Tradition and monotheism in eastern Indonesia
- Nusa Tenggara Timor, a south-eastern province of Indonesia, is populated mainly by Christians. The Alor-Pantar Archipelago has a majority of Protestant inhabitants who were baptized by Dutch Calvinists in the first half of the twentieth century. In addition, there are some coastal enclaves that have been inhabited by Muslims for centuries. In some areas, such as in the headland of Muna (Tanjung Muna) forming the northeast of Pantar Island, there is an even greater diversity of monotheistic religions, with some Catholic families living next to Protestants and Muslims. All adherers of the three religious faiths living at Tanjung Muna share core elements of the local adat, which consists of core rules relating to social behavior. It is believed that the ancestors will notice transgressions of these rules, and may use their supernatural power to punish their human descendants. In Indonesia, the term adat was first used by Muslims to distinguish the non-Islamic practices from Muslim faith (Keane 1997:260-261). This is definitely not the case in the village of Pandai at the coast of Tanjung Muna, where Islam tolerates ancestral worship. The same is true for the Catholics in the inland village of Helangdohi, who do not only tolerate but even support such customs. Some villagers from Helangdohi had become acquainted with this kind of Catholicism on the nearby island of Flores, where ancestral worship is encouraged by the missionaries of the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD). The attitude of Protestantism, at least in the Alor Archipelago, is quite the contrary of the permissive views held by Catholicism and Islam. In the 1930s the Protestant-Calvinist missionaries banned any kind of ancestral worship and destroyed most relics (Dalen 1928: Picture 1). These drastic measures demanded the disavowal of the ancestors, including the destruction of heirlooms and omitting of rituals.
Review of: Susanne Schröter (ed.): Christianity in Indonesia: Perspectives of Power