Performing Tradition

Photo essay – A cultural exchange between two Christian village congregations from Maluku and Papua took place at the conference center of a resort on Ambon Island. Through this event, I try to visualize the impact of such an exchange on Moluccan adat, the traditional customary law in the villages in Maluku. Therefore, the present photo essay is a metaphor for the decline of indigenous knowledge in the last three decades within Maluku village communities. Its customs and habits aren’t predominant anymore, so these performances have a more picturesque folkloristic appearance than in earlier times. Initially, the customs that go along with specific performances derive from certain ritual practices of local adat. In the recent past, these rituals were more strict in execution and of significant value to villagers. Now they are shifting to another paradigm, which is redefined and translated into a contemporary village context.
The communal activities of these Christian village congregations have an impact within this contemporary village context. Typical expressions of evangelism that comes along with globalization and recognizable in today’s emerging village communities, become part of these communal activities themselves. While these social changes through urbanization in the cultural life of villagers, the traditional village law is of lesser influence. Seen from another perspective, the ritual practices raise crucial questions about an already tense and changing relation between religion and tradition. The still existing cultural notions of adat are strongly related to these ritual practices, which also reinforce the cultural identity of its people. Furthermore, what we see in this photo essay are renewal performances incorporated in this new context. The cultural expressions during these performances have little substantive meaning and are more interwoven with Christian morals and values.
The price for modernizing a ‘traditional’ society towards a so-called ‘modern’ society, is the disappearance of these important ritual practices, that are becoming more visible and permanent. Even the loss and renewal of certain cultural notions will eventually blend into a new cultural identity. However, these developments seem irrevocable. Similar emerging village communities are also characterized by a continuous orientation to the future, not their rich past anymore. Without attributing adat significant value, these transformations in Maluku society towards a specific ideal of modernity are becoming inevitable. [August 2014]