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Vol.4, No.2 Blackburn, Tan

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

The Emergence of Heritage Conservation in Singapore and the Preservation of Monuments Board (1958–76)

Kevin Blackburn* and Tan Peng Hong Alvin**

* Department of Humanities and Social Studies Education, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, 1 Nanyang Walk, Singapore 637616

Corresponding author’s e-mail: kevin.blackburn[at]nie.edu.sg

** Raffles Girls’ School, 20 Anderson Road, Singapore 259978

This article demonstrates that the beginnings of the heritage conservation debate in Singapore extend back to the colonial period. It argues that the early colonial and postcolonial debates on heritage conservation in Singapore were influenced by a Western hegemony over what constituted heritage and how it could be conserved. A non-governmental organization, the Friends of Singapore, emerged in 1937 and battled to preserve what it saw as the heritage of Singapore. The organization helped the colonial government draw up a list of historic sites, monuments, and buildings for preservation in Singapore’s 1958 Master Plan. The coming to power of the People’s Action Party in 1959 began a debate within bureaucratic circles on urban renewal versus heritage conservation. The People’s Action Party believed it had a mandate to demolish what it saw as old slums in the central city area and replace them with better housing in the form of modern government high-rise apartments. In the 1960s, various government committees considered the 1958 heritage list and proposed setting up a government body to administer the preservation of heritage buildings. The Preservation of Monuments Board (now called the Preservation of Sites and Monuments) was charged with carrying out this task when it was established in 1971. However, by the late 1970s, Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority increasingly became the state agency to conserve whole zones while the Preservation of Monuments Board was allocated the task of gazetting for the preservation of individual buildings and sites.

Keywords: Singapore, preservation, conservation, monuments, sites

In Singapore, where a strong state has driven heritage conservation measures, there has evolved a distribution of conservation work between two state agencies—the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Preservation of Monuments Board (known since 2013 as the Preservation of Sites and Monuments). The Urban Redevelopment Authority has designated whole conservation zones, while the smaller Preservation of Monuments Board has picked out individual historic monuments and buildings for preservation. The beginning of heritage conservation in Singapore lies with the events that led to the creation of the Preservation of Monuments Board in 1971. The Urban Redevelopment Authority did not commence its involvement in heritage conservation until much later. The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s designation of key conservation areas, such as Chinatown, Kampong Glam, and Little India, started only in the 1980s. Singapore’s heritage non-governmental organization, the Singapore Heritage Society, was not established until 1987. The Preservation of Monuments Board had already been listing historic buildings for conservation for 16 years. Studying the history of the creation of the Preservation of Monuments Board in Singapore reveals the forces behind the early emergence of heritage conservation in Singapore and how Western ideas and institutions provided models for heritage conservation in Singapore to follow.

Heritage conservation was often viewed as a luxury developing countries such as Singapore could not afford during the early years of independence. There was an urgency to rapidly industrialize and to maximize urban space for commercial development and modern housing through urban renewal. This has been taken to mean that little thought was given to heritage conservation by postcolonial governments until after significant economic development had occurred (Yeoh and Huang 1996, 411). However, Lily Kong, in her history of Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, suggested an opposing view. She proposed that even during the intense period of demolition and rebuilding of urban renewal, there were advocates of heritage conservation within the bureaucracy “who persisted until their voices became more influential” (Kong 2010, 47). These voices, although present in the 1960s and 1970s, had to wait for a wider acceptance within the bureaucracy. Her argument is that Singapore government agencies “were not monolithic or homogenous”; instead “within those agencies and bodies, multiple voices seek to be heard” (ibid.). Lily Kong and Brenda Yeoh (2003, 131) make it clear that in Singapore, the “state’s engagement with issues of heritage” only occurred more fully at “a specific juncture of its development”—the 1980s and 1990s. However, the Preservation of Monuments Board had its genesis during the 1960s. Debates in the 1960s that led to the Preservation of Monuments Board’s creation might reveal more about these early voices of heritage conservation that Kong describes as not coming to the fore until much later.

Kong’s assertion that there were quiet heritage debates within the Singapore bureaucracy in the 1960s and 1970s is hinted at by some published material reflecting the thinking of the bureaucrats and the politicians. In one article, Alan Choe, who became in 1964 the first head of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s predecessor, the Urban Renewal Department, asserted: “Contrary to misinformed belief, urban renewal does not mean just the pulling down of slum sections and rebuilding on the cleared area” (1969, 165). He argued: “There are actually three indispensable elements of urban renewal; conservation, rehabilitation and rebuilding. This would mean identification of the areas worth preserving; a programme to improve such areas and make them habitable with an improved environment; and an identification of the areas that must be demolished and rebuilt” (1968, 2–5). In a published interview, Choe even mentioned that in 1967 then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had approached him with his concern that not enough consideration had been given to preserving historic buildings in the rush by Singapore’s urban planners to engage in urban renewal (Straits Times, April 12, 2014). These published statements raise the question why there was not more of a balance between conservation and redevelopment of the urban landscape. This article uses recently declassified material in the Singapore state’s archives to answer this question and explore these early conservation debates.

Heritage debates that developed from colonial times into the early postcolonial period in other Asian countries have been influenced by what Denis Byrne has called a “Western hegemony in heritage management” spread “by a process of ideology transfer rather than imposition” (1991, 273). Ken Taylor (2004), expanding on Byrne, argued that Western heritage organizations, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and Western codes of heritage preservation, such as the 1964 Venice Charter, were in the early debates over heritage conservation not culturally sensitive enough to incorporate traditional Asian views. Western notions of heritage conservation described in the Venice Charter have emphasized “authenticity” of the original building materials, while traditional Asian notions of heritage have seen little wrong with regular rebuilding and expansion of historic buildings that maintain “the spirit of the place” and the traditional skills needed to rebuild and expand (Byrne 1991, 275).

The Venice Charter, in particular, has been seen as delineating in Western terms the very definitions of heritage management in many of the early debates of the 1960s and 1970s (Winter 2014, 123). In the Venice Charter, conservation was synonymous with preservation. Conserving a building or site meant keeping it “authentic” and preserving it with no changes. Restoration contrasted with preservation. Changes to a historic building or site were limited by strict prohibitions allowing the use of only “original” and “authentic” materials in the restoration process. The Charter outlined a conception of heritage in its preamble, declaring: “Imbued with a message from the past, the historic monuments of generations of people remain to the present day as living witnesses of their age-old traditions. People are becoming more and more conscious of the unity of human values and regard ancient monuments as a common heritage” (ICOMOS). Were the early heritage debates in Singapore during the rapid redevelopment of its urban landscape influenced by this Western hegemony, as is suggested by studies of other Asian countries?

Heritage Conservation in Colonial Singapore

The urban redevelopment of Singapore was planned well before the People’s Action Party (PAP) government took over in 1959 when Singapore achieved self-government. These plans do suggest a Western hegemony, in particular, dominating ideas from the center of the British Empire. In 1955, a Master Plan for Singapore, modeled on the Greater London Plan prepared by Peter Abercrombie in 1944, was drawn up by veteran British town planner Sir George Pepler (Lim 1955, column 574). He had been responsible for Britain’s Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, which enacted many of Abercrombie’s ideas (Khublall and Yuen 1991, 40).

The Singapore Master Plan was approved by the Governor in 1958 as a statute that controlled all future urban development until 1972 (Dale 1999, 73–77). It became known as the 1958 Master Plan. Pepler’s main recommendations contained many features of the Greater London Plan. Singapore’s Master Plan promoted decentralization by setting up satellite “new towns” outside the Central Area such as Woodlands, Yio Chu Kang, and Jurong, to facilitate future urban growth rather than add to an already densely populated Central Area. The Master Plan was designed to accommodate Singapore’s doubling of population from one million in 1953 to two million in 1972. Urban redevelopment of Singapore’s overcrowded Central Area was planned. A green belt was envisaged to contain the expansion of the Central Area. All these concepts applied to Singapore had their origins in Abercrombie’s ideas. The planned urban redevelopment of Singapore appears to illustrate notions of a Western hegemony over the cultural and urban landscape during the colonial period.

