Visit to Indonesia

Report by Denis Doble

VISIT to INDONESIA: Moslems and Christians

Patricia and I [writes Denis Doble] visited Indonesia for three weeks in September with a group from the Royal Society of Asian Affairs. After arriving in Djakarta, the capital, we travelled to Jogjakarta and eastern Java, and then visited the islands of Sulawesi and Bali.

It was largely a cultural study tour, including a talk from the leader of the largest Moslem political group, and visits to a mixed Moslem school and an Agricultural Research station, where we saw a variety of pulses, including 10 types a sweet potato.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Islamic country, with some 250 million people (87% Moslem). Islam took over from the previous Buddhist/Hindu influences in the 15th century. In the last 20 years there has been an increase in Islamic fundamentalism, as in other Muslim-majority countries. The wearing of the head scarf, attendance at mosques and observance of Ramadan are all more marked. But the threat, as evidenced in the Bali bombings of 2002, has generally reduced, and the bulk of the population remain firmly opposed to Indonesia becoming a fullyfledged Islamic state. There has been some localised violence against minorities, including Christians, but this has not meant serious persecution.

Christians are about 8% of then population, and occupy some prominent positions in the local government and elsewhere. We visited the Toraja people in Sulawesi, who are Christians, as a result of Dutch missionaries’ work 100 years previously. (We attended a Dutch Calvinistic church service.) The Toraja have unique funeral rites – the body is embalmed, and after six months buried in a ceremony involving the sacrifice of a buffalo. Such practices continue unhindered in what is generally a tolerant society.

Let us hope this continues during 2014, an election year.

Denis Doble