FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

The ritual war game of Pasola

The sun was scorching hot when I landed on the southwest tip of Sumba island in mid-February. Sumba island is a small dot that makes up one of the islands of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

To get there I caught a small plane from Bali, and arrived at Tambulaka airport, which is small and surrounded by green hills. From there, I rented a car and drove on small paved roads that cut through villages and little wooden houses. During the journey, I discovered a strong presence of animism, in the form of respects to ancestors. At every corner of the towns and villages, the houses have a traditional worship place and the graveyards of their ancestors, and at this time of year, when it is high time to prepare for blessings from the Gods, the graveyards are adorned with offerings of beetle fruits.

After a two hour drive, I arrived at the remote Kodi Pangedo village, a place where the Pasola festivity is held each year in February and stayed for four days there without electricity and very little water for the shower. In fact, I only showered once for three days in the village.

Pasola is a ritual of the West Sumba people, a part of the local Sumba belief called Marapu, to ask the blessings of the gods for a good harvest for the year, from the rural people whose livelihoods depend on corn and rice. The Pasola ritual is a war game between two groups of 100 men from the Hill village and the lowland village, forcing the horses which they ride on bareback with no saddle to run faster, and how they strategize to win the war, with the rest of the villages as the judges.

On the day the Pasola festival started, two horse troops of Sumba knights armed with blunted wooden spears, wearing head gears shaped like electric green and red fences around their heads and traditional woven cloth around their waists, faced against each other on a vast green field.

Preaching good sex, Muslim-inspired Obedient Wives Club spreads in Asia

(Newly-wed Ummu Honey Lokman Hakim, 19, a member of "The Obedient Wife Club", bows to her 23-year-old husband Mohd Syurahbil Amran, during a mass wedding ceremony in conjunction with the club's launch in Kuala Lumpur June 4, 2011/Samsul Said )

Indonesian Gina Puspita traded a career in aircraft engineering for a mission to preach Islam and help young women build happy marriages through good sex. The French-educated mother of three hosts religious programmes through the Obedient Wives Club which is based on the belief that a fulfilling sex life is the cure for “Western-style” social problems such as divorce and abuse.

“Wives must obey the husbands in all aspect of life, such as serving food and drinks, giving calm and support for the husband, as well as in sex relations,” Pusipita, who shares her spouse with three other women, told Reuters.

Indonesian Islamists shift targets, religious intolerance rises

(A woman comforts her injured husband at Pelabuhan hospital in Cirebon April 15, 2011. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque inside a police compound in Indonesia on Friday, wounding people, police said, in the most serious incident in a recent spate of attacks by Islamist militants. REUTERS/Shan Shan)

(A victim of a suicide bomb attack at a mosque inside a police compound in Indonesia in the most serious incident in a recent spate of attacks by Islamist militants, April 15, 2011/Shan Shan)

A suicide bombing in Indonesia last week highlighted a trend of militants acting alone or in small groups to attack Indonesians rather than foreigners to push an Islamist agenda, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report. This has raised concern about more low-level attacks in the world’s most populous Muslim country, which has been seen as having successfully combated militancy but is now seeing a spike in religious intolerance.

“Ideological shifts originating in the Middle East have combined with local circumstances to produce a trend that favours targeted killings over indiscriminate bombings, local over foreign targets and individual or small group action over operations by more hierarchical organisations,” the ICG said on Tuesday.

Malaysia’s Young Imam reality TV show widens reach to Southeast Asia

(Finalists of Malaysia's paid TV programme "Young Imam, Season 2" pose after its live telecast in Kuala Lumpur April 18, 2011. The finalists are, from left; Najdi, Azlan, Mujahid, Amar, Fakhrul, Nazrul, Hassan, Fadli, Fatah and Ali. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad )

(Finalists of Malaysia's paid TV programme "Young Imam, Season 2" pose after its live telecast in Kuala Lumpur April 18, 2011/Bazuki Muhammad )

A hit Malaysian Islamic reality TV show kicked off its second season this week after drawing more than 1,000 hopefuls from the region in a sign of the religion’s growing reach in Southeast Asia. Combining a reality TV format with Islamic teachings, the “Imam Muda” or “Young Imam” show is a talent contest for male Muslims aged between 18 and 27 who can speak Malay, with the winner crowned an Imam or religious leader.

The prime-time show features contestants in sharp-looking black suits who are judged on a variety of tasks including reciting Koranic verses, washing corpses, slaughtering sheep according to Muslim rules and counseling promiscuous young Muslim couples.

