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  • : My own writings - about: culture and anthropology, philosophy and theology,history, religion etc., in indonesian, german, english and Tetun (Timor), etc. Seperti gado-gado - wie gemischter Salat - semuanya dapat dibaca dalam blog in - also alles in Allem .... enjoy aja - viel Spaß dabei -
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  • Mag. Theol. Puplius M. Buru Loro Berek alumnus STFK Ledalero, alumnus universitas Wina-Austria. Berkarya di Austria. Kontak: pupliusmeinrad@yahoo.com
Interesse: sejarah-budaya, Lingkungan hidup,  Keadilan HAM perdamaian - Filsafat - teologi
  • Mag. Theol. Puplius M. Buru Loro Berek alumnus STFK Ledalero, alumnus universitas Wina-Austria. Berkarya di Austria. Kontak: pupliusmeinrad@yahoo.com Interesse: sejarah-budaya, Lingkungan hidup, Keadilan HAM perdamaian - Filsafat - teologi



31. Januar 2009 6 31 /01 /Januar /2009 20:07

PICT0344.jpgAdoption of Christianity in Western Timor [1]


An Anthropological Study of the Contact Between Christian Culture and the

Cosmic Culture of West Timor in Eastern Indonesia


By: Herman Joseph Seran

 (mantan dosen Undana Kupang)

(Foto: bersama Penulis Artikel di kediamannya: Oepura - Kupang: Herman J. Seran, MA) 



Herman Joseph Seran,M.A is a senior lecturer in sociology and social anthropology in the University of Nusa Cendana in Kupang, Timor, Indonesa. He took his M.A. degree, having linguistics and English for his major and social anthropology as his minor field of concentration, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences of the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, Philippines in the year 1965. From the year 1966 up to the present, he has been teaching in the University of Nusa Cendana as well as in the Catholic University of Widya Mandira and the University of Muhammadyah, all of them located in Kupang. Aside from his teaching activities he is also a research fellow of the University of Nusa Cendana, and has been involved in independent field research on the social and cultural life of the Ema Tetun, an ethnic group in the Kabupaten or administrative district of Belu, as well as that of other ethnic groups in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) together with some local and foreign researhers. He attended an international conference on the Anthropology of Eastern Indonesia in Oslo, Norway held in 1992, as well as an international conference on Dialogue France - Insulinde in Jakarta in 1994. He has also made comparative studies in anthropological and sociological fields under the auspices of an academic cooperation between Indonesian and German universities, first at the Institut fur Ethnologie und Afrika Studien der Johannes Guttenberg Universitat Mainz in the year 1993, and in Frobenius Institut und Institut fur Historische Ethnologie der Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universitat Frankfurt/Main, Germany in the year 1997.




1.      Introduction


This paper bearing the title Adoption of Christianity in Western Timor as given above is presented in this eminent forum to give a short description of the results of a cultural contact between the Christian (Catholic) creed and the indigenous system of beliefs held by the Ema Tetun, an ethnic group occupying the kabupaten or administrative district of Belu in the middle part of Timor Island, the part bordering on the country Timor Leste. This writing is presented as a contribution of ideas towards the end of fulfilling the aims of this conference, which has the central theme of Christianity in Modern Indonesia. In this paper, the focus of discussion is on the aspect of the cultural contact between Christian culture and cosmic culture as shown in the indigenous system of beliefs and traditions of the Ema Tetun. Thus the focus of investigation is on arrangements for living of a socio-cultural and spiritual nature.

The Church’s role in social development, such as in the fields of social economics, social politics, law and fundamental human rights or HAM (Hak Asasi Manusia), the culture and social life of the faithful within the context of Indonesian contemporary society, will be described, even if only in outline. It is also necessary to put forward that the focus of investigation is the Church’s role in the lives of the Christians of Kabupaten Belu, considering that this area has long been the center of evangelization in West Timor for adherents of the Christian Catholic faith, the latter making up the largest group in Belu, which is the kabupaten or administrative district whose capital town is Atambua. Atambua happens to be the bishop’s seat, with the Diocese of Atambua holding jurisdiction and ecclesiastical power over the faithful residing not only in Kabupaten Belu but also in the adjacent administrative district of Kabupaten Timor Tengah Utara (TTU, North Central Timor). The other bishopric in West Timor, that of the Archdiocese of Kupang, has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the kabupatens of South Central Timor (TTS, Timor Tengah Selatan), Kupang, Rote Ndao, Alor and over the City of Kupang. On the archdiocesan level its ecclesiastical jurisdiction also extends to the dioceses of Atambua and of Waitabula on Sumba Island. As for the contribution of the Christian Protestant church to social development in West Timor, it is conceded to be probably just as great, but as there has been no opportunity for a discussion with Protestant church leaders, this side of the matter cannot be dealt with in more detail.   

