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

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