More Indonesian Islamists resorting to violence, anti-terror agency says

indonesia islamists

(Supporters of radical Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir chant "God is great", in support of their leader at his trial in a South Jakarta court March 10, 2011/Enny Nuraheni )

Indonesian militants are using parcel bombs and targeting minorities to try to push an Islamist agenda on the government and they could launch further small attacks, the country’s anti-terror agency chief told Reuters. Militant attacks and incidents of religious intolerance have risen in recent weeks, with mobs lynching three followers of a minority Islamic sect and torching two churches on Java island. Parcel bombs have been sent to people involved in promoting pluralism and counter-terrorism in Jakarta.

The head of the National Counter-Terrorism Agency, Ansyaad Mbai, said Islamic organisations that had not previously been involved in acts of terror were joining a militant network in Indonesia because of a convergence on certain issues.

Bomb hits office of liberal Indonesian Islamic group defending Ahmadis

(A Muslim woman holds a placard during a protest against the Ahmadi sect in Jakarta February 18, 2011. Indonesia's highest Islamic authority and many mass Islamic organisations in the most populous Muslim country consider Ahmadi "heretical" for believing that Mohammad was not Islam's final prophet. The placard reads, "Disband Ahmadi". REUTERS/Beawiharta)

(A protest against the Ahmadi sect in Jakarta February 18, 2011. The sign reads "Disband Ahmadiyah"/Beawiharta)

A small explosion has hit the Jakarta office of the Liberal Islamic Network, an Indonesian group that has defended the rights of minority Islamic  Ahmadi sect, a witness said. The explosion on Tuesday, which injured three people, comes a month after a mob beat to death three followers of the Ahmadi sect, considered heretical by mainstream Muslims.

Indonesia has won praise for largely defeating Islamic terror, but a recent spike in religious intolerance could heighten risk concerns for foreign investors counting on improved stability in Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Indonesia Muslims attack court, churches; mob kills Ahmadis

indonesia 1

(Anti-riot police block protesters outside the court where a Catholic man is on trial for blasphemy in Temanggung February 8, 2011/Stringer)

Hundreds of Muslim radicals set two churches ablaze and attacked a court in Indonesia’s central Java on Tuesday, calling for harsh punishment for a Christian on trial for blasphemy, police said.

The attacks come two days after a mob beat to death three followers of a minority Islamic sect considered heretical by mainstream Muslims, and at the start of so-called “Inter-faith week”, when the country is supposed to celebrate its pluralistic heritage.

Indonesian Muslim cleric warns against over-the-top Christmas

indonesia (Photo: Two Indonesian women — the one on the left wearing a Muslim headscarf — pose for a photo in front of a Christmas tree in a shopping mall in Jakarta December 23, 2010/Dadang Tri)

Opulent Christmas decorations at shopping malls in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, could incite anger among non-Christians, the country’s highest Islamic authority said on Thursday. Although 90 percent of the country’s 240 million people are Muslim, the capital’s myriad glitzy malls have been decorated with Christmas lights and bunting — including faux snow, Santas and nativity scenes.

“Christmas describes a certain religion, and if the religion advertises it too overtly — even though they have only a small number of followers — it will cause jealousy and anger from other groups,” said Ma’ruf Amin, of Indonesia’s Ulema Council.

Retailers say the giant Christmas trees, paper mache reindeers and carols serve no religious purpose and are there to attract more shoppers during the holiday seasons. But Amin said over-the-top festivities could hurt existing tolerance.

Michelle Obama dons headscarf at Indonesian mosque

michelleU.S. First Lady Michelle Obama donned a headscarf on a visit to an mosque in Indonesia on Wednesday, not a requirement for a non-Muslim but a sign of the Obamas’ efforts to show respect for the Islamic world.

Wearing a beige headscarf adorned with gold beads and a flowing chartreuse trouser suit, she toured Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque, Southeast Asia’s largest, while on a short state visit to the world’s most populous Muslim country. (Photo: U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, Grand Imam Ali Mustafa Yaqub and President Barack Obama tour the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta November 10, 2010/Jason Reed)

U.S. President Barack Obama had been expected to visit another major religious site during his Asian tour, the Sikh Golden Temple in India, but media reports said the visit was canceled after aides balked at the idea of the president wearing a scarf or skullcap required at the site.

Muslims say Obama failing to keep Cairo promises

obama protest (Photo: A protest against U.S. President Barack Obama in Jakarta November 9, 2010/Dadang Tri)

President Barack Obama’s pledge on Wednesday in Jakarta to strive for better relations with the Muslim world drew skepticism in Cairo, where last year he called for a new beginning in the Middle East after years of mistrust.

Seventeen months after Obama’s Cairo University speech, al Qaeda is still threatening the West, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain stalled over the issue of West Bank settlements and U.S. troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many in the Middle East believe that Washington’s tight alliance with Israel makes it impossible to end the suffering of the Palestinians, breeding cynicism among Arab Muslims toward U.S. intentions in the region.