Category Archives: language/culture

Worship and Local Arts Workshop

In mid-September, I (Matt) had the opportunity to lead a workshop at a local church about worship and local arts.  This was in the Balinese community I’ve been working with recently, and I was excited to have the opportunity to run a workshop with them instead of just research. I am pleased to say that it went very well!  We all learned a lot about their culture and arts and what the Bible has to say about it, and I hope that this is not the end but rather the beginning of the development of Christian local arts there.

This was a short workshop, just 3 evenings.  The original plan was for 5 evenings (Mon.-Fri.) but that conflicted with some church services so we shortened it to just three.  That was a little shorter than I was hoping for, but we made the most of the time we had.  We covered topics such as:

  • Worship in the Bible (the beginning, Moses and the Tabernacle, the temple, in diaspora, Jesus, the early church, and Paul’s writings)
  • The Bible, Music, and Meaning
  • New Songs in the Bible
  • Borrowing Songs from other cultures/languages
  • Creating an Arts Profile for their community
  • making plans for the future
  • sharing the plans with the group

It was a packed schedule!  I was pleasantly surprised at how much everyone was interested in the theology of worship; I had expected those sessions to be somewhat dry, but they inspired some serious discussion.  We ended with making plans for the future, so participants grouped themselves by area of interest and chose something from the Arts Profile that they would like to encourage, use in church, etc.

At the end, participants presented plans for encouraging new music, reviving a food tradition, looking for someone to help with Balinese dance, using local clothing, and using storytelling for special occasions at church.  Overall, for an abbreviated workshop I was very pleased with the outcome. 

Now it is in their hands – one principle we work by is helping communities with their needs, but not forcing our ideas or programs on them.  This workshop was a great introduction to what this church could do with its amazing artistic and cultural capabilities, but it is now up to them to choose what to do.  There’s much more I can do there to help encourage local arts in church, but we will take it one step at a time and see what their needs and desires are.

I hope to hold another workshop like this in November for the churches here in the city, so we’ll keep you all posted!

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Filed under Dance, Ethnoarts, Food, language/culture, Music, religion, workshop

Balinese Dance

This post is long overdue! A while back I had the chance to attend a special service at a Balinese church a few hours away.  The opening and closing of the service featured Balinese dance, and I was asked to record it.  This was all part of my research and learning about this community so that I can better understand and help them.  In a few weeks, I’ll be hosting a three day seminar on music, worship, and culture there to encourage them to think about more ways that their Balinese culture can be a part of their worship.

These two videos were shared on Facebook a while back, but I’d like to post them here as well for those of you who missed them the first time around. Enjoy!

Opening:

 

Closing:

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Filed under Church Events, Dance, Ethnoarts, language/culture, Music, Research

…and more gamelan!

A few days ago I (Matt) went back to the Balinese community a few hours away to attend a gamelan rehearsal as well as learn a little more about the community and their needs.  It is utterly fascinating to study what they’re doing there, and to see such a rich artistic and cultural heritage still alive and well!  Sometime in the next few months, we plan to help this community by hosting a songwriting workshop to first discuss the theological basis for using local arts in church, and then encourage them to write some new songs using their language and music instead of old translated Western hymns.

About Western hymns – starting all the way back with the Dutch when Indonesia was still a colony, Western church and cultural influences came along for the ride.  The majority of the songs in the hymnbook here are German, Dutch, or English in origin, although there are some newer Indonesian hymns (written in a western-music style).  Because this has been church culture here for over a hundred years, it has become a normal part of Christian life so we’re not going to go around forcing people to change what they do in church – that’s just another form of imperialism!  What we do want to do is encourage them to bring their own language, culture, and arts into the church as well.  Many people groups here have a split in their lives – what you do inside church and what you do outside of church.  We want to help them incorporate these two halves into one using their arts and language.

I could go off on a tangent about the theology of this and the reason I believe it’s so important, but that might be the topic of a different blog post some other day.  For now, suffice it to say that if you believe that your language, culture and arts can’t be used in church, what does that say about who you are, your cultural identity, and your value to God? On the flip side, if you are welcome to worship in your heart language and heart music/arts, what message does that communicate?

