zondag 24 augustus 2014

The first Dutch naval trip to Indonesia, 1595-1597 and KIT, Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

For CMR, the project to publish Christian Muslim Relations, a Bibliographic History, a have accepted to write in Frederick de Houtman. He was the younger brother of Cornelis. Together they went as spies to Lissabon, from late 1592 until early 1594. Cornelis was the absolute leader of the first trip of four Dutch boats to Bantam and East Java before they returned in 1597. Three big voluems are publishes about this first trip. Very little about Frederick and also very little about Muslims. But there will be more during the secon trip of Frederick.
The story of the first trip is made in a great work of art for KIT, the Royal Dutch Tropical Institute, established by private parties, in cooperation with the government. It was opened in 1926 in Amsterdam as a palace to show the Dutch colonial history as a glorious undertaking. It looks really a palace.
After the end of colonialism, in the 1950s KIT was transformed in a research centre for developing countries, concentrating on agriculture, health care and more practical issues. With the curbing of development aid KIT has to close mdown. The building will furthermore be used for a Dutch Centre for the Study of Humanities, although the ethnological museum will continue as such. The library with precious collections about pre-independence Indonesia has moved to Leiden University, together with the KITLV library.
While searching for material for Frederick de Houtman I came across the entrance hall of this colonial palace. The first naval trip of the Dutch has been carved in marble reliefs by  Louis Vreugde after drawings made by Gijsbert Brand Hooijer. I looked for Islamic images. There are no mosques or minarets, even less praying people in this military work (in total some 20 pillars, each with four sites of colonial illustrations. At some trade sessions there were twice people with a turban and these must have been the Muslims. In a special book the abridges text about this trip is illustrated by numerous photographs of the sculptures. Two are below from the book (I must go and see and take new pictures myself in the near future).

There are only two pages about Islam in the account by Willem Lodewyckz, pages 114-6.  They only have four prophets: Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad. They have mosques, waer in zy al haren Godtsdienst doen, met groote stillichyt, ootmoedelijck, haer metten aensicht naer de Sonne keerende, op haer aensicht ter aerden vallende, tot diversche reysen, lesende eenighe ghetyden als de Munnicken, die zy niet achter laten en mogen ...  They observe their religion in a quiet and devout atmosphere, and turn to the sun (probably to the sunset in the evening), like the monks also say their prayers several times per day. They have beautiful and nice women, but do not show them. They observe the Qur'an with good discipline (diligenter). In the coastal regions it is mostly Muslim, while inland territories are mostly pagan. There is no religious judgment about paganism and Islam, just short description, of what could be seen and heard. Longest section is about marriage festivities.

donderdag 21 augustus 2014

KITLV: mutilated or saved?

KITLV stands for Koninklijk Instituut for Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde, or Royal Institute for languistic, geographic and anthropological research.  In fact it has been the leading institute on Indonesian studies since it was established about 170 ago (founded in 1851). It was first settled in The Hague and government, colonial officials were very important during its first 100 years. At some time it moved to Leiden, separate from the University, but in fact very close to it, in space and personnel. It has the largest library in Indonesia, many photographs, manuscripts: a wonderful collection. It has published a journal, BKI or Bijdragen van het Koninklijk Instituut... and many books. It has also a large group of researchers. It was the more linguistic and humanities' partner of KIT, the institute that was founded by the planters and concentrated since the 1950s on international aid, agricultural and medical support for developing countries. KIT had to close in 2013. KITLV was also threatened, but rescued, although with some mutilations. Its publications are now with Brill Publishers, the library and collection of manuscripts, photographs and similar things are now part of Leiden University Library. The research department is now formally under KNAW, the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences, although it will still be situated in Leiden.
All this was signed and became effective as of 1 July 2014.
Since then I have to go the the building of Leiden University Library, just the other side of the city canal in Leiden.
This week we used this opportunity to see the grand mansion of Philip Franz von Siebold on Rapenburg 19 in Leiden. Besides 17th century Rumphius and fellow 19th century Junghuhn, Von Siebold is another scholar from Germany who made a career in the Dutch colonial system. As a medical doctor he served the small Dutch group on the island Desima in Cape Nagasaki. His former mansion in Leiden is now a great tribute to the work he did on builogy, cultural expression and geography of Japan.
I will go to Japan in October this year to give talks about religion in Independent Indonesia, with special interest for Catholics. Therefore we saw the house with good attention and had a picture made, dressed as 'Japanese'.

