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Les dynamiques religieuses dans le pacifique

Gabriele Weichart
Françoise Douaire-Marsaudon

“We are All Brothers and Sisters”: Community, Competition, and the Church in Minahasa

Gabriele Weichart

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  • 1 In 2003, the former regency (kabupaten) of Minahasa was divided into three smaller regencies, Mina (...)
  • 2 Various Christian Churches have been able to establish themselves successfully in other regions of (...)

1Indonesia is often referred to as being “the world’s largest Muslim country” or, as it should rather be read, as the country with the largest Muslim population. 80% of Indonesia’s population of approximately 220 million adheres to Islam, making it the dominant religion with the greatest political and social influence throughout most regions in the archipelago. However, Indonesia is not an “Islamic country” and other religions have established themselves alongside, with Christianity being the widest spread and counting the largest number of followers, as is the case in the Minahasa region1 in the north-east of the island of Sulawesi. There, the majority of the population officially adheres to one of the Christian denominations. Over the past 150 years, the churches, and particularly the Reformed Protestant Church, have become strong and influential institutions that have made visible and lasting contributions to the local political, social and cultural life and to development in the region. The Church’s influence is not limited to the institutional level but extends into virtually all social spheres, and many people’s lives are largely structured by the religious calendar and related duties. The extraordinary success of the Protestant Church in Minahasa can at least partly be connected to the particular colonial situation in nineteenth century North Sulawesi2.

2In the present paper, I am less concerned with the relations between the Church and the Dutch colonial administration, however “intimate” they may have been at the time, than interested in the Church’s role within the local communities and how the organisation of the Church and Christian teaching matched the social reality in Minahasa villages and traditional Minahasa culture. By drawing on historical and ethnographic examples, I will show how the Church was able to integrate Minahasa society and become an elementary part of it. It will be argued that this process was facilitated by the fact that in some fundamental ways the Church’s organisation and values corresponded to pre-Christian Minahasa social organisation, practices and values which can be subsumed under the concepts of “community” and “competition”.

3Other authors in this volume, notably Eriksen and Robbins, have dealt with similar questions in Melanesian societies. Robbins argues that the emphasis on individual salvation in Pentecostal Christianity among the Urapmin in Papua New Guinea has resulted in a shift in the hierarchy of values, with individualism becoming a more powerful value than relationalism within the contemporary religious domain. Eriksen draws a very different picture of Ambrym society in Vanuatu. There, after having lost its influence with the local (male) leadership, the Presbyterian Church made community work its primary goal. This focus on egalitarian social relations has attracted mainly the female members of the community because it corresponded more to the pre-Christian role of women as connecting links between people and places, whereas men’s rather individualistic and hierarchical position in the ritual sphere has presented itself as an opposition to the Christian values. While Robbins makes the point that Christianity has brought a change in the value system of Urapmin society, the people in Ambrym have experienced a social transformation within the existing relational value system. In the case of Minahasa society, both community and relationalism, as well as individualism and hierarchy, have found their place, side by side, in the Protestant Church and the practice of Christianity.

The establishment of the Protestant Church in Minahasa

  • 3 Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie)
  • 4 Nederlandsch Zendelinggenootschap

4With the rising influence of the VOC3 and Dutch colonial power in the region throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Netherlands Missionary Society (NZG4) saw an equally increasing need for missionary engagement and the spread of Christianity to hitherto rather neglected areas and peoples. In 1831, Johann Friedrich Riedel and Johann Gottlieb Schwarz, who would become the most “famous” NZG missionaries in the area, arrived in North Sulawesi and settled in the heartland of the Minahasa people, the fertile mountain plateau surrounding Lake Tondano. Despite initial resistance among the local population (Graafland, 1867), the numbers of churches and mission stations and, subsequently, those of baptisms gradually increased and within only a few decades, the Protestant Church was able to considerably extend its sphere of influence. In the 1860s, ten NZG mission stations were operating in Minahasa and 57% of the area’s population had officially adopted the Christian religion. With the proclamation of a “total conversion” of the Minahasa people, numbering 180,000 at the time, by the turn of the century, the NZG could be more than satisfied with its “servants” and with having largely fulfilled its goal (Schouten, 1998: 107ff).

  • 5 Christian Evangelical Church of Minahasa
  • 6 (...)

5The integration of Minahasa people in clerical and administrative positions slowly led to an “indigenisation” of the Church and even greater acceptance and identification on the part of the local population. In accordance with parallel political developments and struggles for independence from the colonial ties, in 1933 the NZG withdrew from Minahasa and in the following year the Geredja Masehi Indjili di Minahasa (GMIM)5 obtained its independence. Until the present day, GMIM has maintained its leading position in the region and currently counts approximately 730.000 members6, although competition from evangelical Churches like Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists and Baptists, has been an increasingly serious “threat” over the past decades.

  • 7 According to the census of 1930, Minahasa and Bolaang Mongondow had a literacy rate of 39% compare (...)

