Accepted Paper:

Disowning Creative Authority in the Production of Syncretic Cosmogonic Myths in Sikka, Eastern Indonesia  


David Butterworth (ANU)

Paper Short Abstract:

Sikkanese ritual experts do not claim personal authorship of origin myths, rather, they attribute their knowledge and skill in reciting these myths to divine inspiration. When transformations of myths arise through syntheses of indigenous and Catholic cosmology human agency is rejected and supernatural authority is appropriated.

Paper long abstract:

The Sikkanese of eastern Indonesia describe the origins of their world with reference to indigenous and Catholic cosmogony. Although a distinct corpus of mythology can be identified for each tradition, Sikkanese ritualists are increasingly synthesizing the two. These syncretic forms combine thematic and stylistic elements from each tradition, and are viewed locally as a unification and legitimatization of indigenous and Catholic world-views. However, in the production of these myths the ritualists distance themselves from personal authorship. Instead, ritualists assert that new knowledge is a gift from supernatural beings given in dreams and visions.

Over seven consecutive nights in 1993 Klemens Hago, a senior Sikkanese ritualist, dreamt of a 'truth' of the origin of the world. This truth is characterized by typical indigenous themes, such as the segmentation of an original unity, and is recited for the most part using the poetry of canonical parallelism. The myth also speaks of Adam and Eve, the tree of knowledge, and humanity's fall from grace. Hago does not claim to have created or own this version of the origin of the world, rather he positions himself as a messenger of spiritual powers.

As Hago disowns authorship of the new myth he promotes the myth's legitimacy within the wider religious context. Hago appropriates the authority of spiritual beings that is established throughout a complex of other religious practices, such as indigenous and Catholic rituals. The sanctity (i.e., religious truth) of Hago's recitations is enhanced by the act of disowning personal authorship of the syncretic myth.

Panel P45
Religious relations In Asia