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Vision of unity and duality

The official statistics show an easy view of the religious landscape of Indonesia: 88 per cent of the population is islamic, 5.8 per cent protestant, 2.9 per cent catholic, 2 per cent hinduist and 0.9 per cent buddhist. A very small group is indicated as 'those which don't have yet a religion'. These categories are separated into unequal parts over the islands of the archipelagio, but there is a clear tendency: the further you go to the east, the more christians and 'others' are found.
Lombok and Sumbawa, in the west of Nusa Tenggara are mainly islamic. On Flores, Roti and Timor, there is a christian majority. Sumba, which was the last island of the Lesser Sunda's to get a colonial rule, as well as the island Savu know a bright traditional religious culture.
When you travel through the area, you will see a totally different religious reality, which looks totally different than the official numbers. Under the layer of big universal religions you can find the traditional religious culture wich are rich and varied. This is probably the most clear in christian areas, however you can also find islamic sects, like the Wetu Telu on Lombok.
In the first place, people are impressed with the colorfull diversity of characteristic local cultures. But there is a foundation of a similar pattern, which offers a key for a better understanding of the religious culture of the region.

Guided by a Dream

Imagine a group of colonists which enter a new area in Nusa Tenggara. The migrants do certainly have several holy objects with them: a sword, a holy drum, or maybe soil and water from the place of origin. It's these objects which form the foundation of a yet to create village and the place of origin. After the migrants, guided by a dream, the call of a bird or something else, have found their place to settle down and then they have to reach an agreement with the other population and spiritual owners of the island: the gods of the mountain, forest and water. These powers are seen as wild and dangerous. They make the area 'hot' and unusable for humans to live in. But by founding an althat from 'rock and tree', a treaty is granted.
The still untamed forces of the local landscape are envited or even forced to 'take a seat' in the stone of the althar; on which was they become the protectors of the new community. The leader of the group, in his turn, promises in name of the human part of the participants, to do all obliged rites. By this procedure, which is repeated in a smaller scale when the fields are first used, the area is 'cooled down' so it can be used by humans.
The religious ties between the humans and the landscape is enlargened when the founders of the village and the first agriculturers have died and are honoured like ancestors. Their remains rest in the megalith gravetombes around the village square with the 'rock and tree' altar, while their godlike spirits are honoured like ancestors in the highest point of the adat houses. From this place they negotiate between the living descendants and the powers of nature and they watch the strict fullfillment of the foundation-rulers. In the first place they are mainly negotiators, but after a while their cult starts to merge with that of the gods of the village.
The oldest living male descendant of the founder is called Tuan Tanah in Indonesian, 'Lord of the Land'. He devides the communal fields, starts the agricultural activities and lead big fertility-ceremonies. In his house, the holy heirlooms of the village are kept and near his veranda you can find the most important altars of the village. He is the heir of the 'first agreement' with the powers of nature and functions as the spiritual leader of the village.


The higher gods and ancestors can't be spoken to in a direct way. Some kind of negotiation is demanded. Ritual readers, which act as representatives for a relational group or village, can only get in contact with the highest gods through a long chaing of spiritual messengers, village gods and ancestors. A ceremonial styled language is uses, the 'language of the ancestors', which consists of couplets of grouped centences. The used things are directly related from the real workd, like for example 'mountain' or 'river', but they are meant to call a more abstract reality, which is not named at all: in this case the 'landscape' or the 'domain'.
The principal of complementary duality can be found in all aspects of thinking and doing: the relations of marriage and agricultural activies and even the political structure. It forms the most important method to organise the visible and non-visible reality. The most important of these compementary opposites are those between 'inside' and 'outside' and between 'female' and 'male'. Besides that the contrast between 'mountain' and 'sea' as well as 'up' and 'down' important for the orientation, while 'cool' and 'hot' has a function in the ritual context and 'older' and 'younger' is used in social contacts.
All these opposites are located in the vision on reality: the cyclic movements of cosmic dimensions, in which things are created from and return to another unity, their ;source' or 'origin'. The human has a special responsibility to maintain this circular flow of life. Some are more responsible than others. The Tuan Tanah is seen as the first born, the 'oldest brother', which has as task to stay home to guard the rock and the tree of their cosmic parents. His younger brother, with which he shares power and which often belongs to a different familygroups, has to face towards the outside to guard the borders of the holy domain.