6The history of the Protestant Church and its continuing strong position in Minahasa society is closely linked to the development of school education. Soon after his arrival, J.F. Riedel established the first school in Tondano and only a few decades later, in 1860, the number of schools in Minahasa totalled 150 of which the vast majority (108) were under NZG leadership. Although acceptance among the local population was not unanimous and, especially in the early days, the pupils’ attendance rate was not always satisfactory, the project proved successful over time. This was reflected in the extraordinarily high rate of literacy in the Christian dominated regencies of Minahasa and Bolaang Mongondow in North Sulawesi7 which, again, showed the rising influence of the Protestant Church.

  • 8 Although various cash crops, like coffee, cocoa, nutmeg etc. were planted, it was mainly the Dutch (...)

7The covering of the whole Minahasa region with mission stations and schools not only brought Western knowledge and skills even to formerly remote areas and villages, but also had an impact on young people’s aspirations in life and on their parents’ expectations. The prospects of a career in the colonial or Church administration or as a teacher were major incentives for school attendance in the nineteenth century, and have maintained a certain attraction until today. The authority and relatively high status that comes with such a position seem to have compensated for the often meagre salary. Many former male ritual specialists (walian and tona’as) became local preachers and missionary assistants and, with the Church’s final detachment from its colonial ties in the early twentieth century, indigenous pastors became the norm. In the beginning, the schools mainly aimed at teaching the basic skills of reading, writing and Christian religion – knowledge whose usefulness probably was not always obvious to the children and their parents at the time. Over the years, they developed into institutions which opened new ways for young people to gain higher status and prestige in indigenous, but gradually also colonial, society. Although not all jobs were equally well paid, they offered an income in a peasant society where access to money was limited8. Some individuals could even accumulate a little wealth and adopt a standard of living normally reserved for Europeans (Schouten, 1998).

  • 9 Apart from Protestant schools, there are also Catholic and Muslim schools in Minahasa.

8Since the end of the nineteenth century, the government has increasingly recognised the potential of school education and invested in establishing its own institutions where the students were mainly trained for duties in the colonial administration. Throughout the twentieth century, the number of schools owned and directed by the state, first the Dutch colonial administration and later the Indonesian government, steadily grew and finally surpassed those under the direction of a religious institution (Schouten, 1998)9. However, the Protestant Church’s early initiatives and perseverance in the advancement of school education were ground-breaking. Their lasting impact on Minahasa society also strongly influenced relations with their neighbours and the colonial power and, subsequently, the region’s position within the Indonesian nation state. Thus the advent of the Protestant church has resulted in a range of economic, social and cultural changes in Minahasa society. When searching for an explanation for the apparently widespread consent among the Minahasa people to the Church’s activities and the resulting transformations, we should take a closer look at the society’s value system in relation to the options and alternatives proposed by the Church.

“Torang samua basudara”10

  • 10 This very popular phrase in Manado Malay can be translated as, “we are all brothers and sisters”.
  • 11 Hostile walaks were popular targets in headhunting raids but headhunting occasionally also occurre (...)

9Based on narratives by early missionaries, administrators and travellers, Minahasa societies have been described as “egalitarian”, with no institutionalised hierarchical and descent-based class or caste system. However, external potentates, with their seats in the coastal areas of Manado, Amurang and Bolaang, exercised control over wider territories with rather flexible boundaries. Although in contemporary popular local history and mythology, these “kings” (raja or datu) are still remembered as courageous fighters and astute diplomats in confrontations with neighbouring groups and the European invaders, neither in power and authority nor in splendour of representation were they comparable to the rajas or sultans in the stratified societies of South Sulawesi and western Indonesia (Henley, 1992: 52ff). Minahasa society was primarily a rural society with the majority of the population living in small scattered hamlets and earning their livelihood by working in their gardens and on the land. Several such hamlets together formed an endogamous and largely self-sufficient compound or walak. Its leader, the kepala walak, was the most important political, social and, often, also religious leader in that wider community. Inter-walak relations, however, were not always peaceful. Hostilities and even wars were frequent in pre-and early colonial times11.

10The walak was a territorial as well as a social unit, based upon bilateral kinship and common descent, which defined the boundaries for individual choices of marriage and residence to ensure economic and social survival (Henley, 1992: 51). It was the place where the ancestors were buried (van Wylick, 1940: 25) and to which an individual belonged. The walak therefore was the largest social unit of immediate relevance to the local people and in which a sense of community could be developed and experienced.

  • 12 It was the raja of Manado himself who, in 1643, appealed to the VOC in Ternate for help against Sp (...)
  • 13 The name Minahasa first appeared in Dutch records in 1789 and referred to the landraad or council (...)

11When the Dutch took over control of the area12, they aimed at a pacification and unification of the hitherto fragmented region. The treaty of 1679 between the VOC governor of the Moluccas, Robertus Padtbrugge, and the Minahasa kepala walak was a successful beginning in this direction. With Dutch interests and radius of activity extending further inland and as the image of the landstreek van Manado, to which the name Minahasa13 was later given, changed from that of an outpost established primarily for the provision of passing ships and the army to an important colonial territory with economic and strategic potential, a more rigid and efficient system of administration was needed. In the eighteenth century, the originally rather flexible walak borders increasingly turned into defined and stabilised territories and the formerly independent chiefs into Dutch administrators, serving a uniform and centrally ruled government (Henley, 1992).

