The Mystery of the Buru: From Indigenous Ontology to Post-modern Fairy Tale
This article offers an overview of the pantheon and religion of one of the most distinctive indigenous populations of Arunachal Pradesh in North-Eastern India: the Apatani. In particular, through an ethnographical field study on the distinctive culture of this ethnic group, the study aims to explain the symbolisms and functions inherent in the mythical figure of the buru, a kind of animal-chimaera, which plays a key role in the myth of the origins of the Apatani. At the same time, this study proposes a critical analysis of the results of Ralph Izzard’s exploratory expedition shortly after WWII, which discounted any possibility of investigating a cosmogonic myth, but strove to trace a legendary extinct saurian. The misinterpretation of the British expedition in the 1950s gave rise to a series of beliefs that in contemporary times (mostly in the West) have aimed to prove the real existence of the buru, extrapolating it from the folklore record. For this reason today the buru has become a sort of post-modern legend, or better a classical figure of cryptozoology, understood as pseudoscience and sub-cultural product. This essay tries to explore the issue through a religious and anthropological investigative approach.