Bonerate - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Orang Bonerate regard themselves as Muslims, but they do not follow the Quranic prescriptions strictly. Most villages have a mosque, but except during Ramadan these are poorly frequented. Imams are present only in the largest village. The local religion is syncretistic: many traditional customs, such as the belief in supernatural beings, are integrated into its belief system. Iblis is the deity to whom many Orang Bonerate make offerings at small altars. Some people refer to Seta as a synonym for Iblis. "Seta" is commonly used to denote spirits and ghosts in much of Indonesia. The villagers' preference for the Arabic-derived term "Iblis" may reflect the strong desire to appear Islamized and thus blur the connections to a traditional religion of spirit worship.

Religious Practitioners. There are no full-time traditional ritual experts on Bonerate. Minor rituals are carried out by both women and men.

Ceremonies. On special occasions, a possession-trance ritual is staged. The ritual is led by two women dressed as male sea captains. A medium dances until she enters a state of trance. At this point she walks on live embers and thus proves her authentic role as a medium. Then Iblis, who has taken possession of the medium's body, speaks, and the message is interpreted by the ritual leaders. Only women can be possessed in this way at Bonerate. Other rituals also are staged, some of which are in concord with Quranic prescriptions, such as the first haircut for boys.

Arts. At ritual occasions, highly stylized war and other dances are performed, accompanied by flutes and drums. Ornamental arts are poorly developed.

Medicine. Severe illness is generally attributed to "soul loss" and an imbalance of elements in the body. Accidents and injuries may also inaugurate illness. Resort to local healers, both men and women, is common; they apply few local remedies but trust in blowing on water, which the patient drinks, or blowing at the chest and upper back to restore the body's balance. Modern medicines are obtained from "barefoot doctors" and at the island health station.

Death and Afterlife. The funeral is not elaborated and is regarded primarily as a matter of household and close-family concern. Graves are not attended. Ritual crying is carried out at the time of death. Before the corpse is buried, ideally before the next sunset, Orang Bonerate take some precautions such as not taking part in fishing or other activities that bring them in close contact with the sea. Concepts of afterlife are influenced by Islam, but also show traditional traits. After death the soul sets out on a voyage through the dark before it reaches the site of final rest.


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