  • 14 The megalithic stone Watu Pinawetengan is located at the foot of Mount Soputan, about 60 kilometre (...)
  • 15 The number of Muslim residents in the Minahasa region, and especially in the urban areas, is const (...)
  • 16 See Eves’s description of Christianity and religious change among the Lelet in New Ireland (this v (...)

12Since the mid nineteenth century, the Protestant Church has made a significant contribution to these developments, which have included some radical changes for the local population and their leaders. The school system, which was initially introduced by the Protestant missions, played a crucial role in the process of creating a united Minahasa identity based on a mythical common history and culture. Selected local myths, like those of the founding ancestor couple Toar and Lumimuut and the spiritual site of Watu Pinawetengan14, have been considered valuable testimonies of the original unity of the different linguistic and cultural groups within the Minahasa territory. Although Minahasa’s linguistic diversity was recognised, Manado Malay became increasingly important as a teaching language and, subsequently, as a regional lingua franca (Henley, 1992: 103-111; Schouten, 1998: 112-121). The overarching linguistic and cultural unification, as well as a common educational basis, were important tools and strategies in the process of Minahasa identity-building, but religion was probably the most effective agent in this undertaking. By adopting Christianity and identifying themselves as a Christian people, the Minahasa have distinguished themselves from the majority of Indonesia’s population, especially from their Muslim neighbours and communities within their own borders15. It has also offered a basis for identification with the West, which has continued, to some extent, until the present day. Christian religions arrived in Indonesia, as well as in the Pacific16, with Western missionaries, administrators, traders and travellers, and alongside other Western “goods”. Christianity, therefore, has been linked with modernity, the market economy and Western social and political models. Minahasa’s ethnic identity is the result of an ongoing process that encompasses internal homogenisation as well as selected identification with others or differentiation from them.

13The continuing presence and dominance of the Churches, most of all the Protestant Church, is noticeable in all spheres and at all levels of social and political life. There clearly is no separation between politics and religion at the local level and local politicians, or those who aspire to such a political position, are advised to co-operate with the Church leaders who are influential and, thus, powerful opinion leaders. There is hardly any public event, and very few private ones, with no representative of one or more Churches in attendance. The Church’s vigilance and its blessing of the event and its participants are important and necessary components of most rituals, feasts or community gatherings. While the host’s social status and his/her involvement in a Church community have considerable influence on the extensity and intensity of the Church’s presence and role at a particular occasion, the latter’s right or even obligation to carry out this function is rarely questioned but rather taken for granted or even seen as beneficial to the whole event. The Church has become the main institution in organising and guiding community life in Minahasa. Since feasting is not only a popular pastime but involves a significant and complex chain of social activities and positioning of people, which was as relevant in pre-colonial times as it is in the present, the Church’s function in these matters therefore is neither trivial nor peripheral. A common explanation given for the need and enjoyment of social gatherings, where eating and drinking often seem to be the most important elements, is the celebration and strengthening of community ties and the demonstration of Minahasa people’s unity and brother/sisterhood (Weichart, 2007). However, despite a rhetoric in which community and equality constitute highly praised ideals, there is also another side of the coin which features a perhaps equally aspired to and valued characteristic of Minahasa culture and society.

... But some people are more equal than others

  • 17 The myth of Pingkan and Matindas is an example of the perception of women’s contribution in defend (...)
  • 18 The last records mentioning headhunting date back to the 1860s (de Clercq, 1870).

14Anthropologists and historians have described traditional Minahasa society not only as egalitarian but also as very competitive. Despite its focus on harmonising strategies based on an ideal of social equality, there was ample space for individual achievement and status mobility. Personal qualities and deeds were parameters for evaluating a person’s success or failure and thus for his/her status in the community. Men were advantaged, not least because virility and bravery, often expressed in successful headhunting expeditions, were elementary preconditions for an accumulation of prestige and a rise in status, but women were not generally excluded (see Schouten, 1995, 1998). In fact, Minahasa women too have been portrayed as clever, cunning and courageous people, who were neither passive observers nor victims in their own society and in interaction with neighbouring peoples and hostile encounters17. Oratory skills and a charismatic personality, fertility, material wealth and a large number of followers were other qualities and achievements that led to respect and admiration from other members of society and to a higher position in the social hierarchy. Although the arenas of status acquisition, performance and evaluation have changed over the last two hundred years, the basic principles are still valid today, with the exception of headhunting which is no longer practised18.

  • 19 Potlatch-style feasts (foso) were organised in order to demonstrate ritual and economic power and (...)
  • 20 Mieke Schouten (1998) describes and analyses the lives and socio-cultural backgrounds of these two (...)