One of the other recommendations of the plan was that the colonial urban planning agency and public housing builder, the Singapore Improvement Trust, “shall prepare and shall supplement and amend from time to time a list of ancient monuments and land and buildings of historic and/architectural interest” (Colony of Singapore 1955, 17). The Singapore Improvement Trust took on an additional role of “the protection of ancient monuments and land and buildings of historic and/or architectural interest” (ibid.). Thirty historic buildings and sites, all dating before the mid-nineteenth century, were listed by the Master Plan as worthy of preservation. Their selection seemed to follow the then current Western ideas of “authenticity” and antiquity, because no building from the twentieth century was included. However, there were compromises as most of the temples and mosques had undergone substantial restorations since their erection in the nineteenth century.

The list included many temples such as the Thian Hock Keng and the Sri Mariamman temples in Chinatown, built in 1821 and 1827 respectively. Also listed were an equal number of mosques such as the Jamae Mosque in Chinatown, which was first built in 1826. European churches were included, such as the Catholic Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, constructed in 1846, and the Anglican St Andrews Cathedral, built in 1862. Raffles Institution, a school erected in 1837, and Outram Gaol, built in 1847, were also buildings to be preserved. One Indian and two Malay-Muslim graveyards were on the list (ibid.). The list was a multicultural representation of Singapore’s different races and faiths. This was the first time a Singapore state agency had been entrusted with heritage conservation.

The 1955 heritage list of what were called “Ancient Monuments and Land and Buildings of Architectural and/or Historical Interest” did not represent the first compilation of Singapore’s historic buildings and sites. However, it was the first list in Singapore presented by a state agency for future preservation. In 1954, the colonial administration had formed what it called the Ancient Monuments Committee to compile a list of historic buildings and monuments. This list designated sites where historic markers were placed; it was not for protecting sites and buildings, and it did not stop buildings from being demolished (Public Relations Office, 625/54).

The 1954 and 1955 lists were examples of what Laurajane Smith called a situation in which heritage is designated by a “hegemonic discourse” which was “reliant on power/knowledge claims of technical and aesthetic experts” (2006, 11). The committees that drew up the 1954 and 1955 lists also illustrated Byrne’s notion that in Asia, there was a Western and colonial hegemony over what constituted heritage. Both committees comprised mainly colonial officials who were trained in British ideas of what were regarded as historic buildings, monuments, and sites. They included Michael Wilmer Forbes Tweedie and Carl Alexander Gibson-Hill, the postwar directors of the Raffles Museum. All items listed were originally erected in the early nineteenth century. Most items on the lists were temples and mosques. Older religious buildings and sites were seen as more “authentic” and “original” representations of Asian cultures (Public Relations Office, 625/54).

The 1955 list was drawn up in consultation with an organization known as the “Friends of Singapore” (Ministry of Culture, 276/63). This society was founded in 1937 by wealthy and well-educated members of the colonial elite in order to “stimulate interest in the cultural and historical life of Singapore” (Straits Times, August 19, 1948). The organization’s founder was European lawyer Sir Roland St. J. Braddell, who had written a history of Singapore (Singapore Free Press, September 10, 1947). One of the society’s objectives was the “preservation of historical buildings and sites” (Friends of Singapore, Charter). European firms held “life membership” in the society in order to financially support the organization. Its patron was Sir Robert Black, the Governor of Singapore (Straits Times, August 26, 1955; January 23, 1957). When the Master Plan became law in 1958 after extensive public meetings on its proposals, two more buildings were added to the list to make a total of 32. These were the Sun Yat Sen Villa in the Balestier Road area and the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple in Little India.

The Friends of Singapore continued to have considerable influence over the listing of historic buildings. The society was invigorated by the heritage preservation powers of the Singapore Improvement Trust. Previously, the society had failed in its attempt to produce a historic guide to Singapore, and its major achievement was putting up portraits of all of Singapore’s governors in the Victoria Memorial Hall (Singapore Free Press, April 1, 1948). In 1956, the Friends of Singapore supported the Singapore Improvement Trust in resisting objections to the heritage listing of Killiney House at No. 3 Oxley Rise, which was built in 1842 by the Surgeon General Dr. Thomas Oxley. The owner, Chartered Bank Trustee Company, felt that if the building were classified as an “ancient monument,” it would be hard to sell it, so the company wanted it removed from the list. The Friends of Singapore gave the Singapore Improvement Trust historical and architectural “evidence that the property should be preserved for prosperity” (Straits Times, June 21, 1956). Killiney House remained on the list. In the same year, the Friends of Singapore successfully fought to keep a nature park in the Master Plan that marked a 1942 battle between the Malay Regiment and the Japanese, as park space. The army had proposed that it be turned into a car park (Straits Times, June 22, 1956; July 12, 1956).

In 1957, at the Friends of Singapore’s 20th anniversary dinner, its president T. W. Ong, a wealthy Anglophile Chinese businessman, felt emboldened to make the organization’s first clear statement against the demolition of historic buildings: “We should not tear down historical buildings and monuments so quickly in order to put up some new brick and mortar building for it is difficult to replace some monuments” (Singapore Free Press, February 7, 1957). For Ong and the Friends of Singapore, these buildings reinforced the collective memories of the past of the country’s different ethnic communities (Friends of Singapore, Report and Accounts for the Year 1937/38). Ong added: “Singapore would be a city without a soul if the cultures of its various races were not maintained” (Singapore Free Press, February 7, 1957). The activities of the Friends of Singapore demonstrated that in the 1950s, there appeared little difference between preservation and conservation. These terms were as they appeared in the Venice Charter in the 1960s—almost interchangeable. This Western hegemony over the terms of heritage used in Singapore was also evident in the terminology and ideas employed in the redevelopment of the urban landscape, which became a priority in the early postcolonial period.

Urban Renewal and “Rehabilitation” of Historic Areas

This emerging awareness of heritage conservation within and outside of the state threatened to be side-lined by the election of the People’s Action Party (PAP) government in 1959 when Singapore achieved self-government from the colonial administration. The PAP came to power on a party platform promising to create more jobs and to build more public housing (Fong 1980, 72). This entailed what it called “clearing the slums”—demolishing dilapidated old buildings overcrowded with the urban poor in the Central Area of the city of Singapore and erecting modern flats in their place (The Tasks Ahead 1959, 29). The PAP’s 1959 election manifesto declared that “the Colonial Government has failed miserably in housing the people, and the result is more and more slums” (ibid.). The priority of the PAP was that “land can be used fully for housing and industrial development” (ibid.).

Some members of the incoming PAP government evinced animosity towards the Friends of Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew, leader of the PAP and after 1959 the new Prime Minister of Singapore, dismissed the Friends of Singapore as a “quaint” society “whose objects is the entertainment of past and present Governors and one of whose duties is to collect portraits of previous Governors” in order to get what he called “kudos” from the Governor (Lee 1956, column 186). The Friends of Singapore was equally dismissive of Lee. Its president Ong alleged that Lee was engaged in the “distortion of facts to gain personal publicity,” which Ong said, “was not an uncommon trait among leaders of any extremist party.” Ong went even further, adding that Lee was in a position where he “must concoct something to save his own skin” (Straits Times, September 9, 1956). These words were exchanged between Lee and Ong in 1956, but they doomed the Friends of Singapore as an emerging heritage NGO once Singapore’s colonial administration handed power over to the PAP. The Friends of Singapore ceased to have any influence and was disbanded by the 1970s.

After 1959, urban planning in Singapore entered a new stage. In the last few months of the colonial administration in February 1959, legislation was drafted to dissolve the Singapore Improvement Trust into two organizations: the Housing Development Board to build public housing and the Planning Department. The transition to the postcolonial government meant these ordinances did not come into effect until February 1960. However, there were teething problems for the postcolonial government. There was an acute shortage of planning staff in the Planning Department, which consisted of three local urban planners, only two of whom had experience in the Singapore Improvement Trust (Dale 1999, 78). Given the deficiencies of an understaffed, ad hoc, and uncoordinated haphazard planning process, the Singapore government requested assistance from the United Nations Development Programme for recommendations on dealing with the difficult issues of urban renewal and redevelopment. This culminated in several key reports and recommendations that had far-reaching consequences for the Singapore landscape.

