Tumba Lata: Indigenous Spirituality Anyone?

Tumba Lata: Indigenous Spirituality Anyone?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Indigenous Spirituality Anyone?

In Papua today, to talk about indigenous spirituality is to talk about something that is true in the past.

Sometime last year, I went with a group of women to join an exposure and educational trip in Bukidnon among the Talaandig and Matigsalug tribes. The occasion was a cultural exchange between West Papua and Mindanao facilitated by Mindanao People’s Caucus and Concord, a Dutch development agency engaged in indigenous people’s development. With us were one journalist from the Suara Perempuan Papua (Voice of Papuan Women), an alternative weekly, and five members of the Majelis Rakyat Papua (MRP) or Papuan People’s Assembly, four of whom women.

MRP is a state body established in 2005 to represent the interests of the indigenous peoples in West Papua. Established in compliance with a provision in the Special Autonomy granted the West Papuans in 2001, it is tasked to protect the cultural sovereignty of the Papuans. Part of MRP’s authority is ensuring that custom and culture are respected, women’s rights protected and harmonious religious life upheld.

Mindanao indigenous women, like the West Papuan women in the delegation, are also currently engaged in a struggle for peace. An important aspect of this struggle is the reclaiming of their ancestral lands which are now largely in the hands of outsiders, mainly migrant and corporate business interests. Conflict in both West Papua and Mindanao, participants to the cultural exchange believe, have their roots in the historical injustice that had turned indigenous peoples into marginal farmers and virtual scavengers in their own lands.

West Papuan women’s interest in Mindanao’s indigenous women partly comes from the latter’s rather famed role in conflict resolution and peace-building. The visit to Mindanao, it was hoped, would make an important learning experience especially in the practice of indigenous spirituality and customary law and in how these serve their peace-making roles. But in Papua today, according to Frida Tabita Kelasin of the MRP’s Women Working Group and head of the Papuan delegation that visited Mindanao, to talk about indigenous spirituality is to talk about something that is true in the past as most of West Papua are now practicing one or the other of the five world religions, namely, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism.

What West Papuans have today, Frida Tabita Kelasin said, is contextual spirituality, a syncretic blend of indigenous belief and world religions. This syncretic faith rose from people’s deep involvement in indigenous people’s struggle to claim their heritage, an important aspect of which is the reclaiming of their ancestral lands and their relationship with Mother Nature. There are 253 ethnic groups in West Papua, she explained, and all of these tribes have the basic belief that nature is a gift from God and that people are stewards. Women in particular are regarded in traditional Papuan society as nurturers and protectors with a gift for maintaining harmonious relationship with nature. However, in West Papua today, this relationship has been destroyed and the women’s situation mirrors this disaster. Logging, mining and conversion of forest lands into plantations have polluted their rivers and poisoned their soil as Indonesian government continues their development policies that have removed indigenous peoples from their habitats and replace them with buildings and palm oil plantations. These created social problems such as prostitution, wife abuse, and the spread of AIDS/HIV. Removal from their lands also means loss of access to their traditional sources of food and medicines, thus the high incidence of hunger and malnutrition. Health in West Papua is a major concern. The Australia West Papua Association reports that West Papua has half of all the diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS in Indonesia, at 20 times higher the rate of the rest of Indonesia, while malaria remains endemic, and cases of tuberculosis, including new drug resistant strains, are on the rise. Infant mortality rate is among the highest in the world, along with maternal mortality rate.

But unlike the Lumad struggle in Mindanao which of late has resorted to peace lobbying and civil society mobilization, there is in West Papua today a yet unquelled armed resistance. This movement seeks complete independence from the central government in Jakarta as ultimate expression of West Papuan political and cultural sovereignty. This conflict has its beginning since 1962 when indigenous Papuans first resisted annexation to Indonesian territory and has since claimed an estimated 100,000 lives.

“We can pray, but there are no ritualists among us, said Frida when Bae Magagaw of the Matigsalug tribe strongly suggested a joint ritual as among the future activities they should be holding to be conducted at an appointed hour of the day. Through this ritual, Bae Magagaw said, their joint prayers and supplication for protection from Manama (God) as they fight for their rights over ancestral lands will be better heard.

By ritual Bae Magagaw meant pamuhat, the slaughtering of a white chicken and making offerings of betel nuts, betel leaves and lime and other gifts to the spirits. The indigenous peoples of Mindanao and other parts of the country have been assiduously doing this since they embarked on a cultural regeneration project, and the Talaandigs and Matigsalugs of Bukidnon have been particularly tireless in ensuring that all activities that are conducted, including development activities and researches that have an import in their communities, are first and foremost sanctioned and blessed by Manama through this ritual.

The Mindanao women’s efforts towards reviving culture, the West Papuan visitors said, had been admirable, and it is a source of inspiration for them, because in Papua expressing ideas of indigenous identity has become a bad dream. Assertion of indigenous identity is suppressed and celebration of international day of indigenous peoples, as may be expressed in the raising of the West Papuan flag, invites political repression.

Bernadetha Mahuse, another member of the Working Group for Women in the People’s Assembly also explained that the situation in Papua is very different from the situation here in Mindanao. “Indigenous spirituality in Papua is a thing of the past,” she said. One proof to this is they themselves, women delegates. They are all indigenous Papuans, but they are now practicing one world religion or another. Bernadetha is a Catholic while Frida is a Prostestant. Their other companions, Atakiah Serfita, Martha Ollap, and Fientje Salomina Jarangga, are also Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant, respectively.

But even with the national ID system and the compulsory subscription to one major world religion or another, the West Papuans said, there is room for growth. And that’s what they are trying to do today, to make room for indigenous faith to live.
“Within the context of major religions we are now trying to situate and reflect our adat (customary law), so we have been trying to promote what we call contextual spirituality,” Frida said. The West Papuan delegates also explained that in Papua today there is a tendency for indigenous spirituality to be reduced to mere symbols. Because of the dominance of the world religions, indigenous knowledge and spirituality has been weakened. This situation is made worse by the presence of migrants who are either Christians or Muslims. Within this context indigenous spirituality becomes old and irrelevant.

Some Papuans are aware that they have lost something, Frida said. “That’s what we are trying to regenerate.” Organizations that are sensitized towards cultural regeneration are being established and the churches have been very instrumental in this work. The armed conflict is West Papua has something to do with this sense of loss, this sense of trauma and suffering that the West Papuan people suffered under Indonesian government.

“And when we say we want peace in Papua that means we want an end to this sense of persecution, this sense of injustice.”

0 Response to "Tumba Lata: Indigenous Spirituality Anyone?"

Papua Indonesia

Facebook Status RSS Feed Filter