“Our theological-pastoral task in articulating the meaningfulness of Jesus for our cultures and our time is not accomplished by repeating and then applying the traditional dogmatic formulation to our own present day situation. Coming as they are from a different time (the 4th and the 5th centuries) and a different culture they are not only difficult to follow, but also are, as a whole, the wrong starting point to discover the meaning of Jesus today”[1]

This statement brings forth the importance of doing christology in one own context. The problem is “How Christ—savior, Son of God, fullness of life, truth and goodness, and the fullness of revelation of man—could be comprehended properly in our own culture. The reason is not to replace the classical understanding, or just following postmodernist trend regarding plurality and diversity in truth. With re-interpreting Christ we want to underline that the Incarnate Son emptied himself and became solider with us in a given time and space. Moreover, he understood himself as well as the people around him comprehended him according to the spirit of that time. In addition, as long as the self-expression of God is evolved in history, our understanding about Him and His Incarnate Son evolve. It might happen that the idea of Christ of a particular culture is less “perfect” than a homeostatic understanding of the Greek culture. Here then we find ourselves to purify that understanding as Dr. De Mesa noted it. “Through a careful analysis, we are able to determine which meanings and which associations may be affirmed about Jesus, which must be negated and which need to be purified before they are deemed suitable for the person of Jesus.”


It is not at easy to present how every ethnic group of Indonesia understand Christ since there are too many ethnic with their own different cultures. Nevertheless, I am sure with one thing: “we will not find an exact answer regarding who Jesus is if we were going to ask that question to the Indonesian Christians. They do know dogmatically who Jesus Christ is because they were taught in that way.” That is why our question should be “how to accept and internalize that dogmatic understanding?” Then we will find out that the process of accepting and internalizing it is varied in every culture. There, in every culture, the Christian’ kerygma is comprehended and welcomed according to the different internal categories and to the various cultures and world point of view.

In this paper I will limit myself in describing only the soteriological notion of Javanese (Java island) and Dani tribe in Irian (West Papua). Here we will not answer the question of who are the Javanese and Dani people.

1.a. Soteriological Notion of Javanese

For Javanese, the quest for salvation is related to their view of an ideal society. In addition, ideal society is comprehended as a harmonious society in which every person has a good relationship with god as the ultimate reality, with nature and human beings. They call this ideal situation as tentrem karta raharja. A harmonious situation in society is manifested in the form of security and peace, protection from any danger of life, prosperity, sufficient food, shelter and clothing. And the opposite of this situation is understood as a manifestation of unhealthy (bad) relationship with god, nature or fellow human beings.

In a turmoil situation, the Javanese whisper for help from god. Here they usually call the assistance of Ratu Adil (the Queen of Justice) who manifested herself in a charismatic leader in a given time. This charismatic leader carries the mission of Ratu Adil to re-establish the ideal society or tentrem karta raharja. Their hope for a Ratu Adil is manifested through practicing what they call sesajen (offering), selametan (thanksgiving) and observance of the religious traditions.

Ratu Adil is a savior for Javanese people. They believe that Ratu Adil, who embodied herself in a charismatic leader, is a sign of god’s response to their sesajen and selametan. That is why the rites of sesajen and selametan are very important.[2] They too will celebrate a fiesta when god had granted them the salvation. And this fiesta is celebrated through share nasi tumpeng. Nasi tumpeng for them is a symbol of thanksgiving, sacrificial offering, grace and togetherness.

1.b. A Collective Memory of A Savior in Dani’s Culture

Like the Javanese, the Dani tribe also has a concept of salvation as a harmonious situation in a society where there is a good relationship with god, nature, neighbors and ancestors. People used to say wah, wah, wah if they are at peace, and nahit if they are not. If they were not in a harmonious situation they will perform a rite in order to bring back the peace and harmony. For example, if a very big tree is cut in a bush, the person who cut that tree has to pay for his doing with traditional money,[3] and give it to spirit of the tree. He would take such money to the place in the afternoon or evening, the time when the spirit is believed to move around and “walks over” the money. The following morning he can return and get back the same money he has put.

