To: "Borneo Discussion List" <>
Date: Sun, 1 Aug 1999 17:42:14 +0100
From: Waruno Mahdi
Subject: Re: BORNEO.Discussion: Islam in Borneo

Clare wrote:
> I'm fishing for ideas as to why Islam won
> relatively few converts in Borneo compared to
> the Malay peninsula and much of the Indonesian
> archipelago... is this one of those "well,
> that's just the way it happened" questions?
The spread of Islam in the Archipelago followed a certain socio-economical pattern which in several aspects resembled the pattern of emergence of Protestantism in late mediaeval Europe.

Adoption to Islam reflected at that time current ideological resistance of communities involved in trade, particularly maritime trade, against more classically feudal state organisms. This process, involving all polities that were involved in maritime trade, from Aceh and Malacca in the West till Ternate and Tidore in the East, gave rise to a new culture tradition known generally under the term "Pesisiran" (literally "coastal", that being naturally where the trading ports were mostly to be found). It reached it's peak when the Sultanate of Demak finally brought the feudal Majapahit empire to its knees and thus got set to reunite the Archipelago into a third (after Srivijaya and Majapahit) geopolitical union under principles reflecting islamic mercantile ideology.

This development was however prevented by the loss of indigenous monopoly on the spice trade (the main source of revenue, underlying the economic wealth, and hence also, political potence of the Pesisiran movement headed by Demak). Previously, the route to the spice islands (Maluku) had been a jealously guarded secret of Malay and other indigenous navigators. The fall of Malacca to the Portuguese, which additionally closed the Malacca Strait to Islamic navigation, put the final nail on the coffin of a united Islamic archipelago.

This is somehow reminiscent of the premature demise of development of mercantile and Protestant traditions in South Europe (Italy, the French Provence) when their original source of wealth, the oriental trade route through the Near East, was replaced by the route around the Cape of Good Hope, that rerouted the trade routes to the Atlantic. One will recall, that the French Huguenots where earlier Protestants than in North Europe, but then failed to develop like those in the North after the trade routes changed.

In the Archipelago, the disruption of the Pesisiran revolution, marked politically by the subsequent downfall of Demak and restoration of the preceding feudal empirial political structures of Mataram, caused a stop to the further advance of Islam in the Archipelago. Hence, many ethnic groups not yet involved in Pesisiran trade culture, e.g. the Bataks in Sumatra, the Dayaks in Kalimantan, the Torajas in Sulawesi, many peoples of Maluku, and Nusa Tenggara, remained "heathen". Was this for their better or for their worse? I think equally well argumented cases can be put forward for both alternative answers.

It goes without saying, that this is a "rough" picture, and that you will be sure to find various exceptions (that allegedly prove the rule) in the details :-)

Salam, Waruno

What's much more important here, is not so much the formal contrast in overt religious confession. What contrasted Dayaks, Bataks, Torajas, non-Muslim Malukuans from e.g. Banjarese, Acehnese, Makassarese/Buginese, Tidorese, etc. -- particularly before Christianization of part of the former which introduced further complications for comparative study -- is economic culture: the importance which is given to the economic effort on the cultural plane, and the development of the notion of privateness of property as against its collective or communal aspect. Malays (I mean Nuclear Malays) occupy an intermediate position here (inspite of their Islamic religion), which will serve as a source for much "counter examples"... culturally, an at least greater part of Nuclear Malays seem to be closer to the feudal/communal archetype than to the Pesisiran.

To: "Borneo Discussion List" <>
Date: Mon, 2 Aug 1999 21:06:11 +0100
From: Waruno Mahdi
Subject: Subject: Re: Islam in Borneo: Attitude toward Pork

As for the question of whether indulgence in consumption of pork might have been a discouraging factor in the adoption of Islam [by the Dayaks], I think one could safely answer in the negative.

The pig was one of the principal traditional domesticated animals of the Austronesians (beside the dog and the chicken) and consumption of pork was correspondingly deeply ingrained in the cultures of most Austronesian ethnic groups, including most of the presently Islamic ones of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

One can safely assume, I think, that it is not the consumption of pork that discouraged adoption of Islam, but that the adoption of Islam put a stop to pork consumption in those ethnic groups which converted.

The same can probably also be said about the consumption of dog meat which is presently restricted to some non-Islamic ethnic groups in Indonesia.

Old Javanese epigraphy (being from the pre-Islamic period) suggests that the Javanese, presently Islamic, previously spent much effort on the keeping of pigs (apparently for eating). Old Javanese actually retained reflexes of both Austronesian protoforms for "pig", i.e. *babuy "wild pig", and *beRek "domesticated pig". This did not prevent them from subsequently adopting Islam.

But whereas the eating of pork and, where existing, that of dog meat was stopped at conversion to Islam, one "heathen" custom, apparently dating back to megalithic cultural traditions of the region, has survived conversion to Hinduism, Buddhism, as well as to Islam, and that is the water-buffalo sacrifice. Only conversion to Christianity seems, at least in some places, to have led to the abandonment of that custom (but I'm not sure whether this happened everywhere).

Salam, Waruno

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