Synopsis of the vernacular names and the economic use of the indigenous orchids of Java
The Netherlands’ Indies are part of those humid tropical regions where innumerable species of orchids either may hang down, sometimes in large numbers, from the trunks and branches of trees and shrubs or grow terrestrially in woods or elsewhere. Nevertheless, to every naturalist who takes the trouble of ascertaining the attitude of the native population towards the orchid-family, it at once becomes clear that up to this very moment most of these plants have only succeeded in obtaining a very modest place in the domestic life and even in the interest of the natives. The beauty of the flowers of so very many species seems never or hardly at all to have been observed by them. This is so much the more noteworthy because in other cases the native has usually invented a name, if not a use, for most plants in his surroundings, even for the rarest and most unimportant ones. As regards orchids this has never happened. These plants seem never to have played any part in religious ceremonies and in the numerous myths they are mentioned at best by a few words. On none of the old monuments they are immortalized; even on ornaments of a later date one usually seeks in vain for these plants or their flowers. How is this aloofness of the natives towards such an important part of the flora of their country to be accounted for? Orchids never were of much use either in domestic life or in the domain of medicinal science. Only with the arrival of the Europeans or, more correctly speaking, not before a very short time ago, some interest for orchids was raised with the natives. But this took, practically, only place in imitation of the foreigner, especially when the natives began to see that money was to be made in the orchid-trade. Here and there this unnatural predilection has already lead to consequences of alarming dimensions, because it has not rarely effected the complete or partial extermination of valuable species in regions where formerly they grew copiously. Nevertheless a change in the native denomination of orchids can hardly be observed. All these plants are simply called Anggrèk or Angkrèk and, as a rule, it is not deemed necessary to add a specific name. Only very few orchids can really boast of such a name; most of them remain anonymous. The names Angkrèk panèli and Angkrèk lotjis, Spatulotjis or Spatuklotis are mere corruptions of Vanilla and Spathoglottis. Angkrèk bulan (Phalaenopsis amabilis) and Anggrèk matjan (Vanda tricolor), though both composed of genuinely native words, do not seem to be quite original, though this case is not identical with the two former ones; these names seem only translations of the Dutch names Maan-orchidee (Moon-orchid) and Tijger-orchidee (Tigerorchid). Yet some specific denominations exist, as a rule with some unimportant addition to the word Anggrèk or Angkrèk, e.g. běněr (bětul) = true; beureum (mèrah) = red; bodas (putih) = white; konèng (kuning) = yellow; gědè (běsar) = big; leutik (kětjil) = small, and such-like which, as a matter of fact, have little to do with the notion of species. Very often they only seem to have been invented by plantcollectors wishing to content troublesome interrogators by some plausible answer. Finally there exist some poetic names, for the greater part of very recent date, of which it is likewise difficult to ascertain whether they are really true ones or came into existence by European influences. From the foregoing, in my opinion, it sufficiently appears that the natives hardly knew how to distinguish plants of this group which, in our eyes, is so very interesting. Once more, how is this fact to be accounted for? He who knows better is, of course, free to say so, but to me this enigmatical aloofness of the natives towards orchids seems to prove that these plants do not interest him in any way. The same case presents itself with most Europeans as regards funguses, mosses, algae a.s.o., groups of plants growing in our immediate environment, unsurveyable to many, which seem not to stir our imagination. I cannot find any other explanation of the fact. Notwithstanding what I have said herebefore it may be of interest to shortly discuss which value part at least of the native population of Java sets to orchids, not exclusively regarding the very small economic worth of a few ones but especially with a view to the denomination of the diverse species. Most of the popular names mentioned beneath have proved to be of recent date. Hence they are not yet universally used; often they are of local value only; sometimes they were invented by cunning plant collectors for the benefit of their employers. Nevertheless they are worthy of being registered, with discrimination of course and spelled in the right way. By doing so we may in future attain a better surveyable and more reliable denomination of orchids than could be made now. Everyone who is acquainted with the love felt by the natives for nature and with their extensive knowledge of the multitude of forms shown by the flora of their surroundings, knows quite well how important it is, and will ever be, to judiciously exchange thoughts with them. The native likes to hoax those who do not understand him and it leaves him quite cool whether by his conduct the European thinks to have found one reason more of storming furiously against the traditional irreliability of native information about plants and plant-names. He has had to swallow severer reproaches than the annihilating opinion of incompetent persons. The fault does not lie exclusively with the natives nor entirely with the Europeans but is caused by the lack of a universally acknowledged classification of the popular names in existence. My treatise aims at contributing my mite to a correct valuation of the notions of both parties. Therefore, let us not begin with stumbling over the numerous brand-new plant-names met with at present everywhere but let us express the hope that, once sifted, they will prove useful enough to enable one to find his way in the Indian flora. Wherefore should we hesitate to register names unknown up to now, because they are not yet generally used throughout the island? If ever, then now surely the time has come to take a broad view of this matter, now that the interest shown for orchids by the different races of the population is rapidly increasing, though modern fashion may play a great part in pushing it forward.
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Bakhuizen van den Brink, R.C. (1937). Synopsis of the vernacular names and the economic use of the indigenous orchids of Java. Blumea. Supplement, 1(1), 38–51.