Here are some videos to enjoy.  This first video is the tuning of this particular gamelan.  Although there are 10 keys played, it is a 5-tone (pentatonic) scale.  My personal opinion is that this scale, in solfege, is la ti do mi fa, or 6 7 1 3 4 but they call it re mi so la do or 2 3 5 6 1.  So far, I’m not totally convinced of which is the more accurate representation of their scale, but here’s a video clip.  For you music nerds out there, maybe you can help:

This second clip is usually accompanied by a dance, but since this was just a music rehearsal there wasn’t a dancer present.  Although it isn’t normal to play the music without the dancing, they decided to do it for me anyways:

This third clip is a bit of a contest.  It’s a hymn that I’m sure all of you Americans (and probably most other English-speakers) know, but the Balinese church has adapted it for the gamelan so it sounds just a little bit different.  Feel free to guess what hymn they are using in the comments below!  The first to guess correctly gets a prize…I have no idea what, but I’m sure I can come up with something!  (Again, my preference is always to help communities develop new music for worship that is in their language and musical style, but these kind of adaptations are common here and this is one they have been using for quite a while.)

Keep in mind that all of these videos are from a rehearsal, so these are not polished performances. All video has been obtained with informed consent, and is available to you here to give you a taste of the fun things we get to learn about. Hope you enjoy!

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Batunjuk

During our last village trip, there was a huge church service and celebration to mark the end of the Christmas season.  Everyone from all over the area was invited and there was a big potluck meal afterwards.  Following that, there was batunjuk.  This is a tradition from North Sulawesi that immigrants brought with them to our area, and the best way to describe it is a good old-fashioned hymn sing.  Everyone sits in a circle inside the church and two people are chosen to start and are given flowers to hold.  They choose the first song and as everyone sings they walk around the circle in opposite directions.  When the song is over, the flowers are given to the person where they stop and those two new people pick the next song.  This continues for several hours, sometimes even all night!  The songs are chosen only from the old, traditional Christian songs that are rarely sung anymore, so it has a nostalgic feel to it.  Even though they were old songs, it was encouraging to see  people of all ages participating.  Coffee, tea, and snacks are served and everyone relaxes and enjoys the singing; occasionally there’s dancing as well.  I shot some video of the festivities to give you an idea of what it’s all about.  The singing went on for hours and hours and hours . . . but it was great fun!

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Filed under Church Events, Ethnoarts, language/culture, Music, religion, Village life

My Diagonal Life

I think that someone should come live in my house and study the different cultural viewpoints of objects in space. How’s that for a statement?

For example…

There is a little neighbor girl who lives across the street. She is eight years old and very sweet and kind and loves to play with our girls. Every day. Anyway… One of her favorite things to play with at our house is the little toy kitchen and table. And every time she comes, she rearranges everything. The exact. same. way. Every single time! It’s really quite amusing. Can you see my smile from there?

Actually, after my initial annoyance at having to put everything back after she leaves, I find it quite fascinating. She has such a different understanding of everyday objects and how they should be arranged. I would never ever think to put things where she does! Also, recently I rearranged our little toy area and put the little toy table and kitchen on a diagonal. Woah.

It took two whole weeks for her to stop straightening them. And I still have to remind her sometimes. 🙂

Really it makes a lot of sense. No Indonesian house that I have ever been in has ever had anything on the diagonal. Usually the furniture is pushed flat up against the wall all the way around the room. Very rarely a table will be in the center of the room. So my living room must really throw them for a loop. Actually, they probably have just as hard of a time understanding why I have a rug, chairs, sofa, coffee table, and end tables floating in the middle of the room (on a diagonal!) as I do understanding why the neighbor girl rearranges the toys the way she does. It really is a fascinating cultural study!

Actually, maybe I am crazy for putting things on the diagonal. At least, living here in this country. Such a mish-mash of culturally mixed up situations at my house! I hope at least that our daughters feel comfortable moving in and out of different furniture arrangements. If only it were that easy to move in and out of different cultures. But I guess they have a good shot at it since their crazy Mommy rearranges their toys to be on the diagonal, and then their sweet neighbor girl friend straightens them all out again.

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Filed under daily life, family, language/culture, our kids

Mopopoadat–At the River

This is the next blog post in my series about the recent cultural event I documented.  The first blog post gave a photographic overview, the second highlighted the traditional martial arts here, the third was about kayori singing, and this fourth post will explain the next portion of the mopopoadat ceremony that takes place at a nearby river.