The first United Nations mission in 1962, led by Erik Lorange, recommended the complete revision of the 1958 Master Plan in order to pursue redevelopment, large-scale public housing, and the establishment of new towns. Ole Johan Dale (1999, 78), a Singapore-based urban planner, deemed the catalyst which Lorange provided for urban renewal as his “most important contribution.” For Lorange, “the social arguments for taking up central redevelopment of Singapore are evident and obtrusive. The condition of the majority of the central residential buildings is poor to a frightening degree” (Final Report 1962, 6). He concluded that “comprehensive redevelopment without a doubt is the ultimate answer of the present extensive accumulation of slums in the Central Area, but this will demand a long period of years to fulfil in substance” (ibid., 51). Lorange suggested that in the meantime, minor measures be taken to “rehabilitate” areas. According to him, while some buildings might need demolishing, many in the short term could be “subjected to code enforcement, to induce the owners to widen shop frontages and make selective repairs on their buildings” (ibid., 51).


Map 1 The Plan for Urban Renewal in the Central Area of Singapore

Source: After Choe (1969)

In his report, Lorange recommended that demolition and extensive urban redevelopment begin only from the fringes of the Central Area and gradually move into its center so that much could be learnt from experimenting on the periphery of the old city area. For the first stage of urban renewal, he designated the old Kampong Rochor shophouses that were part of the Malay-Muslim Kampong Glam historic area, extending from Crawford Street to Jalan Sultan. The area had been designated N1 (meaning North 1 precinct) among the 19 precincts in the city divided up by the 1958 Master Plan. While Lorange’s recommendations for urban renewal were accepted by the Singapore planning authorities, his calls for “rehabilitation” were ignored. In 1966, Kampong Rochor, with the exception of the Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, built in 1845, was demolished to make way for public housing as part of the first phase of urban renewal in Singapore. The Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, along what was then Java Road, was on the 1958 Master Plan’s list of historic buildings to be preserved (Gamer 1972, 139). This lone standing historic building in the demolished Kampong Rochor area testified to the power of being on the list of what were regarded as historic buildings. However, at the other end of the Central Area, Outram Gaol, which was also on the same heritage list from the 1958 Master Plan, was demolished along with many shophouses, to make way for the redevelopment of the S1 (meaning South 1 precinct) area in the south, as recommended by Lorange.

A subsequent 1963 United Nations mission consisting of Charles Abrams, Susumu Kobe, and Otto Koenigsberger, also laid the groundwork for intensive state involvement in urban planning. The mission recommended that urban planning in Singapore be institutionalized through the creation of an Urban Renewal Team within the Housing Development Board (Growth and Urban Renewal in Singapore 1963, 189). Set up in 1964, the Urban Renewal Team later became the Housing Development Board’s Urban Redevelopment Department in 1966 and was legislated as a separate statutory authority, the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 1974.

In contrast to Lorange, the members of the 1963 United Nations mission were adamant that urban renewal should not lead to large-scale demolition. Members of the United Nations mission, like Lorange, highlighted that the “three indispensable aspects of urban renewal are (1) conservation, (2) rehabilitation, and (3) rebuilding” (ibid., 121). They “rejected the idea of wholesale demolition of large quarters” of the old city (ibid., 18). They explained that “this decision was motivated primarily by the desire to minimize the social upheaval and the suffering” (ibid.). The decision was “based also on the recognition of the value and attraction of many of the existing shophouses and the way of living, working, and trading that produced this particularly Singapore type of architecture” (ibid.). “Every big city needs escape hatches from sameness and order, and areas like Chinatown can emerge into important examples if they are treated with something more subtly than the steam shovel” (ibid., 123). They warned: “We must beware of the bulldozer ‘addicts’ who are straining to flatten out every hill, fill in every valley, and cover the resulting flat desert with a dull network of roads, factory sheds, and regimented blocks of houses” (Gamer 1972, 142).

According to Alan Choe (1975, 98), who became the first head of the Urban Renewal Department, the 1963 United Nations Mission Report was “studied by the Singapore Government, and subsequently a comprehensive plan for urban renewal in the Central Area of Singapore was formulated.” Choe had absorbed postwar British ideas of town planning and heritage conservation when taking extra electives for his degree in architecture from the University of Melbourne in Australia (Straits Times, April 12, 2014). Urban planners in Singapore during the 1960s, while not accepting rehabilitation and conservation as much as the United Nations teams recommended, did not rule them out. However, in the case of Singapore, urban planners such as Choe tended to be ambivalent about its built heritage:

Unlike England or Europe, Singapore does not possess architectural monuments of international importance. There are therefore few buildings worthy of preservation. In addition many of the buildings in the Central Area are overdue for demolition. Hence to preach urban renewal by conservation and rehabilitation alone does not apply in the Singapore context. There must also be clearance and rebuilding. (Choe 1969, 165)

The comments by Choe about Singapore’s built heritage reveal why in the 1960s the balance between conservation and redevelopment was tilted towards the latter. Western notions of “authenticity” in having a “grand old building” in the same physical state for hundreds of years were difficult to apply to the local landscape. However, Choe believed that the movement towards a list of monuments and historic buildings to be preserved was compatible with urban renewal. In August 1968, when the idea of a National Trust or Preservation of Monuments Board was being mooted within the Ministry of Culture, Choe said in a public address: “As a result of urban renewal it has been found desirable to set-up a proper body to look into the question of ‘Preservation of Sites, Buildings and Monuments of Historical or Architectural Interests.’” He added, “Legislation for the proper formation of such a body will give it the necessary powers including the proper selection, preservation, management financing etc. of such sites, buildings and monuments” (Choe 1968, 3). Choe’s expression of this ambivalence towards the creation of a heritage preservation body was in keeping with the debates that were going on inside the Singapore government bureaucracy during the 1960s. There were discussions about how to create a government agency that could preserve historic buildings amidst extensive urban renewal.

UNESCO and Singapore

While a conservation-redevelopment debate over whole areas of Singapore’s old city was stimulated by the United Nations mission of urban planners, the action of UNESCO also provoked discussion in Singapore over the preservation of its historic buildings, monuments, and sites. In 1961, Vittorine Veronsese, Director-General of UNESCO, wrote to the Singapore Ministry of Culture asking for a representative to be on UNESCO’s International Committee on Monuments, Artistic and Historical Sites and Archaeological Excavations, which was the predecessor of the World Heritage Committee (Ministry of Culture, 179/61). UNESCO was stepping up its activities to help the preservation of monuments in the developing world as well as in developed countries. In Asia, these actions included a 1961 assessment of the Buddhist pagodas of Pagan in Burma, a 1963 restoration study of the giant Buddhist statues at the Bamiyan site in Afghanistan, a 1966 mission to preserve the Buddhist stupas of the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya, a study of the Indonesian site of Borobudur in 1966, and the restoration of Angkor Wat in 1967–68 (UNESCO 1970, 33–36).

The Director-General of UNESCO, while noting national efforts to preserve historic monuments and sites, believed that UNESCO “had a duty to take its own steps to bring these national efforts into a world-wide scheme” (ibid., 23). UNESCO proposed an International Campaign for Historical Monuments in 1964 aimed at creating among UNESCO member nations “publicity during this period, to bring home to their citizens the value of the monuments of the past” (ibid.). UNESCO’s intervention stimulated the idea of setting up in Singapore a heritage preservation organization based on the model which Singapore bureaucrats were most familiar with—the National Trust of England (Ministry of Culture, 400/62).

Christopher Hooi, a senior curator of anthropology at the Singapore National Museum, advised the Singapore government to accept UNESCO’s invitation to participate in its proposed international heritage preservation organization (Ministry of Culture, 179/61). Hooi had graduated with a degree in anthropology from the University of London, and his thinking on the preservation of historic buildings was influenced by his time in Britain when he had familiarized himself with the National Trust and British heritage legislation. His enthusiasm for what UNESCO was planning and his own ideas, which were drawn from his training in Britain, confirms Bryne’s notion that the Western hegemony on early heritage management in Asia was the result not of ideological “imposition” but of “transfer” (Bryne 1991, 273). Hooi was also aware that other developing countries were setting up state organizations to manage historic buildings based on the British Ancient Monuments Protection Act, which dates to 1882. This act also had its own list of preserved and protected historic buildings. Within the developing world, India followed Britain and had its own Ancient Monuments Preservation Act since 1904; following independence, this was expanded and became the 1951 Ancient and Historic Monuments and Remains Act. India’s version of the Britain’s National Trust was enshrined into the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) (Ribeiro 1990). Malaya enacted its Treasure Trove Act in 1957, which contained some provisions for protecting ancient monuments and historic sites.

