Rotinese - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Christianity has been preached on Roti since 1600 and has long been associated with some knowledge of Malay. Early in the twentieth century less than one-fifth of the population were baptized Christians, but wholesale conversion followed a national literacy campaign and government certification of its success. Traditional religious practice centers on ancestral spirits and their opposites, malevolent spirits associated with the bush. Lontar-leaf representations of the ancestors were hung within the house, which itself can be regarded as a shrine to the ancestors.

Religious Practitioners. There was no class of priests, although there exist men who are regarded as chanters and who recite long ritual poems at major feasts. Any man may make offerings to the spirits. A mother's brother must perform all life-cycle rituals for his sister's children.

Ceremonies. Major ceremonies are concerned with marriage, house building, and death. Minor ceremonies occur in the seventh month of the first pregnancy, at hair-cutting, baptism, naming, whenever human blood has been shed, at specific times during the agricultural and palm-tapping year, and at times of illness and upon recovery from illness. An annual clan-focused "feast of origin," hus, marking the transition from one year to another, has been abandoned in all domains except Dengka. In the hus cycle each clan that possessed ceremonial rights performed its own rituals according to a prescribed sequence of celebration. The cycle ran for several weeks in August, September, or October, depending on the domain and the number of its participating clans. Each hus involved ancestral invocations and requests for animal and plant fertility. Rituals also included horse racing, dancing, mock battles, and animal sacrifices. In the cycle there was usually one clan that performed rain rituals on a hilltop.

Arts. The Rotinese have maintained a vast oral literature and weave magnificent tie-and-dye textiles. This literature and textile tradition were once an integral part of Rotinese ritual life.

Medicine. Native curers, who use a variety of (secret) native medicines, have diminished in number. Formerly, for serious illness, a small feast was held to make offerings to the spirits. Now Christians gather at these feasts to pray for the sick.

Death and Afterlife. The souls of those who have died a violent death are separated from other ancestral souls and become malevolent spirits who wander the earth. Funeral practices are the most elaborate of the Rotinese rituals. The deceased's mother's brother and mother's mother's brother, or their direct descendants, prepare the coffin and dig the grave. Dog sacrifice may accompany the making of the coffin, called the ship of the dead. There exist numerous formal ritual chants in praise of the dead. Burial is usually on the third day after death; feasts are given on this day and on the seventh, ninth, and fortieth day, and further commemorative feasts may be given a year or even three years later. There are no secondary burial rites involving the exhumation of the corpse. The mother's brother "cools" or purifies the close mourners on the day following burial and releases them from their expected fast.

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