Data from the Statistical Center Bureau (BPS, Biro Pusat Statistik) and the Regional Planning Board (BAPPEDA, Badan Perencanaan dan Pembangunan Daerah) of Kabupaten Belu for the year 2002 show the total population of Belu to be 385,973. Of this number, 336,331 are Catholic, 21,139 Protestant, 4,402 Muslim, 298 Hindu, and 75 Buddhist (Religion Department Office of Kabupaten Belu, 2001).   


 2. A Brief History of the Coming of the Catholic Missionaries to West Timor


The Unitary Republic of Indonesia (NKRI= Negara Kesatuan Repunlik Indonesia) comprises an archipelago situated between the continents of Asia and Australia and between two oceans, the Indian and the Pacific. This vast marine continent is inhabited by more than 220 million people. Most of this population is adherents of Islam whereas the Christian believers (Catholic and Protestant) come second in number.

World history tells us that the Christian religions came from Western Europe at about the 16th century A.D. in various stages. The Catholic religion arrived first, this being the form of Christianity propagated in Indonesia by Portuguese missionaries that had accompanied world exploration voyages made by merchants, navigators and explorers, and had later come with colonial government administrators. The groups might have come in one ship but with different aims and motivations. The traders came seeking and collecting raw materials, such as the spices of the Moluccas islands and the very high quality of sandalwood (Santalum Alba L.) of Timor, in the interests of trade and the demands of the factories in Europe (Fox, James J., 1996: 90-91). This group had the main aim of pursuing wealth. The colonizing group had the principal aim of exerting colonial power over other nations outside Europe, for the latter nations’ level of civilization was considered to be still primitive and strange. The Catholic missionaries and the zending, as their Protestant counterparts were usually called, had the principal aim of spreading Christ’s Gospel to the indigenous ethnic groups whose systems of belief were considered, from the viewpoint of the Christianity they adhered to, fully superstitious and steeped in pagan values. Therefore, viewed from the aims of the voyages of the three groups in a ship, these Europeans may be described as intrepid ocean-goers, each strongly motivated to struggle for the Gospel, Gold and Glory, respectively.

Portugal got into power and spread out her influence in the Indonesian Archipelago around the year 1511 when Malacca came into her hands as an important center of trade in the Eastern world of the time. Padres of the Dominican Order had already visited Flores Island in the 16th century of the Christian era and had built a church in the little town of Larantuka, which since then has been known as Renha town (the town of the Virgin Mary). The Dominican priests then continued their good-will voyage to the island of Timor by way of Liufao (Oekusi), a small harbor in Ambenu, the latter an enclave now belonging to the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste. Eventually they landed at Atapupu, the only important harbor in the area from that time to the present. From Atapupu the missionaries continued their journey on land to Lahurus, a small village in the interior of Timor Island, one possessing a cool atmosphere by its being on a mountain range 700 meters above sea level.

This small village was in fact the center of a traditional kingdom with widespread power, the one known as Fehalaran or Manuaman Lakan.  This was situated at the foot of Mount Lakan, a mountain 1520 meters in height. For the people of the area, Mount Lakan was a sacred mountain because from its peak came their first king, one gratuitously dropped down by the gods according to Ema Tetun legends. Evidently the Catholic priests chose the place as their pioneering village, the center of evangelization in West Timor, considering it adequately secure, being under the protection of the kingdom of Fehalaran which was then ruled over by Loro Feha Mauk (literally loro = sun, great lord or overlord) who bore the title As Tanara (looking upward). Loro Feha Mauk ruled over his domain as center of authority over several lower kings (local Princes), the rulers locally known as na’i or dasi, who carried out political powers over their own territories with limited autonomy. The Fehalaran kingdom comprised the highlands making up Kabupaten Belu of the present age and included a small area, which is now in the country Timor Leste or Timor Lorosae (Rising Sun Timor) as well as the part of the area of Kabupaten Timor Tengah Utara  (North Central Timor) named Biboki Harneno.

In 1886, Lahurus became the first mission station in West Timor under the Apostolic Vicariate of Batavia (Jakarta). This station was under the tutelage of Jesuit fathers from Holland, and one of them, Reverend Father Mathijssen, SJ, became well known, and continues as such, for he had translated the Holy Bible (Old and New Testament) and a church hymn book, as well as some prayers, into the Tetun language, the Lia Tetun. The Jesuit missionaries (Societas Jesu) also established a three-year boys’ volkschool in the year 1890, this to be followed up by a girls’ vocational school in the year 1921, this time founded by the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD ) or the Divine Word Society (SVD). All these undertakings show that the missionaries of the time were highly interested in local language, culture and traditional customs (P.Herman Embuiru, SVD. in Liliweri, Alo. et al, 1994: 57 - 81). The same source reveals that in 1913 Divine Word missionaries from Holland and Germany started to replace the Jesuits in Lahurus.
Photo: the Curch of Lahurus - Timor


