jakarta.

In Situ Mangga Bolong, he discovered a set of myths that had been told among the local inhabitants for decades.

"The folklore surrounding Situ Mangga Bolong involves a decapitated head that haunts the dam area and a wandering mythical being called Si Japet that dwells in its waters," he explained.

Although the stories are only known by the Betawi locals who have lived in the area for a long time, almost all of the residents near Situ Mangga Bolong held a certain respect for the dam, Adhis said.

Environmentalist and former resident of the Situ Mangga Bolong area, Mohammad Hasroel Thayib, recalled how his neighbors had not dared to construct buildings close to the dam or even wander near it at night.

"I even invented a few of my own stories to scare the locals from getting too near dam," he chuckled, "It helped preserve the environment and it also helped to ease the competition in my fishing!"

The government, through its cultural agencies, should revitalize these myths, not only as an environmental conservation tool, but also as a cultural preservation method, Adhisa said.

Emil Salim, an economic expert and a senior environmental campaigner who was among the lecturers present at Adhisa`s thesis session, criticized the argument, saying that the use of myths was much less feasible in water ecosystems located in urban areas.

"How do these myths work in areas in the city?" Emil asked.

Even water ecosystems in the center of the city had urban legends, Adhisa said. He cited the example of Situ Lembang Lake in South Jakarta.

"Back in the 1970s, there was a rumor about a gang of robbers whose car drowned in the lake. Three of them were found dead, but one body could not be found.

That rumor helped keep kids away from the lake, otherwise they would have bathed or thrown garbage in it."

More importantly, those that weren`t likely to humor spooks would have another tool to assist them in water ecosystem preservation: the knowledge and awareness of environmental preservation methods. This awareness is dubbed "eco-literacy" by Adhisa.

"Myths cannot work alone; they must be accompanied by adequate eco-literacy to work. Thus the government must accelerate the people`s eco-literacy," he said. (dis)

Source: TheJakartaPost.com (July 25th, 2009)
Photo: agylardi.wordpress.com


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