zondag 13 juli 2014

The Holy Books: Sidney Griffith and Lejla Demiri

Sidney H. Griffith, The Bible in Arabic. The scriptures of the 'people of the book' in the language of Islam, (Princeton University Press, 2013) is book with many themes. It gives many observations of a ripe and wise scholar of Arab Christians, living in 'the shadow of the mosque'. The first chapters deeply mirror the conviction that Arab Christian at the time of Muhammad had no books, probably did not use Arabic in their liturgy. They may have had some liturgical books, but in Syriac/Aramaic. In fact they were bi-lingual: in daily conversations they used Arabic and must have used Arabic with people of the new religious communities that grew in their region. Only after the rise of Islam a more or less full translation of Christian and Jewish Scripture was made (in the framework of other translations from Hebrew, Greek, Syriac). For the Jewish community this was not done for liturgical or religious goals, but we may accept that Muslim were in some sense interested in the content of the Jewish (and Christian) scripture. Also the Christian did not use initially (and for many churches until today) Arabic in their liturgy. The Qur'an is the oldest larger text in Arabic. The translation of the Bible was not previous to the Qur'an but came later.
Griffith is quite outspoken in his criticism of scholars like Hendrik Kraemer who suggest that Islam only is a vague and bleak excerpt of Christian ideas. We should not consider Muslims as the successors to the Ebionites or other Jewish-Christians of the first and second century AD. The Qur'an knows about the subtle differences between the Christian (and Jewish) traditions and has an agenda of its own.
In broad lines a history of polemic and serious study follows. Among other sources al-Biqa'i (15th century, Egypt) is mentioned as someone with an 'eccentric insistence on consulting the Bible as the Jews and Christians have it, an undertaking that earned him onloquy in the Muslim community' (96).

Another book is edited by the German-Syriac Timo Güzelmansur, Das koranische Motiv der Schriftfälschung (tahrif) durch Juden und Christen, Regensburg: Pustet, 2014. Two Muslims and three Christians discuss the difficult subject of the good/right/proper  text and interpretation of Jewish and Christian scriptures: falsified? Corrupted? The two Muslims take older examples: Mohammed Abdul Rahem presents the ideas of Muslim scholar Mahmud Al-Alusi (1802-1854, Baghdad). Abdul Rahem defended in 2012 his doctoral dissertation on Freedomof Religious in Münster and teaches in German at Al-Azhar.

 Lejla Demiri  was born in Macedonia, studied in Istanbul, in Rome (Gregoriana) and defended in 2008 her dissertation in Cambridge (published in 2013) on biblical studies of Najmuddin al-Tafi (died 1316), a student of Ibn Taimiyya. Tufi makes a distinction between textual corruption of the biblical text and deviant or wrong interpretations. In most cases he accepts the text of the Bible, but gives different interpretations than the Christian tradition. Like in the case of al-Qisa'i, with Tufi the text of the Bible is open and discussion starts with ananalysis of the text.
The recent German publication has not sought easy solutions. It would have been more convenient or easy to take Faxzlur Rahman ('Qur'an 100% divine inspiration; 100% words and thinking of Muhammad') or Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd ('all readers create their own meaning of the Qur'an') as counterparts for the Christian theologians. In this case more interest is asked for the continuity and the traditional approaches to the existing texts.
At this moment I received also a message from Yogyakarta, that my book The Jesus Verses of the Qur'an is translated in Indonesian by Sahroni Syamsuddin and colleges. Next week I will read the Indonesian text and give comments, hoping that by the end of this year the UIN Sunan Kalijaga Press will have printed the new translation.

Ayu Utami, Sagitarius

I follow the writings of Ayu Utami since more than ten years. It started with the novels on the priest Saman who worked for the villagers in their fight against the big plantations. At the conference of scholars with interest in Indonesia, Lissabon July 2013, I gave a paper on the idea of religion in her novels, with the basic book Bilangan Fu as the most important contribution.
Ayu has several ambitious projects: the series on Saman and Larung, the series Bilangan Fu, and also the course of writings short stories for some 60 participants at Salihara, cultural centre in Jakarta.In this volume Ayu writes seven stories, while four participants have given each one story.
I read it as a series of impressions about growing up in Bogor of a girl Indira. There is a zoological museum, a legend of the minotaurus, half-human and half-animal lika sagittarius. This is the mysterious atmosphere, like in many novels of the Bilangan Fu series. There are stories of corruption (the head of a library is transferred to a small town, because she suggested that her soperiors were corrupt).
In a circus Indira falls 'in love' with the acrobat, but her father is fond of the female attendant and they visit the performances in one months ten times. The movies of Steven Spielberg also have a mysterious character and they are much loved by Indira and friend. The main character marries and wants children. The husband is an atheist and Indira finds it abnormal, even a sin to be so close to an atheist. Their relation is not really flourishing. - I found it pleasant reading, but did not find deeper descriptions of issues like sex and religion, but they are mentioned in passing. I read already Capricornus and saw also a cover of Scorpio. Sometimes Ayu is like Arnon Grunberg: writings so many short pieces that it is difficult to follow it all. Probably that is not necessary to have an idea of her work.

