Ata Sikka - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Since the early seventeenth century, Catholicism has been associated with the rule of the rajas of Sikka. As a result, native ceremonial life has been virtually replaced by Catholic ritual. The traditional pantheon consisted of a number of coupled deities of which the classificatorily "female" Nian Tana and "male" Lero Wulang, the surface of the earth and the sun and moon respectively, were preeminent and formed a complementary pair. The Catholic deity is called amapu, a term invented by early missionaries meaning "source father" or "father of generations." The monadic and masculinely identified Catholic amapu stands in marked contrast to the dualistically male and female deity of the traditional religion. In contemporary religious practice, rosary organizations, which celebrate the Virgin Mary as the feminine complement of amapu, are especially prominent, and serve in Sikkanese thought to maintain the complementarity of the male and female elements of the traditional deity. Belief in generally beneficent spirits of the dead persists throughout contemporary Sikka culture, but the Sikkanese speak of a variety of female spirits or paired spirits whose female aspects are particularly dangerous to humans.

Ceremonies. Arndt reports that a major focus of the ancient ceremonial life was a male circumcision and initiation ritual, presided over by the tanah pu'ang; boys were thereafter confined to the village men's house. There were two categories of curer: ata rawing, who were benign curers of either sex, and ata busung, who were predominantly male curers who could diagnose the cause of an illness, extract objects from the body, locate witches, and recall the soul. In contemporary Sikka Natar a few women still serve as ata rawing. Most illnesses were believed caused by contact with objects of sorcery stuff ( uru ), by witch's attack, or by confrontation of the soul by a spirit.

Death and Afterlife. At death the corpse was traditionally wrapped with cloth or mats and buried in the ground. Coastal dwellers sometimes used coffins in the shape of boats. A bush, coconut, or jar was placed on the grave. According to Arndt, the soul journeyed either to Lero Walung or to a seven-layered underworld, through which it progressed by dying and being reborn again and by undergoing various ordeals. Contemporary burials are in accord with Catholic practice but are the occasion for the settlement of outstanding debts of bride-wealth and counterprestations.

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