3.   3. The Meeting Between the Catholic Faith and the Indigenous Belief System of the        Ema Tetun


In the early days of the SVD mission, particularly in the year 1913, confusion set in and many complaints came from the indigenous adat community because the people’s holy shrines and equipments such as fohos (altars built from stones to make offerings on) and aitos (wooden figurines for warding off disasters), as well as all other items of belief and living practices considered pagan and superstitious, had to be demolished and devastated. Such measures gave rise to bewilderment and objections from the adat communities including even the first ones to embrace the Christian faith because the measures taken were felt to have disturbed the harmony prevailing in their way of life and to have swept away an institutionalized culture that had formed the essence of their distinct identity. Many criticisms were similarly came from European anthropologists who accused the missionaries of having committed “religious imperialism, which far from enriching people, had actually impoverished them” (Anton Quack, in Kirchberger, Georg  et al., 1996: 36).

Nevertheless, the evangelization process continued peacefully enough, considering that the overlord or Loro, as the custodian of adat (institutionalized prescribed ways of doing things) and the feudal authority in the kingdom of Fehalaran, had already accepted the missionaries to work among his people and the latter were not to show an attitude of rejection. The Loro’s decree had to be obeyed since he had been dropped down on them by the gods. The tension and prejudice between the missionaries and the anthropologists eventually vanished after a series of meetings and intensive discussions.

It was then already recorded in the scientific world that interest in social anthropology, particularly study of the diversity of ethnic cultures, was admirably great among the SVD Missionaries, the congregation of missionaries at Steyl, Holland. In support of research endeavors, Rev.Father Wilhelm Schmidt, SVD, had published the first journal on the subject in March 1906, calling it Anthropos, being under the auspices of the Institut Anthropos. By this medium, the SVDs had contributed an invaluable service to the missionaries, the mission endeavor and to the world of science (Anton Quack, in Kirchberger, Georg et al, 1996: pp. 52-55).  From that time on, in their carrying out the work of evangelization in church areas allotted to them for doing mission work, they have always shown great interest in the diversity of customs and traditions and have made efforts to adopt cultural values and local traditions and integrate them with Christian values, particularly showing this in church liturgical ceremonies insofar as these traditions do not violate church beliefs and teachings. The movement grew more lively and world-wide in scope, particularly after Vatican Council II in 1963-1965 in Rome when the Church made herself more open to the outside world with activities such as holding dialogs with other religions and encouraging church personnel to give plenty of attention to the culture and traditions of the faithful coming from various ethnic and racial groups. We can witness this phenomenon in areas now served by SVD missionaries in West Timor in particular and in various church areas in Indonesia in general, those pioneered by various missionary societies.

For obtaining a clear picture of the process of adopting local cultural values and traditions and incorporating them with Christian religious values, a brief presentation will forthwith be given of essential aspects of the system of indigenous beliefs and views about the world as acted out in the lives of the Ema Tetun. The Ema Tetun constitutes the biggest ethnic group occupying Kabupaten (regency) Belu, already mentioned as the main part of the ecclesiastical territory of the Diocese of Atambua. Aside from the indigenous cultural values that have become their basic life, this presentation will be focused on various phenomena showing changes in traditional cultural values in social life as experienced by the Ema Tetun in this era.        


  4. The System of Indigenous Beliefs and the Outlook on Life of the Ema Tetun


The culture of the Ema Tetun, which is traditionally agrarian as is usually the case in the varied culture of Eastern Indonesia in general, is a cosmic one. As such, it believes in the existence of an extremely cohesive relationship of interdependence between the cosmological order, as well as the social and symbolic order, thereby making up a total system. It is in this totality that the EmaTetun participate actively in developing up their world as well as a system of beliefs and outlook on life and their world.

The basic philosophy or outlook on life of the Ema Tetun, as a traditional agrarian community, is for these people to believe in the existence of a cohesive and participative interdependence, first, between human beings and the universe with everything in it including the magical forces surrounding people; secondly, between human beings and their fellows in the microcosmos or the real word as well as the spirits of ancestors and members of the uma (the village clan house or the kin group) who have preceded the living to the supernatural world; and thirdly, between human beings and the Supreme Being who is of a transcendental nature. This outlook on life is admittedly still imbued with a strategy of thinking of a magical-mythical-monistic nature. This dyadic or tryadic (two-sided or twin and three sided) relationship having homeostatic equilibrium, since it emphasizes balance and harmony in relationships. The dyadic (twin) relationships should be maintained to preserve balance, harmony, altruism and orderliness between the macrocosmos called lalean (firmament) and the microcosmos called raiklaran (the earth). Orderliness and harmony in the dyadic interrelationship are absolutely required for, without them, chaos and disasters would take over.

