- Acehnese culture(s): plurality and homogeneity (2011)
- Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam is a multicultural province within a multicultural state. Hence, its political leaders not only face the need to integrate ethnic and cultural diversity into a regional framework, but also have to define Aceh’s role within the Indonesian nation. During its violent past which was characterized by exploitation and military oppression, there were good reasons to emphasize sameness over diversity and to build up the consciousness of a unified Acehnese identity. From both an emic and an etic perspective, it is today widely accepted that there is such a thing as a homogeneous Acehnese culture which is rooted in a glorious, though troublesome, history of repression and rebellion and shaped by a strong Islamic piety. Even if it is true that Acehnese history has created a strong regional identity, it must not be forgotten that people living in this area belong to various ethnic and cultural groups and that they represent a rich variety of different cultures rather than simply a single homogeneous culture. As a matter of fact, the practises and discourses of Islam here also vary depending on the cultural background of the people. As elsewhere in Indonesia and beyond, world religions have to adapt to local customs, have to be appropriated by the local people, and have to be indigenized. This is the reason why adat still continues to play a role in every local context, even if it has been treated with suspicion in many parts of Indonesia since the Dutch colonial administration began using it as a counterforce against Islam in order to implement their divide-and-rule strategy. With this article, I wish to shed some light on the complexities of Acehnese culture, as it encompasses numerous very distinct local cultures and this reflects on the general significance of culture for the construction and reconstruction of post-tsunami Aceh.
- Christianity in Indonesia: an overview (2011)
- Indonesia is a multicultural and multireligious nation whose heterogeneity is codified in the state doctrine, the Pancasila. Yet the relations between the various social, ethnic, and religious groups have been problematic down to the present day, and national unity has remained fragile. In several respects, Christians have a precarious role in the struggle for shaping the nation. They are a small minority (about 9% of the population) in a country predominantly inhabited by Muslims; in the past they were interconnected in manifold ways with the Dutch colonial government; they exert great influence in economy and the military, and constitute the majority of the population in some parts of the so-called Outer Islands (such as Flores, Sumba, and Timor), which are characterized by an attitude fraught with ambivalence towards the state apparatus perceived as ‘Javanese’ and ‘Muslim’. In the aftermath of the former president Suharto’s resignation and in the course of the ensuing political changes – in particular the independence of East Timor – Christians were repeatedly discredited for allegedly posing a threat to Indonesian unity, and have been involved both as victims and perpetrators in violent regional clashes with Muslims that claimed thousands of lives. Since the beginning of the new millennium the violent conflicts have lessened, yet the pressure exerted on Christians by Islamic fundamentalists still continues undiminished in the Muslim-majority regions. The future of the Christians in Indonesia remains uncertain, and pluralist society is still on trial. For this reason the situation of Christians in Indonesia is an important issue that goes far beyond research on a minority, touching on general issues relating to the formation of the nation-state.
- The indigenization of catholicism on Flores (2011)
- From the very outset of European expansion, scholars have been preoccupied with the impact of proselytization and colonization on non-European societies. Anthropologists such as Margaret Mead and Bronislaw Malinowski, who witnessed these processes at the beginning of the twentieth century while at the same time benefitting from the colonial structure, were convinced that the autochthonous societies could not possibly withstand the onslaught of the dominant European cultures, and thus were doomed to vanish in the near future. The fear of losing their object of research, which had just recently been discovered, hung above the heads of the scholars like a sword of Damocles ever since the establishment of anthropology as a discipline. They felt hurried to document what seemed to be crumbling away. Behind these fears there was the notion that the indigenous cultures were comparatively static entities that had existed untouched by any external influences for many centuries, or even millennia, and were unable to change. This idea was shared by proponents of other disciplines; in religious studies, for example, up to the late 1980s the view prevailed that the contact between the great world religions and the belief systems of small, autochthonous societies doomed the latter to extinction. However, more recent studies have shown that this assumption, according to which indigenous peoples have not undergone any changes in the course of history, is untenable. It became apparent that groups supposedly living in isolation have extensive contact networks, and that migration, trade, and conquest are not privileges of modern times. Myths and oral traditions bore witness of journeys to faraway regions, new settlements founded in unknown territories, or the arrival of victorious foreigners who introduced new ways and customs and laid claim to a place of their own within society.