15Modern institutions offer strategies and channels that have replaced headhunting as an effective means in the pursuit of those desirable goods and qualities that guarantee economic prosperity and social prestige. Among them, the school system takes a leading position, which explains its success in Minahasa society. Within a few decades, it fostered an intellectual and a bureaucratic elite whose spheres of influence extended from the educational to the administrative and political realms. Although the highest ranks remained in the hands of Europeans until the end of the colonial period, well-educated Minahasa people gradually moved into the various spheres of influence and took over positions and responsibilities in schools, in Churches, and in the local administration and politics. Being appointed chief of a village or political district was no longer an exclusively local affair but largely depended on a person’s formal Western-style education, his social network among the local colonial and indigenous ruling classes and on his skills of self-representation and negotiation. An affluent economic background was important too because without being able to sponsor lavish feasts and followers, the desire for a prestigious position would remain a vain ambition19. Although in principle similar guidelines still apply today, economic criteria have become more important in the post-independence era with a new type of elite emerging whose members are neither well educated nor able to claim descent from important ancestors (Schouten, 1994). Representation is a main key for advancement in this “game” of status seeking and upward mobility. This means that those qualities, skills, possessions and relationships that can be and are presented in public and that enhance a person’s affluence in material as well as immaterial terms, contribute to his/her accumulation of prestige and to being awarded an influential position in the government, schools or Churches. Such a position is endowed with some form of authority, or even power, which raises the individual above his/her kin or other people in the community and, therefore, it becomes an important asset itself when evaluating a person’s economic, social and symbolic capital. The biographies of successful and famous Minahasa leaders, such as the district chiefs of Sonder, Hermanus Willem Dotulong (1795-1888) and Albertus Lasut Waworuntu (1862-1925), present a vivid picture of “rising stars” among the Minahasa elite at the time20.

  • 21 See Buchholt (1994a, 1994b); Kosel (1998); Schouten (1998).

16Although the above description has tended to emphasise continuity in this process of social change, discontinuities and ruptures were also part of it. Many of the traditional Minahasa chiefs and religious leaders, the walian and tona’as, tried to secure themselves an adequate place within the new system of colonialism and Christianity, but not all of them were equally successful and some also refused to collaborate with the foreign authorities and trade their old knowledge and values for a perhaps doubtful position in these changing social strata. As emphasised before, school education became increasingly decisive for a respectable social position which means that previously valued ritual and practical knowledge in religion, agriculture and warfare, for example, became less important and, therefore, less appreciated. With the expansion of a more complex and diversified school system throughout Minahasa, the growing social differentiation among the population was also reflected in the different categories of school, in their rules and criteria for attendance and in the social background of their students. The hoofdenschool, for example, was reserved for the sons and daughters of the indigenous elite from which a new “aristocracy” emerged that concentrated much of the local power in its hands21. The long-term consequences of these developments are still present: many of today’s influential, powerful and wealthy families trace their “aristocratic” roots back to those times.

17The Protestant Church was not the only influential institution that provoked these processes or contributed to them but it certainly played a major role. The missionaries’ diligence and ambition in teaching and preaching, in spreading a European-style education system and the Christian faith, in “converting” the local population to an adapted Western lifestyle and value system should not be underestimated. Non-Christian religious beliefs and rituals were largely banned from the public arena and restricted to the social “underground” (Tauchmann, 1968: 248). This is not to say that they have all disappeared and are no longer present in Minahasa society. On the contrary, even many dedicated and faithful Christians believe in the power of the ancestors or malevolent spirits. Traditional spiritual leaders and healers are still much in demand, especially in times of insecurity or transition and when Christianity does not give a satisfying answer or solution, or when a “double check” might be considered useful. Illness, rites of passage, but also moving into a new house or embarking on a long and potentially dangerous journey are common situations for asking for help or assistance from these specialists and from non-Christian spirits. However, despite a general awareness of the continuance of such knowledge and practices, the “official” attitude of the Church and its representatives is to deny or, at least, to ignore this fact. The non-Christian religious specialists and healers are therefore forced to operate “under cover” and, although they might be respected by clients and others for their knowledge and skills, such a clandestine position does not offer the same prestige, and certainly not the same status and the accompanying economic and social benefits, as a high position in the Church or government.

Community, individualism and Christianity

18I dealt above with ideas of community and their realisation in Minahasa society as well as with the development of new social inequalities and hierarchies under the influence of Christianity and the Christian Churches. I will now show how these social phenomena can be observed in everyday practice in Minahasa where community events, often under the churches’guidance, are a fundamental structural principle. The following examples are based on anthropological fieldwork carried out between 2002 and 2006 in the central and northern parts of the Minahasa region.

Life in a Minahasa village community

  • 22 Waleo is located on the east coast and, due to irregular public transport and normally bad road co (...)