The Singapore Government took Hooi’s advice. Hooi convened an ad hoc committee meeting on December 29, 1962 to apply to the Singapore context UNESCO’s ideas on the preservation of historic monuments and sites. Professor K. G. Tregonning and Professor Wang Teh Chao, two academic historians, as well as two representatives from Singapore’s Ministry of Culture attended this meeting. The committee accepted Tregonning’s proposal that “a historical monument” should be defined as “any building 100 years or over in 1962” and “any other building, shrine or monument which in the eyes of the committee has historical value or significance” (Ministry of Culture, 400/62). Tregonning also suggested “the possibility of legislation being made later on to preserve certain historic monuments” (ibid.). At the next meeting of the committee on January 15, 1963, this definition of what was to be preserved was expanded to include historical sites. After its meetings ended, Hooi transmitted the deliberations of the committee to the Prime Minister’s Office, which maintained an interest in heritage conservation at the behest of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (ibid.).

Creating a National Trust for Singapore

After the committee to examine UNESCO’s proposals on monuments had ceased, Hooi was involved in establishing a further committee within the Singapore Ministry of Culture in May 1963 to re-examine the 1958 Master Plan’s idea of having a list of historic monuments protected by legislation. The terms of reference of the committee were to re-examine the list of 32 historic monuments and sites outlined by the Master Plan and to suggest regulations that would protect them. It was chaired by Tan Jake Hooi, Acting Chief of the Planning Department that had emerged from the dissolution of the Singapore Improvement Trust, the body entrusted with preserving historic monuments. Tan Jake Hooi and his fellow planners dominated the new committee.

At its first meeting on August 26, 1963, the committee began with the assumption that for preserving a building, “age alone should not be a criterion” (Ministry of Culture, 276/63). The committee considered not just preservation but partial preservation of historic buildings, or even the “preparation of measured drawings of the structures concerned prior to their demolition” (ibid.). The members of the committee examining the list of 32 historic monuments and sites outlined by the Master Plan mulled over whether to have public inquiries when planning applications were made that would affect historic buildings. However, the committee, which was dominated by urban planners, rejected this proposal as it would most likely slow down the rapid urban renewal that they were overseeing in the Central Area of Singapore.

Within the committee, the intentions of the urban planners in the Planning Department were articulated by Tan Jake Hooi, the Chief Planner who headed the Planning Department. At the second meeting of the committee, when addressing the task of deciding on a list of historic sites and buildings to be preserved, Tan remarked that “the object of drawing up such a list” was “not to guarantee preservation but consideration of the possibility of preservation” (ibid.).

The position of the planners on the committee was influenced by the Planning Department’s decision to embark upon significant urban renewal of the Central Area. By mid-1963, the Planning Department had begun the demolition of the 1847 Outram Gaol, which was on the original 1955 heritage list of the draft Master Plan. Neighboring blocks of shophouses next to the Outram Gaol were also slated for demolition. This was recommended in the 1962 United Nations Lorange Report. In March 1963, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew started the redevelopment program by laying the foundation stone of two blocks of flats in the Outram area. Lee publicly announced the redevelopment of the Outram area in conjunction with the Kampong Rochor district. Both these redevelopment projects were recommended by Lorange (Straits Times, March 22, 1963). The Singapore government viewed the old buildings of the Outram area as slums and planned to demolish them and build high-rise flats that would accommodate 50,000 people (Straits Times, March 28, 1963).

At its meeting of February 7, 1964, the committee, at the behest of the urban planners, started dropping entries from the list on the pretext that the buildings would cost too much to restore or were not in their original form. The Western hegemonic ideas of “authenticity” were used by Western-educated planners to remove obstacles to urban renewal. The eight which were dropped at this meeting when urban development was in its early stages were: G. D. Coleman’s house, Raffles Institution, Outram Gaol, Victoria Memorial Hall, Sri Sivan temple, Geok Hong Tian temple, Keramat Radin Mas, and Sri Perumal temple (Ministry of Culture, 276/63). The dominance of urban renewal over heritage conservation was highlighted at this meeting by the deletion of Outram Gaol, which was in the S1 precinct that was one of the first areas of the Central Area to be earmarked for urban renewal. It had been marked for demolition the year before in 1963.

When it came to envisaging the type of administrative body to preserve historic buildings, Singapore’s colonial connections meant that the members of the committee turned to Britain for a model of heritage conservation. The National Trust of England was regarded as a model to follow for conservation in Singapore. It was proposed that the executive committee members of a Singapore national trust would periodically visit and inspect buildings that were designated as worthy of preservation and advise their owners on alterations and changes. The proposed trust would acquire historic buildings that were seen as warranting preservation if acquisition was needed. From its first meeting, the committee favored the creation of such an independent trust, which would have the support of the Ministry of Culture, but like its English counterpart, would primarily rely on private donations as well as some grants from the government (ibid.). At its meeting of March 17, 1964, the committee recommended to the Minister for National Development “the setting up of a Trust which would not only advise Government on what monuments, lands and buildings might be worthy of preservation or other measures but also help raise the necessary funds for securing preservation” (ibid.).

The idea of preserving Singapore’s historic buildings and sites began to gather momentum in Singapore’s bureaucracy in the mid-1960s when there was regret, expressed most publicly by the Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group (SPUR) which was founded in 1965, that the urban renewal projects were changing the urban landscape to the detriment of the historical character of Singapore. SPUR consisted mainly of architects such as William Lim and Tay Kheng Soon, but also included professionals and academics such as Tommy Koh and Chan Heng Chee. Bureaucrats, such as Christopher Hooi and Tan Jake Hooi, were also members of the group. SPUR championed a number of issues in urban planning, namely conservation of old buildings, a rail network, traffic control in the city, and the building of an airport at Changi (Naidu 2002, 62–66). It engaged in public discussions, forums, and talks; wrote letters to the press; and made representations to the government.

Speaking for its members in 1966, Edward Wong in a public talk, made clear SPUR’s position on the limits of urban renewal: “Although we are not advocating large-scale urban renewal, we do recognise that a measure of redevelopment is necessary as part of the evolution of any City” (Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group 1967, 21). SPUR agreed with the 1963 United Nations team that “in both urban renewal and urban rehabilitation we have the same three basic processes. They are rehabilitation, conservation, and redevelopment” (ibid.). SPUR, following the same lines of reasoning as the Ministry of Culture committees on heritage preservation, advocated “the selection of buildings or groups of buildings for preservation indefinitely by reason of their historical, architectural or other special significance” (ibid.). Regarding the Central Area, SPUR argued that when “conserving selected buildings in this area our approach should be quite different from that of the Western world whose architectural history is written and taught from noble architectural monuments. We would be however conserving to a large measure vernacular architecture which is no less interesting” (ibid.). SPUR was suggesting that the ideas drawn from Western hegemony over heritage management, with their stress on “grand” old buildings and monuments, were inappropriate to the Singapore urban and cultural landscape, which comprised architecturally modest shophouses and equally modest religious buildings. Its members also seemed aware that this tipped the balance away from heritage conservation towards redevelopment. SPUR advocated having a pilot study in which the focus would be on rehabilitation rather than demolition and rebuilding.

In the mid-1960s, within the Singapore state bureaucracy, some attention was paid to preservation despite the ongoing urban renewal project. The committee established in 1963 sent its report to the Ministers for Culture and National Development, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office, at the end of 1964. It took some time for the report to be digested and the implications of it to be appreciated. Choe recalled, “One day [in 1967] I got a note from Lee Kuan Yew asking: ‘Have we thought about conservation?’ I sent him the folio I prepared. He sent me a note telling me he was very happy to see somebody was thinking ahead to preserve what little we had” (Straits Times, April 12, 2014). In Choe’s memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister on May 18, 1967, he proposed that for the preservation of historic buildings and sites, legislation should be drawn up to establish a national trust for Singapore. The result was that the Prime Minister “endorsed the need to preserve monuments of architectural or historic interest in Singapore” and directed that a committee be set up exploring “the question of forming a trust to undertake this task” (Ministry of Culture, 254/67).

In September 1967, a committee was formed within the Ministry of Culture and assigned with the task of drafting a piece of legislation aimed at creating a national trust for Singapore. There was continuity with the previous committees. Christopher Hooi was the chairman of a new sub-committee that worked towards the setting up of the national trust. Hooi had chaired the 1963 committee, which had concluded that “if the Trust [was] properly empowered, it could act positively” (Ministry of Culture, 276/63).