After the participants and leaders sing kayori all night long (as detailed in my pervious blog post), they are able to rest for a few minutes before the next event begins – going down to the river.  The “initiates” (for lack of a better term that’s what I’m calling them for now) are traditionally not allowed to touch the ground at all, except for the special designated area during kayori.  As they leave the ceremonial home, they are carried on the shoulders of their family and friends for the journey down to the river. 

Once we got there, it took quite a while to get all 89 participants set up and ready to go.  They ended up doing everything in shifts since there were too many initiates to do everyone in one batch.  You’ll see all this in the video but I’ll give a quick summary of what takes place here so you’ll know what you’re watching:

  1. All the initiates kneel or sit in the shallow river.  A cultural leader scoops up a pail of water, blows on it, and then sprinkles it on the initiates all the way down the line.
  2. A cultural leader takes a husked coconut and splits it over the initiate’s head using the back (blunt) side of a machete.  The coconut water pours over the initiate.
  3. The leader then tosses the two halves of the coconut into the river behind the initiate.  How the halves land is said to predict the length of the initiate’s life, but only the leader knows what it means and the information is never shared with anyone.
  4. The parents or supporting relatives scoop out some of the coconut flesh and scrub it all over the neck and face of the initiate.
  5. The initiates bathe and wash all the coconut off.

After this it takes a while for everyone to get back into their nice clothes and back on people’s shoulders, but once they are ready the procession back to the village begins.  Along the way, another interesting thing happens:  they are met by an “enemy.”  A guard and the enemy mock fight in front of the procession for a while, and eventually the enemy is defeated and the procession is able to return to the ceremonial house.  The initiates march around the house three times before being allowed to enter. 

I was very thankful to have a good tripod with me to keep the video stable, especially since I was walking around in the river for much of the shooting. Also thankful my tripod has a built in level!  Here’s my setup:

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Here’s the video (about 7 minutes long, and I just couldn’t get it any shorter!):

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I have piles of questions I need to ask just about this one portion of the mopopoadat ceremony.  Given the focus of our work, I specifically need to ask about some of the possibly animistic beliefs that still exist behind some of these practices.  There is a wealth of deep symbolism and meaning here that I would hate to see lost but we always must be careful in how we apply what we learn about a culture. Many more questions need to be asked so we can find what is appropriate and useable and what isn’t; this is why research is such an essential part of our work!  If we just start encouraging things to be used without asking questions first, we could do more harm than good.

Most of all, I was excited to see a traditional ceremony like this when I have been repeatedly told for the past 2 years that this culture is mostly lost and doesn’t matter to anyone anymore.  I would say the crowd that turned up for this mopopoadat is evidence to the contrary. 

About the questions: I like to be open in our research, so I’ll post a partial list of the questions I have after observing this event.  Feel free to post more questions in the comments if you see other things I should be asking about!

  • Why do initiates step on axe head and then 2 leaves?  
  • What kind of leaves are they, and what are they for?
  • What does the axe head mean?
  • Why must they step on it with their right foot?
  • How is the river and/or spot in the river chosen for the ceremony?
  • Why does the cultural leader blow on the water?
  • Does he say anything when he does it?
  • Why split a coconut over each person’s head?  What does it mean?
  • Why smear each person with coconut flesh, and what does that mean?
  • Who is allowed to smear the person with coconut?
  • What is the significance of throwing the two halves of the coconut into the water? 
  • Does how they land mean something?
  • Why march around the house 3 times? Someone told me it could be 7 times.
  • Meeting an enemy – who/what is he, and who/what challenges him?
  • What does that battle symbolize?
  • Why does it take place on the way back from the river?
  • What are their weapons and shields?  What kinds of branches are those and what does that mean?
  • On the trip to and from river, should participants not touch the ground?  Why were some allowed to walk when most were carried?

Okay, and…. GO! Please feel free to share your thoughts!

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Mopopoadat

About a week ago I had the opportunity to attend and document a huge ceremony for the people group we work with here.  This event is central to their identity and holds a lot of meaning, so I was excited to be invited and asked to record and document the entire thing.  It was long: we started at about 6pm and went until about 12pm the next day or about 18 hours nonstop.  Needless to say, I was pretty tired after not much sleep and working almost constantly!