       Orderliness in the balance of relationships is also realized in the order of the natural universe and in the social order in a dyadic relationship pattern such as those between men and women, parent and child, husband and wife, day and night, east and west, light and darkness, black and white, life and death, etc. The essential idea of interrelationships of interdependence and harmony in the natural and the social order in the anthropological perspective is known as, dual or dualistic cosmology, which refers to two universal principles, which though different, are complementary and mutually enlivening. Essentially, the paradigm of the dyadic homeostatic equilibrium relationship has the aims:

    1) to preserve relationships of balance and orderliness between the Fehalaran social order and the Highest Being, the God of the Sky, the Source and Sustainer of all existence and life. After embracing Catholicism, the Ema Tetun started to call the Highest Being in their prayers by the name Nai Maromak (the Light-Giving King). Before this they knew the Highest Being as the God of the sky who is “the Holiest and very Omnipotent” (Nai Luli Waik, Nai Manas Waik), Who stays far above the firmament. People are not worthy and capable of approaching Him. This powerlessness of human beings is expressed by an attitude of resignation and humility. They call the Highest Being by the expression in symbolic and ritual language as follows: Nai Fitun Nain, Nai Fulan Nain; Ne’e leten ba, ne’e as ba; Lolo liman la to’o, bi’i ain la dai (Oh, king, you who are Lord of the stars and the moon, you who are up there above, in the heights above, we are powerless to reach up to you by stretching up our hands, we cannot get to you by rising on tiptoe). The concrete form of people’s attitude to life, by which to maintain a balanced relationship with the Highest Being, is to take an attitude of surrender and subservience, to give offerings, and always to put in practice good values of living as contained in adat or customary laws and norms in pure form with all their consequences.

   2) to maintain balanced relationships with fellow humans in social life through actions taken to preserve goodwill and a tane-malu (shoulder to shoulder) disposition which is an attitude of readiness for mutual assistance. Such relationships should also be maintained with the souls of ancestors and uma members who have passed away and are now in the sacred world beyond which is full of tranquility and peace, with the attitude of goodwill shown by practices of worship and offerings. In the cosmic world, the individual’s personality is assimilated into the personality of society, which is included as a part of the household family, the clan or the cosmos. Private initiative in making decisions to make arrangements for anyone himself is not approved of. The position and function of each member is already determined in the social structure. Individual personalities disappear behind the institutionalized adat roles. These official roles are used as mechanisms functioning for the integration of each individual in the social unit or system. Decisions are in the hands of parents or elders, the kin and the adat leaders. In important matters concerning the fate of society or the public, decisions are made through a collective process by a council in an adat consultation called mon metan (literally, mon = clear, and metan = black, which symbolizes justice or just decision, and so, mon metan means a clear or just decision) in which the participants are adat elders called makoan. The decision of the adat council has to be obeyed by everybody. Conformity has to be demonstrated to avoid social conflict that may disturb the stability of the social order.

Functions and roles that are definite and unequivocal are neatly arranged in the structure and organization of Fehalaran community. All are included in the system of cultural values (kaneter no kataek) and the adat law or customary law (ukun no badu) which contains values, norms and rules that are unequivocal and detailed in the manner of a general reference mechanism or guide by which to determine the behavior of members of the society so that they may always be obedient and conformist. For each violation there is an unfailing adat sanction carried out resolutely and without regard for person. Usually, an adat sanction is given in the form of a fine, known as tusan.

       Anything that cannot be overcome is always connected with the action of nature spirits or jinn caretakers coming from jungles or haunted places. The destructive forces coming from the jinns have to be countered by a magic force that may be obtained through the clan cult house called the uma kukun or uma lulik. The magical force can be obtained from the person who possesses white magic and he is called the makdok.

 3)  to preserve a balanced relationship with the universe, the natural environment and all magical forces in the surroundings, which can be realized through concrete actions by which these traditionally agrarian people refrain from highhandedly devastating nature, particularly places and natural objects considered sacred since they each have a jinn caretaker called a rai-na’in (meaning, owner of the land). Disaster may come from the jinn caretaker in the case of actions that disturb nature or the sacred places. Conserving natural wealth is an obligation in adat law. Violators of adat law will get a definite sanction consisting of an adat fine or a tusan. Asking permission from the jinn caretaker is absolutely necessary, and is to be done through a ceremony of offering of an animal victim called sera or laku, for anyone who wants to engage in business by making use of products from the places considered secret.


5. Modernization and Social Transformation


In this era there is no social group that has not experienced change. The cultures of nations all over the world have undergone currents of change that are more and more dynamic, complex, worldwide in scale, and tending to be global. This current of change continues to attack and trample, upsetting and ruthlessly sweeping away local traditional culture. This development, which is getting more and more rapid has basically been triggered and propelled by advances in the economy and in science and technology, particularly communication and transportation technology. This is one of the forces or factors of change, which are external in nature. Another factor of change, one of a group of internal ones called sociogenic factors, which come from the society itself, is that of national development and modernization.

