10. The Construction of Time III: The Jaman Moderen.

The jaman moderen is the contemporary age, an age of Christian belief, of the Unity in Diversity of the Indonesian peoples, and of development. It should, having all of these benefits, be a constant and glorious march towards ever greater wealth, bodily wellbeing, material comfort and personal happiness. The jaman moderen is the time of progress and its home is the West, seen both as the site of great material wellbeing as reflected by the mass-media and as the home of Christianity. There is a curiously double idea of the West in Tanimbar. On the one hand, I was told that the West was a place where there was a cure for every illness, a home for every person, a chicken in every pot, and the complete absence of suffering. On the other hand, however, I was also told that the West was a place of many ills – irreligiosity, drug abuse, sexual immorality, AIDS, extreme violence in the streets, gangsterism, and social decay. The question of the contradictory nature of the two opposed sets of ideas of the West in Tanimbar (and in Indonesia as a whole) is too complex to examine here, but even if the West is at times seen as the source of all iniquity in the world, there is another side of the West as the source of all that is desirable. With regard to the aspirations of the Tanimbarese it is the latter manifestation of the idea of the West that is relevant; with regard to their fears it is perhaps the former.

The art that the Tanimbarese produce to reflect their aspirations toward development and progress will be discussed in this chapter. This is work that, in contrast to the work discussed in the last section which seeks to root the present in an idea of the past, seeks instead to express new levels of identification which are based in the ideology of development, an ideology based in the conviction that Indonesia as a whole is developing, and continuing to develop, due to the heroic efforts of the government and the Indonesian people.

The sculptures that will be considered here can be divided into two broad categories: Christian art and Nationalist art. The first of these embraces such things as monumental cement works such as may be seen in Olilit Barn, Olilit Lama and Sifnana, small devotional figures, altar crosses and also decorative work such as doors or window frames, which often incorporate Christian symbols. The second embraces works such as “Garuda” figures (the Garuda is a mythical bird from Hindu legend which is now the emblem of the Indonesian state) and those works commissioned by government institutions or by individuals to express their patriotism and their identity as Indonesian citizens.
Christian Art in Tanimbar

Tanimbarese Christian art is generally of highly conservative nature, and often lacks in the freedom in the manipulation of iconography and of form that characterises much of the work which refers to the jaman pertengahan. Christian cosmology, of course, is future-orientated. Time began, and time will come to an end. It is the latter of these that is of present concern. Therefore it is that the ideology of development and the Christian conceptions of time are to some extent compatible in the sense that both look forwards to a better future.

Most Christian art in Tanimbar, if not all, is produced by and for Catholics. The Protestant church in Tanimbar does not commission works. This is not the case, however, in Ambon, where there are many elaborately decorated Protestant churches. However the work of Tanimbarese Catholics does to some extent highlight the problems of Christian identity for all Tanimbarese Christians, regardless of their affiliation.

Christ, for the Tanimbarese, is pink: from a subtle and refined blush tone to a more virulent and lurid puce. He appears neither with the skin tint of a contemporary Tanimbarese, nor with a colouration which might suggest some concern for historical accuracy. Although this may seem a rather crude point to make, it is clearly not without some significance in the implications it may have concerning the way in which the Tanimbarese view their own faith: the true image of Christ has a Western skin-tint and features. Those works which lie close to the ritual and conceptual “core” of the Catholic faith, the Cross and the Virgin as Intercessor, strictly, if not slavishly follow Western patterns in their iconographic programmes. Those patterns which they emulate are not, furthermore, those that are considered in the West as having particular artistic value, but rather the plaster saints of mass produced Catholic kitsch. The indigenously produced Tanimbarese variants (or invariants) upon these models are generally carved from wood, and painted. I was told by many sculptors that “religious” works had to be painted whilst tradisional works should be left uncoloured. The result is that these sculptures are often indistinguishable from their plaster-cast models. This automatically puts a ceiling on the price that can be asked for such a work, as plaster-casts are cheap to produce and imported en masse from Ambon.