19The fairly high number of churches and their distribution throughout the Minahasa region demonstrate the efficacy and success of proselytization and give an idea of the impact of Christian teaching and of the Churches’ continuous presence in people’s lives. With three Churches (Protestant, Catholic and Pentecostal) serving a population of approximately 2,000, the village of Waleo, where I was based most of the time during my different stages of field research, represented an average Minahasa settlement (desa)22. The composition of Church membership presented a fairly homogeneous and conservative picture. The Protestant Church could claim by far the largest number of members, with the other denominations (including Seventh-day Adventists) counting only a handful of followers each. The only Muslim family lived on the outskirts of the village where the husband was employed as keeper of the nearby lighthouse. Waleo people therefore commonly presented their village as a Christian, and especially Protestant, stronghold, mostly against undesirable Muslim immigrants. But the less represented Churches and their members did not have an easy position either as outsiders in a remote rural environment. Moreover, Waleo held the much-cherished image of a community where traditional customs (adat) had been preserved and were still part of people’s everyday life and culture. The Protestant Church can look back at a long history in the area; the nearby town of Kema was one of the first places the Protestant mission successfully started. Thus Christianity and the Protestant Church have become important elements in local tradition and history and it would be hard to imagine it otherwise these days. The dominance of the Protestant Church, in membership numbers as well as in influence, is just another side of Waleo’s image as a “traditional village” in which traditional leaders (tona’as) and Christian leaders live side by side, often within the same family. The GMIM church is not only the largest church building in the village, but it is also prominently and conveniently placed in the geographic centre, on the main road which runs through the village from east to west, from the seashore towards the mountainous interior. Behind the church building there are the kindergarten and one of the two elementary schools (Sekolah Dasar) in Waleo, which is run by GMIM. In its vicinity, but much further back and hidden from the eyes of passers-by, we find the village cemetery.

GMIM church in the village of Waleo. © Gabriele Weichart

  • 23 Houses are ideal objects for a conspicuous demonstration of wealth and status, and even in rather (...)
  • 24 The term “boss” is commonly used for a person considered wealthy enough not to have to do hard lab (...)

20As the standard of formal education is fairly high even in rural areas of Minahasa, many of Waleo’s inhabitants have completed high school (Sekolah Mendengah Atas) and some have even got a university degree. Although farming and horticulture are still major occupations for sustaining a livelihood, young and better-educated people increasingly seek employment in “white collar” jobs in nearby towns or even in the capital of Manado. Working for an international shipping or mining company (mostly in Singapore or New Guinea respectively) presents another attractive alternative, particularly for the younger male generation. Those who returned home to the village after 5-10 years had saved enough money to build a usually bigger and more luxurious house, pay the children’s school and university fees and enjoy the comforts of an economically more secure situation23. Material wealth, education and profession are the main indicators of a person’s status in contemporary Minahasa society and the “ideal boss”24 combines all three of them in one person.

  • 25 The Universitas Kristen di Tomohon (UKIT) is one of Minahasa’s leading universities.

21The Protestant Church’s contribution to assisting individual people in this pursuit of wealth and status is to offer school and university education25, employment in their educational institutions and in the Church itself. It also offers a wide range of possibilities for personal engagement, often in the form of volunteer services and/or donations, within the Church’s sphere and in the community. People of high social status are expected to actively participate in one way or the other in their local Church community or even at regional and higher levels within the Church hierarchy. Holding a position in the Church is considered desirable because it either indicates a person’s already existing status and authority in the wider society or, for those who are still at lower levels of the social hierarchy, it is a way to gradually “climb the ladder”. It also is a sign of the person’s sense of social responsibility and generosity, in terms of time and energy, towards his/her community. Members of the church council (majelis gereja), for instance, have the right to participate in relevant decisions concerning the Church and the whole community (e.g. regarding the allocation of money, the organisation of community projects etc.) and thus hold considerable power in the community – a status that makes them attractive for potential followers to approach. However, there is also a price to pay for such privileges, and council members are expected to invest many hours in meetings and in the preparation of public events, not to mention the numerous church services and other social and religious gatherings they are required to attend every week.

  • 26 For a more detailed description of kumpulan, see Lundström-Burghoorn (1981: 163ff), Mai (1994) and (...)