The 1963 committee members observed that the existing legislation, the Planning Ordinance, only gave the Planning Department “negative” powers at aiding preservation, such as delaying the approval of planning applications “in the hope that Government or other appropriate Authorities could step in” (ibid.). The government could prevent the owner from redeveloping but was not empowered to assume responsibility for ensuring the upkeep of the historic building or to buy it off the owner.

It was agreed among the members of the 1967 committee that a national monuments trust “should be given sufficient powers to assume a positive role” (Ministry of Culture, 254/67). The proposed national trust’s “positive” powers included the role “to advise [the Minister for National Development] on lands, artifacts, sites and buildings which should be listed and preserved as national monuments” and “the ability to acquire and maintain properties to ensure their preservation” (ibid.).

Proposed legislation for a Singapore national trust borrowed heavily from British heritage legislation and the National Trust of England. The British High Commission in Singapore even sent the Singapore committee copies of British town planning laws on heritage preservation and information about its National Trust. The pieces of legislation included copies of the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act 1913, the Ancient Monuments Act 1931, the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953, and the Local Authorities (Historic Buildings) Act 1962. In drafting legislation for a Singapore national trust, definitions of terms, such as “ancient monuments” and “owners,” were taken from these British acts (ibid.). The definition of “ancient monuments” was a copy of that written in the British Ancient Monuments Act which, according to the Singapore committee, was defined “so widely as potentially to include almost every building or structure of any kind made or occupied by man from ancient to modern times” (ibid.).

The proposed national trust of Singapore, like its British counterpart, was empowered to inspect historic buildings and to take action against owners who neglected or damaged them. Once a historic building or monument was officially gazetted, as in British legislation, there was no provision for that official declaration to be revoked if the owner was unhappy with it. Following the National Trust in Britain, there was provision for acquiring buildings by purchasing them. The national trust of Singapore was also mainly funded by donations rather than the government. It had a small government-funded budget that paid for its small number of staff. Donations were non-existent as Singapore was a developing country with few local philanthropists who were willing to contribute to preserving historic buildings, compared to donors who supported the National Trust in Britain. There was one major contrast between the proposed Singapore national trust and the National Trust in Britain: the British institution was not a government organization, although it was aided by various pieces of legislation.

Singapore’s national trust, when it was publicly announced in August 1969 by Eddie Barker, the National Development Minister, was conceived as a body serving the interests of the state and concerned with constructing a national identity and promoting economic benefits. The action of the government was viewed by the press as “a new move to see to it that landmarks of old Singapore will not just crumble away in forgotten memories” and that such a government body would assuage “the fear that the bulldozer of progress will leave nothing of the old behind in its dash to bigger and better buildings” (Straits Times, August 3, 1969). The urban planners on Christopher Hooi’s committee emphasized the value of a national trust to tourism and its contribution to the development of an identity for a new nation which had only gained full independence in 1965. For them, “this need for preservation was not only significant in the face of the tourism industry” but also “the very basis of a country’s history and heritage and will contribute to the formation of a national identity” (ibid.).

In 1970, Barker introduced to the Singapore parliament a revised piece of legislation for a government body similar to the proposed national trust of 1969 but called instead the Preservation of Monuments Board. This reflected its role as an arm of the state. When introducing the bill, Barker warned that because of urban renewal, “we may wake up one day to find our historical monuments either bulldozed or crumbling through neglect. As a new Singapore is being built, we must not let the worthwhile part of older Singapore disappear” (Barker 1970, column 337). Singapore’s Preservation of Monuments Board was empowered “to preserve monuments of historic, traditional, archaeological, architectural or artistic interest” (ibid.). It could recommend buildings to the Minister of National Development to be gazetted, and it could then acquire these buildings from their owners. The heritage sites which the Board considered were based on those listed in the 1958 Master Plan that had been evaluated and added to by several government committees in the 1960s. The membership of the Board was similar to the various preceding government committees of the 1960s: Urban Redevelopment Department planners, architects, museum workers, government tourism officials, and civil servants. Perhaps with a view to soliciting donations, a wealthy banker, Lien Ying Chow, became the Chairman of the Board.

Preserving Individual Buildings versus Preserving Whole Conservation Zones

The Preservation of Monuments Board’s early gazetting of individual historic buildings for preservation stimulated heritage debates within the bureaucracy and outside it. When it was first publicly proposed in 1969, the expectations of such a body being able to declare conservation zones rather than just individual buildings were raised in the press (Straits Times, August 3, 1969). In 1970, William Lim, an architect from SPUR, echoed this call when he stated in a public address that “much larger areas will need to be conserved for the character of the Central Area to be kept intact. This is necessary to provide our citizens with a sense of environmental and historical continuity, and to allow gradual evolutionary changes to take place in the urban environment” (Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group 1971, 40).

The issue of preserving whole conservation zones was on the minds of the senior members of the Singapore government. In November 1971, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Kim San, a senior cabinet minister who implemented the PAP’s housing policy throughout the 1960s, discussed what they called “urban renewal and preservation of our multiracial culture and tradition” (Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, TPB/F/72 [A] Vol. I). At the suggestion of the Prime Minister, a Special Committee for Conversion of Selective Historic Sites into Tourist Attractions was set up. Alan Choe of the Urban Renewal Department sat on the committee, together with senior representatives from the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, the Ministry of Finance, the National Museum, and the Jurong Town Corporation. Choe suggested to the Prime Minister 16 areas for conservation. The committee proposed to the Prime Minister that the Chinatown area of Telok Ayer Street and Smith Street/Mosque Street/Pagoda Street be divided into two projects for conservation to be overseen by the Urban Renewal Department. The two conservation areas in Chinatown were trials for other areas Choe and the committee had selected for preservation (ibid.).

In the discussions on heritage conservation within the bureaucracy, it was initially thought that the Preservation of Monuments Board might be able to go beyond listing only individual buildings and sites and move to proclaiming whole conservation zones. From its first meeting on April 21, 1972, the Preservation of Monuments Board began to use its power to acquire historic buildings. It started by purchasing the Thong Chai Medical Institution, but this purchase soon turned out to be a financial disaster as the Board’s funds were consumed by the high cost of ongoing restoration. The bad experience of owning a historic building meant that the Preservation of Monuments Board never contemplated doing it again. At this initial meeting, the Preservation of Monuments Board had proposed to preserve a whole street—Telok Ayer Street. This street, with its Chinese Thian Hock Keng temple and two mosques, was seen as “a good example to preserve a whole street as a historic landmark” (Preservation of Monuments Board Meeting, May 26, 1972). In August 1972, the proposal of preserving the whole of Telok Ayer Street was shelved indefinitely because the Board’s technical committee reported that “it would be better to concentrate initially on one project at a time to gain experience” (Preservation of Monuments Board Meeting, August 18, 1972). The failure of this proposal to be followed up illustrated the limitations of the powers of the Preservation of Monuments Board. It lacked the resources to preserve a whole street or zone.

The Preservation of Monuments Board struggled to preserve even single buildings and chose buildings that could be preserved at little financial cost to the Board, but which could still be used for their original function. At first, the Preservation of Monuments Board gazetted for preservation mainly religious buildings that remained in private ownership. State buildings were also easily gazetted. The Board avoided gazetting private buildings that did not have a religious function. The religious buildings gazetted by the Board included the Armenian Church, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, the Sri Mariamman temple, and the Sultan’s Mosque. There was a clear reason behind such a strategy, as V. T. Arasu discovered when he was on the Preservation of Monuments Board—the Board was underfunded, understaffed, and could only buy one building. Even its role to ensure that historic buildings were maintained and preserved was hampered. Arasu recalled:

I asked why only religious buildings, I was told that because if a building is a public building used for religious purposes, then by declaring the building as a monument you do not have to change the use. Then secondly, you do not need to pay any compensation and PMB need not take any responsibility on maintaining the buildings. (Arasu 2000, 238)

The debates about preserving heritage within the Preservation of Monuments Board reflected how its powers and funding could barely cope with preserving individual buildings, let alone administer whole conservation zones, which was clearly beyond its capacity. In 1976, Alan Choe, General Manager of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which replaced the Urban Renewal Department in 1974, suggested expanding the powers of the Preservation of Monuments Board. On May 27, 1976, at a meeting of the Board, Choe asked on behalf of the Urban Redevelopment Authority for the Board to “consider on a long term basis the basic preservation of rows of houses and/or sections of central area/Chinatown” (Preservation of Monuments Board Meeting, May 27, 1976). Choe was critical of the Preservation of Monuments Board’s efforts, which he argued “had been confined to only designating individual buildings, mainly in the form of religious structures” (ibid.). However, Choe was rebuffed by the rest of the members of the Preservation of Monuments Board, who felt that the underfunded body with little finance could not cope with designating conservation zones. The Finance Committee of the Board strenuously opposed Choe’s proposal, arguing that “in regard to this particular proposal, the Board would be in no position to render financial contribution” (Preservation of Monuments Board Meeting, June 17, 1976). When the full Board met to consider Choe’s proposal, it took the advice of its Finance Committee and decided to reject the proposal, arguing that “should such a project be launched, it would be too big for any one organization to handle alone” (ibid.).

