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Static crosses and working spirits: anti-syncretism and agricultural animism in Catholic West Flores

By Catherine Allerton


In southern Manggarai, in the west of the Indonesian island of Flores, Catholicism has a long history and people assert the importance of their identity as Catholics. Nevertheless, they also continue to engage, both pragmatically and in ritual contexts, with a landscape that they experience and describe as full of spirits and energies. As an example of this, I consider a ritual to renew the fertility of a river feeding into wet-rice fields. Despite attempts by the Catholic Church to 'inculturate' the faith in Manggarai, many people adopt an attitude best described as anti-syncretism, in which they reject the possibility of a fully Catholic landscape. I argue that the resilience of this anti-syncretic spiritual landscape can be explained both by the particular nature of the Catholic mission on Flores and local adherence to a strict separation of 'religion' (agama) from the 'custom' (adat) associated with the land. Drawing on recent literature reviving the concept of animism, I suggest that Manggarai people's engagements with their spiritual landscape are a form of 'agricultural animism'. However, like all animisms, this has a specific history, including responses to shifts in spiritual potency occasioned by state-sponsored resettlement

Topics: DS Asia, BL Religion, GN Anthropology
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2009
DOI identifier: 10.1080/00664670903278403
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online

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