I took over 1,200 photos and almost 4 hours of video (34.5 GB total!) so I’ll be processing all that media for quite a while.  The plan is for me to give the local leaders everything I recorded, organized into a sort of documentary to give them a tool for teaching future generations about their culture and ceremonies. 

Because I don’t want to wait months until everything is processed to finally post about this, I’ve decided to give you all a few photos of each part of the event.  Hopefully sometime soon I’ll have a chance to condense it down to some short videos to post on the blog. I don’t think we’ll try to tackle this one with just one blog post; rather I’ll post bits and pieces over the next few months.

I learned so much about local culture during this event, and it’s still a bit overwhelming.  I’ll be following up and interviewing people about this for quite a while!  What was very exciting was to see so many parts of this culture still thriving and healthy in the midst of so much change and globalization.

So, here goes (caption is below each picture):

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The location. Participants would be dancing/processing in a circle under this tent sundown to sunup.

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Building the stage and putting up the tarpaulins.

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Rattan is strong stuff!

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And of course, lots of food.

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Singing the kayori songs that explain the traditional cultural laws.

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And then all the participants join in the kayori, processing in a circle with their hands on the shoulders of the person in front.  89 participants total, and a few hundred spectators!  Most participants are children being “initiated” into the local culture, but the event is open to anyone who has never been through it before. The oldest participant was around 45.

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Some of the younger ones taking a rest break.

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And around and around and around….until dawn.  (Yes, they do take a few rest breaks, but they aren’t allowed to sleep)

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Dawn!  Everyone gets to rest for a bit and the stage is clear for the first time in 12 hours.

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2 drums and a gong used for all the music.

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Leaving the house to head down to the river. They step with their right foot on an axe-head and then step on the two leaves.  Lots of symbolism here, and I’ve still got lots of questions.

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Marching down to the river.

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Lined up in the river, ready to begin.

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And the only place for my tripod was in the river.  You never know what the situation will be!

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First, the leaders blow on some water and pour it over everyone’s heads (lots of questions here)

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Next, a coconut is split over each person’s head with a machete, and they are doused in coconut water. The two halves are tossed in the water; how they land supposedly tells you about the length of the person’s life. (more questions)

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Then each person is smeared with coconut flesh.  (more questions)  And then they get to rinse off and return to the river bank.

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A view of everyone gathered down at the river.

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Marching back to the village.  The procession is met by an “enemy” (back to the camera) who is successfully defeated so the group can return safely home. 

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Participants are carried back; after bathing in the river they aren’t allowed to touch the ground.

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They are carefully lowered into the house.

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Before leaving the house, participants look into a bucket full of water, dry rice, and a branch (more questions).

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For entertainment at various points, there were demonstrations of a local variety of martial arts (some great videos to follow in a different blog post).

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And the part to make everyone squeamish: teeth filing!  It’s not as bad as it looks, really.  No one cried, and they don’t really do much to the teeth; it’s mostly a formality nowadays.

And that’s the end!  There will be plenty more blog posts about all of this, especially since writing these up helps me process and analyze everything I’ve seen.  We hope you enjoy it!

Note: It was a public event, and all of this was documented by me at the community’s request.  I also had a chance to explain who I am and what I am here to do, and I obtained their permission to freely use all the media I recorded.  These things are important!

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Filed under Ethnoarts, language/culture

Kecapi

As a few of you might already know, I’ve been looking for an instrument called the kecapi for quite a while now.  Here it’s a well known musical instrument but no one seems to play it or know how to make it anymore.  Last week things changed for the better!

I was out at the end of a peninsula, about as remote as you can get.  There was no phone reception, no electricity, and I had to take a motorbike to the end of the road and then take a boat for another half hour to get to this village.  Needless to say, I don’t make it out there very often although it is somewhat of a haven for the language and culture of this people group.  Here’s a shot from the outrigger canoe ride in:  IMG_20120627_121700

And then through a mangrove swamp to get to the village:

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While I was there last week, I learned that someone had built a kecapi for me!  The kecapi is a two-stringed plucked instrument that is shaped somewhat like a boat.  It is found throughout this part of Indonesia and even up into the Philippines.

My kecapi isn’t quite done yet since it still needs to be stained and finished, but it plays just fine.  The guy who made it for me decided to give it a go, and I very quickly whipped out my field recorder (handy to have at all times!) and started recording.  The quality isn’t great since it wasn’t a formal recording session and people were coming and going, but at this point I’ll take whatever I can get.  I got about a half hour of recordings total, but here’s a short  sample for you:

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Normally there would be singing too, but he was just testing it out.