The Indonesian nation carried out national development and modernization for 25 years since 1969. This has resulted in many fields of physical and material advancements as well as those in domains of a mental-spiritual, social and cultural aspect. However there have occurred various kinds of disparity, and imbalance as well as other negative impacts. When the New Order (ORBA = ORDE BARU) regime under the former President Soeharto fell in 1998, Indonesia experienced a national crisis of a multi-dimensional nature in the fields of economics, politics, law, fundamental human rights, morality and socio-cultural affairs.

       The impact of modern of culture may be likened to a two-sided coin. On one side the impact of modern culture has already produced many technological and material products, but on the other side has created various weaknesses and problems that have to be paid dearly. The impact of change in socio-cultural fields has given rise to a number of negative phenomena undergone by people in West Timor as an integral part of Indonesia as a nation and these may be described as follows:  

    1), a weakening of affinity and kinship ties between members of an uma hun or uma manaran (core house / village clan house / community house) as well as those binding them to the original social environment of the clan, and the tendency of individualization of the basic household family (called the uma kain). This change has often given rise to conflicts between uma hun or uma manaran members, which have been aggravated by their competing for possession of clan-owned land and heirlooms left behind by ancestors.  Heirlooms considered sacred have been sold as antiques. No recognition is given to taboos (luli) any longer. The uma hun / uma manaran as the symbol of a community alliance, the basis for fostering customs and traditions and for forming moral character and strengthening young people’s personalities, has lost its meaning and role. The incidence of these negative phenomena has been caused by change from a value orientation towards social cohesion to one that is individualistic and materialistic. This constitutes a success for the materialistic-secular values in modernity.     

     2), displacement of the original noble values of society. There has occurred a crisis in the noble indigenous moral values of honesty, simplicity, diligence at hard work, willingness to engage in mutual help, to take responsibility, to respect law and order, to respect other people’s right to live, including their right to their natural surroundings and all its wealth. 

    3) loss of the functions and role of Adat Institutions, those usually carried out by adat caretakers or mentors such as the na’i (local prince) in the uma metan (palace) and the fukun (clan head) in the uma manaran (village clan house). The uma is the center of culture and life of adat fungsionaries as the protector of the community and the administrator of adat law or customary law. As a result of the negative social impact of technological modernization, the fungsionaries of adat have lost their functions and the uma metan and uma manaran have also lost their function and meaning as instruments of social cohesion.

Aside from these, the educational institutions charged with administrating formal education are not yet functioning well as means for forming well-rounded personalities, people who have in themselves a balanced integration of the values of logic, ethics and aesthetics. Logic has the function of forming people with a perspective on advancement because such people possess mastery of science and technology; ethics forms people with morality and noble characters, and aesthetics creates skills in the pupils such that he can take independent initiative in doing work. The chief weakness in the results of education is the creation of marginal people whose mastery of their fields as well as the quality of mastery is inadequate and whose morals and character are frail and easily broken.          

All the problems pictured above are a result of the crisis in law and morals nationally known as KKN, an acronym meaning Korupsi (Corruption), Kolusi (Collusion) and Nepotisme (Nepotism). If scrutinized attentively, the crisis in values undergone by adat communities, particularly their younger generation has its main source in the crisis in law and morals. Law and morals are being ignored in modern Indonesian life such that they cannot function as firm foundations on which a great Indonesian nation can stand.



6. Adoption of Christianity


What is the impact of the process of cultural contact between Christian culture and the cosmic culture of West Timor? Has there occurred an acculturation process in which a cultural pattern dominates over another, as has happened in the case of western culture with various traditional ethnic cultures, in which the industrial-rational and modern western culture dominates over the traditional ethnic cultures considered to be irrational? This aspect is highly interesting to attend to when we speak of cultural contact between the Christian cultural pattern and the cosmic culture of the traditional ethnic groups.   

Euphoria has been high regarding evangelical enculturation by which the Church has endeavored to adopt indigenous cultural traditions and values not in conflict with the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic faith, and to adapt them for inculcation in Catholic liturgy. Recently such endeavors have also been engaged in intensively by other Christian churches in West Timor. Evangelical enculturation has been going on since Vatican Council II in Rome in 1963, the Council having emphasized this integration of local cultural values and traditions with Church liturgy as far as possible. The main aim of evangelical enculturation is to eliminate by stages the dualism in experiencing the faith among the Catholic laity. Although the evangelization process has been going on for more than a hundred years in West Timor, still dualism in belief is still markedly shown in common practices particularly in rural areas where the people are still strongly attached to their adat and customary law, a collection of prescriptions for living. Facts show that while Christians may go to church on Sunday morning, nevertheless on other days they engage in sacrificial rites of offering in which an animal victim is sacrificed in the clan cult house or in village clan house.      

