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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Church History in Maluku: Possibilities toward Social History Dimensions - part three

Multidimensional approach in historical study not only may help historians to read written data or archive composed in the past (by who?), but also to read contextual reality as manifestation of historical consciousness that memorized by ordinary people in their oral forms. Here historical study is complicated in itself. I think that contemporary historical study must take seriously oral history aspects in social life. Jan Vansina in Oral Tradition as History helps us to understand different approach in historical study. I would not regard it as an ignorance to archive study, but rather as one to complete historical methodology with different paradigm.

Yes, oral traditions are documents of the present, because they are told in the present. Yet they also embody a message from the past, so they are expressions of the past at the same time. They are the representation of the past in the present. One cannot deny either the past or the present in them. To attribute their whole content to the evanescent present as some sociologists do, is to mutilate tradition; it is reductionistic. To ignore the impact of the present as some historians have done, is equally reductionistic. Traditions must always be understood as reflecting both past and present in a single breath.[1]

Therefore, historical study is not simply rely its research on archive study composed during colonial period but also on oral data from social research (interview, field social research) to compare critically what people understood about their past as collective memories. I think this is way where we can apply the so-called historical methods: searching – verification – interpretation – historiography. Through combination of archive study and sociological study (especially oral tradition), historians able to understand some social upheavals from below and interpretation of history by ordinary people, which often covered implicitly in missionaries’ notes or writings for colonial interests.

This process specifically is important for historians in Maluku since we are stagnant in archive research during Japan occupation (1942).[2] Japan military destroyed all Dutch documents and prohibited people to use anything symbol of Dutch, and restructured civil administrative by native replacing Dutch officers. There are wide historical gaps in order to understand socio-cultural and political dynamic during Japan period in Indonesia because no regular documentation as prior under Dutch administrative; whereas social reconstruction of Indonesia society until today is very determined historically by Japan military policies. For example, prohibition of Dutch language replaced by bahasa Indonesia; cultivating military discipline in civil administrative; strengthening concept of self-determination (or nationalism) guided by Japan as “old brother”; identification of Christianity as symbol of Western (Dutch) representative so-called agama penjajah (colonizer’s religion) and strengthening Islam as indigenous religion that in turn crystallized identity of Indonesia as anti-Western and anti-Christianity so that it creates polarization between Christian-Western and Islam-Indonesia.

Socio-religious conflict in Maluku few years ago actually is a crystallization of historical understanding that must be approached through social history framework.[3] In this perspective I think archive study has to be equipped, among others, with applying social science methods in order to explore historical memories precipitated inside ordinary people’s consciousness but have not recorded in written forms (archive). By this combination of historical approaches thus history being more complex, long term, but also interesting due to history is not merely about written documents or archive. History rather is living human documents.[4] If history is living human document then present occasions shall be seen as data linking human being with the past in his/her historical consciousness and alike critically to value present social relations, such as conflict between Christian and Muslim.

[1] Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), p. xii.

[2] As far I know there is only Rev. Simon Marantika’s book, i.e. GPM pada Masa Pendudukan Jepang (unknown publisher and date). A thin book noted Christian massacre (especially GPM’s ministers) by Japan military.

[3] Thanks for Dr Zakaria Ngelow who shared me some articles on social history.

[4] Gerry van Klinken, “Menyusun Sejarah Bersama di Ambon: 19 Januari 2010”. Paper presented on Seminar 11 years Conflict in Maluku held by LAIM (Maluku Interfaith Institute) at Baguala Beach Ambon 2010.

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One Earth, Many Faces

One Earth, Many Faces