22Apart from its regular services in the church building itself, a major activity of the Church’s community work is the organisation of social circles (kumpulan26) and events whose dimensions and aims differ according to the participants, target group, occasion, location and timing, and the reasons or motivation for such undertakings. Among the various categories to be found in Waleo, the two main types of kumpulan connected to the Protestant Church meet on a weekly or, respectively, monthly basis in one of their members’ homes following a principle of rotation: one is the Bible reading circle and the other one the money-saving circle (arisan). To the uninformed observer, the two gatherings may appear quite similar at first sight because, even at the arisan, praying, singing, and sometimes even reading passages from the Bible, form the beginning of the gathering, followed by the housewife serving tea and biscuits to her guests. A noticeable difference is that arisan usually last much longer (several hours), and after the official part the atmosphere becomes more relaxed and hosts and guests eat and drink together. Every household contributes with food, which is then shared with all participants. This habit corresponds to other picnicstyle community events, frequently organised by the Church, but it starkly contrasts with private invitations in people’s homes where the host’s main responsibility is to feed the guests. The Church arisan’s function is basically the same as that of other arisan, e.g. an arisan within the extended family or a workplace: namely a smallscale and non-profit money-saving and credit-giving institution. Discussions about this financial business, the actual collection of money from the participants and the registration of the exact sums in a book by the appointed treasurer constitute the most important part of the official programme. The organisation of these two categories of social groups and the recruitment of participants follow similar guidelines. Both are organised according to the Church’s division of the village into 14 administrative districts (kolom), which means that the people who gather and belong to the same money-saving group, for instance, live in the same neighbourhood. Besides spiritual and economic functions, an important goal connected with the organisation of these groups and their regular meetings is to keep alive the ethics of equality and sharing, and the sense of community and belonging, to a small locality but also to the extended Church and village community. The frequency of such gatherings and other public events (e.g. on the occasion of public and religious holidays, birthdays of local Churches etc.) fils the village people’s social calendar and does not leave them much time for other “adventures”. I would suspect that a motivation for the Church contributing with such an intensive programme to the “excessive event culture” in Minahasa is also to exercise control over large sectors of the village population by keeping them reasonably busy with socially accepted activities. Indeed many people do complain but still attend in order to meet social expectations, others refuse to comply but hardly anyone totally “escapes” the Church’s inluence. Besides, even if such events might be experienced as exhausting or even boring by individual participants, they are not much different from other generally accepted and practised forms of social entertainment in Minahasa, which are characterised by a rigid structure and a high level of formality. In order to maintain a high status in society, the Church has to take over the roles as organiser and, occasionally, as generous host in the community and offer a similar kind of “guided entertainment”.

Waleo: A feast organised by the Protestant Church at a neighbouring house. © Gabriele Weichart.

23The community certainly is the main focus of the Church and the idea of equality between all participants is emphasised at many events. The sharing of food and eating together is an elementary part in processes of community-building and strengthening. As at arisan, there are many other occasions when the church asks its members to bring a dish and share it with others. Cooking for others and eating food cooked at another hearth foster social relationships and “kin-making” between those who join in. However, events associated with the Church can also offer opportunities for social and economic distinction, for showing generosity and potency, and for accumulating prestige and social recognition, as the following example will show (see Weichart, 2007).

An excursion to Manado Tua

  • 27 The island of Manado Tua mainly consists of a high volcano with three villages scattered at its fo (...)

24In July 2003, after the successful completion of a two-day conference in Manado, one of the speakers and special guests of the event, Yohan U., a Minahasa man in his late forties who had made good in Jakarta and was about to move back to Manado, invited all the conference organisers on a boat-trip the next day to the nearby small island of Manado Tua located only a few kilometres off the coast of Manado27. I, perhaps naively, believed that the intention was to spend a relaxing day on the sea and at the beach, as a reward for all the previous work, as I had been told by Yohan and others. However, I would soon realise that there was more to it than a mere “family excursion”.

  • 28 Bapak or Pak, literally meaning “father”, are commonly used terms of address in the Indonesian lan (...)

25We were supposed to leave early in the morning but the boat was late as usual and when we finally got to Manado Tua at 9.30am we were already awaited by a small crowd who served us tea and sticky rice cake with ginger (nasi jahe) before entering the huge Protestant church. Among our party was a female pastor from Manado who conducted the service. At the end, an attractive pile of local products (bananas, coconuts, sweet potatoes, brooms made of palm fibre etc.) was offered at auction to the visitors. After two slow rounds of bidding, Pak28 Yohan generously offered to buy the whole pile of food and other articles collected for the auction. Since he had not brought enough money with him, he promised to send it on his return to Manado. What he left for the time being were twenty Christian songbooks printed by his own company in Jakarta (eighty song books would follow soon afterwards) and the sum of 500,000 Rp (approx. 50 €) as a donation for the Church. That was a lot of money for most people at Manado Tua whose monthly income would not have totalled that amount. Everybody seemed to be impressed and satisfied and Pak Yohan thoroughly enjoyed his status as “big spender”. Afterwards we were all invited to a feast with local delicacies, which the women had prepared in advance: pork, chicken, fish, vegetables, sticky rice etc., decoratively placed on tables beside the church. Before our return to Manado in the afternoon, the party visited the other nearby village and its Protestant church, which was still under construction.

The island of Manado Tua. © Gabriele Weichart.

26Looking back, we may wonder about the significance of the events and people’s actions. While I started the excursion with the idea of a rather spontaneous leisure trip to a, for me, hitherto unknown island, I gradually realised that the whole event had been carefully planned and in fact staged. The arrival of a potent and generous donor and a delegation of well-educated and high-status followers, including a pastor, had been announced and the Manado Tua residents and their Church leaders quite clearly had high expectations. Pak Yohan also benefited from the trip. Such a conspicuous demonstration of generosity was much more effective at a small, fairly isolated and rather poor settlement than in the city of Manado itself. The receivers of the gifts, including the Church leaders, could be expected to be more grateful and Pak Yohan’s image as a powerful and wealthy man would remain in the collective memory of the village community. Inviting influential people from the university, the Church and the government to participate, was also part of the strategic plan. This way, Pak Yohan impressed not only the people at Manado Tua but his selected guests at the same time.

