Barnabas and the Evangelists

One day a group of evangelists came to town. In some ways this was just business as usual for the locals. Lots of people, outsiders, pass through the settlement every month. These visitors were Indonesians, however, which meant, from a local point of view, that they had a mission to fulfil. A decision to undertake a journey to the Rereiket is not something that non-indigenous Indonesians make on the spur of the moment, nor without a sound reason for doing so.

The visitors were, more specifically, Bataks, from the Lake Toba region of the province of North Sumatra. They stayed in an annex to Martis’s shop, the Nias expatriate whose relatives owned stores in the various settlements along the Rereiket river. In the evening having fired up the pressure lanterns they held a proseletising session from the balcony of the annex, two in suits, the rest dressed neatly…appropriately.

Animated singing and storytelling in Indonesian was the modus operandi, led by one of the older members of the group. A crowd of a dozen or so youths looked on displaying expressions of noncommittment. Twas ever thus. One got the feeling, however, that the gleam in the eye of the leader, the pastor, perhaps misreading the situation, was not solely due to the glare of the lanterns.

Passion was the order of the evening, passion and stories. The power of Jesus was the message, stories of modern miracles the vehicle. Speaking from personal experience the pastor firstly related his call to office. His child seriously ill, he promised Jesus he would go and preach out on Siberut should Jesus save his child, an outcome which had come to pass.

Then there was the flight from Pekanbaru (Riau) to Tanjung Pinang in which the plane was going down, only to come up again when the Pastor implored help from Jesus. Only Jesus can save you from danger and sickness he thundered from the pulpit. Amantigtig and some other were not so sure. Somewhat tongue in cheek they asked the rhetorical question of themselves, “Why is he angry at us?”, referring to the forceful style of sermon delivery employed by the pastor. Others who had gathered after the sermon had commenced were less diplomatic, engaging in some serious heckling, calling out among other things, “iba, joja, bilo” (species of gibbon).

Barnabus, newly returned from the Sumatran littoral, savvy in the ways of the “sareu” (outsider), converted this sentiment into action. He returned to his father’s uma located some 30m down the path and began to passionately strike the tuddukat, the means by which one usually announced the successful killing of “iba” such as “joja” and “bilo” to all and sundry. The “plonk, plonk” of the blows raining upon the instruments continued well into the night, after the sermon had ended, and the audience had gone about their business elsewhere.

Along with the inauguration festivities of the new shaman in a nearby uma, Amantektekmanai, heralded by the urgent rhythms of the gajeuma (ritual drums/percussion), the combined effect, minimally, told a poingnant story of the many voices that contribute to the contemporary reality of the Rereiket at the end of the millenium. But you really had to be there.

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