In the past people may have regarded termites as nothing more than undesirable pests. However, now we know that termites provide essential ecological services that humans could not live without. Therefore, while termites will always be structural pests, everyone in the world can agree that they are not all bad. It is hard to imagine anyone liking termites for any reason other than their ability to convert dead plant matter into soil-enriching particles. However, in many parts of the world, termites are highly thought of as having spiritual or religious value.
Some of you may know that past cultures considered termites to be good omens. Rarely were termites thought of as evil entities, like snakes and many insect species. This is not necessarily hard to believe, as centuries ago, mass home construction projects and large scale residential areas were not yet a thing. In other words, when termites were accorded spiritual value by past cultures, there were no homes for termites to destroy. However, it is hard to reconcile modern people worshipping termites considering their long association with property and crop destruction in just about every corner of the world. Also, given the state of modern scientific understanding, it would seem silly to associate termites with positive notions of spirituality. Despite, our current understanding of how termites function in nature, many modern groups of people living in various Asian nations continue to apply ritual significance to termites and termite mounds.
It is hard to blame some modern cultures for not abandoning their spiritual beliefs concerning termite mounds, after all, termite mounds can reach thirty feet in height, making them awe-inspiring structures. The largest groups of people who treat termites with spiritual or religious significance live in Asian countries. Some modern people living in Thailand, Malaysia, China and Singapore worship termite mounds to this day.
In Malaysia, where termite mounds are abundant in residential areas, some religious groups believe that spiritual guardians build and reside within inactive termite mounds. One mound-dwelling guardian is known as “Keramat.” In some neighborhoods, locals will protect inactive termite mounds from destruction by building shrines around them. In the Hokkian dialect, Keramat is known as “Datok Kong.” Worshippers of Datok Kong pray to termite mounds in order to attain good health, protection and good luck, sometimes with the hopes of winning the lottery. Interestingly, Chinese villagers acquired their belief in Keramat from previous settlers that practiced Islam. It is likely that Islamic mystics inhabiting China during the 16th century also prayed in front of inactive termite mounds for similar reasons.
Are you surprised that termite mounds are so highly regarded in urbanized areas where termite infestations must be a problem?