Saturday, October 20, 2018

On the Dhole, the Wild Dog Dhole

A dhole, or more specifically Cuon alpinus dukhunensis

In the bus on my way back from my Rheumatology appointment, I wanted to withdraw my attention from the bothersome crowd, so I drew from my knapsack the reading material I’d taken with me for the waiting room. It was written by an acquaintance from long ago, and its title, implying some ambiguity or confusion between the classes of dogs and cats, intrigued me.

Of course the Tibetan side of things was what most interested me, nothing new there. Ruth Meserve, my muse, makes use of two lexicons of the sort that have Tibetan components entered into a multilingual setting. One is the five-language dictionary, called therefore the Pentaglot, that dates from 1771-1794, while the other is Jampel Dorjé’s Materia Medica. Well known to the world at least since Lokesh Chandra published it in Delhi way back in 1971, its woodcut illustrations of plants and animals, among them the Abominable Snowman, were its main attractions for the larger body of humans unready to get serious and deal with the language problems. 

For the translations from Jampel Dorjé’s book, the author relied on a Tibetanist, Frederica Venturi (footnote 45 on p. 147). In observance of old-school scholarly noblesse oblige, the author accepts all errors as her own responsibility. I won’t bore anybody with my quibbles about little inaccuracies. That would be unkind or boarish for no reason of any importance, so I’ll just give translations of my own. Here they are.

Jampel Dorjé, p. 237c:  The animal called gung.

The caracal (gung).  It is called Dog of the Forest. Like a tiger, but murkier colored, dark with black striations. Its body is about the size of a full-grown fox. The Crystal Orb (Shel-sgong) says:  
The types of flesh that eliminate illnesses caused by gdon possession are these: wild man [abominable snowman], lion, tiger, leopard, bear, wild goat, wild boar, sambar deer (lit., snow deer), bamboo [dwelling] tiger, lynx, lammergeier, elephant, caracal, hoopoe, crow and raven.


Jampel Dorjé, p. 237c:  The animal called 'phar-ba

The ’phar-ba. It is called Small Red Mountain Dog, as well as Lives on Game Animals. It bears resemblance to a domesticated cat (byi-la), but is larger, about the size of a fox, and is colored a murky red. The tail of one linking with another, they climb trees.* These both** are, in the [Medical] Tantras, taught to belong to the class of carnivores.***
(*This is my reading of the statement, although I do not believe prehensile tails are a feature of any kind of dog or cat for that matter. It is as if part of a description of the spider monkey got misplaced here. And if this is a dhole, the spots do not at all belong in its woodcut depiction.)
(**I guess this means the 'phar-ba and the animal mentioned just before it, the leopard [gzig].)
(***I guess this intends the section on flesh-derived medicinals in the Explanatory Tantra at the end of its 20th chapter, although I checked and didn’t find that leopard and 'phar-ba are mentioned in the same context.)


SO MANY THANKS to Ruth Meserve and Frederica Venturi for forcing me to think more about dholes. Not only myself, but everyone else on the planet should be thinking more about these disappearing wild creatures while we have the chance.*
(*Take note of this alarming evidence of human harm to the biosphere in the form of massive insect loss that goes together with declining populations of the creatures who feed off of them. See also this report from the World Wildlife Fund on just how quickly the free-ranging animals are disappearing. It’s called “Living Planet Report 2018: Aiming Higher.”)

I confess to being inspired by another message that issues out of Meserve’s essay. It caught me off guard, the idea that animal names can be shifted around because of naming taboos. I haven’t heard about this particular kind of naming taboo in Tibetan culture, but I guess it only makes sense that the most feared animal would be the one whose name would be avoided. Could this be invoked to explain why Padampa Sangyé always used the word for camel to name the bear?  I mean, literal dictionary-slaves would inevitably translate his words kind of like, “Camels crave honey,” when I think they do not, even if they can be made to eat it. Well, they are said to love air.

244a: Rnga-mong.  Camel.  Air Lover (rlung dga') is one of its epithets here.


All about the books:

Jampel Dorjé ('Jam-dpal-rdo-rje), Gso-byed Bdud-rtsi'i 'Khrul-med Ngos-'dzin Bzo-rig Me-long-du Rnam-par Shar-ba Mdzes-mtshar Mig-rgyan, contained in:  Lokesh Chandra, ed., An Illustrated Tibeto-Mongolian Materia Medica of Ayurveda of 'Jam-dpal-rdo-rje of Mongolia, with a foreword by E.Gene Smith, International Academy of Indian Culture (New Delhi 1971), pp. 1-347. I put up another entry  from this text for the hare or rabbit in an old blog of about 7 years back called Ownerless Donkey. In the colophon the author calls himself a layperson of the Naiman clan who later on after his arrival in Tibet made revisions to his text. We can call this a Mongolian work of Tibetan literature, as it was originally composed in Mongolia by a Mongolian. In the early days I had no idea who the author was, and only slowly, with help from Vladimir Uspensky, could I begin to get an idea about who he was.