Later, we hiked up to his (the man who made the kecapi for me) home in the mountains by his garden:IMG_20120627_172525

Although it’s a pretty simple home, he lives alone and has everything he needs.  I am amazed at the ingenuity I find here.  Plus, he’s got an amazing view:IMG_20120628_192043

I have an old picture of a kecapi that I took last year; up until now it was the only one I’d ever seen and it was broken.  All I’ve had of this amazing instrument for the past two years was this grainy picture taken in the night:

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Now I have finally heard it!  There’s a big cultural event in two weeks, and there’s talk that more people might bring their kecapis along.  I’ll have my A/V equipment handy and I hope I can learn more about this unique instrument, how we can preserve it as well as encourage it to be used,  and how it might be a part of our work with the church.

I’ll share a picture of my kecapi as soon as it is finished and I get my hands on it!

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Filed under Ethnoarts, language/culture, Music

Consultant Check

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We finished our consultant check of Matthew in the Tiada language a few weeks ago, and I think I’ve finally de-stressed enough that I can sit down and write a post about it.  That was a really, really busy 2 1/2 weeks!  Since I don’t do translation myself, this was an opportunity for me to learn a lot about how the process works and what the translation team (made up entirely of Tiada people)  needs in order to succeed.  We also found that there are several things I can help the team with in the future even though I’m no linguist.2012-06-02 11.59.02

So, what is a consultant check?  In short, it is one last step in the approval of all the work the translation team has done up to this point before the material is ready for publication.  As an outsider, the consultant from our organization can see the translation for what it is without the rose-colored glasses that all who work on it on a day-to-day basis tend to wear.

We brought in some other Tiada speakers to help us with the check.  The consultant would ask questions about the content or meaning of each verse and ask them to answer based on what the verse said.  Since they have never seen the translation before we can get unbiased answers from them.  They are asked to answer from what the text actually says, not what they might think is correct based on what they remember about the passage or what they learned in Sunday School.  This helps the translation team ascertain whether their writing is accurate, clear, and understandable.  When the helpers have trouble answering questions or answer incorrectly, we know that there’s an issue.  Maybe the sentence is awkward, there is missing information, or the grammar is incorrect. 

This is a painstaking process!  This was the first consultant check for all of us, so there were a lot of issues to deal with.  Some sections and chapters were excellent and we flew right through them; other sections needed some work.  During the check, we were able to finish up through Matthew chapter 18, and I’m pleased to say that it’s approved for use!  We are working on finding some funding and having a second consultant check later this year to finish up chapters 19-28.  Then we can finally get Matthew printed: the first officially approved Scripture in this language! 

The team and I learned a lot during this check, and there’s some work we want to do before the next consultant check to make sure that we’re ready to go with a clear, accurate, and understandable translation.

Well, if you were ever wondering what a consultant check is, now you know. And knowing is half the battle (ala G.I. Joe).

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Hati

The Indonesian word for liver (like the liver that is in your abdomen) is hati. However, as in many other cultures, it is also the seat of the emotions, like we use the word “heart” in English.  In our studies of the Indonesian language we have come across some unusual, and sometimes funny when translated literally, ways that this word is used.

The phrase for “encourage” is membesarkan hati, which literally means “make someone’s liver bigger.” The phrase to describe someone as “generous” is murah hati, which literally means “to have a cheap liver”.”  And one we hear all the time is hati-hati which people say to mean “be careful!” But, literally it is just “liver-liver.”  People say this especially to kids and as a way to say goodbye, sort of like our “take care!” Also, in almost every phrase where we would use the word “heart” like “Jesus comes into our heart”,” the Indonesian language uses the word for “liver,’” hati.    It has been fun to learn these phrases and then to hear them in everyday speech. We just have to remember not to translate literally – I don’t want my liver made bigger, but I really don’t mind being encouraged!

We are both in unit 4 of 6 now in our language studies, which is just about the stage where we can not do everything correctly in Indonesian, but we know just enough now to confuse our English! Now we sometimes feel like we can’t speak either language at all :). Overall things are progressing well and it feels like our time here in Bandung is going really fast. Can’t believe we’re almost half-way!

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