The text examines the original Southeast Asian religions and the subsequent influences of the Indian, Muslim and later Christian systems.
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Original Religious Systems
The original religions of the Austronesians and also of the mainland racial groups, appears to have been a form of ancestor worship with Shamanism. The Shamanist priests were termed Wali and the group Walian. Amongst the various island groups, the major gods were those of the sun and of the moon with other deities for things such as the sea and of agriculture. Among the East Indonesians and Moluccans the general Shamanist beliefs in the migration of the spirits of the dead were held, also belief in Suanggi or witches. These beliefs are also found among the mixed groups of Papuan extraction such as the Kei and Aru. (According to Professor Koentjaraningrat in Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia, vol. 1, Human Relations Area Files Press, New Haven,1972, p.115).
The worship of departed ancestors, called begu amongst the Batak of Sumatra, is a form that has sacrificial ceremonies carried out by living descendants. These ceremonies are helpful in combating a host of lesser ghosts and spirits, which are malevolent in nature.
The male priests (datu) are specialists in occult knowledge which they gain through a rigourous apprenticeship. (ibid., Article Batak, p.22).
Talismans and charms are employed together with divination (using a Hindu derived Zodiac and magical tables) by the male priests, who are also skilled in sorcery through the use of natural poisons.
To contact spirits of the dead, priests employ female mediums (sibasa), who, through dancing, inhaling incense and beating drums and gongs, induce a trance and spirit possession. (ibid).
This Shamanist practice is employed also for illness, when the priest will also assist chanting in a special language (or in tongues) to induce the spirit to enter the body of the medium. This classic Shamanism uses animal sacrifices usually centred on a sacred breed of horse.
The ceremonial unit is a bius, which is a territorial political entity, not necessarily equivalent to a single genealogical unit. This could be termed a form of diocese. In many ways this is reminiscent of the early Shamanism, which entered Europe from Chaldea and 'Scythia' and was found amongst the Druids.
An interesting aspect of the doctrine of transmigration is found in the way the Batak divide the soul into two elements. The tondi, or vital life force (which is found also in rice and iron) can leave the host temporarily or permanently (if permanently, death ensues). This spirit can leave one's body to dwell in another organism. What is left of the dead becomes a begu, or spirit, which is in the state of what has become known as purgatory. They have to be elevated to exalted status, which can be described as oneness, or unity with the essential spirit. This concept is essentially similar to that adopted by the Indians and transferred back into Islam during the Abbasid period and is important to this work. It is essentially a Shamanistic and Babylonian concept. Afterlife concepts are vague, not only amongst the Batak where it is held to be similar to that on earth, but they vary along utopian lines generally.
Despite the inroads made by Christianity in the North and Islam in the South, this religion still persists as the framework on which the later two are superimposed, particularly amongst the Karo Batak.
That Shamanism was the universal religion of the Austronesians, is evidenced by its universal diffusion (with variations on the inclusion of females in the Shaman priesthood and the function of deities) amongst these people even to the Andaman and Nicobarese. The Car Nicobarese believe in the high god Teo, who created the lesser deities of the sun and moon, and this may be derived from the original monotheism on which Chinese religion was also based prior to the 5th century BCE.
The original Malays spread to Sumatra and Borneo and formed the Minangkabau peoples in Sumatra, who are distinctive by isolation. The Iban and some Malayic Dayaks, are also in this Riay or coastal Malay group, who arrived in Borneo prior to the spread of Islam in S. E. Asia.
The Iban trace their ancestry to the god Sengalang Burong, symbolised by the Brahmani Kite or Hawk. These people have a pantheon of gods and also have the typical spiritual world, with which they act in equilibrium in their Shaman or manang.
Ritual dancing and speaking in a language or tongues and communication with spirit familiars whilst in trances are practised by the manang. The office of manang is divided by grades marked by apprenticeship and initiation and the highest grade usually involves transvestite behaviour. The lemembang, a ritual expert or priest, may be filled by either male or female, but males predominate. Chants and invocations performed at religious festivals are termed, gowai. They are lengthy and it is at this time the lemembang most resembles a priest. The ritual seems mantric in form and suggests Indian influence on the Iban, placing their movement during the establishment of the Indian States in Malaya and before Islam. They have an auger, tuai burong, who specialises in bird omenology. Many of the religious festivals were centred on rice cultivation and involved headhunting as an added cult feature.
The Shaman cults extend over the Ngadju and Maanyan Dyaks, where the Shaman are termed Wadianas opposed to Walian and the more general term balian is used (Bali seemingly being derived from a Shamanistic function). These Shamans are of seven types, six females and one male, each with its own spirits and ritual. Islam has not penetrated these people to the extent that 78% are still native animists, 18% Christian and only 3% Muslim.
Of the Acehnese, their form of Shamanism as pantheistic mysticism is still extant. The mystical practices still occur, albeit in a weakened form, with the Shamanist priesthood confined to the women. Whilst this province is ostensibly the centre of Islamic development its Islamic faith seems to be a form superimposed on the original religion. (See Article Acehnese, ibid., p.18-19). The observance of pilgrimage to tombs of Islamic Wali is widespread and this practice is non-Islamic in derivation.
It is the historical development of this process that we will now examine.