Publication update 25: Bane or Blessing? Reviewing Cultural Values of Bats across the Asia-Pacific Region

Our inaugural publication from Phase 2 of Project Pteropus has been published by the Society of Ethnobiology! Led by Mary-Ruth as first author and Sheema as senior author, this literature review was a regional collaboration involving 13 co-authors from 9 countries across the Asia-Pacific, including Malaysia (Peninsular and Sarawak), China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Samoa. It’s fully open-access, which means you can both read it online or download the PDF, completely for free:

We uncovered 119 accounts from 60 cultures in 24 countries; of these cultures 62% had only positive values, 8% had only neutral values, while 10% had only negative values. The remaining had combinations of positive, neutral, and negative values.

For example, Chinese perceive bats as good luck symbols, based on homonyms of the words for bat 蝠 (fú) and blessing 福 (fú). Decorative bat motifs can be found in traditional Chinese architecture, textiles, and pottery throughout the Asia-Pacific.

Ibans from Malaysian Borneo believed that a pair of bats act as shamanic messengers to the upperworld during the Gawai harvest rituals. There’s also the “semawa” tattoo motif of a flying fox, with this modern interpretation designed by Ernesto Kalum of Borneo Headhunters Tattoo Studio.

From India, worshippers of Laxmi in Bihar believe that flying foxes help bring them wealth. In Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu, devotees of Kali revere bats as guardians of sacred groves, and offer fruit to the bats, as seen in this illustration by Barkha Lohia.

These fascinating representations contrast sharply with the oft-negative perceptions of bats dominating pop culture today. It just goes to show that positive perceptions of bats are not isolated or unique! Read more examples from our paper, and remember to celebrate bats!

Have a listen to Mary-Ruth and second author Cyren Wong Zhi Hoong talk on BFM 89.9 about the research we did for this paper:


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