Accepted Paper:

The Appropriation of Biblical Knowledge in Traditional Ritual Format among the Rotenese of Eastern Indonesia  


James Fox (Australian National University)

Paper Short Abstract:

The ancestral knowledge of origins among the Rotenese is recounted in a ritual language based on canonical parallelism. Increasingly Christians rely on Genesis as the source of their knowledge of origins; they retell Biblical accounts in new parallel language. This paper will examine these linguistic creations and their creative contexts.

Paper long abstract:

Among the Rotenese, ancestral knowledge of origins is recounted orally in ritual compositions based on the strict pairing of words. These ritual language compositions are concerned with the beginnings of cultural objects such as the origin of fire and cooking, of the house, its various components and the tools used in its construction, of weaving and dyeing, of rice and millet and of various prominent features of the landscape. Much of this knowledge is also embodied in long mortuary chants.

This traditional knowledge has been preserved even as the Rotenese have converted to Christianity, a conversion that began in the early 18th century with the introduction of the Malay Bible. To this day, Malay - Indonesian - remains the principle vehicle for the scriptural knowledge. Although ritual language is also used in church services and Christian preaching, there has been, in most parts of Rote, an acceptance of a conventional separation between Christian and ancestral ideas of origin.

Increasingly, particularly in east Rote, there has been a tendency to blur this conventional separation of channels of knowledge and to concentrate on the 'retelling' of scriptural knowledge in ritual language format. This paper examines this appropriation of Biblical knowledge in the retelling of origins in Genesis.

Panel P45
Religious relations In Asia