donderdag 26 juni 2014

Ayu Utami, Maya

In her series Bilangan Fu now the third additional volume has appeared after the main book. Maya (published in Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, December 2013, 249 pages, 42 chapters). The novel connects the main figures of the Saman Series (the priest Wisanggeni who has a love affair with the married woman Yasmin, the medical student and journalist Larung) with the central characters of the Bilangan Fu series, especially the spiritual leader Suhubudi and his centre near Yogyakarta. Parang Jati, the mysterious son (12 fingers, parents unclear) plays an important role.
The main story is that Yasmin with her daughter Samantha comes to the compund of Suhubudi with letters from Saman that must be given to Saman's father. She asks the help of Suhubudi to fulfill this mission, but in fact not much is done with these letters (that were sent from Amerika to IND, first understood as India and so they took two years before they arrives in Jakarta, also because JK was interpreted as Jammu-Kashmir). An important story line is about the precious  stone that was found by Parang Jati and later given to Saman. Suhubudi gives advice to Yasmin but suddenly has to leave for Jakarta to give a consultation to President, who on 21 May 1998 will resign as president. - A sideline in the book is the theatre group of disabled people who perform a wayang play of the Ramayana story in the compound of Suhubudi. There is another guest in the compound, the Indian Pak Vinod who organizes an international Ramayana festival in Chennai and wants to invite the disabled people (among them Maya who plays Sita).
The micro-level of the story is embedded in the larger history of modern Indonesia, with impressions about the way Soeharto took over the rule of Sukarno, his good start but many cruelties and opression of civil liberties, ending in his abdication in chapter 41.
Another background that plays an important role are aspects of Javanese spiritual and cultural lore: much about Semar (not like Rama and Sita who died, not like the prophets who died, still alive like the Holy Spirit, our inspiration, p. 178).

I give here some highlights, in line with my special interest and preparation for (another) article on her work. A first article, to be published in Wacana, journal of Faculty of Humanities, UI Jakarta concentrated on the novels. My second will deal more with  the columns and other writings, but also with the central themes of Modernity, Monotheism and Military: the three evils that are the enemies of all her writings.

Yasmin is not really spiritual: Ia tak begitu tahu apa itu spiritualitas. Baginya cukuplah ia punya agama; semua orang normal fi Indonesia berlangganan agama: she has no good or deep feeling for spiritual things. It is enough for her to be registered in a formal religion, like most Indonesians. (p. 15)

Jesus Christ is mentioned is someone who did not discriminate lepers (and other physically disabled people), p. 64-6. In line with Christ also Yasmin 'decided to love these miserable creatures'. In chapter 22 theology of liberation is discussed as the best approach to both society and spiritual elements of life.

There is not much about sex in this book. Chapter 26 gives a portrait of the psychology of Yasmin and her husband Lukas. He is an academic and a government official. She is a lawyer: they felt guilty having sex before marriage and therefore they married too quick, without proper preparation. Recently Lukas became more critical of the government and this turn to leftist ideas (in 1996, only two years before the fall of Soeharto) he became somewhat leftist: this also improved their relation.
The first chapter gives a dream of Yasmin where she imagines the priest Wisanggeni/Saman first in the ceremony of ordination to priesthood, but later at another place, where he is naked, looks like Jesus on the cross, but also attractive and the have sex. There is further not so much about sex in this novel. In one of the last chapters it is described how Yasmin has more interest in personal psychological contact and not so much in sex anymore.

Chapter 24 concentrates on Wisanggeni as a student of theology: at that time he was 'so busy with ordination for priesthood' terlalu sibuk ditahbiskan), and therefore he had no interest in social and political affairs and did not protest against injustice.