One of the finest pieces of Tanimbarese Christian art which takes as its model Western Christian sculpture is the cross of Abraham Amelwatin in the Catholic Church of Alusi Krawain. There are similar crosses in the nearby churches of Meyano Das and Meyano Bab, both produced by Tanimbarese artists, but Abraham Amelwatin’s is considered to be the finest. On asking why this should be so, I was told it was because it was exactly like a “European cross.” This tendency to look to the West for models may change in the coming years, however. In late 1994 the last Dutch bishop of Amboina was replaced by an Indonesian successor, and the only remaining Dutch missionary in Tanimbar is due for retirement, and is expected to be replaced by an Indonesian successor. Whether the gradual dissociation of the Tanimbarese (or more generally, Indonesian) Christians from the leadership of Western priests will lead to new ways of conceptualising those images at the heart of the visual expressions of Catholic belief is not yet certain, but perhaps this reinvention and manipulation of Christian motifs can be seen as already occurring in those works which are more peripheral than central to the worship, ritual and ideology of Catholicism.

Two of these works will be considered below. These are not produced to be displayed in the confines of the church itself, but rather they are monuments to be displayed in the open air which express publicly the identity of the Tanimbarese as Christian. These works can be seen as a synthesis between the conflicting motifs and logics of the tradisional and the moderen orders, and thus are representative of a possible new direction in Tanimbarese Christian art.

The most extensive example of this type of work is that of Stanislaus Fenyapwain who has produced a set of sculptures displayed outside the church of Olilit Lama, and a monument for the church of Olilit Baru. The Olilit Baru sculture makes use of the boat as a central motif, something it has in common with much of this sculptor’s other work. The sculpture is made from earth-cast cement, and most of the finishing was carried out with a flattened dessert spoon. The base of the sculpture is modelled into the form of a boat, and this is surmounted by a panel exhibiting a relief carving of Adam and Eve, with the snake between them. They look upwards to a platform supported by four Greek-looking Ionic style pillars, and standing atop this platform is the figure of Christ the Sacred heart. Above Christ’s head is a light which is illuminated at night. There are at least two different ways of reading this rather complex work.

A traditional Christian reading in accordance with theological ideas of Sin and Redemption works quite well. Stanislaus Fenyapwain told me that the boat represented the vessel of Christ’s teachings. Thus Adam and Eve, representing Fallen Man (and Woman) are supported by the bark of Christ’s teaching which assures the possibility of their redemption as sinners. They look up at the figure of Christ, who is their Redeemer. Thus this is a story about time: about the beginning of what one might call ‘human time’ in Christianity with the moment of Original Sin; and about the end of this human and historical time with the coming of the Redeemer.

An alternative view of the sculpture, however, is as a work that speaks of the interrelationship between the dynamics of the tradisional and the moderen in Tanimbarese Life.This reading does not contradict the former one, but rather complements and enriches it, rooting the cosmic drama of Christian soteriology in Tanimbarese concerns.

It is possible to read off the motifs one by one, but with a more Tanimbarese framework; and this reading makes the sculpture incomparably richer. Beginning at the bottom, as has been seen, the base of the sculpture represents a boat. The boat fixed in stone – the natar is a deeply rooted Tanimbarese image. The concrete boat (which is its direct equivalent) therefore represents both fixity in the past – and doubly so because it not only refers back to what is considered as a part of the tradisional but also that part of the tradisional to which it refers itself represents the idea of fixity in the past – and at the same time it represents the motion of the village not through space (as wooden boats move) but through time. The location of the work is not without significance: outside the church of Olilit Barn, it is in the place which acts today as the direct equivalent of the natar ritual centre [McKinnon 1988. p. 160.]

The “prow board” of the boat is adorned with the spiral patterns of earlier Tanimbarese art, and is also characterised by the use of two motifs which, although small, are of considerable interest. In relief on the front of the boat are represented, on both port and starboard sides, small squatting figures and little lizards. The squatting figure is, as has been seen, the traditional pose of the walut which was either a representation of the ancestors or was seen as the site of their power, or both. The lizard is also linked to the ancestors, for it is through the lizard that the will of the ancestors becomes known. In adat ceremonies, according to those in Alusi Krawain, it is the chatterings of the lizards (cecak) which is the means by which the ancestors communicate with their descendants. Thus the boat motif not only is the equivalent of the stone boats that once stood at the heart of villages (and that conceptually still do), but also is marked with the signs of the ancestors and of their continuing voice in Tanimbarese society of the present. The boat is the setting of self-consciously traditional motifs in the very soil that bred them, and as such it stands as a fitting representation of the foundations of Tanimbarese identity. This reading of the boat may seem to be at odds with the reading given to me by Stanislaus Fenyapwain as the “vessel of Christ’s teachings,” yet it is perhaps in the containment of such contradictions within a single motif, and in the play of dual meanings at which Stanislaus Fenyapwain so excels, suggest that between Christian and Tanimbarese levels of identification there can perhaps be some resolution. It hints at the possibility of harmony between the jaman moderen and the jaman pertengahan.