27Analysing the event from the particular interest defined by the topic of this paper, we can state that both the traditional values of community and individual potency are being represented. We can also see that the Church offers a forum for both types of values and their realisation. Pak Yohan represents the mighty individual who, through his own efforts and initiative, rises above the others and, therefore, gains their admiration and can recruit followers. The value of community is also celebrated. The people at Manado Tua presented themselves as a rather homogeneous community with their own pastor being a “primer inter pares”. It was their role to cook for the guests and feed them generously. By accepting the invitation and the hosts’food, a social tie expressing confidence and trust was created between hosts and guests. Despite his role as a generous donor, among the people at Manado Tua as well as among his city friends, Pak Yohan made great efforts to emphasise his own belonging to the community and participation in it. His intention obviously was not to distance himself from that somewhat imagined collectivity or to step outside it but to remain part of it–albeit by possessing a higher status than others.


28Minahasa society has been characterised as emphasising egalitarian and communitarian values but, at the same time, as appreciating outstanding individual merits and success. Competition and rivalry were probably common in pre-colonial times, especially among political and religious leaders who aimed at the acquisition and accumulation of spiritual strength and social prestige that would have led to a high status during their lifetime and afterwards as ancestors. Despite its individualistic tendency and appearance, such a quest for difference and uniqueness was not completely unregulated and could only be achieved with the community’s co-operation and consent. The latter, therefore, must also benefit from an individual person’s success and status elevation. Symbolic capital is gained by giving away material resources, as the example from Manado Tua has shown, or by doing something for other people – and talking about it. People whose behaviour is “too” modest, therefore, may not receive the expected reward. The traditional foso, the feasts of merit, were excellent venues for status demonstration and prestige accumulation and have survived as modern secular versions in contemporary festive events. Conspicuous generosity, often in the form of lavish feasts, is still a common and popular option for demonstrating wealth and power and for rising one or more steps on society’s status scale.

29The Protestant Church tried to abolish the foso, not least because of its non-Christian religious meaning, but has actively participated in modern feasting and other signs of status differentiation. It is common practice, for example, to publicly announce the exact amount of individual families’ donations during the church service and, thus, declare people’s economic potential but also their level of generosity. The social circles (kumpulan) created and administered by the Church, however, show a strong emphasis on equality and community cohesion. The arisan, especially, is based on the traditional Minahasa institution of mutual assistance (mapalus) which, among the local population, is still a fundamental characteristic of Minahasa identity. I would agree with Lundström-Burghoorn who sees kumpulan as an element of order that stabilises groups, their duties and boundaries. By strongly promoting and directing a dense network and schedule of kumpulan, the Church exerts control and regulates social life, not only but particularly, in small village communities.

30Critical voices have argued that Minahasa society has been “tamed” by colonisers and missionaries and that the people have become pawns in the hands of their oppressors. However, I doubt that the Protestant Church would have been as successful if the local population had not got anything in return or if the Church’s system had worked completely against local ideas and practices. Undeniably, life in Minahasa has changed radically during the last 150 years – like everywhere else in the world – and many of the so-called “local traditions” are actually of fairly recent origin or were imported from somewhere else in the not too distant past. The Protestant Church’s intrusion and its fight against non-Christian beliefs and rituals, against headhunting and big feasts, to name just a few examples, was a drastic, and sometimes also violent, form of interference. Some fundamental values, however, did not only survive those “turbulent” times but were actually promoted by the Church. The latter’s basic target group was the community in which social equality had to be celebrated. However, there was room for individualism, for potential leaders who, with ambition and flexibility, mastered the school system, adapted to a changing lifestyle, reached higher social positions – and co-operated with the European authorities. Competition and community do not seem to make a perfect match, but rivalry and mutual distrust among the walak leaders have actually contributed to the unification of Minahasa (Henley, 1992: 68) and, over time, to a sense of ethnic and cultural unity: Torang samua basudara!



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1 In 2003, the former regency (kabupaten) of Minahasa was divided into three smaller regencies, Minahasa, Minahasa Selatan and Minahasa Utara, and into two cities, Kota Bitung and Kota Tomohon. Another subdivision separated Minahasa Tenggara in 2007. Including the capital of Manado, which is located in the same area but administratively independent, the population totals approx. 1,5 million.

2 Various Christian Churches have been able to establish themselves successfully in other regions of the Indonesian archipelago too, as for example in Central Sulawesi, among the Batak in Sumatra, in the Moluccas and the Little Sunda Islands (Nusa Tenggara Timur). From Sulawesi towards the east, Christianity is in fact the dominant religion in contemporary societies, not only within the Indonesian borders but also in the Philippines and the Pacific states.

3 Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie)

4 Nederlandsch Zendelinggenootschap

5 Christian Evangelical Church of Minahasa

6 (accessed 01/06/2010).

7 According to the census of 1930, Minahasa and Bolaang Mongondow had a literacy rate of 39% compared to 8% in the Muslim dominated regency of Gorontalo (Jones, 1977: 67).