The Tuan Tanah is associated with the 'inside' and the 'refreshing' effects of th fertility ritual; in this function he is symbollical classified as 'female'. His 'male' opposite represents the village to the 'outside' and in fact is the political leader: he guards the village borders and will lead the men in a village war or a headhunting trip. Their functions however are complimentary: the beheaded heads, which are taken from the 'outside' as trophees, stimulate prosperity and fertility of the village and the fields. Above all both men, seen through the eyes of a outsides, belong to the 'holy center', of which fertility and prosperity can spread all over the domain.
The activities of the two leaders, which cooperate in a system of separated leadership, follow the seasonal rhythm of the seasons. The dry season is the period of the headhunting trips, the village wars and the big hunting; it's a period of 'heat', which ends with the preparation of the fields by chopping and burning. After the world is heatened in this way, the 'cooling' fertility can give the necesary rains, which come with the western monsoon.

Sumba: Megaliths and Ancestors

Sumba is the only island in eastern Indonesia which maintained to the religion of their ancestors. The papers of the census allows people to registed for a special agama Marapi, the 'religion of Marapu'. The term marapu means the god-like ancestors of different family groups and clans in Sumba. In West-Sumba, the word is used in more common use and it means everything which is related with the world of the gods, spirits and ancestors.
The stem-villages of the traditional domains in which the island used to be devided, were located in hard-to-reach areas, from which they looked down on the fields in the lowlands. However most of these villages have now disappeared and abandones, they still play an important role in the ritual life.
In the villages of East-Sumba there are usually two rows of adat-houses across eachother, along both sides of a stretched village square. The square itself is overruled by the megalith gravetombes of the founders of the village, the altars for the protectional gods and the bleached stem of a skull-tree, in which once the trophees of the headhunting trips hung.
In West-Sumba the traditional houses with their high-pointed roofs are put in a circular shape. Stem-villages like this, in which the cult-houses of the different familygroups or clans are located, are the place of origin for many other villages and townships. They only show a sign of life during big festivities, when the scattered members of the group return to participate in a ceremony of their 'house of origin'.
One of the most spectacular ceremonies is the movement of the huge stone covers, which protect the remains of the ancestors and forever honor the family. In history, hundreds of buffalo's and pigs were killed to feed the spirit of the stone and to make the long journey possible.In 1988 the government limited the sacrifice of the number of animals to five.

Flores: from 'outside' to 'inside'

The ngadhu, a woodcarved pillaw of about three meters with a cone-shaped roof of palmfibre, is the most remarkable religious construction of the Ngadavillages in the district Bajawa of Central West-Flores. The ngadhu gets the name from the oldest male ancestor of a family group and forms a pair with a small bhaga-house, dedicated to the female ancestors. Together with the peo, a piece of stone, about a meter high, which also serves as sacrifice-pillar, together form a ceremonial unity.
Ngadhu, bhaga and peo are located in the length of eachother along the east-west axis of the village. They are ritually connected with the cult-house, the graves and other megalith stones of the family group. Usually there are more combinations to be found in one village, which dominate the village square with it's two rows of houses as remarkable symbols of ancestral protection.
These symbols of the ancestors are located in the 'inside', the heart of the village. However: the stem for the ngadhu, for which the only wood used is the hard, red wood of the hebu-tree, has to be taken out of the woods, the domain of the untamed and bad spirits from the 'outside'. This is a dangerous, hard and especially costly effort in which a big number of chichen, pigs and buffalo's has to be sacrificed. After a tree is choosen, it is excavated with roots. Afterwards the branches are taken of, which only leaves the 'horns' of two twigs. In this stage, the tree is seen as very 'hot' and dangerous, it has to be covered with red fabrics. After several rituals in which the distance between 'outside' and 'inside' is slowly overcome, the forked object is welcomed into the village with a big ceremony. The women have to be carefull, because the ngadhu still is wilde and lustfull. After the stem is 'tattooed' with woodcarvings and it's foot is placed in stones and soil it's cooled off. In this stage it's dignite enough to receive an ancestral spirit.
The female bhaga-house is built before. It serves as a temporary shelter for participants. After the peo is finally installed, guided by a more modest ritual, the three objects become the center of events during sacrificed in which the blood of buffalo's bring prosperity and fertility.

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