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Jakarta Post

Marapu people struggle to get their beliefs recognized

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, March 17, 2014   /  10:44 am
Marapu people struggle to get their beliefs recognized

Khristofel Anggung Praing. JP/Grace Amianti

The Marapu people of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) worship the God of their ancestors, an unnamed creator who exhorts them to uphold the balance of life through concern for the environment and fellow human beings.

'€œThey have a complete set of rituals for every phase of life, from birth to death,'€ said Khristofel Anggung Praing, chief of the Population and Civil Registration Agency in East Sumba.

According to him, the Marapu people manifest their belief-based ethics in upholding the principals of collectivity and solidarity that are deemed of importance throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

'€œMarapu existed for centuries before the country was even established, and it was the main belief system in East Nusa Tenggara before Christianity came in the colonial era,'€ he said, adding that it seemed ironic that their faith was being recognized by the government.

Khristofel said that there were currently 22,315 Marapu followers in East Sumba regency out of the total population of 242,886. Adherents of the belief system also live in other regencies, such as West Sumba and Central Sumba.

Khristofel said further that the Marapu people had always aimed to live in harmony with believers of other faiths, so it was ironic that followers of major religions recognized by the government had attempted to convert them with the government'€™s tacit approval.

The lack of recognition of their faith by the local, regional and national governments leaves them vulnerable, not only to proselytizing but also to the gaps in the country'€™s legal system that does not recognize their faith as a formal religion.

Khristofel said that Law No. 23/2006 on population administration stipulated the possibility for adherents of indigenous beliefs to register their marriages. However, Government Regulation No. 37, which functions to implement that law, stipulates, in Article 81, that marriages can only be registered for people adhering to indigenous faiths that have been recorded by the Directorate General of Culture of the Education and Culture Ministry.

'€œIt is ironic indeed that the country'€™s laws and regulations require Marapu to be formally acknowledged through legal documentation by the government, when the 1945 Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and faith to all people without exception,'€ Khristofel added.

The unregistered marriages of the Marapu people resulted in the government denying them of family ID cards and their children are without birth certificates, which could lead to a series of unwanted legal problems in the future.

Earlier, public lawyer and human rights activist Choirul Anam said the Constitutional Court recently decided that the state should recognize all religions and beliefs in Indonesia. '€œNot many people aware of the court'€™s decision. So, actually there is no more official and unofficial religions,'€ Anam of the Human Rights Working Group on Indonesia said.

Previously, there were only six religions officially recognized by the government: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. (gda)

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