Academic journal article Southeast Review of Asian Studies

Christianity and Inculturated Music in Indonesia

Academic journal article Southeast Review of Asian Studies

Christianity and Inculturated Music in Indonesia

Article excerpt

This essay stems from my ongoing research on Christian music in Indonesia. (1) I have investigated the broad use of traditional music and dance in Christian milieus, both Catholic and Protestant, in central Java and Flores (an island in eastern Indonesia). This essay will concentrate on the contemporary musical practice of the Catholic Church in central Java, relating it to the history of Christianity in Indonesia and past efforts to incorporate indigenous cultural and musical practices into the Christian context. I will specifically discuss Javanese gamelan--an indigenous music performed by a large ensemble consisting of bronze gongs (including the kempul, kenong, and bonang), keyed instruments of various sizes (including the demung, saron, and gender), drums (kendhang), flutes (suling), stringed instruments (rebab, celempung), and xylophone (gambang). (2)

A Brief History of Christianity in Indonesia

The Indonesian Republic has been home to five state-recognized religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and--since 1998 --Confucianism. According to the census of 2000, almost 10 percent of the Indonesian population is Christian (3 percent Catholic and 6 percent Protestant), while Hindu believers comprise 2 percent, and Buddhists and others 2 percent. Most Indonesians are practicing or nominal Muslims (87 percent). While the percentage of Christians may seem relatively insignificant, one needs to remember that it amounts to about twenty-five million people.

While Indonesia's first contact with Christianity can be traced to the seventh century, (3) substantial evidence of such encounters does not begin until the sixteenth century. In 1522, the Portuguese reached the eastern part of Indonesia. Twelve years later, the first Portuguese missionary to the Moluccas arrived, followed by other Jesuits and Dominicans. (4) From 1556 onward, Dominicans from Goa built strong communities on the islands of Flores, Solor, and Adonara. Although permanent fighting and a lack of missionary personnel would later isolate them, these remote congregations kept their faith and formed the oldest wing of the Indonesian Catholic Church.

The Christian presence in Indonesia has been subject to political events from the beginning. The Dutch defeat of the Portuguese in 1605 resulted in the expulsion of Catholic missionaries, who were replaced by Dutch Reformed chaplains supported by the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch Reformed Church was virtually the only Christian influence on the islands for three hundred years. Both the Dutch East India Company and, later, the Netherlands East Indies colonial government maintained a policy of proscribing missionary activity in the areas where it threatened commercial interests. Thus, it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that Javanese Christian communities began to appear.

France conquered Holland and the Dutch East India Company went bankrupt in 1799. Louis, a Catholic brother of Napoleon Bonaparte and the new king of Holland, proclaimed freedom of religion in 1806. As a consequence, the apostolic prefecture of Batavia (Jakarta) (5) was created in 1807, the first Catholic church was founded, and Catholic priests were allowed to enter the country again, beginning in 1808. Despite these changes, the few "secular priests"6 were only able to look after the Dutch and Indo-European Catholics on Java and Sumatra.

A brief period of English colonial influence (1811-16), accompanied by a Protestant awakening, brought evangelists of the Baptist Missionary Society and the London Missionary Society to Indonesia. Later, the Netherlands Missionary Society began work in Sulawesi (1827), and the Rhenish Mission began work among the Dayaks of Kalimantan. There followed many other missionary societies, most notably the German Lutherans who proselytized among Bataks of Sumatra, beginning in 1861. Around 1850, the Christian faith began to make inroads among the Javanese. …

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