Atoni - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Christianity (Catholic in North-Central Timor and Protestant in South-Central Timor and Kupang Districts) has spread rapidly during the past two decades. Previously most Atoni followed traditional beliefs in Lords of the Sky and Earth, ancestral rewards and punishments, ghosts, and spirits of places and things. Magical complexes associated with warfare and headhunting are now gone, and certain other institutions are fading, such as sacred houses of clans, sacred clan regalia, and propitiatory stones and posts. Belief in ancestral power, spirits, transcendental justice, and the power in life-cycle rituals remain, however, and traditional beliefs and Christianity are combined in complex ways.

Religious Practitioners. Specialists in the supernatural ( mnane or meo ) still may divine sources of affliction privately, propitiate Lords of the Sky and Earth, and deal with spirits regarding illness, sorcery, and other afflictions, while Christian leaders seek to integrate Christian belief into Atoni daily life and also assist people in dealing with afflictions. Officiants who propitiated for the princedom's welfare and triumph in war no longer practice, and masters of clan ritual are less important.

Ceremonies. Apart from ubiquitous Christian home and church services to deal with the life cycle and affliction, public ceremonies involving agnates and affines focus on marriage and death (which bring together these basic social groupings and include village mates). Less public local lineage ceremonies still concern birth and agriculture (planting and harvesting), though these too are more marked by Christian prayer.

Arts. Dances and gong-and-drum music associated with traditional religious ritual have declined with the advance of Christianity and the reduction of patronage once received from princes, as has the formalized and poetic speaking ritual, important to nobles. Material arts are few, other than fine tie-dye weaving by women and ornamental basketry made by both sexes.

Medicine. Illness may have natural or supernatural causes. Herbal medicines for the former are widely known. Some Atoni have medicine for the latter, but there are recognized specialists (mnane or meo) who deal with the supernatural Birth is natural, aided by knowledgeable women, not specialists. Biomedical facilities are limited to some towns and rural health posts, and thus are not easily accessible to most Atoni.

Death and the Afterlife. Atoni funeral ritual separates the deceased from living agnates and ensures that the spirit joins ancestors and does not wander on earth. Funerals require that the wife-giving affines of the deceased—who are responsible for an Atoni's soul throughout his/her lifetime—lead a cortege (and carry the front of the coffin) from the house of the deceased to the burial ground. Death is the major lifecycle ritual and calls for attendance by many agnates, affines, and hamlet mates, and the exchange of formal gifts. In the past, funerals, marriages, and annual tribute offerings of princes were the major ceremonial events binding the subjects of a princedom together. Today Christian ceremonial plays an increasing part in Atoni funerals.

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