Through evangelical enculturation, the Church always attempts to eliminate dualism in the faithful’s experience of the faith. Concrete measures for doing so are taken by adoption and integration in liturgical ceremonies of local cultural values, such as having folk dances performed in accompaniment of the ritual of offering during the Mass, the celebrant’s wearing adat cloth motifs on his ritual garments in conducting liturgical ceremonies, adopting folk song motifs for church hymns, and using the local vernacular for “enculturative” prayers and the sermons of the priests.

The uma manaran or village clan house and the uma kukun, uma lulik or the clan cult house is a center of culture in the life of a traditional community. The uma serves as a symbol of unity in their lives of kinship affinity, as a center of guidance and socialization in customary law and norms of the clan members, and as the place for holding ceremonies, worshiping and communicating with ancestors. That is why Levi Straus called such kin groups as le maison societe or house societies ( Carsten,Janet et all, 1995: p.1 ). Periodic visits to the uma manaran and the uma lulik are of great significance for two reasons, first, it is on such occasions that the Ema Tetun feel able to obtain matak no malirin (literally, greenness and coolness) by means of various ceremonies such as the tau manas  or  kaba  (= anointment). At a philosophical level, matak no malirin symbolizes health in its widest sense. In anthropology, matak no malirin is rendered into translations of varying meaning such as “energy for living”, “the spirit of life”, “the source of life”, “the energy of the cosmos” and “enthusiasm.” Therefore, the Ema Tetun’s expression of ba uma (going home for a visit) philosophically means going back to one’s place of origin, going back to the source of life, returning to one’s identity in community living. The second reason is that periodic visits to the Uma (Uma Manaran, Uma Hun or Uma Lulik) constitute special opportunities for all uma members to renew and reenforce kinship ties as those coming from the same origin. In Lia Tetun such visits are characterized as klibur uma hun ida (literally, reunion of those from the same source), recounting their origins or hodi tatoli malu no hodi hatutan husar binan ba malu (meaning, to bind each other by retying their fraternal bonds since they all come from “the same umbilical cord.”)

The functions and symbolic meanings of the uma manaran or uma lulik through the evangelical enculturation process have been enhanced by its use as center for guidance in the faith and in personal character of the uma members. Hanging or attaching a cross with a corpus on the main house post of the uma lulik (as the clan cult house) or the uma manaran (as the village clan house) has been started as a practice, together with holy pictures and statues, replacing the traditional sacred objects as media for getting to know God who is transcendent but immanent as taught in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 17, verse 23. “Eculturative” liturgy celebration of the Mass is done at important Church holy days or other such occasions, such as Easter, Pentecost, ordination of new priests, pronouncement of perpetual vows by nuns, celebration of the parish anniversary, etc.   

Weddings, which by tradition used to be performed in the Uma Manaran  (village clan  house) by the bride and groom’s stepping over pig’s blood and mutually pledging fidelity, are now done in church  through the ceremony of the Sacrament of matrimony officiated by a priest. But in an attitude of respect for adat and tradition the Church will only perform a marriage when the adat constituent regarding the dowry (bride wealth) is already settled. It should be noted that in the diocese of Atambua, the Church participates in determining the quantity of the dowry so that it may not lose its original meaning as a symbol of social interchange uniting in a bond of kinship the two parties of the couple to be married.

Aside from the activity of evangelical enculturation, the Church also actively encourages the faithful’s awareness, particularly the young people, to acknowledge and deepen their faith through other activities such as making a custom of studying the Holy Scriptures, holding regular communal prayer meetings at the level of the lay group, sharing experiences, etc.


7.  Ecumenical and Inter-Religion Communication


1.   To foster a mutual ecumenical attitude between Christian churches such as Catholic, Reformed churches, Pentecost and several other denominations, periodic exchanges of speaking forums are held during important church celebrations such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost in which a Catholic priest preaches a sermon in a Protestant church and at the same time a Protestant minister also delivers a sermon in a Catholic church. On these occasions, a choir accompanies the preacher to the church and sings hymns before the faithful.

Such interchanges are also done between lecturers and between students in theological education, in pastoral meetings or ecumenical liturgy celebrations outside of the Mass. Mixed marriages often occur, with the wedding ceremony held in the Catholic Church for the reason that marriage is a Sacrament.

2.   Periodic meetings between believers are held through a forum named, A Cooperative Forum Inter Religions. Such meetings are usually held for prevention of conflicts with a religious cast, for defending the violation of the fundamental human rights, and to work together at activities like reforestation and conserving the environment.


