Daily Archives: 22 October 2009

Christianity and Belanda Migrants in Indonesia’s Far East

From The Spice Islands Voyage: The Quest for Alfred Wallace, the Man Who Shared Darwin’s discovery of Evolution, by Tim Severin (Carroll & Graf, 1997), pp. 29-30:

The spread of Christianity and Islam was the greatest change to island life since [Alfred Russel] Wallace had been there. When Wallace had come to Kei, the islanders were pagans, with perhaps a few Muslims near the coast where they had met the Sulawesi traders. A century later, every village in the archipelago had become either Muslim or Christian, or both. Warbal was overwhelmingly Christian, with a small Muslim group living round a very discreet mosque near the main landing beach, and Christianity had altered Warbal’s village life even more than nationalism. The community was intensely and actively religious. A large church occupied the centre of the village, with ‘Immanuel’ spelt out in dark purple letters over its front entrance. Foundations were already dug and a first few pillars in place for a second, even more ambitious church on the outskirts. This new church would be huge. From the ground plan it seemed that it would accommodate at least twice the total congregation of Warbal, and the cost of the project must have been prodigious. Although Warbal’s Christians had pledged to give free labour, thousands of sacks of cement would have to be imported at huge cost to the community. Meanwhile the old church was thriving. It reverberated to prayer meetings and hymn singing; there were matins and evensongs, Sunday-school sessions and special thanksgiving services. And when the Warbal islanders did not go to church to pray, they met in one another’s homes; small groups of men and women could be seen entering one of the little houses, prayer books in hand, at almost any time of day.

Visitors to Warbal, if they were foreigners, were expected to be guests of Frans and Mima, who possessed the only house with an aluminium corrugated roof and had a spare room. Frans was a relic of the Dutch colonial days soon after the Pacific war with Japan. Just old enough to have been recruited for the Dutch colonial army, like thousands of other Moluccans he had gone to live in Holland when the Dutch withdrew from Indonesia, evacuating their supporters with them. For 30 years Frans had lived in Holland, working in a Phillips factory, before finally coming back home to retire in Warbal. In Holland he had divorced his first wife and married Mima, who also came from Kei and was perhaps 20 years younger than her husband. They had one young son, Tommy, who was extremely spoiled and went to the Warbal primary school. Their other children were older, and had to live in Tual to continue with their education because there was no secondary school on the island. Frans – short, friendly and losing both his hair and his memory – was the wealthiest man on the island, and a little lonely. The other islanders referred to him as the Belanda, the Hollander, and regarded him as being half-foreign and out of touch. Yet Frans’ monthly pension from Holland meant that he owned the newest and largest Johnson [outboard motor], and he could live out his retirement very comfortably in the sunshine, employing a maid and sending men out in his motorised dugout to catch fresh fish for his table. Mima, despite her frequent laugh and constant chatter, hankered after a more modern life in Holland. She admitted that, for all its warm climate and easy lifestyle, Warbal was a dull place to be a housewife after living in the suburbs of Amsterdam.

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Filed under Indonesia, migration, nationalism, Netherlands, religion

Orthodox Salonica’s Surrender to the Turks, 1387

From Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 2006), pp. 26-27:

The Turks’ attitude to religion came as a pleasant relief to many Orthodox Christians. Held captive by the Ottomans in 1355, the distinguished archbishop of Salonica, Gregory Palamas, was surprised to find the Orthodox Church recognized and even flourishing in the lands under the emir. Prominent Turks were eager to discuss the relationship of the two faiths with him and the emir organized a debate between him and Christian converts to Islam. “We believe in your prophet, why don’t you believe in ours?” Muslims asked him more than once. Palamas himself observed an imam conducting a funeral and later took the opportunity to joust over theology with him. When the discussion threatened to overheat, Palamas calmed it down by saying politely: “Had we been able to agree in debate we might as well have been of one faith.” To which he received the revealing reply. “There will be a time when we shall all agree.”

As Byzantine power waned, more and more Orthodox Christians felt caught between two masters. Faced with an apparent choice between the reviled Catholics (their sack of Constantinople in 1204 never to be forgotten) and the Muslim Turks, many opted for the latter. Written off as an embarrassment by later Greek commentators, the pro-Turkish current in late Byzantine politics was in fact a powerful one for the Ottomans, who could be seen as protectors of Orthodoxy against the Catholics. The hope for political stability, the desire for wealth and status in a meritocratic and open ruling system, admiration for the governing capacities of the Ottomans, and their evident willingness to make use of Christians as well as Muslims explain why administrators, nobles, peasants and monks felt the allure of the sultans and why many senior Byzantine noble families entered their service. Murad II‘s grand viziers were well known for their pro-Christian sympathies; Murad himself was influenced by dervish orders which preached a similarly open-minded stance, and the family sheykh of the Evrenos family was reputed to be a protector of Christians. In the circumstances, it is not surprising why surrender seemed far more sensible an option than futile resistance against overwhelming odds, and why the inhabitants of Salonica themselves were known, according to at least one Byzantine chronicler, as “friends of the Sultan.”

In the second half of the fourteenth century, one Balkan town after another yielded to the fast-moving Ottoman armies; the Via Egnatia fell into their hands, and even the canny monks of Mount Athos submitted. Salonica itself was blockaded for the first time in 1383, and in April 1387, surrendered without a fight. On this occasion, all that happened was that a small Turkish garrison manned the Acropolis. The town’s ruler Manuel Palaeologue had wanted to resist, but he was shouted down by the inhabitants, and forced to leave the city so that they could hand themselves over. Manuel himself paid homage to the emir Murad, and even fought for his new sovereign before being crowned emperor.

Had the city remained uninterruptedly under Ottoman control from this point on, its subsequent history would have been very different, and the continuity with Byzantine life not so decisively broken. Having given in peacefully, Salonica was not greatly altered by the change of regime, its municipal privileges were respected by the new rulers and its wealthy monastic foundations weathered the storm. The small Turkish garrison converted a church into a mosque for their own use, and the devshirme child levy was imposed—at intervals Turkish soldiers carried off Christian children to be brought up as Muslims—which must have caused distress. But returning in 1393, Archbishop Isidores described the situation as better than he had anticipated, while the Russian monk Ignatius of Smolensk who visited in 1401 was still amazed by its “wondrous” monasteries.

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Filed under Balkans, Greece, religion, slavery, Turkey, war