Page 197 presents the early Muslim missionaries in 16th century Java as orang berjubah men with cassocks, white long robes. There is much about traditional Javanese lore, quite often a Catholic milieu, but very little about Islam or Muslims. Chapter 34 is very interesting in the defense of  spirits dwelling in rocks, trees, mountains, rivers. Yasmin regrets that she did not learn to respect the spirits of nature and that she is not able to make an offering, sesajen.

zondag 8 juni 2014

The Academic Diplomacy of Budi Hernawan

3 June 2014 Budi Hernawan was in Leiden. He is an Indonesian Franciscan Friar, an acedemic and peace activist. He is now working in New York as part of an NGO lobbying for peace in Papua. At KITLV, the Leiden academic institute for Indonesian Studies he presented aspects from the first part of his doctoral dissertation: Torture in Papua as a Theatre: reconstructing abject citizenship of Papuans was the title of his lecture. [His dissertation can be found on the internet. The second part is about peace-building]


Budi Hernawan gave a quite dry, sober and analytical survey about the processes of torture in Papua. The players: police seeking OPM weapons and suspects. They do not speak a local language, while OPM members very often cannot speak Indonesian.
Budi mentions aspects of torture: it is like a ritual, a theatre, is public, spectacular, painful. He has identified 431 cases of torture. In all these cases only 2 OPM leaders/activists had weapons, all others were unarmed civilians. He analyzes the 'perpetrator factors': they follow orders, especially members of the army; they deny the cruelty or defend their actions ('the suspects defended themselves, attacked'), some like it and do it for fun. In all cases is the victim no longer considered a human being.
There are also various elements to be analysed among the spectators.
Among the audience (some 25 people, most Dutch academics, some Franciscan Friars) one was a diplomat of the embassy in The Hague. On the picture above he is on the left side.
He asked that he considered it impossible that this was government policy after the Soeharto regime fell in 1998? He was a very eloquent and honest yong man. Nico Schulte Nordholt remarked to me 'that is a good diplomat!'
Budi Munawar answered in a calm way  that there are double instructions: about the goal of the policy and about the mild/restricted use of violence  but the lack of control and the impossibility to bring any government official, let alone the army to court. Only in one of the 431 cases there was a judicial case, but not torture, but inobedience was the 'crime' of the military.
The debate then turned more general to the monopoly of violence of the government and the practice of premanism or the use of criminals for political goals. In the movie The Act of Killing there was Jusuf Kalla as prominent member of Pemuda Pancasila (and Vice-President at the time) who defended the wild and criminal actions of these militia members against any opponents of the government.
Anton van der Ploeg asked why the violence in Papua has been worse than in Aceh of East-Timor: is it racism? Are Papuans the lowest on the scale of Indonesian civiliazation, at least in the eyes of the superior ethnic group? Are they not seen as common Indonesian citizens?

zaterdag 7 juni 2014

(De-)Kristenisasi in the Middle East?

12 May 2014 Herman Teule gave his valedictory lecture in Nijmegen as professor of Christianity in the Middle East. His title had as title: Lif and Death (?) of Christians in the Middle East. His title refers to a book of French diplomat Jean Pierre Valognes who wrote recently a book under the same title. In 2008 there was also a quite sensational book by Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity, where Jenkins describes how a majority of Christians lived once in countries that are now dominated by Muslims.
Herman Teule gave a great summary of diverse relations between various Christian denominations and Islam. Besides dark period (especially the Mamluks were criticized for their lack of tolerance), there were also periods when Christians really participated in the Arab-Muslim society and had great contributions to this civilization. The contribution to the translations of Greek text in Arabic in the Dar al-hikmah was an absolute topper here.
Herman foto 2















Teule blamed the tendency of Western European countries and churches (included the Vatican) to  claim a cooperation and close identity to these Christians and separate them from Arab Muslims.
From the Syrian Metropolitan of Europe (now living in the Netherlands, migrated from East Turkey and Syria during thelast decades) he received a calligraphy, but it must have been a gift with some negative aspects as well: these Syrian Christians (besides the Coptic Egyptian and Armenians, who now have both churches in my town of Utrecht) are diminishing in the Middle East because many members move towards western countries.
In the history of Islam the word Andalusian syndrome is used for the once powerful and prosperous communies of Muslim in Spain. They disappeared. In India the Muslim influence has declined sharply after the arrival of the British  and the independence in 1947 with the emergence of Pakistan asa Muslim State.
In Indonesia Muslims are afraid of the declining influence, but also Christians feel threatened by hardline Muslims. As to the battlefield in the Middle East for Teule the only solution is that Christians feel really Arabs, but also are accepted as such by the Muslim Arabs.