8. Church Strategy and Role in Developing the Faithful in This Modern Indonesia Era

          The Church has a vision and mission that the spearhead of pastoral development is improvement in meeting people’s requirements in an integrated manner, whatever these needs may be, whether spiritual or material. The Church constantly tries to enhance people’s quality of life.

8.1 In the Socio-economic Field. To enhance the quality of life, the Church engages in activities addressing economic needs through a development organization called a Committee for Socio-Economic Development (PPSL-SOSEK) that encourages cooperative ventures like Credit Unions as an ideal model for mutual help in developing economic matters. A constraint faced by the Church is that the Local Government is not yet willing to cooperate with the local church in regional development in amelioration of poverty. The Regional Government on its part is still project-minded. The people’s cast of thinking is directed to consumption, not being able to think in an economical way yet. The Church in this age actively takes part in economic development directed at the people since facts have shown that the majority of the faithful, particularly those in the rural areas of the present day, are still below the poverty line in family income.  The Church is apprehensive about the marginal groups made up of ordinary people having to live difficult lives as a result of the gap between rich and poor getting wider.

8.2  In the Fields of Politics, Law and Fundamental Human Rights (HAM,Hak Asasi Manusia). In political life, the Church endeavors to be a moral force and moderator in regard to participants in politics who are Christian. Objective experience shows that in this era the Government does not countenance criticism. Many government officials refuse to accept criticism. Every criticism on the right and of injustice practices are considered to be an insult and calumny, and so, the vocal critic is forced to deal with the law. In giving criticism, the Church always bases its opinion on Catholic moral teachings.

In efforts to uphold the law and fundamental human rights (HAM), the Church always lets its prophetic voice be heard, that is, always takes a resolute stand in defense of what is right and just and persistently denounces all forms of practices of falsifying the facts of truth and justice and of arbitrarily violating law and Fundamental Human Right (HAM). To uphold the law and defend truth and justice, the Church has formed several organizations, such as, Lembaga Justitia (Institution of Justice), forum untuk kebenaran dan keadilan (forum for defending truth and justice) in each Diocese.

8.3 In the Fields of Education and Medical Service. The Church in the Diocese of Atambua, as in Indonesia as a whole, plays an outstanding role in the fields of education and medical service. All Catholic schools in the dioceses of Atambua and Kupang, which are many in number, are under the auspices of a number of foundations (yayasan). The Church’s contribution to the fields of education and health, and amelioration of poverty as well, has been great since colonial days and measures taken in these fields are increasing in this era. Data show that the Church’s endeavors in this direction are getting more widespread, particularly in developing various educational strata from kindergarten to university. A model of education developed by the Church always has its basis on Her own social teaching, which is to foster advancements of people to be in possession of knowledge, morality and culture. However, besides these admirable advancements, there are still many obstacles, constraints and difficulties have to be overcome. One of them is the fact that many people still consider the endeavor to be obligatory charity.

Since there are parents who really cannot afford to pay school fees assessed to be too high, the Yayasan (Foundation) has set up a policy of cross subsidies by categorizing capacity to pay and the corresponding amount that has to be paid by each income group. Thus the rich partly pay for the poor. All educational foundations under Diocese auspices continue to make efforts to develop wider participation by the people in the community, and so, the educational institutions are getting more independent in attitude, and the people are more and more getting to have a more productive and creative way of thinking.


9.  Closing Comments

           The contact that occurred between the Judeo-Christian culture from Europe and the cosmic culture of a traditional agrarian culture in West Timor in the early nineteenth century, and which has been going on since then, has resulted in many changes in the tradition connected with indigenous cultural values and the original belief system of the ethnic groups in West Timor.

The process of promoting the Gospel according to biblical enlightenment, and motivated by the Church’s social teachings and the decisions of Vatican Council II in Rome in 1963-1965, has given a new vitality and dynamism to the Church’s present-day life in Indonesia. Vatican Council II in particular has given encouragement to the Church always to respect local culture. Through the process of enculturation, the Church has adopted and integrated many cultural values not in conflict with Church tenets into Church liturgy.  The process known in Catholic circles as evangelical enculturation or as theological contextualization in the reformed churches has had the basic aim of eliminating dualism in experiencing the Faith and establishing a new firmament for experiencing and practicing the true Christian faith. The enculturation process has been going on with a great deal of enthusiasm in the Indonesian churches of the age.

The meeting of the two patterns of culture has resulted in a syncretism of culture, the occurrence of a synthesis of native cultural values and beliefs with Christian values. It can be averred that a harmonious union has occurred between the two cultural patterns. The inhabitants of West Timor willingly accept the theological enculturation process since they are aware that their culture and identity have not been swept away but conserved and given a new meaning. In this context the Church has the role not only of a pioneer in spreading the Gospel but also as a conserver of their heritage of cultural wealth and as enlightener in regard to their dignity and identity.

