Consortium of:

Dance and Spirituality in Indigenous Religion

  October 23rd 2020

Photo Illustration by: Marcel Ardivan on

On October 8, 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) held the 22nd Forum Kamisan Daring, an online seminar in collaboration with CRCS and other organizations such as Komnas Perempuan, Pusad Paramadina, LIPI, and Satunama. Olivia Chadidjah Salampessy, commissioner of Komnas Perempuan, was the moderator for this event. This discussion focused on 'Dance and Spirituality in Indigenous Religion'. There were two speakers in this forum. The first is Reing, an adherent of Ada 'Mappurondo, West Sulawesi. The second speaker was Freddy Wowor, adherent of Wale Papendangan Sonder, North Sulawesi. Melati Suryadarmo, an artist and professional dancer, acted as respondent. Olivia Salampessy as moderator sparked the discussion by raising an interesting point that there is a construction of knowledge that needs to be dismantled regarding dance and spirituality in Indonesia, because so far there is a strong opinion that dance is only a profane work of art, while for almost all indigenous religious communities, dance is seen as having sacred nuances as part of their spiritual life.

Aligned with that, Reing, from the Ada 'Mappurondo indigenous religion community, also explained that in their beliefs and spirituality, dance is not only seen as a profane work of art, but is seen as a form of communication with God through body movements. Communication with God is done through dancing as a form of thanksgiving as well as petition for health and blessings. Dance in Ada'Mappurondo spirituality also depicts the history of the life of the ancestors in the past, and many of the movements are imitating the movements of nature and animals. Because dance is seen as part of sacred spirituality, dance in the Ada'Mappurondo community can only be performed at certain times, and in certain places, for example at harvest festivals along with harvest thanksgiving rituals, and performed in the house of one of the adherents. Dancers dance in pairs and groups, beginning with rituals and offering offerings. The dance is performed with the accompaniment of a drum instrument. The dancers wear special clothes, women usually wearing kebaya and jewelry. Furthermore, Reing explained that because these dances are sacred and part of the rituals of Ada'Mappurondo belief, the dances cannot be observed by people outside their community, nor can it be documented. However, for the preservation of this dance all children or future generations of the Ada'Mappurondo belief are required to learn it, because this dance is also important in the rituals of their beliefs.

Freddy Wowor from the Wale Papendangan Sonder community, North Sulawesi, shared that in their spiritual life, or the Minahasa indigenous religion in general, literary arts, dance, and music play important roles. This can be seen from the rituals and arts of Ma Engket, for example, where the three types of literature are combined through prayers with literary nuances, music, and dances that reflect the activities or life cycles of the Minahasa people. Furthermore, Freddy Wowor explained that, in fact, from the rituals and art of Ma Engket it can be concluded that the whole life of the Minahasa people from birth, the journey of life (growing up and getting married), having children, until death has a spiritual sense to it because all are believed to be connected to God.

Some of the dances that are important in Wale Papendangan Sonder's beliefs are the Ma Engket dance, for example, which is usually practiced in a ritual of thanksgiving for agricultural crops. Then there is also the Kawasaran dance, a kind of war dance which means self-discipline, because wire means protecting and advice means life, so this dance means protecting life. The meaning of this dance is very close to the spirituality of Wale Papendangan Sonder who sees that spirituality is not just an outward appearance, like a person who is neatly dressed when he goes to a house of worship. But more than that, spirituality is connectivity with God that is lived in every breath. God's presence is realized, appreciated, and adherents must be grateful for every second of life, so that everyone is enabled to realize and appreciate the existence of all other creations, including nature. Therefore, in the end, the adherents of Wale Papendangan Sonder will be able to coexist with nature in harmony. However, Freddy Wowor also explained that dances, as an important part of the spirituality of Wale Papendangan Sonder,  had also disappeared during the colonial era which brought Christianity to the Minahasa. The dance and belief of Wale Papendangan Sonder was seen as a heretical belief, so it was forbidden. Fortunately, since 2018, the Christian community has even supported the excavation of dances from the indigenous religion community, including Wale Papendangan Sonder, so that these dances can be preserved.

As a conclusion to the discussion, Melati Suryodarmo offered a response arguing that the belief and spirituality of indigenous religions is very rich in understanding that the human body can also be used and even has an important meaning in spiritual life. In turn, various dances are created and become an important part of the belief and spirituality of the indigenous religion community. However, currently this value is diminished because of the encounter with the world religions which view belief and spirituality of indigenous religions, in general, and dance, in particular, as heresies. More than that, there is also a trend to accommodate dance only as a work of art that is not at all spiritual. These two things are a challenge for the indigenous religion community, and these communities must continue to strive to defend their spirituality, their dances and the rich meaning behind them.