Modalities of Propagation of Islam in the Sulawesi Interior: Lessons for Understanding Islam in Eastern Indonesia?

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Date(s) - 31/08/2012
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Monash Asia Institute, Room H5.95, Building H


Monash Asia Seminars – CSEAS Seminar Series

Professor Kathryn Robinson
Anthropology, Research School of Asia and the Pacific, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

The people of the mountainous interior of Sulawesi (Indonesia), at the confluence of the contemporary borders of South, Southeast and Central Sulawesi, were connected by trade in jungle products, as well as iron ore and weapons, to coastal sultanates that embraced Islam, from the 15th century (Ternate) to the 17the century (Luwu). However, they retained distinctive local identities and did not become muslim until the region came under Dutch control in the early twentieth century. Anthony Johns wrote in 1975 that there was little written about the modality of spread of Islam in the Indonesian archipelago. Scholarship since then has filled some of this the gap in knowledge, but has revealed diversity in the modalities of the propagation of Islam and its social and political effects. Accounts of the (relatively late) spread of Islam in South Sulawesi, in Bugis and Makassarese communities, have focused on the role of trade as well as political elites, Islamic institutions and also textual traditions.

This paper explores the manner of Islamic conversion in the villages on the shores of Lake Matano at the beginning of the twentieth century, where colonial ‘pacification’ played a key role. An intensification of piety was linked to the Darul Islam rebellion following Indonesian independence. How does this local history of Islam, and the forms of everyday religious practice that have emerged relate to the Sorowako response to the intensification of everyday religiosity in contemporary Indonesia? The paper draws on fieldwork in the mining town of Sorowako, South Sulawesi from 1976 to the present, as well as historical sources. It will bring a comparative perspective from the emerging research findings of an Australian research Council–funded project ‘Being Muslim in Eastern Indonesia’ in progress at the Australian National University, on which Prof Robinson is Chief Investigator.

Kathryn Robinson is Professor in the Department of Anthropology, in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. She has been researching in Indonesia since 1976 on issues including mining and development, gender relations, Islam, and migration. Her major publications include Stepchildren of Progress: The Political Economy of Development in an Indonesian Mining Town (1986);  Living Through Histories: Culture , History and Social Life in South Sulawesi (1998) (ed. with Mukhlis Paine); Women in Indonesia: Gender Equity and Development (ed. with Sharon Bessell); Asian and Pacific Cosmopolitans: Self and Subject in Motion (ed, 2007) and Gender, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia (2009). She was editor of the Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology until this year, is past president of ASAA and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. Her current major research project is entitled Being Muslim in eastern Indonesia, which involves 9 researchers (including PhD scholars) researching local expressions of Muslim identity and practice in Eastern Indonesia.