Yakan - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. The Yakan are Muslims, but many beliefs and practices deriving from an older religion are still retained and are, to a great extent, incorporated into their Muslim rituals and life; the Yakan consider them to be part of Islam. One important example is connected with rice growing. Rice is, to some extent, personified; planting and harvesting are initiated with religious ceremonies, and other religious precautions are taken to secure a good rice harvest. The Muslim center of religious practice, where the official prayers are conducted, is the langgal. There is a belief in various spirits, some of whom may sometimes attack people. Some places are believed to house spirits (e.g., a special kind of tree); one spirit may be encountered near the grave of a newly buried person. There is also a belief in a special devil who may attack and torture people during the second month of the year; people born in that month are especially in danger. To avoid the danger, a bathing ritual is performed on three successive Wednesdays of that month.
Religious Practitioners. The head of the langgal is the imam, who has two helpers, the habib and the bilal, both in accordance with Islam. The imam conducts the service in the langgal, and officiates at the life-cycle rituals and at the rice ceremonies. An important part of his position is to lead household prayer (e.g., to ask for recovery in case of sickness, or to bless a new house). There are other religious practitioners, however, who probably derive from an older, pre-Islamic religion. The most important is the bahasa, a kind of shaman, who will summon spirits to help him cure sickness or to tell fortunes. Whereas the bahasa will never work with the imam, another practitioner, the tabib, may sometimes assist the imam in performing certain semi-Muslim ceremonies outside the langgal. He may also perform the rice ceremonies and cure sickness. These practitioners are all male; the person teaching Quran-reading, the guru, is most often a woman.
Ceremonies. The Yakan follow the Muslim calendar and celebrate both the orthodox and the less common annual Muslim festivals. The most important are the fasting in the ninth month, concluded with a big celebration, and the celebration in the twelfth month during the pilgrimage. Among the Yakan the most important feast, however, is the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed in the third month. Very important also are the three bathing rituals in the second month. The Yakan have annual Islamic celebrations during seven months of the year. Ceremonies are also performed in connection with the life cycle: after birth, at the end of the Quranic studies, at weddings, and a series of ceremonies after death. The wedding usually consists of two ceremonies, an Islamic and an older, pre-Islamic ritual. This is typical of the religious syncretism of the Yakan. Rice ceremonies have already been mentioned.
Art. The Yakan have various musical instruments, most of them percussive, but also flutes and Jew's harps. Percussion instruments are mostly played on certain important life-cycle occasions such as weddings. One special instrument is played while the rice is growing to make it happy so that it will give a good harvest. Dancing is restricted to a war dance performed at weddings. Visual arts are nonexistent.
Medicine. To cure sickness the imam will pray. Sometimes he may also apply roots and herbs, although that method is more typical of the tabib. The bahasa will summon spirits to help him.
Death and Afterlife. The funeral must take place within twenty-four hours after death. The body is placed in the grave on its right side, facing Mecca. After the grave has been filled the imam reads a prayer that teaches the deceased to utter the right words on its way to the Judgment. The spirit is supposed to stay in the home of the deceased person for seven days, during which a prayer is said in the house each evening. After the seven days the spirit begins the journey to the next world, which takes 100 days. On the way the spirit passes certain places, and each time the spirit reaches one of these places a prayer is said in the house. Part of the way to the next world crosses a sea. To help the spirit get across, a goat is sacrificed. The last and biggest ceremony is performed on the hundredth day, when the spirit reaches its destination. The grave is finally arranged, and a grave marker is placed on top of it. This grave marker symbolizes a boat that is intended not for the passage across the sea but for the spirit's use in the next world. In very recent times these cycle-of-death ceremonies have been shortened. In some places there are no longer any rituals after the burial. Recently Muslim missionaries have worked among the Yakan, teaching a more orthodox Islam and trying to do away with the many non-Islamic elements of Yakan religion. In some areas they have been successful, but older people especially prefer the old ways.