Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Millenarianism as Avoidance in the Uplands of North Sumatra in the 19th Century

Friday, July 6
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Mahogany, First Floor

Two waves of mass conversions bookended the nineteenth century in the North Sumatran uplands. The first was a turn towards Islam among the Mandailing, Angkola, and Rao in South Tapanuli following the violent incursion of neo-Wahhabi Padris from West Sumatra at the turn of century. The second was a large increase in the number of conversions to Christianity in the wake of the Batak War (1872-1907) at the end of the century. Submerged within these conversions was the simultaneous development of millenarian movements that sought to displace imperial powers that were encroaching on their space by incorporating new Gods into the animist belief-system. This paper compares the geographies of the millenarian phenomena during these periods of unrest by identifying the spatial and demographic distribution of these groups. While the data from Malay manuscripts and Dutch reports during the period provide a patchy picture, it suggests that these groups tended to be most active at the borders of areas that were being intensively converted to cash crop cultivation. In line with Adas' (1981) characterization, millenarianism may also be thought of as a form of avoidance protest or means by which discontented groups seek to express their dissatisfaction through flights, sectarian withdrawal or other activities that do not provoke an outright confrontation. Such a characterization complicates the notion of religious conversion as a sharp rejection of the old in favor of the new.

Faizah Zakaria

Yale University, United States

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1 - Millenarianism as Avoidance in the Uplands of North Sumatra in the 19th Century



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