Ancient Word of the Day: Siamang

Siamang hug 2

Endangered siamangs are the largest type of the gibbon family. They have distinctive black coats and communicate using a complex system of booming calls. They have gorgeous throat sacks that swell up as they sing together. Like other gibbons they form gregarious and close-knit family groups. They face a major existential threat from palm oil deforestation and illegal animal trafficking that occurs as a result of this deforestation.

Did you know name of one of the most vocal gibbons of the Bornean jungle ‘Siamang’ originates from several indigenous languages in the Central Aslian group in SE Asia?

Siamang: n. ultimate origin of the word ʔamang (where the ʔ represents a glottal stop), is from several indigenous languages of the Central Aslian group.

When speakers of Malay borrowed the word ʔamang, they added the personal article si. Similar to an honorific like “mister”, si generally applies only to humans, or to animals, spirits or objects that are personified. Malay speakers later interpreted the word amang as “black”, giving rise to a folk etymology of si amang as meaning something like “Mr Sooty”.

The Malay expression was eventually treated as the single word siamang. For the Malays, the charisma exuded by siamangs entitled them to the status of personhood — another recognition of the affinity between humans and our forest ape relatives.

Originally published on The Conversation

Siamangs are endangered from palm oil deforestation. Join the #Boycott4Wildlife and fight back with your wallet…

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

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