The base of the sculpture is, however, in the selection of motifs, if not in the range of meanings given to them by the artist, wholly tradisional. In contrast the top of the work is wholly moderen. Here Christ stands, and in this most sublime light-becapped realm, there is no sign of any of the tradisional motifs that can be seen in the boat. In fact the figure of Christ was, significantly, the only part of the sculpture (except perhaps the pillars) which was not made in Tanimbar, but he was sent from Ambon. He surmounts the whole as a symbol of the higher worth of the moderen, and of the aspirations of the Tanimbarese.

Adam and Eve, on the other hand, seem to mediate between the two extremes of tradition and of modernity. Their flesh is European pink, as is Christ’s. They are not seen as being Tanimbarese. However they do sit in the posture and with the adornments of the ancestors. Their pose is strikingly similar to that of the little walut figures on the bows of the boat. Also they wear arm and leg bracelets which are seen as being a part of the tradisional. Thus in their substance they are not Tanimbarese, yet they are depicted as the ancestors of the Tanimbarese, which they of course are according to Christian belief. They are depicted as such by the addition of various accidental qualities – dress (what there is of it) and bodily posture.

Perhaps, then, this is another pointer to the solution to the difficulty of the tradisional/moderen conflict within Tanimbarese society. The solution is to become in substance modern, in thought, in social structure, in beliefs, in behaviour, and then to maintain tradition as a set of unessential cultural “accidents,” such as the different styles of ceremonial dress worn for special occasions, and different styles of artistic expression, without any roots in the deeper realities of modes of thought, behaviour and belief. Tradition is, in effect, reduced to a collection of attractive bangles, and the ancestors’ power is no more.

Another work which perhaps speaks of the interrelationships between Christianity and the tradisional within Tanimbar, although perhaps more obliquely, is the monument to the Dutch pastors Cappers and Klerks in Sifnana. Cappers and Klerks were the first two Dutch Catholic missionaries to establish a mission in Tanimbar. The monument is said to stand at the point where they (and hence Christianity) first set foot on Tanimbarese soil, disembarking just north of the present day village boundary. The monument was constructed in the late 1970s by “Pastor Egging and the people of Sifnana,” although it is difficult to gauge the extent to which the work was designed by the Dutch Pastor Egging, and to what extent by an artist or by artists from Sifnana. The monument represents the two brave men sailing to Tanimbar, one with a ramrod-straight back who, Bible in hand, peers commandingly through his extraordinary spectacles, and the other who stands brandishing a cross. The sun is behind them, and they glide in their small boat over a sea teeming with wildlife. On either side of the relief panel are side wings which are inscribed with details of the event the monument commemorates. In each of these wings there is a window through which the observer can peer out to sea.

Embedded in this seemingly modern sculpture there may be some typically Tanimbarese themes. It is tempting to see a parallel with the myth of Atuf discussed earlier, although such a connection can only be hypothesised. Atuf was a cultured individual who sailed to Tanimbar from the West, arriving first of all in Sifnana. By the miraculous agency of his lance he began to institute a new cultural order, finally spearing the sun into pieces and, begetting no offspring, become for the Tanimbarese their spiritual ancestor of the jaman pertengahan. Similarly Cappers (and his sidekick Klerks) sailed to Tanimbar from the West, and by the agency of the miracle-working cross, he too caused the transformation of time, and having instituted a further spiritual order in Tanimbar, he died without, we may presume, begetting any offspring. Is he not perhaps therefore the equivalent of Atuf, the spiritual ancestor of the jaman moderen? In this context the prominence of the sun (which Atuf caused to rise) may be of some significance in the background of the relief.

