"Kancil had an idea. “Tell us a story,” she whispered to Kitchen Boy."
Tiger Stone cover image

About Tiger Stone

I wanted to write a story set in Indonesia before the arrival of Europeans because Indonesia has an intriguing history but we tend to focus on the ancient temples
Stupa at Borobudur temple

The most famous of these is Borobudur, in central Java. It’s the largest Buddhist monument in the world and was built during the Sailendra Dynasty between 750 and 842 CE, about 300 years before Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and 400 years before Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

     then jump forward several centuries to the arrival of Europeans and the battle to control the spice trade because not very much is known about what happened in the intervening period. I also wanted my story to be about the power of knowing other languages.

My inspiration for the main character, Kancil, came from the girls at the boarding house where I lived as a university student in Yogyakarta.
Yogyakarta is a university town in south central Java close to where Tigerstone is set. Its most famous university is Universitas Gadjah Mada, named after the Prime Minister of the Majapahit Kingdom during King Hayam Wuruk’s reign in the 14th century.
Gadjah Mada is believed to be the mastermind behind the Battle of Bubat. Consequently, while he is considered a great hero in central and eastern Java, where Javanese culture dominates, you won’t find a university named after him in Sunda (western Java) because he is held responsible for the deaths of the Sundanese royal family in 1357.
.     The girls came from all over Indonesia and would use Indonesian with each other, Javanese when bargaining in the market and their own regional languages
Javanese is the most widely spoken regional language in Indonesia but it is not the native language of everybody from Java, let alone the whole of Indonesia; there are over 700 languages spoken across the archipelago. The Indonesian language evolved from the Malay language that had been used for centuries for communication between ethnic groups, especially coastal people, in western Indonesia and the Malay peninsula.
     when phoning home. I always admired the ease with which they switched from one language to another but they would often put themselves down because their English wasn’t perfect.

Choosing names for my characters was tricky because there are no records of what ordinary people called each other in 14th century Java. Kitchen Boy was always Kitchen Boy but Kancil’s name changed several times. I finally settled on Kancil because of the association with the mouse deer
Mouse deerIn the fables the mouse deer, or kancil (pron. Kahn-chill), is a cheeky and quick-witted creature who outsmarts the bigger but more slow-witted animals in the forest. Kancil’s adventures include talking its way out of certain death in the jaws of a crocodile, convincing a tiger-king not to demand tribute of meat and teaching a greedy monkey a lesson. In real life the mouse deer is a shy forest creature native to South and South East Asia. It’s about the size of a large rabbit.
     that outsmarts the bigger animals in the Kancil fables. I like the fact that the origin of the Kancil fables is claimed by both Indonesia and Malaysia but neither country has won the argument. It goes to show that stories can’t be contained by national borders.

If you read a Kancil story in Malay or Indonesian you can’t tell whether the character is male or female because ‘she’ and ‘he’ is the same word, yet in English translation, Kancil is usually male. I decided I would call a female character ‘Kancil’ to challenge that assumption.

When I read about the Wonoboyo Hoard,
Wonoboyo HoardThe Wonoboyo Hoard is usually on display in the Treasure Room at National Museum of Indonesia in Jakarta. Of course, when I visited, it happened to be on loan to South Korea but I’ll get to see it one day.

It was discovered by workers digging an irrigation ditch in a field about 3 kilometers from the Prambanan Temples. The workers thought they had struck rock but instead they uncovered three ceramic jars buried in the earth. Inside the jars they found gold and silver ceremonial objects, jewellery and coins weighing almost 17kg in total.

The treasure has been dated to the 9th century when the first Mataram Kingdom ruled but when it was buried and by whom is a mystery.
     I knew I wanted to incorporate it into my story. This treasure trove was uncovered in a rice field in 1990. Historians believe the treasure probably came from the Prambanan temples but nobody knows when it was buried or why. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to create a backstory for it.