The Church’s role is getting more important in this era of a modern Indonesian that is   highly progressive and dynamic and where the indigenous social structure and culture is undergoing an upheaval and the impact of shattering events. Local societies are facing the threat of their identity’s being swept away by the hard and rapid impact of the current of modern industrial culture, which is materialistic and secular and the globalization of culture, which has become worldwide.  

In facing the challenge that is getting more and more difficult because of upheavals in the cosmological order, the social order and that of cultural, mental and spiritual values in the society of modern Indonesia in this era, it is important for the Christian Churches in Indonesia to get involved and participate more actively whether in mental and spiritual advancement or in development in the spheres of economics, politics, law and social life. In contributing criticisms or actions dealing with problems in these fields, the aforesaid religious groups should work together within an ecumenical league.

     With biblical enlightenment and motivation, we hope that the Christian churches in Modern Indonesia may persevere in facing the challenges of the age and, with prophetic zest, continue to participate in building up a modern Indonesia-that is democratic and imbued with social justice, morality and refinement. Keeping an attitude of not countenancing defeat, the Church and its adherents should continue to make efforts to strengthen and maintain their identity of integrity in the presence of Christian culture and moral strength, particularly through education, communication and other social work which have all this time been their field of service.   




Carsten, Janet, and Stephen Hugh-Jones (Editors), 1995: About the House: Levi-Strauss and Beyond. Published by Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.

Fox, James J., 1977: Panen Lontar: Perubahan Ekologi dalam Kehidupan Masyarakat Pulau Rote dan Sawu. Translated from English into Indonesian by Ling Matsay. Published (1996) by Pustaka Sinar Harapan, Jakarta.

Kirchberger, Dr. Georg, SVD, and Dr. John Mansford Prior, SVD (Editors), 1996: Iman dan

        Transformasi Budaya. Published by Penerbit Nusa Indah, Ende, Flores.

Liliweri, Dr. Alo, M.S. and P. Drs. Gregor Neonbasu, SVD, 1994: Perspektif Pembangunan: Dinamika dan Tantangan Pembangunan Nusa Tenggara Timur. Published by Yayasan Citra Insan Pembaru, Kupang.

Peursen, Prof. Dr. C.A. van., 1976: Strategi Kebudayaan. Translated from Dutch into Indonesian by Dick

          Hartoko. Jointly published by Penerbitan Kanisius, Yogyakarta, and Bpk Gunung Mulia, Jakarta.

Seran,Herman Joseph, Hakserak: 245-261, in Signe Howell (Ed), 1996: For the Sake of Our Futur

                             e    Published by Research School CNWS Leiden, The Netherlands

---------------------, EMA TETUN: Continuity and Change in the Social and Cultural Life of a   Traditional Society in Central Timor, Eastern Indonesia, 2004 (Unpublished material)

[1] This paper was presented in an international conference on “Christianity in Modern Indonesia” in Frobenius Institute und des Historische Ethnologie in Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, in December 2003. 

The principal data in this essay are based on field research in the former traditional kingdom of Fehalaran, in the kabupaten or adminitrative district of Belu, regarding the customs and traditions of the Ema Tetun (Tetunese), as well as on interviews with Rev. Father Justus Asa, SVD. the vicar general of the diocese of Atambua, regarding enculturation of the Scriptures as part of the present day’s evangelization process. The Bishop of Atambua is the highest Catholic Church authority here, with the diocese of Atambua heading it over an ecclesiastical territory that includes the kabupatens or the administrative District of Belu and North Central Timor (TTU, Timor Tengah Utara). The focus of investigation in this paper is on the results of a meeting between Christian culture and the cosmic culture in West Timor. For a research sample, attention is primarily given to the Tetun ethnic group in the kabupaten of Belu where such contact has been going on for over a hundred years. In her evangelization process in West Timor, the Church has acted according to the tenet of Evangelical Enculturation. This basic Church position has resulted in opening evangelical doors to “fresh air” particularly after Vatican Council II in 1963-1965 in Rome. Vatican Council II has inspired the Church to keep herself more open to the outside world and to appreciate the variety of ethnic cultures as an invaluable wealth by which human beings can take action and express their unique identities in this modern world. The process of evangelical enculturation has resulted in many changes in meaning of indigenous cultural values, traditional adat ceremonies and mythological symbols of the Ema Tetun as well as those of other ethnic groups in West Timor within the context of modern life in Indonesia. However, through the church strategy of evangelical enculturation, the Church has not only changed many spiritual outlooks on life of the indigenous inhabitants but has also taken on the role of a milieu for preserving and conserving positive cultural values of indigenous customs and traditions insofar as these still hold meaning relevant to various demands of the present era. The Christian Churches of the age play the very important role of serving as a mechanism of control over the headlong swiftness of fluctuation in and sweeping away of local cultural values through the process of modernization and globalization going on in this beginning century.

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