Introduction / History The Island of Banggai seems to have been the central location of the Banggai possibly where there culture first started to take shape. It was later that they spread out to the surrounding islands, Peleng, Bungkulu and Labobo that were previously un-inhabited, carrying with them and maintaining until today the Banggai culture. When asked about their own origins the people were unaware exactly where they came from, but seem to think it likely they were a sea people possibly from the Philippines that settled these islands long ago.
Where are they located? The Banggai Archipelago is set off the east coast of Central Sulawesi Tengah peninsula consisting of 123 islands 69 of which are inhabited. There are 193 villages.
What are their lives like? The Banggai people are a rugged people though heavily influenced by globalization and modernity, for most life is still hacked out of the jungle and taken from the sea. The number one crop is coconut or kalapa second and third would be cloves and coco. They grow a great variety according to the season and demand such as: mango, papaya, durian, kasava, squash, bananas, cashews and sea grass (made into jelly). Introduced crops that are common include corn, potatoes, yams, rice, tomatoes, and hot chili peppers. The tomatoes and peppers are made into a local must with every dish – daubu daubu which is a fresh chili sauce designed to be hot or pedas. The kasava is a tuber that is harvested and is a staple in the Banggai diet and durian is a fruit. The livestock raised by the Banggai include chickens, cows, goats, horses, donkeys and pigs but only by non-Muslims. Eggs are a staple in the Banggai diet along with the variety of fish that are caught everyday. The Banggai also farm oysters and shrimp and sea turtles are harvested for their meat, and so jewelry can be fashioned from their shells.
Their houses are typically modest, corrugated steel roofing, wood panel walls and wood slat floors. The houses are open, meaning insects and lizards are frequent visitors indoors along with mosquitoes. Most of the 193 villages have electricity provided by the government but not everyone can afford it. Fresh water is more of a concern, as some of the villages still must carry water from rivers and springs. The average village size is approximately 800 people, though the village sizes in their culture are more commonly counted or measured by number of families. Often villages are separated into family/clan groups, which would be very small typically, but also by religion. Many villages have sub villages with the main village one religion and the sub village another – either Muslim or Christian.
Cell phones are extremely common, and satellite TV is found in nearly every village, and there is an abundance of small engine scooters that make up the primary mode of transportation on the islands. Homes with satellite TV are easily located at night because of the crowd out front watching; every night becomes a community event. The shows watched are from Indonesian programming, though they are fond of music videos and "American Idol". With western clothing and amenities like cell phones and television, the Banggai seem to be concerned more with being modern rather than Banggai.
There is a very real danger of losing this language within the next two or three generations, due to the emphasis on Indonesian as a first language. Banggai has already within one or two generations been reduced to a second or insider language. The vitality of the language may rest in Bible translations that allow the Banggai to engage scripture in their ancestral tongue.
What are their beliefs? The Religious traditions of the Banggai are first Animism, the Banggai then were introduced to Islam around the 12th or 13th century when Muslim traders made their way into the area. Islam overtook the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms and became the prevailing religion of the 17,000 Islands that make up Indonesia. Christianity came with the Dutch colonists during the 1600s but it seems that the gospel took until the 20th century to reach the Banggai people.
There are now 193 Mosques in the Banggai Island regency, 264 churches in 2007 up from 182 in 2006, and 52 Catholic churches according to the Religion Department of Banggai Archipelago Regency. There are approximately 351 Hindus in the area and 25 Buddhist.
The dynamics of the situation is that there are three prevailing religions, Islam, Christianity and Animism. Animism is now contained largely within these other two faiths, creating a syncretistic faith for both the Muslims and Christians in the area. The witch doctor or Dukun is in high demand among the Banggai, being used to help crops to grow, locate good fishing and healing the sick. The witch doctor is often the only true Animist, but even they mold their work so that it can fit both the Christian and the Muslim.
The Islam practiced here is a shadow or distorted reflection of traditional Islam, as animism and Indonesian culture have shaped the face of Islam in Indonesia.
The Mosque plays a central role because this is the strongest reminder of Islam in the area, when the call to prayer is played throughout the day. Friday prayers bring many men and women to gather and pray.
Though Christianity comes out the underdog in terms of numbers of adherents, it has vitality in the region. Each pastor interviewed had attended a one, two or four year school for Bible and Pastoral training. It was mentioned by several of the local pastors that they needed more materials to assist them in producing quality sermons. The pastors are primarily paid a salary from the church and may do some farming on the side to help reduce living costs – but primarily they are not bi-vocational.
For the Indonesian church the protestant church leaders are called pendetas or priests in English and the Catholic leaders are called pastors. There is a service on Sunday morning, and for many of the churches survey they also conduct a Sunday school. Throughout the week there is at least one night where people will gather in home for a prayer meeting and Bible study as a way of discipleship and community building. A common outreach of churches is to conduct house to house meetings, where a group from the church will visit homes of people who no longer or never have attended the local church. What there is not in any intentional way in any church surveyed is any attempt to witness or reach out to Muslims.
In all of the surveys conducted with Muslims and Christians, in all the homes, in all the villages the response to the following question came back unanimous. "Is there any tension between Muslims or Christians?" the answer was always no. During more than one conversation it was said of the relationship between these two faiths "there is a great peace". When asked about why this peace exsists the answers again returned unanimous, saying that "we are the same tribe, so no problem" the words in Indonesian are "Suku Banggai" translated as "original Banggai". The great peace even extends into intermarrying situations between Banggai members who are of differing faith.
What are their needs? The Indonesian government has national development plans that call for increased infrastructure in the form of roads, clean water, electricity, medical care and schools.
Education is key; it opens doors for other avenues of employment, which translates into greater chances of consistent family stability.
Other needs are:
1. Crop and livestock management techniques.
2. Clean Water, by constructing the piping system from springs to tanks in the village.
3. Medical Care, provided at low cost or free.
4. Microfinance loan system to provide the needed capital for farmers, fisherman and businessmen and women needed to buy materials for their trade.
5. Community health evangelism
Prayer Points The number one obstacle in the way of the Gospel going forth is Islam. With at least a 60% Muslim population in the area and no active outreach of Christians to this community, Islam will maintain its hold.
The second great obstacle is syncretism, the mixing of Animism with both Christianity and Islam. Both Islam and Christianity are influenced by the presence of witch doctors in the area.
The next greatest threat to the Gospel is globalization which is bringing in outside secular influences that are having a broad sweeping effect on Banggai youth. This results in drugs, alcohol and increased sexual activity due to the influence of music, television and movies being piped in via satellite TV.
Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses may be coming to the area soon.