God and Mammon

by wjw on December 6, 2013

SeaLife DC1400More notes from my trip to Indonesia, demonstrating I hope that I was actually paying attention to more than just the fish.

Indonesia has more Muslims than any country in the world, but the part of Northeast Sulawesi I visited was strongly Christian, something I hadn’t known until I got there.  Even the smaller villages have a church, built in the highly individual local style.  These are “Protestant” churches, though whether they resemble Protestantism as practiced in the States is more than I can say.  I suspect they’re all sorts of Protestantism mashed together, along with a lot of native traditions.

The larger villages also have a mosque, generally of a smaller size than their churches.

Relations between the religions are cordial, which is not the case elsewhere on the island.

In the cities I also saw Catholic churches, which look like modern Catholic churches anywhere, and various other Protestant sects, especially the Adventists, who build big modernist churches very like their churches in the States.

One of the local attractions is what I call “the Flying Jesus of Manado,” built in imitation of the Christ that overlooks Rio de Janeiro.  This rather Mannerist style is typical for the region, by the way, and secular statues also demonstrate this sort of tension, motion, and lack of classical ideas of balance.


In Manado, the largest city in the district, there is also a Buddhist temple and “another temple for Chinese people,” though my informant didn’t know what kind.  I imagine Taoist.

One of our dive guides, I was told, earns $180 per month, which isn’t a lot even for Sulawesi, particularly if you’ve got a growing family.  The rest is earned out of tips, which makes it hard during the months when there aren’t a lot of visitors.  They could earn more if they worked on live-aboard dive boats, but then they’d barely see their families.

I spent a week on the small island of Siladen, with a population of maybe 300 people.  Of these, 100 work at the resort, 100 are children, and I’m guessing the others either fish or work for the government.

There is also an industry that makes concrete blocks out of the local sand, which makes it relatively cheap to buy a house.  A basic concrete block house and the land it stands upon can be had for $1000— though the beachfront land is worth less and less as the ocean waters rise.

On the mainland, near Bitung, a pre-fabricated wood house can be had for $14,000, and you can put it together yourself.  This would be spacious, of two stories, with two rooms on each floor and broad verandas, a necessity in the equatorial climate.  These houses were quite attractive— I drove through a whole development of them, large and small, just waiting for someone to come along and buy them.  (Compare with Singapore, where an apartment can be had for $13,000,000.  It’s not surprising that most Singaporeans live in government housing.)

Cars are expensive in Sulawesi, though that doesn’t seem to relieve the traffic jams.  Motorcycles are within reach of much of the population, though, and are lovingly tended.

The area around Bitung and the Minahasa Highlands is agricultural, and between the climate and the rich volcanic soil they bring in three crops per year.  Most of the farms are small, many are terraced and on the sides of hills.  They grow a lot of rice, which is entirely exported, none being consumed locally.  It mostly goes to China, and is traded for the sort of cheap consumer crap found everywhere.  The local market is full of lovely fresh vegetables and fruit, all grown locally, as well as local delicacies such as bat, rat,  and dog.  (I’ve always heard of rat-on-a-stick, but I’d never actually seen one before.)  I think I was supposed to be shocked, but I probably disappointed my interlocutors.  The animals on display may not have been shocking, but they were damned unattractive.  If someone prepared me a nice, fragrant, attractive dish of bat, I might just eat it; but what I saw was neither attractive nor fragrant.

I saw a fair amount of poverty, but I saw no despair.  People retain hope for the future.  The cities are bustling, and the crops lie thick in the fields.

Mangoes were just coming into season.  And they were tasty.

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