It is not my contention that this was a parallel that was consciously made, and it would be difficult to test my hypothesis some twenty five years after the construction of the piece. However the use of the boat motif is a typically Tanimbarese (a European artist might perhaps have depicted the moment of landing, for example in the iconography of Columbus’ coming to America) treatment of the subject matter. It may be that those who produced the sculpture were following a way of thinking, a logic, that is in a sense tradisional, a logic that also underlies the myth of the coming of Atuf, and that this myth, whether consciously or not, has formed the paradigm for the myth of the coming of Cappers and Klerks: the coming of a hero who, arriving in Tanimbar, effects the very transformation of time.

Nationalist Art in Tanimbar

It is not only in the production of Christian works that the Tanimbarese reflect the concerns and the aspirations of the jaman moderen, but also in the production of sculpture that can loosely be termed nationalist. These works, whether commissioned by individuals or by institutions reflects an identity of the Tanimbarese as citizens of the Indonesian state, and express the ideals and the aspirations of Indonesian nationalism. Of all the works I saw, it was the cycle in the SMA (High School) Budi, Saumlaki, by Stanislaus Fenyapwain which was the most complex and fully developed.

This work may be divided into three parts. The path of the school is flanked by two proud looking lions (described to me as lions – singa, despite their spotted coats) which open their mouths in silent roars. To the left of the path on entering the school grounds is a large monument which is rather more complex than the ferocious spotted lions. In some ways this monument acts as an analogue to the Christian work in Olilit Barn discussed above, although it is conceptually rather simpler. Beneath is a rather mysterious grey concrete face in relief which has been left unpainted. The origin of this is uncertain, however being unpainted, it is likely that is is tradisional, and the image recalls certain images used on heirloom gold pieces. In contrast to the greyness of this mysterious tradisional presence, whatever it actually does represent, is the bright yellow Garuda figure which, rather like a phoenix rising from the ashes spreads its wings above the sculpture below. The Garuda is the bird of Hindu mythology which has been adopted as the emblem of the Indonesian state being thereby transformed in the process into something not unlike the United States’ heraldic eagle. In its claws the Garuda holds the slogan Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, or Unity in Diversity, the motto of the Indonesian state. On the bird’s breast is a shield with the symbols of the Pancasila. The third part of the sculpture is the most revealing, for at the end of the lion-guarded path is the school flagpole. Here the weekly ceremony of the Indonesian flag, which is required of all schools and government offices every Monday, takes place. The flagpole is different here from in other schools, however, as it forms the mast of yet another concrete boat. The prow of this boat protrudes form the school, and the school itself forms the stern, so that the school itself can be seen as representing the stone boat that moves through time. The front of the boat is painted with symbols which were described to me as being tradisional, although I am uncertain as to their precise meaning.

Of this boat, the flagpole is the mast, and hence the flag is the sail. This suggests that although there is a unity (the school) expressed in the sculpted boat, it is a unity that only achieves its fruitful passage through time due to the activity of the Indonesian state: a boat without a sail only drifts. Thus the state is seen as being the animating principle that is essential for the continued success of the school’s “voyage” through time. The whole cycle unite two levels of identity, and tells of the proper relationship between the two. The tradisional is always subjugated to the moderen, the grey face of the past to the Garuda, the school’s passage contingent upon the vitality of the State. It expresses the way in which identity as Tanimbarese can be reconciled with identity as Indonesian if the former is contained by the latter. This sculptural cycle is a visual sermon on the words that the Garuda clutches in its talons: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.
The resolution of Contradictions

These sculptures that seek to unite or draw together different registers of identity – Christian, Indonesian, Tanimbarese – and hence resolve the contradictions between different ways of being in the world are all located close to Saumlaki, the main urban centre of Tanimbar. This is perhaps significant, for only in the town is the force of the indigenous order of the tradisional less strongly felt by the Tanimbarese. Hence it is not surprising that the works that seek to begin to resolve the tension between these different levels of identity should be produced not by those Tanimbarese who live in remoter villages, but by those who experience the forces of the moderen strongly enough to be able to break free a little of adat law. As communications improve it may be that these forms of sculpture begin to form a paradigm for other works which, not contented with the unsatisfactoriness of the present, seek to transcend the difficulties inherent in it to attain a state of unhindered growth, wealth, piety, and happiness, the future golden age of the moderen.