Butonese - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Islam is dominant in this area, although in the southern part of Muna there lives a small number of Christians (Roman Catholics), and in the regions (kecamatan) of Rumbia and Poleang, among the roughly 40,000 inhabitants Protestant Christianity is dominant. Because of the way Islam was adopted by and disseminated from the center to the villages, the knowledge of Islam in the villages is rather limited. It was the policy of the elite to spread the religious knowledge to the villages in a limited way, so as to keep them dependent. In the center itself Islam was accepted in the form of mysticism, or Sufism, which flowered in the beginning of the seventeenth century in Aceh, and from there apparently influenced Buton. Probably Sufism was rather in accordance with the Hinduistic beliefs that preceded Islam here. One remarkable feature of this Sufism in the center of the sultanate Wolio was a belief in reincarnation, which still exists in the present Buton, especially in the center. In the villages the belief in reincarnation was not very strong and was considered to be an official part of Islam as disseminated from the center, according to J. W. Schoorl. Nowadays a more orthodox form of Islam is disseminated throughout Indonesia, via instruction in the state schools by official teachers, and by the provision of sermons ( chotbah ) to all the villages for reading during the Friday service.

Various supernatural beings play a role in village life, including guardian spirits of houses, praus, and villages; harvest beings; possession spirits who cause illness; and helpful spirits who provide guidance. The spirits of deceased kin, the arwah, still play an important role in the life of the Butonese. They can help their still-living relatives, but can also cause illnesses when they are disturbed by the behavior of these relatives.

Religious Practitioners. In the former sultanate, the religious council ( sarana agama or sarana hukumu ) was in charge of all religious matters as far as they were associated with Islam. The council had its seat in the central mosque ( mesydid agung ) in the kraton of Wolio. This council still existed in 1981 but in a limited form, and its main function, the close cooperation with the center of power, the sultan, and the sarana of Wolio, for the well-being of the sultanate, was lost after 1960. In former times there was also an integration of Islam and traditional adat. So four of the twelve moji (or modin —those who call for prayer) were called bisa and had the special task, accomplished through inner strength obtained by asceticism ( beramal ), to safeguard the kingdom against natural disasters and attacks by enemies. In this work they cooperated closely with the sultan, who had the same task. The mosque in the capital Baubau is now the official center of Islam in the kabupaten of Buton. Officials and most of the Islamic people living in Baubau attend Friday prayers and the Islamic ceremonies in this mosque. In the Muslim villages there are village mosques (the langgar ), and the religious officials needed to organize the Friday prayers and some of the ceremonies, insofar as they are known in the villages. In Rongi there still was a religious council (the satana agama ). In addition to Islam, there are the traditional beliefs in supernatural beings and forces; several types of people with special knowledge of this supernatural world play a role in Buton society as mediators between those beings and the common people in cases of illness and uncertainty.

Ceremonies. In the Muslim towns and villages the main Muslim holidays are celebrated, although in the villages knowledge of these ceremonies is less than complete. In the center, most of the ceremonies contain elements of traditional Butonese religion. In the capitals and the Christian villages, the Christian feasts and ceremonies are held in the way that is usual in Indonesian churches.

Arts. With the dissolution of the sultanate, most of the court arts disappeared. Today, some efforts are being made to revive the old court dances. Butonese culture was not rich in traditional forms of art.

Medicine. Traditional healers ( pande' or bisa in Rongi) still play an important role, especially in villages that are isolated from the capitals of the subdistricts (kecamatan), where at present there are clinics ( puskesmas ) with modern medical personnel. The traditional healers usually find supernatural causes for the illnesses and prescribe prayers, offerings, or other rituals to neutralize these causes. The Butonese had an extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs and leaves.

Death and Afterlife. For Muslims, funerals follow Muslim rites mixed with some traditional elements. On the one hand the Butonese Muslim knows and more or less believes Muslim teachings about the last day ( hari kiamat ) and the weighing of the good and the bad, going to heaven and hell. On the other hand there is still a strong belief in reincarnation, and many Butonese can tell into which child a grandfather, grandmother, or other deceased relative has returned.

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