As General Manager of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Choe determined the course of heritage conservation in Singapore by initiating trial restoration and rehabilitation of groups of buildings and whole streets. In cooperation with the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, the Urban Redevelopment Authority started with the restoration of the Tudor Court buildings in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Urban Redevelopment Authority, Annual Report, 1975–76, 42). These were Tudor-styled buildings along Tanglin Road which had been built for government staff during the colonial period (Kong 2010, 32). The Urban Redevelopment Authority, under the 1966 Land Acquisition Act, was given extensive powers to compulsorily acquire land and buildings at a low price; they could then sell them to developers at a higher price (Urban Redevelopment Authority, Annual Report, 1974–75, 13–15). It therefore had access to a level of funding and power over land and buildings that the Preservation of Monuments Board did not.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority focused on demolition and rebuilding, arguing that “in our land-short republic it is part of the thrust towards growth and progress, providing not only environmental improvement but also better employment and investment opportunities” (ibid., 7). It was the Urban Redevelopment Authority that tendered out run-down historic buildings to be demolished and replaced with new concrete multi-storey complexes (Urban Redevelopment Authority, Annual Report, 1975–76, 58–70). Then it published before and after photographs highlighting the changes in its annual report as “progress.” The Urban Redevelopment Authority also highlighted its pilot studies that allowed it to acquire and restore historic areas. A row of 17 shophouses at Cuppage Road was restored and refurbished for new businesses in 1976. These restored shophouses were previously retail shops, sundry shops, and a fishmongery, but upon their restoration became antique shops and stores selling local craft and art items (Urban Redevelopment Authority, Annual Report, 1977–78, 58–60). Next to the restored shophouses was the nine-storey concrete Cuppage Complex, which replaced other old shophouses and roadside hawkers (Urban Redevelopment Authority, Annual Report, 1975–76, 31). The Urban Redevelopment Authority was clearly more engaged in the demolition of historic buildings than their conservation during the 1970s.

In its conservation of historic buildings, the Urban Redevelopment Authority had begun to move away from Western hegemonic ideas of preserving “authentically” and had compromised, such that the buildings could be considerably altered, re-used, and adapted to another purpose. This was a step away from the ideas of the Venice Charter and of UNESCO, which had been debated in Singapore during the 1960s.

In 1976, the Urban Redevelopment Authority also restored a row of shophouses along Murray Street in Chinatown. They were transformed into what was called “Food Alley,” which was a food center selling Chinese, Malay, and Indian delicacies (Urban Redevelopment Authority, Annual Report, 1977–78, 31). When commenting on the Cuppage Road and Murray Street projects, the Urban Redevelopment Authority observed:

Preservation of such buildings will serve as nostalgic reminders of our architecture and history and at the same time afford the streaming tourists with a view of the ‘old Singapore’. In this connection, the acid test of URA’s versatility in design would be the rehabilitation of Chinatown which is presently under active study. One of the main considerations in the preservation of this area is to improve the environmental set-up without losing the engaging bustle that is the mark of Chinatown. (ibid., 4)

The Urban Redevelopment Authority under Choe was in the mid-1970s engaged in experimenting with heritage conservation zones on a small scale; it had the objective of creating larger areas for rehabilitation and conservation in the future, such as Chinatown. The first large conservation zone was the Tanjong Pagar area of Chinatown. The Urban Redevelopment Authority had already acquired most of the land and buildings in the area for demolition and rebuilding. But the success of the small-scale conservation projects prompted a rethink that encouraged the Urban Redevelopment Authority to choose conservation in the mid-1980s (Kong 2010, 44).

Out of these early heritage debates of the 1960s and 1970s, there arose distinctive Singapore institutions of heritage conservation which saw conservation divided between the Preservation of Monuments Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The heritage debates within the Singapore bureaucracy had produced the conservation model that would operate in Singapore from the 1980s onwards. The Preservation of Monuments Board gazetted individual historic buildings, monuments, and sites, which were usually religious or government buildings whose management was well within the limited powers of the Board. The Urban Redevelopment Authority filled the gap in heritage conservation that had been identified by Alan Choe, declaring whole conservation zones and restoring them for reuse. Tracing the rise of this Singapore model of conservation using archival documents of the Singapore state confirms Kong’s observation that within the bureaucracy, there had long been advocates of heritage conservation before the large-scale conservation zones were declared by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in the 1980s.

The debates of these early advocates of heritage conservation in Singapore were influenced by a Western hegemony over heritage management. These considerably diminished by the 1980s as Singapore developed its own institutions of heritage conservation. Singapore had rejected the idea of a national trust and had opted for a state agency, such as the Preservation of Monuments Board, that had very limited powers. Also, by placing the power to conserve whole zones in the hands of the very organization that had aggressively pursued demolition and rebuilding—the Urban Redevelopment Authority—conservation in Singapore could never displace redevelopment. Thus, despite these early debates over conservation in the bureaucracy, in the balance between redevelopment and conservation, it comes as no surprise that the focus was on redevelopment. The marginality of the Preservation of Monuments Board in conservation compared to the dominance of the Urban Redevelopment Authority has continued well into contemporary times. Recent heritage debates over the Bukit Brown and Jalan Kubor cemeteries have reflected this marginality, with graves and cemeteries that were once on the 1958 Master Plan list no longer considered to be the concern of the Preservation of Monuments Board but under the control of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, with its emphasis on redevelopment.

Accepted: January 14, 2015


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Vol. 4, No. 2, Note from Editorial Committee

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

Note from Editorial Committee

In this issue, we feature a special essay entitled “Japan’s Role in Peacemaking in Cambodia: Factors that Contributed to Its Success” in the special section on “Memoirs.” In 1991, the Agreements on the Comprehensive Settlement of the Cambodian Conflict, also known as the Paris Peace Agreements, were concluded with the cooperation of the international community. However, the road to their fulfillment was very tough due to ongoing resistance by the Khmer Rouge and subsequent political conflicts among factions within the country over the result of the Constituent Assembly elections. Under these circumstances Japan took the initiative with Thailand to mediate between Cambodia and the international community to implement the Agreements smoothly and re-build the nation peacefully. In this essay the author, Yamamoto Tadamichi, reviews the peace- and nation-building process of Cambodia during 1992–94 from the viewpoint of a Japanese diplomat who participated in the negotiations, and discusses the factors that enabled Japan to undertake effective political meditation. The editorial committee hopes that this essay by a key person involved in the historic undertaking will contribute to Southeast Asian studies by making primary sources available to scholars and students.


Vol. 4, No. 2, Sumanto

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

Christianity and Militancy in Eastern Indonesia: Revisiting the Maluku Violence

Sumanto Al Qurtuby*

* Department of General Studies, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, 31261, Saudi Arabia

e-mail: squrtuby[at]gmail.com

During the Maluku interreligious violence from 1999 to 2002, both Islam and Christianity contributed to the initiation and intensification of the collective conflict. This article examines the role of religion, especially Christianity, and discusses how Christian identities, teachings, doctrines, symbols, discourses, organizations, and networks became some of the contributing factors in the early phases of the Maluku mayhem. It also examines the complex roles played by Moluccan Christian actors, especially the religious militias, in initiating and intensifying the strife, highlighting how Ambonese militant religious leaders framed the violence, recruited, and mobilized the masses in the combat zone, and how the local ordinary Christian fighters portrayed the violence and transformed their everyday experience in the warfare.