Jampel Dorjé (’Jam-dpal-rdo-rje) aka Don-grub-rgyal-mtshan, aka Tho-yon Ye-shes-don-grub-bstan-pa’i-rgyal-mtshan lived from 1792 to 1855. I’ve never seen the woodblock print of his entire collected works although a set is registered in the Drepung Catalog, p. 2063, and I’ve noticed a listing of the titles it contains in another catalog. And I’ve noticed a record of teachings received as well as a biography that ought to be available in Rome. One valuable service he performed for Tibetan literary history is his anthology of early Kadampa works, or selections from them, many still not made available to us in any other form.

Mdo Dbus Mtho-sgang-gi Sman-ris Gsal-ba’i Me-long, Mtsho-sngon Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Xining 2009). In my experience copies were very difficult to obtain, but I finally succeeded. Volume 3 is the one about animals. Almost entirely in Tibetan language, it does supply Chinese names for the animals. This is a modern work, most of the time supplying systematic descriptions based on direct observation, it seems. However, the illustrations of animals are largely unclear, and not up to any scientific standards. It is a shame there is no entry for the gung, but the ’phar-ba entry is there, on pp. 55-56. To give a rough translation of the descriptive parts:  
“Its bodily shape resembles the dog. It is about a meter in length. Its tail is slightly bulging, its tip a murky dark color. The entirety of its body is the color of kham-ser, and on its back is kham-nag, its belly hairs lightish yellow. The fur on its four paws and on its back resemble each other. (This is written after inspecting an actual specimen in the district north of the Kokonor.)”
It seems to me that this description matches photos and descriptions of the dhole very nicely. The color terms here are tricky to translate, but perhaps the English word tawny works well enough, with kham-ser leaning more toward the yellowish tawny, and kham-nag toward the darker kind. I have another book on Tibetan wildlife that has only Chinese and English. I picked up my copy a long time ago at a bookstore inside the entrance to the Norbu Lingka. The English title is An Instant Guide to Rare Wildlife of Tibet. On p. 11 it has a photo of Cuon alpinus, and even though it is labelled as "Jackal (Wild Red Dog),” it absolutely resembles the dhole. 

Ruth I. Meserve, “Wild Dogs or Wild Cats? Puzzles in Lexical Sources and Medical Texts from China, Tibet and Mongolia,” Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi, vol. 23 (2017), pp. 137-165.

Skad Lnga Shan-sbyar-gyi Manydzu'i Skad Gsal-ba'i Me-long, Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing 1957), in 3 volumes.  Called the Pentaglot, this is a five-language dictionary published on the basis of a manuscript version kept in the “Pho-brang Rnying-pa'i Nor-rdzas Bshams-ston-khang.” Manchu, Tibetan, Mongolian, Uighur and Chinese are the five languages.

Joel Sartore, photographer for the National Geographic, takes amazing photos of rare animals he is convinced are unlikely to be with us much longer, and one of them is of a zoo-kept dhole that you can see HERE. His home page is here. You will probably find yourself unable to not love these portraits of extraordinary beasts.

After Mdo Dbus Mtho-sgang-gi Sman-ris Gsal-ba'i Me-long
a drawing of a dhole ('phar-ba)


(*) (*) (*) (*) (*)

Add-on (November 11, 2018):

I finally got ahold of a classic article by the well-known linguist and Indologist M.B. Emeneau entitled “Taboos on Animal Names.” It was published in the journal called Language, vol. 24, no. 1 (January 1948), pp. 56-63, with a brief appendix added on in no. 2 (April 1948), pp. 180-181. As a native son of the southern parts of India, likely the area of Andhra and so likely a Telugu speaker, the elderly Padampa could have been observing a word-avoidance practice from his childhood days. Of course, bears are not prevalent in south India, but we do find south Indians not naming larger carnivores such as tigers, particularly in the morning hours. They would call the tiger by the name of the dog or the jackal, and a number of examples for this are supplied. So I feel a little more emboldened to believe that Padampa knew he was avoiding pronouncing the name of the bear when he called it camel...  Emeneau didn't think the practice was just a hunter's superstition, but that it had wider religious significance.

Oh well, but then I find this article on Bear lore telling us that avoidance of the bear word is universal (by which I guess it means all over Eurasia):  
“Features that appear universally according to Vasil'ev (1948) and Paproth (1976) are: 1. prohibitions of direct reference to Bear by the general proper names, 2. use of circumlocutions in referring to or addressing the bear.” 
Source:  Page 346 in Lydia T. Black, “Bear in Human Imagination and in Ritual,” Ursus, vol. 19 (September 1998), pp. 343-347.

+  +  +

Meanwhile, I see that yet another bit of Jampel Dorjé's materia medica, the entry on the otter (ཆུ་སྲམ་), has appeared in an article that surfaced recently. Equipped with an institutional subscription, as you must be, just go here, and up on your screen ought to appear Lobsang Yongdan’s “Precious Skin: The Rise and Fall of the Otter Fur Trade in Tibet.”


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