Dani tribe believes that once upon a time there was a “savior” whose name is Yerebo Kaintek. He used to save Dani tribe from unharmonious situation. Ethnologically his name means “a great leader” (ye = stone, rebo = body and Kaintek is his real name). In order to bring peace and unity to his tribe he was willing to be killed. In the place, where he was killed people usually put stones forming a human body while remembering the “salvific sacrifice” of Kaintek. Kaintek was their leader, and now becomes their source of life as the one who protects them, gives them good harvest and cares for them.


The quest for salvation of those two cultures is related to the primordial nature of their life. In the beginning there was a harmonious life, tentrem kerta raharja as the Javanese call it or wah, wah, wah as the Dani tribe speak it out. However, in a certain moment came calamities, the absence of peace and harmony. Here then they need a “savior” who could bring them out from that fate situation. For the Javanese it would be Ratu Adil who manifests herself in a charismatic leader, while for Dani tribe it is a collective effort after being strengthened by the memory of the death of Kaintek. The two cultures stress also the importance of sacrificial rites as a means of invoking the salvific presence of deities.

Now, dialoguing these two cultures to Christ or vice versa, we will notice that the Javanese will accept him as a savior and bearer of peace, while Dani people consider him as a bigman, Goodman, the unifier, peace maker, fertilizer, orator, liberator and savior. Further discernment should be made the concept of salvation and the figure of the savior as well as their self-identity is different. This further discernment is important in order to avoid the tendency to reduce the divinity of Jesus into merely a human being with a wonderful salvific mission.  However, one thing is clear here: peoples need salvation. We could start a christological dialogue from here. ***

Paranaque (Metro Manila), 22 November 1998


Banawiratma SJ, JB. (Ed)., Kristologi dan Allah Tritunggal [Christology and the Trinity], Kanisius, Yogyakarta, 1986

De Mesa, Jose M. (ed)., Pastoral Agents and “Doing Christology”, East Asia Pastoral Review, Vol. 29, Nr. 2, 1992.

Geertz, Clifford, The Interpretation of Cultures, Basic Book Inc., N.Y., 1973.

[1] Jose De Mesa, ed., Pastoral Agent and ‘Doing Christology, East Asian Pastoral Review, no.29, 1990.

[2] I consider it as important to write dawn here the ritual form of slametan. “The central ritual form… is a communical fiest, called the slametan. Slametans…are intended to be both offerings to the spirits and commensal mechanisms of social integration for the living. The meal, which consists os specially prepared dishes, each symbolic of a particular religious concept, is cooked by the female members of one nuclear family household and set out on mats in the middle of the livining room. The male head of the house hold invites the male heads of the eight or ten contiguous households to attend; no closer neighbor is ignored in favor of one farher away. After a speech by the host explaining the spiritual purpose of the feast of the feast and a short Arabic chant, each man take a few hurried, ,almost furtive, gulps of food, wraps the remainder of the meal in a banana-leaf basket, and return home to share it with family. It is said that the spirits draw their sustenance from the odor of the food, the incense which is burned, and the Moslim prayer; the human participants draw theirs from the material substance of the food and from their social interaction. The result of this quiet, undramatic little ritual is twofold: the spirits are appeased and neighborhood is strenghtened.. Clifford Geertsz, The Interpretation of Cultures, Basic Book Inc., N.Y., 1973. Pg. 147.

[3] (traditional money is usually made from special seashells, dog teeth, pig’s tusk or animals like pigs and cassowary. It is the money that people use for bride price payment, compensation, exchange and indication of wealth)



  1. Dylan Maret 2, 2013 / 7:50 pm

    fantastic publish, very informative. I ponder why the opposite specialists of this sector don’t notice this. You should continue your writing. I am confident, you have a great readers’ base already!

    • Jeremias Jena Maret 4, 2013 / 1:16 am

      Thank you very much for the comments. It was written very long time ago. I myself do not involve in theological discourse, so I cannot say more than thank you.

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