Keywords: religion, violence, militancy, Christianity, Ambon, Maluku, Indonesia


This article discusses the destructive contributions of religious identities, discourses, doctrines, teachings, symbols, actors, organizations, and networks, especially within Christianity, in the intensification of communal violence in the Moluccas, particularly in the city of Ambon and the province of Maluku more generally. I have analyzed elsewhere (Sumanto 2015) the damaging roles of Islam and Moluccan Muslim jihadists in the exacerbation of collective violence, so I will not repeat it here. What is striking in the literature on the Maluku conflict is that some scholars tend to emphasize, if not overemphasize, the central role of the Laskar Jihad, a Java-based Islamist paramilitary group, in intensifying the violence, while neglecting the contribution of Ambonese or Moluccan jihadist groups, and to a greater degree Ambonese/Moluccan Christian ones. Some scholars (e.g. Sidel 2006) even tend to portray Christians as victims and Muslims as perpetrators of the havoc. This article will thus complement the existing otherwise fine literature on the Maluku conflict.

It is imperative, however, to note that even though this article focuses on the roles of Christians and Christianity in the fighting, this does not mean that all Christian communities in Maluku were engaged in the battlefield and in the opposition against Muslim groups. As I wrote elsewhere (Sumanto 2013; 2014), there were a number of Christian-Muslim peace groups such as the Peace Provocateurs, the Concerned Women Movement, the Young Ambassadors for Peace, the Baku Bae Movement, the Team 20 Wayame, the Titian Peace Institute, the Maluku Interfaith Center, to name but a few. While some groups were no longer active after the end of the collective conflict, others are still working on peace-related activities, establishing intergroup trust, rebuilding communal ties, healing traumatized war victims, and so forth. There are also numerous individuals—religious leaders, academics, activists, journalists, village chiefs, conflict resolution practitioners, and the like—who have been working tirelessly for peaceful coexistence and interreligious conciliation since the beginning of the violence in 1999.

As for the role of the church, particularly the Moluccan Protestant Church, the region’s largest Christian congregation, this also varies from place to place and from era to era, depending on who ran the Protestant Synod and Catholic Diocese, and on local pastors, church officials, and local Christian communities. Whereas in some areas of the “hot spots” (such as Rumahtiga, Poka, Paso, and some places in Ambon city such as Kudamati and Mardika), the Church directly led the violence, it was in the opposing camp in other places. While some Christian elites forced the Synod to back and provide financial and institutional resources for warfare and Christian militias groups, others (such as the former chairman of GPM Synod, Rev. I. J. W. Hendriks and his successor Rev. Dr. John Ruhulessin) defended the Church and Christianity as a source of peace and reconciliation. Similarly while some pastors and church elites established a group of Christian warriors (see below), others created a group of peacemakers.

In addition, although this article focuses on the role of religion, nevertheless I do not argue that religion in itself is the sole source of violence. Certainly religion does not cause communal violence. Just as “guns do not kill people,” religion does not slaughter human beings. However, religion provides teachings, doctrines, rituals, symbols, metaphors, and discourses that can be easily used, misused, or manipulated by those (such as actors of violence, agents or “managers” of conflict, and interest groups) with material or immaterial interests. This is precisely what happened in Maluku where radical Christians (and militant Muslims)—both elites and lay people—utilized, translated, and transformed religious symbols, doctrines, and discourses into Moluccan social settings, not only to awaken a spirit of fighting or justify their violent acts, but also to protect and safeguard their lives.

Throughout the region’s communal violence, particularly from 1999 to 2002, factors such as religious sentiment, material interest, and political motives interacted with one another, magnifying and altering the influence each would have had in isolation. Take away one factor, such as religious tension, economic inequality, or political competition, the violence would not have occurred. This is to say that although religion did matter during the outburst of violence in Maluku—and this article will explain how—it is too simplistic to reduce the complexity of the riots to just a matter of religion, without investigating the political economy of Christians and Muslims in the broad and varied social field of Maluku.

Bruce Lincoln (2006, 5–7) divides religion into four domains of varying significance as follows: (1) “a discourse whose concerns transcend the human, temporal, and contingent and that claims for itself a similarly transcendent status . . .”; (2) “a set of practices whose goal is to produce a proper world and/or proper human subjects, as defined by religious discourse to which these practices are connected . . .”; (3) “a community whose members construct their identities with reference to a religious discourse and its attendant practices . . .”; and (4) “an institution that regulates religious discourse, practices, and community, reproducing them over time and modifying them as necessary, while asserting their eternal validity and transcendent value.”

Building on Lincoln’s model of religion, this article understands “religion” not only in terms of religious doctrines, teachings, and symbols, but also religious agents (actors, adherents, communities, and organizations) who produce and reproduce religious practices, knowledge, and cultures. This is to say that religion is not simply about belief, doctrine, norm, or even ideology. It is also about the social capital that is social networks created by religious actors, namely, in Appleby’s (2000, 9) phrase, “people who have been formed by a religious community and who are acting with the intent to uphold, extend, or defend its values and precepts.”

Since the nature of the Maluku conflict shifts from time to time, this article concentrates on the early periods of the violence, especially from 1999–2002, where religious identities played a big role. This does not suggest that during this period, all Christian fighters (or Muslim jihadists) engaged in the battlefield across the archipelago were motivated purely by religious reasons. There were undoubtedly various motives, both secular and religious. Nonetheless, the contribution of religion in the Maluku conflict settings was stronger and more apparent during this period than after 2002.

After the signing of the Peace Accord in 2002, religious identities were in general no longer a vital ingredient for local religious militants. Some ex-combatants told me that they stopped attacking other religious groups once the security forces and political leaders and elite members of society intervened intensively and started to manipulate local discord and interreligious rivalry for their own political and economic interests. While some members of militia groups—both radical Muslims and Christians—continued to attack their religious rivals for revenge and other “secular” motives, others ceased to fight once they realized that their sacred, passionate struggle, as they claimed, to defend Christianity or Islam, were being abused and “hijacked” by local and national political elites for their own agenda.

As stated earlier, the battle between religious-cultural priorities was evident from the early stages of the sectarian strife from 1999 to 2002 (Goss 2004; Pieris 2004). During this era, Moluccan Muslim and Christian social actors—war radicals and peace activists alike—correlated local social events to authoritative texts by engaging in theological discourse, commentary, and exegesis. Furthermore the radical groups from both Christianity and Islam selected particular religious ideas, discourses, and texts to provide a theological basis and religious legitimacy for their vision of the “sacredness” of the Maluku war. More specifically, Maluku’s militant anti-Muslim Christians tried to justify their violent acts by quoting verses from the Old Testament narrating the glorious wars of the Israelites and their commanders, such as Saul, David, and Solomon, as well as by referring to particular events within Christian history that sustain the just war tradition.

Thus for Moluccan militant Christians, authoritative texts are not limited to the Bible or Gospel and Christian teachings, but also include historical narratives of Christian-Muslim antagonism such as the Crusades, and Christian-Muslim rivalry during the colonial period in the Moluccas. It is worth mentioning that, as historian of Maluku Richard Chauvel (1980; 1990) has rightly noted, Christian-Muslim opposition has taken place since the European colonials landed in the Moluccas (in Maluku and North Maluku provinces), as a result of unfair political, economic, and religious colonial policy towards local religious communities.

During the Portuguese and particularly the Dutch colonial era, most Moluccan Christians became the colonials’ “golden boys.” They enjoyed some privileges while most Moluccan Muslims suffered from discriminatory colonial policy. As such, Ambonese/Moluccan Christians were seen as “Dutch stooges,” with the exception of anti-Dutch heroes such as Martha Christina Tiahahu (1800–18) and Thomas Matulessy (known as Pattimura, 1783–1817). On the other hand, during the brief period of the Japanese occupation in the early 1940s, most Muslims in the archipelago tended to see the Japanese as the “helping gods” (dewa penolong) come to rescue the Muslim communities from the Dutch. It was thus natural that this should arouse jealousy and abhorrence on the part of local Christians, leading to tensions and conflict. Indeed, the Japanese established Islamic jihadist groups in the islands of Ambon, Seram, and Lease, and mobilized Moluccan Muslims to fight against what they called “un-Islamic allies” led by the Dutch and Australia (Chauvel 1980; 1990).

