Ambonese - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Ambonese, who generally consider themselves devout Christians or Muslims, have given their respective faiths a certain ethnic exclusivity over the past centuries, which formerly manifested itself in the nonadmittance of fellow believers from other ethnic groups to their churches or mosques. They further indigenized the two universal creeds by syncretizing them with the prior traditional belief system based on ancestor veneration, creating a system in which God is in charge of the universe and salvation and the ancestors are responsible for the proper working of society. Beyond that, the Ambonese succeeded in syncretizing Christianity and Islam, creating an ethnic religion, Agama Nunusaku, which makes it possible for Christians and Muslims to maintain harmony and a common ethnic identity. However, while the harmonious relationships, reinforced by the pela alliances, continue to be maintained on the village level, urban religious and political leaders on both sides are attempting to "purify" their respective faiths, leading to a slowly widening rift between Christians and Muslims. Aside from God, whom both Christians and Muslims perceive as the same, the ancestors play the most important role. They are beseeched for blessings, propitiated after transgressions, and invited to all family and village ceremonies. A variety of indigenous Christian and Islamic devils and evil spirits is believed to cause illness and other harm to humans.

Religious Practitioners. The well-organized Moluccan Protestant Church (GPM) allows both men and women to enter the ministry. No such regional organization unites the Muslims, among whom the religious officials are chosen on the community level; in Muslim villages the various offices are often still hereditary. Most villages still have adat "priests" who deal with matters concerning the traditional belief system. The orang baruba (healers) cure ailments that Western-style physicians are unable to affect (i.e., those caused by sorcerers [swangi] and evil spirits).

Ceremonies. Both Christians and Muslims follow the religious calendars of their respective creeds but some of the ceremonies have taken on a distinct Ambonese meaning and flavor. This is especially true for the life-cycle rituals. No longer universally performed are such traditional ceremonies as the periodic renewal of the roof of the village council house and the cleansing of the village.

Arts. Music, singing, and dancing are the art forms in which Ambonese excel. Aside from traditional dances (e.g., the cakalele, a fierce war dance), a number of European dances have survived since Portuguese times among both religious groups. Singing is an integral part of every social occasion and most developed among Christians, who pride themselves on their church choirs. Many leading pop stars and musical groups in Indonesia are of Christian-Ambonese origin, and in Holland Ambonese soloists and bands gained recognition beyond the boundaries of the exile community.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to natural causes, ancestral punishment, and evil forces. Home remedies are used in less serious cases. Generally, Western-style physicians are consulted first and traditional healers are visited if no cure is forthcoming or at the advice of a physician.

Death and Afterlife. After the funeral, one or more rites are conducted to entice the spirit of the deceased, which hovers around its former home, to leave for the abode of the dead. It is generally believed that the spirit will remain on earth until the Last Judgment Day. Christians and Muslims bury their dead.


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