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Wetu Telu
Mixture of islam and adat

Islam Wetu Telu is a religion in which Islamic influences have been mixed with older elements of animism and ancestral worship. The number of Wetu Telu-followers on Lombok is hard to number: the religion is not officially recognized in the census. Estimations say that there are about 30,000 Wetu Telu supporters.

The relations between the Wetu Telu-followers and the more orthodox Sasak-Muslims (Wetu Lima), especially the conservative sect Nahdatul Wahtan, have never been good, and the first were periodically pressured to conform to more 'respectable' form of islam. What happened is that the religion of the Wetu Telu now takes place illegally, in fear of actions only a few want to tell they support the religion.

Balinese Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Confucianism are the six religions which are formally recognized. The first of the five 'ground rules', on which the Indonesian constitution is bases tells: 'Believe in one almighty God'. Non-monotheistic religions - like ancestor worshiping - are officially discouraged. The Balinese Hinduism is a special case; by means of doctrinal nice talks the hindu-gods were brought together in one god, Sang Hyang Widi.

For the Islam Wetu Telu, 1965 was the 'year of living dangerously' (tahun vivere pericoloso; the expression is from Soekarno) an important year. In the chaos that followed on the failed coup d'etat by six generals, supporters of the communist party were killed across the archipelago , on accusation of involvement in the coup.

Who didn't belong to a recognized religion had the risk to be seen as an 'atheist', similar to 'communist'. During the terror of 1965, several orthodox Sasak Muslims described Wetu Telu as an 'unacceptable' religion, with several drastic consequences. In different locations in Indonesia, there were non-recognized religions as well, for example on West-Sumba, on Kalimantan and Papua. There it lacked fanatics which wanted to start killing; there no people were killed.

The orthodox Islam on Lombok

In the 19th century, purist reforms took place in the Arabic world, which were copied on Lombok by Sasak pilgrims which had been to Mecca and Medina. Upset by the slackness of their fellow inhabitants they tried to purify their religion by suppressing all sings of animism and by praising strict Quranic rules. On Lombok, the Islam also had a political side, which caused the Sasak in the east to unite against the Balinese rulers in the western part of the island.

Around the turn of the century (1900), when the Dutch took over colonial power, the colonial government demanded the slow down of fanatic Sasak-Muslims. The Islamic reforms from the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th century faded away into friendly persuasion. They aimed at local developments of the religious school system Muhammadiyah, which brought strongly orthodox Islamic students.

After the war and the independence, the Nahdatul Wahtan-movement was founded, which had it's base in Selong, the capital of the district East-Lombok. This organization, lead by Haji Zainuddin Abdul Majid, was especially founded to battle the Wetu Telu. Haji Zainuddin got much influence during the drought of 1966 when he helped out the hungry with rice which came from the soils from his followers. With his cooperation, the then government party (GolKar) managed to get an overwhelming majority in the elections of 1971 and 1977.

Religious Controversies

Islam Wetu Telu is a mixture of adat (traditional uses and believes) and a superficial layer of Islam. The religion concludes a high level of respect for nature and her gifts, as well as village ancestors and other spirits. The most important rituals take place when using new fields, births, circumcisions, weddings and funerals. The followers share the rules of the Wetu Telu, but on details there are reasonable differences, which relate with the different traditions in different part of the islands. All this is something which orthodox Muslims don't like, as well as the fact that Islam entered Lombok via Bayan, one of the main important locations of Wetu Telu. But they also don't like the old palm-leaf manuscript which describes the missionaries which introduced Islam.

The lontar tells that Pangeran Senopati brought islam to Lombok and his oldest son founded the Wetu Lima, while his youngest son founded the Wetu Telu. The followers of the oldest son were struck by all kinds of bad luck, illnesses and hunger. That's why the Wetu Lima rules were put in a iron box and thrown into the sea. Next everyone was blessed by Allah, after which they lived in prosperity.

The orthodox Muslims bring up doctrine complaints that the Wetu Telu supporters don't pray five times a day and that some only fast for three days during Ramadan. Supporters of the Wetu Telu (lit. Thee times Islam) often do things in three ways; they believe in three fundamental rules (obedience to God, the leaders of the community and parents) and know three fundamental transitional rites (birth, lift and death).

Habits of the Wetu Telu

The penghulu (religious leader) of Bayan, Pak Raden Singaderia, the ritual life of the Wetu Telu is all about ceremonies to honor the ancestors, naming the children, weddings, funerals, the construction of new houses and the creation of new sawah's. Once a year there is a homage to the old mosque Bayan Beleq. The exact age is not known by the penghulu; he pointed to Raden Kosari in Jakarta, which is said to determine age by smelling it.

The ritual cycle of the Wetu Telu contains eight year. The most important ceremony in this period i the Alip-festival, in which the 'Highest Being' is honored. This festivity is written about by anthropologist J. van Baal in his book 'The Alip Festival in Bayan'.

Pak Raden Singaderia showed a document which names several of the special things of the Wetu Telu-adat. The bridal treasure for a woman with royal blood demands the following: 650,000 kepeng (old Chinese coins which a square hole in the middle), seven water buffalo's, a big basket of rice with another 244 kepeng and 25 javelins.

The text tells about three kinds of infringements against communal habits, of which the least severe is punished by a fine of 10,000 kepeng, the more severe with a fine up to 49,000 kepeng. A infringement which falls under the category 'criminal offence', is entering the private areas of a woman without permission. When a woman speaks with someone else than her husband in the night after the marriage, then se commits the same 'crime'. 'Heavy criminal offences' are also: harassing a woman by a man until she cries for help; a man which is caught with a woman which is not his wife; parents which force their daughter too much to marry someone of their choice.

Shortly after the introduction of Islam in the 16th century several residents which didn't want to adopt the new religion fled to the mountains to life the way their ancestors did. These people, called Boda, are influenced by local ancestor worship as well as by Hinduism. They settled in the mountains of North-Lombok and several villages in the south;. Maybe the Boda were the ancestors of the current Wetu Telu supporters.

When the Balinese took power over Western Lombok in the 18th century, the local Sasak were integrated in the different layers of the population of the rulers. The Wetu Telu participated in Balinese rituals, which were more related with their original religion than the Islamic; they married with their conquerors and adapter voluntary to the subak-system, which regulated the division of water for irrigation of the rice fields.

Even nowadays there are several similarities between the Balinese Hinduism and Wetu Telu: sacrifices to and the worship of ancestors, whether or not in the form of mountains, some high trees, sources, waterfalls and unusual rock formations and living in harmony with nature. Some supporters of Wetu Telu and members of the Balinese minotiryu on Lombok see Gunung Rinjani as the house of ancestors and the most powerful spirits, among them the 'Highest Being'. The Balinese bring sacrifices to the volcanic lake of Rinjani and some Wetu Telu supporters spend three nights on the mountain with full moon to gain some spiritual power.

Last revised on December 14, 2009
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