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Fields of the Lord

Animism, Christian Minorities and State Development in Indonesia

Lorraine V. Aragon

Publication Year: 2000

Religious and ethnic violence between Indonesia's Muslims and Christians escalated dramatically just before and after President Suharto resigned in 1998. In this first major ethnographic study of Christianization in Indonesia, Aragon delineates colonial and postcolonial circumstances contributing to the dynamics of these contemporary conflicts. Aragon's ethnography of Indonesian Christian minorities in Sulawesi combines a political economy of colonial missionization with a microanalysis of shifting religious ideology and practice. Fields of the Lord challenges much comparative religion scholarship by contending that religions, like contemporary cultural groups, be located in their spheres of interaction rather than as the abstracted cognitive and behavioral systems conceived by many adherents, modernist states, and Western scholars. Aragon's portrayal of "near-tribal" populations who characterize themselves as "fanatic Christians" asks the reader to rethink issues of Indonesian nationalism and "modern" development as they converged in President Suharto's late New Order state. Through its careful documentation of colonial missionary tactics, unexpected postcolonial upheavals, and contemporary Christian narratives, Fields of the Lord analyzes the historical and institutional links between state rule and individuals' religious choices. Beyond these contributions, this ethnography includes captivating stories of Salvation Army "angels of the forest" and nationally marginal but locally autonomous dry-rice and coffee farmers. These Salvation Army "soldiers" make Protestantism work on their own ecological, moral, and political turf, maintaining their communities and ongoing religious concerns in the difficult terrain of the Central Sulawesi highlands.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

As others such as Keeler (1987) have noted, our Western custom of saying “thank you” is somewhat jejune and inimical to Indonesian perspectives. Debts of significance cannot be released with a few fluffy words floated for a moment in the air. Gifts require continuation of the exchange process, not its cessation through attempted compensation. Obligations are a...

Note on Language and Orthography

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-12

In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on November 22, 1998, twenty-two churches and five Protestant and Catholic schools were burned and looted following a bloody clash between Christian Ambonese security guards from an amusement park and local Muslim residents of the Ketapang neighborhood. What seemingly began as a routine dispute over gambling escalated...

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1. Before and After Religion

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pp. 13-46

In 1909 the Netherlands Indies government awarded the Kulawi District of Central Sulawesi as a mission “field” to the Salvation Army Church (Gereja Bala Keselamatan, Ind., or BK), an offshoot of Methodism created in London during the 1860s. This transfer of authority, and similar parceling of Indies geographical units containing potential Christian souls, was motivated...

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2. Highland Places and Peoples

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pp. 47-83

Dutch colonial administrators began their work in Central Sulawesi by formally identifying what they considered distinct languages and ethnic groups. The Tobaku and their eastern neighbors speak a language that linguists categorized as “Uma,” after the local word for “no.” Like all Central Sulawesi highlanders, the Tobaku also were placed into...

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3. Precolonial Polities, Exchange, and Early Colonial Contact

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pp. 84-112

By 1929, the pioneering Dutch missionary A. C. Kruyt claimed that indigenous Central Sulawesi cultures were disrupted irrevocably through contact with Europeans (A. C. Kruyt 1929). Kruyt saw his mission activities as providing a spiritual and social lifeline for emotionally desperate natives unmoored from their prior cultural stasis and isolation. His view...

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4. Onward Christian Soldiers: The Salvation Army in Sulawesi

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pp. 113-156

Dutch efforts to “pacify” western Central Sulawesi began in 1905, but Kulawi highlanders, who were renowned and feared as headhunters, eluded colonial rule for a few more years. In 1908, a lowland inhabitant led Dutch troops up a little-known mountain pass. The startled highlanders were armed mainly with bamboo blowpipes and spears. After the Dutch...

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5. Precolonial Cosmology and Christian Consequences

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pp. 157-201

The precolonial religion of the Central Sulawesi highlands not only drew the approbation of Europeans, but puzzled them as well. Local ideas related to spiritual facets of people, animals, places, and things contested European Christian certainties about the divine, personal, and exclusively human soul, as well as commonsense assumptions about property ownership. Europeans...

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6. Sacrificial Dialogues and Christian Ritual Qualifications

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pp. 202-239

Ritual cycles in the Central Sulawesi highlands enact the relationships of religion, eclipsing abstract cosmologies and the particularities of individual deities, both autochthonous and foreign. Highlanders’ spiritual life continues to be steeped in moral assessments and practical strategies. That highlanders turn to rituals for “worldly benefits” (Reader and Tanabe 1998) does not significantly...

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7. The Powers of the Word

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pp. 240-274

A Tobaku Salvation Army officer once told me his child heard at school that Islam was superior to Christianity because Muslims hold their services in “God’s language” (bahasa Tuhan, Ind.) while Christians use only human language (bahasa manusia), that is, Indonesian. Captain Silase found it comical that Muslim children thought Arabic was the privileged...

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8. Constructing a Godly New Order

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pp. 275-319

The New Order government of President Suharto promoted its human engineering programs through godly means—that is, aided by the institutions of world religion. Christianity, formerly promoted by the Dutch colonial state, became supported by the Indonesian state for many of the same reasons. Christian ethnic minorities have been viewed as population “buffers” between Muslim...

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9. Conclusions

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pp. 320-326

Religions, even world religions, do not have an existence apart from congregations and the social flux in which those communities live. Although terms such as “syncretism” imply the existence of pure religious entities that only sometimes are “mixed,” such pristine spiritual ideologies and practices are not common realities, at least not in the contemporary world. The events described here...


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pp. 327-333


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pp. 335-367


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pp. 369-383

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862527
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824821715

Publication Year: 2000