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The Development of Catholicism in Flores, Eastern Indonesia: Manggarai Identity, Religion and Politics


This dissertation is a socio-historical study of the Catholicism in Manggarai-Flores, Eastern Indonesia in 1912-2012. The main questions are 1) Why did the Manggaraians convert to Catholicism during the 20th century? 2) How did the Manggaraians perceive Church’s missionary activities and what were the problems, struggles and challenges faced by the Manggaraians in dealing with the mission? 3) What are the theological challenges coming from the context of Manggarai? The aims of this study are: to present the development of Catholicism in Manggarai during the 20th century; to depict the impact of Catholicization to the Manggaraians, to map and analyze the main problems, struggles and challenges the Manggaraians faced in dealing with the Church’s mission; and to propose theological challenges for the Church of Manggarai based on its real history and struggles. In terms of methodology, this study is social research which basically develops historical approach on theology. To get more understanding about the context, multiple disciplines including history of religion, anthropology and sociology are also used. In collecting the data, this research uses two main ways: historical-literature survey and field research. An inter-cultural theology is used as the main framework to interpret and analyze the context and reality found in this study. This study finds that: 1) Religious activities, one that relates to religious conversion, never present in pure religious motivations but always associate with non-religious interests such as politics and competition with other religions. However, the case of Manggarai portrays that religious motivation is the main purpose of the missionaries while other reasons are used to support the religious one. 2) This study reveals four main reasons and factors why Catholicism grew spectacularly in Manggarai: a) political factors that strengthen Catholicism as an acknowledged religion within the society, b) rationalization and socio-cultural transformation, c) the uses of local theology and culture within Catholicism, and d) the Church’s contribution to the society i.e. in education field. 3) Manggarai is a responsive society to Catholic religion; the people are easily converted to Catholicism and adopt Catholic as part of their identity. Even so, it argues that it does not mean that the acceptance is experienced without strain, hurt and depression. Catholic-Manggaraian identity is constructed through adaptation and conflict. To be both a Catholic and a Manggaraian is the result of long and hard struggle. The dialectical encounter (adaptation and conflict) between Catholicism and the culture of Manggarai shapes a unique identity of the Catholic-Manggaraian: true Catholic and true Manggaraian. 4) From theological perspectives, Catholic faith cannot be experienced in its pure form apart from cultural expression. Christian faith grows only in certain cultural context. It implies that a religion that fails to take a dialogic connection with the local culture it aims to unite with would be alienated from its own resources. A dialogue between global and local is a must because such a dynamic relation, analogous to Catholicism and Manggarai, enriches and enhances both sides. Catholicism could be meaningful for the Manggaraians if there are always mutual encounters in important areas of habituation namely basic beliefs, social organization, religious symbols and religious significances to the community. In addition to the findings and conclusion above, this study also proposes a new theoretical framework, namely mutual and dominant relationship theory. The theory explains that the encounter between a religion (Catholic) and a culture (Manggarai) happens in dynamic relations, either in a positive or a negative way. Positively, the encounter happens as a mutual relationship in which one enriches and advances to another. When two different things can support and enforce each other in a mutual relationship then they become rich and meaningful. Negatively, it happens when one acts dominantly to another. Two different things become meaningless if there are no supported elements from each side; if a dominant relationship is performed. Catholic faith can grow and become part of the Manggarai’s identity because there are always mutual dialogues between faith and local culture. The Catholic faith finds appropriate ground and context for its growth and sustainability. On another hand, the culture of Manggarai can also be alive because the people find and affirm religious/faith aspect within the culture. Otherwise, it will be easily lost by time and by various changes in the society.

Key Words: Catholicization, Manggarai, politics history, identity, struggle, intercultural theology, culture, faith and inculturation.