The dead are potent and omnipresent in modern Indonesia. Presidents and peasants alike meditate before sacred graves to exploit the power they confer, and mediums do good business curing the sick by interpreting the wishes of deceased forebears. Among non-Muslims there are ritual burials of the bones of the dead in monuments both magnificent and modest. By promoting dead heroes to a nationalist pantheon, regions and ethnic groups establish their place within the national story.

Although much has been written about the local forms of the scriptural religions to which modern Indonesians are required by law to adhere - Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism - this is the first book to assess the indigenous systems of belief in the spirits of ancestors. Sometimes these systems are condemned in the name of the formal religions, but more often the potent dead coexist as a private dimension of everyday religious practice.

A unique team of anthropologists, historians and literary scholars from Europe, Australia and North America demonstrate the continuing importance of the potent dead for understanding contemporary Indonesia. At the same time, they help us understand historic processes of conversion to Islam and Christianity by examining the continuing interactions of the spirit world with formal religion.

chapter 3|16 pages

Witnessing the creation of ancestors in Laboya (West Sumba, Eastern Indonesia)

ByDanielle C. Geirnaert

chapter 5|19 pages

Remembering our dead: the care of the ancestors in Tana Toraja

ByElizabeth Coville

chapter 6|15 pages

Island of the Dead. Why do Bataks erect tugu?

ByAnthony Reid

chapter 9|9 pages

Saints and ancestors: the cult of Muslim saints in Java 1

ByHenri Chambert-Loir

chapter 12|10 pages

The role of a Javanese burial ground in local government

ByGeorge Quinn

chapter 13|22 pages

'National ancestors': the ritual construction of nationhood

ByKlaus H. Schreiner