The Devil in Manado

Date: Thu Apr 23 1992 - 09:52:00 EDT

    Reuter, Manado, Moses Manoharan, April 23 - A puritanical Christian
enclave established by Calvinist missionaries in eastern Indonesia
nearly two centuries ago is slowly succumbing to worldly vices.
    Church spires dot the skyline of Minahasa region's main city of
Manado, and in surrounding villages life revolves around the pastors and
the sermons they deliver in the evening over loudspeakers to the homes
of their rural congregations.
    However, the clergy appear to face a tough battle against a
boisterous social revolution, triggered in the 1970s by the boom in
clove farming in this Christian outpost in predominantly Moslem
    "The young are going away from the Church...they are being corrupted
in many ways," said Kelly Rondo, head of the Dutch reformed Church of
    Rondo blamed the change on the prosperity cloves have brought to the
one million people of Minahasa, in North Sulawesi Province.
    He remembered a time when an austere faith inherited from the
missionaries who followed the Dutch colonial rulers into Minahasa
strictly controlled drinking and even film going.
    "I still don't go to the cinema in Minahasa," Rondo said. However,
he said, he did see movies when away from his congregation in the
Indonesian capital of Jakarta.
    Rondo's teenage daughter, Priscilla, a large wooden crucifix around
her neck, said the Minahasans were known for their openness to change
and that this made them the target of envy.
    Her peers dress in fashionable clothes or faded jeans and throng
sleazy Manado dives, such as the new discotheque.
    Alcoholism is widespread among the young and use of drugs
increasing, older residents said.
    The Dutch chose to establish the church in Minahasa at the start of
their colonial presence in the 17th century because the region was
unique in choosing its rulers through public acclamation.
    This democratic orientation made the region more open to new
influences than areas under monarchs closely linked to Islam and hence
difficult for missionaries to penetrate.
    The Church proceeded to set up schools, which began turning out
large numbers of educated Manadonese, Rondo said.
    Real prosperity came to Manado in the early 1970s, when farmers
started to supplement their coconut crops with cloves, an essential
ingredient of the popular kretek cigarette.
    "Now, the economic prosperity is diluting the Church's influence,"
said John Goni, who teaches sociology in Sam Ratulangi university of
North Sulawesi.
    Residents remember the consumer craze that prosperity unleashed,
sending people on expensive tours abroad to buy video machines and other
electronic goods.
    The free-wheeling lifestyle broke down when an oversupply of cloves
in the past year forced into near bankruptcy a trading monopoly set up
to ensure good prices for the farmers.
    In the villages, the turmoil over cloves scarcely troubles the
austere Christian faith of the Calvinists.
    It is seen in the devotion with which farmers attend church three
times on Sundays.
    "We are fanatically Christian here," said Yohanna Lege, 44-year-old
wife of a farmer. She struggles to feed her three children and like many
other farming families now borrows to survive.
    But she insists: "For us, prayer is still the answer."