8 Although various cash crops, like coffee, cocoa, nutmeg etc. were planted, it was mainly the Dutch colonialists and not the farmers who profited from the sales (Mai and Buchholt, 13ff; Schouten, 1998: 53ff).

9 Apart from Protestant schools, there are also Catholic and Muslim schools in Minahasa.

10 This very popular phrase in Manado Malay can be translated as, “we are all brothers and sisters”.

11 Hostile walaks were popular targets in headhunting raids but headhunting occasionally also occurred within kindred units (Godée Molsbergen, 1928: 178). See also Supit (1986: 51ff); Henley (1992) and Kosel (1998: 103ff).

12 It was the raja of Manado himself who, in 1643, appealed to the VOC in Ternate for help against Spanish exploitation. The Dutch military expedition which arrived in the following year not only defeated the Spaniards but marked the beginning of a three hundred year occupation by the Netherlands (Henley, 1992: 61-62).

13 The name Minahasa first appeared in Dutch records in 1789 and referred to the landraad or council of chiefs convened to receive Dutch instructions and resolve internal disputes (Godée Molsbergen, 1928; Henley, 1992: 69)

14 The megalithic stone Watu Pinawetengan is located at the foot of Mount Soputan, about 60 kilometres southwest of Manado. It is the place where, according to Minahasa mythology, the ancestors first divided up the land among three or four ethnic-linguistic groups in Minahasa (Renwarin, 2006). It can still be visited today and has become a symbol of Minahasa unity. See also Supit (1986).

15 The number of Muslim residents in the Minahasa region, and especially in the urban areas, is constantly rising (approx. 30%, according to the census of 2007).

16 See Eves’s description of Christianity and religious change among the Lelet in New Ireland (this volume).

17 The myth of Pingkan and Matindas is an example of the perception of women’s contribution in defending their own territory as well as in establishing Minahasa unity (Weichart, 2005).

18 The last records mentioning headhunting date back to the 1860s (de Clercq, 1870).

19 Potlatch-style feasts (foso) were organised in order to demonstrate ritual and economic power and potency as well as to recruit followers. Only by completing all feasts in the series, could a person accumulate enough spiritual and physical force (keter, in Tontembuan language) to become a ritually perfect wa’ilan, a title that offered numerous privileges and a post-mortem status as deified ancestor. See Supit (1986: 61ff); Schouten (1995; 1998: 22ff).

20 Mieke Schouten (1998) describes and analyses the lives and socio-cultural backgrounds of these two remarkable personalities in nineteenth century Minahasa history.

21 See Buchholt (1994a, 1994b); Kosel (1998); Schouten (1998).

22 Waleo is located on the east coast and, due to irregular public transport and normally bad road conditions, in a somewhat remote area, although only approximately 20 kilometres south of the city of Bitung.

23 Houses are ideal objects for a conspicuous demonstration of wealth and status, and even in rather remote villages people invest large sums in their construction. The front facade and the living room where guests are received (ruang tamu) are generally the parts of the building which receive the greatest attention and for which the most expensive materials are chosen. See Doubrawa and Zámolyi (2007) for a comparison with other areas in Indonesia.

24 The term “boss” is commonly used for a person considered wealthy enough not to have to do hard labour him/herself but able to pay other people for their work and services (see Schouten, 1995).

25 The Universitas Kristen di Tomohon (UKIT) is one of Minahasa’s leading universities.

26 For a more detailed description of kumpulan, see Lundström-Burghoorn (1981: 163ff), Mai (1994) and Kosel (1998: 82ff.)

27 The island of Manado Tua mainly consists of a high volcano with three villages scattered at its foot on the shore which are connected by footpaths as there are no roads on the island. Its first mention in European sources dates back to the early sixteenth century (Godée Molsbergen, 1928: 8). The island was also visited by early missionaries and, later on, the Protestant (GMIM) and the Pentecostal Churches established themselves among the 3,000 residents of the island. Today, the villages on Manado Tua are administratively incorporated, as separate districts (kelurahan), into the city of Manado.

28 Bapak or Pak, literally meaning “father”, are commonly used terms of address in the Indonesian language.

Table des illustrations

Légende GMIM church in the village of Waleo. © Gabriele Weichart
Fichier image/jpeg, 207k
Légende Waleo: A feast organised by the Protestant Church at a neighbouring house. © Gabriele Weichart.
Fichier image/jpeg, 234k
Légende The island of Manado Tua. © Gabriele Weichart.
Fichier image/jpeg, 149k


Chargée de cours au Département d’Anthropologie sociale et culturelle de l’Université de Vienne (Autriche). Ses recherches de terrain se situent en Indonésie et dans l’Australie indigène et ses publications portent sur l’art et l’identité, la nourriture et les festins ainsi que sur le christianisme et les missions chrétiennes. Elle a co-édité Food Chains : Eating, drinking, feeding – framing social relations (Les chaînes alimentaires : du boire et du manger ou comment se nourrissent les relations sociales) dans le périodique Anthropology of Food (2007).

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