A Brief Overview of the Maluku Conflict

Just months after President Suharto’s resignation in May 1998, Indonesia underwent a series of sectarian conflicts, ethno-religious violence, and communal riots across the archipelago. Of all collective conflicts that erupted in post-Suharto Indonesia, the Maluku conflict that began in January 1999 and lasted for more than three years, was the most disastrous for the province, causing thousands of deaths and injuring thousands, with about a third or half of the population displaced and countless properties burnt down (Bohm 2005; ICG 2000a; 2000b; 2001; 2002). The fights between Christians and Muslims in the province of Maluku, especially in Ambon city, as well as in North Maluku, made this region the theater of one of the most shocking conflicts in the modern history of Indonesia.

The tragic saga of Christian-Muslim violence began with a minor incident on January 19, 1999, between an Ambonese Christian public transport driver and a Muslim passenger of Bugis (South Sulawesi) origin in Batumerah in the heart of Ambon city, the capital and hub of Maluku province. Once called the Queen of the East, Ambon City was a bustling, prosperous regional hub serving countless picturesque islands. Unlike previous fighting, which had been quickly resolved by local community leaders, this quarrel soon escalated throughout Ambon and other areas of Maluku province (Seram, Haruku, Saparua, Buru, Kei, Tual, Banda, and so forth) and North Maluku (Ternate, Tidore, Tobelo, Halmahera, among others), with large sections of the population drawn into a continuous stream of rioting. Less than three months after the “Ambon tragedy,” more violence broke out in Tual in Maluku on March 31, 1999. This fell three days after the Muslim Idul Adha festival and two days before the Christian Good Friday. This Christian-Muslim fighting in a remote region of Maluku left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced from their homes. Lesser incidents erupted in many other villages around the far-flung regency of Maluku (see, for example, van Klinken 2001; 2007; Bohm 2005; Bertrand 2002; 2004; Wilson 2008).

Collective violence between the majority Muslims (about 88 percent of a roughly 240 million population) and minority Christians (about 8 percent) has been rare in post-colonial Indonesia. When it did happen, it was usually an outbreak of anger against Chinese shopkeepers, who were dubbed Christians although not all Chinese in Indonesia are Christian, such as the anti-Chinese riots in Pekalongan and Surakarta (Central Java), Bekasi (West Java), and Jakarta in 1998 (Sidel 2006). At the end of the New Order, however, the country witnessed an increasing number of Christian-Muslim tensions and disturbances.1) The Maluku province, where the population is almost equally split between Muslims and Christians, also saw such conflicts. Christian-Muslim communal violence (not “state violence” against Christians or Muslims before, during, and after colonial times) had been rare in this region until the fall of Suharto’s regime.

It should be noted, however, that violent conflict in Maluku went through several phases, with varying natures or root causes, agents involved in the fighting, and motivations behind the individual actors who participated directly or indirectly in the violence. In other words, the dynamics behind the Maluku violence was ever-shifting, and so was the role of religion at different phases. When the violence erupted on January 19, 1999, at stake were ethnic sentiments and migration issues. Some elite members of society tried to wave the flag of “ethnic chauvinism” and mobilize ethnic groups to oppose each other. Posters, pamphlets, and writings about the hazard of “migrant groups,” especially those from Buton, Bugis, and Makassar in Sulawesi Island, for the continuity and development of the “native” (Moluccan) economies were scattered in public places in Ambon city. At the start of the conflict, religion seemed unpopular and had not emerged on the scene.

In brief, in the earliest chapter of the violence, issues at stake were natives (Ambonese/Moluccan) called “anak negeri” (“sons of the soil”) versus migrants (particularly those from Sulawesi but also those from Java) dubbed “anak dagang” (“sons of trade”). However, since manipulating ethnic identity did not seem to attract the masses, the “managers of conflict” turned to religious issues to initiate and exacerbate intergroup violence, which worked very well. It is this stage—roughly between 1999 and 2002—that is the focus of my article. During this period, religion became a crucial factor of violence and an important source of mobilization. Indeed, it was religion that aggravated the conflict. In other words, the violence would not have taken the form it did without the role of religion—for both Islam and Christianity.

The next phase of violence in Maluku was dominated by issues of separatism (waged by members of the Moluccan Sovereignty Front headed by Alexander Manuputty) and terrorism (supported by groups linked to Laskar Mujahidin and Jamaah Islamiyah), which is beyond the focus of this article. The most recent communal riots in Maluku that broke out in 2010 and 2011 were also complex. In some areas in the province, the riots took place among Muslims from different clans (such as in Pelauw of Haruku Island), while in other regions (such as in Pattimura University in Rumahtiga and some places in Ambon city), the riots between Christians and Muslims were mainly driven by non-religious factors. Still, in some areas (e.g. Central Maluku), it was “regional fanaticism” that motivated the masses. Disputes over borders are also common in today’s Maluku. In short, unlike the previous conflicts, religion is no longer a determining variable for those involved in the riots in Maluku nowadays.

Scholarship on the Maluku Violence

Prior to discussing the role of religion and Christianity in the Maluku turmoil, it is useful to briefly review existing literature on the Maluku conflict in order to locate this article’s theoretical position. Previous works on the Maluku carnage have focused mainly on the socio-historical roots of the violence, highlighting how and why previously relatively peaceful religious communities descended into large-scale violent conflict. Scholars’ opinions vary regarding the root causes of the Maluku conflict, and how local small-scale fighting escalated to a large-scale warfare. Brauchler (2003) elaborates on the importance of cyberspace, particularly the Internet, which was used by “conflict actors” to spread grievances, provocations, and complaints of victimization by the war, which aroused anger and tension among the various warring groups. Aditjondro (2001) underscores the special role of preman (street hoodlums), provocateurs, and security forces, whom he identifies as the main actors of the violence. Turner (2006) stresses issues of nationalism and ethnic identities, while Spyer (2002) underlines the role of imagination, the media, and agency in the escalation of the conflict.

Bertrand (2002; 2004) analyzes conditions that augment the potential for violence to erupt. He highlights three major factors: (1) uncertainty over a secular definition of the nation that leaves open the question of an Islamic state; (2) patrimonial features of the New Order authoritarian regime; and (3) a rapid democratic transition after the downfall of Suharto. Unlike Bertrand, who focuses on a macro analysis of historical features of political patterns and national policies of the New Order, van Klinken (2001; 2007) devotes more attention to micro dynamics and conditions. He maintains that the violence was an outcome of struggles among Maluku’s state and non-state elite actors at provincial, municipal, and district levels, over scarce local resources, driven by the “critical junctures” of political transition and the shortcomings of local socio-political structural conditions such as rapid urbanization, high dependence on the state sector, and the speed of de-agrarianization.

To conclude, scholars of the Maluku conflict have generally emphasized politico-economic dimensions of the violence as well as the central role of state institutions, government, and Suharto’s cronies, including the military, in stirring up the violence aimed at destabilizing the nation and regaining political power. Some scholars have indeed blamed the paroxysm of violence on Suharto’s New Order regime (1996–98) and the security forces, especially the police and the army, and have left the matter there2) (see, for example, Aditjondro 2001; Tomagola 2000; Bertrand 2002; 2004; Sidel 2006; Muhammad 2011). Although Adam (2009; 2010) emphasized the role of “the masses” in maintaining the continuity of the riots, he nonetheless argues that the driving forces for the conflict were political-economic issues such as land access and forced migration.

As we can see, analysis emphasizing the role of religion in the Maluku violence is clearly missing from existing scholarship. If it does exist, it usually focuses on the role of Islam and non-Maluku Muslim paramilitary groups—not Christianity and Christian warriors. There have indeed been research on the role of religion in communal violence in regions outside the Maluku province conducted by scholars such as Chris Wilson (2008) and Christopher Duncan (2013) for North Maluku, and Dave McRae (2013) for Poso, Sulawesi. Although Schulze (2002) and Sidel (2006) recognize the contribution of religion in generating conflict in Maluku, they tend to see it as an instrument for political and economic ends and ignore other ways in which religion can influence people’s social and political actions. Indeed some analysts and commentators argue that religion was simply a tool that Moluccan and non-Moluccan, military or civilian, political and religious elites instrumentalized to achieve economic and political aims.

In short, as Duncan (2013) has rightly pointed out, despite the significance that Christian fighters and Muslim militias placed on religion and religious identity in the fighting, observers—academics, researchers, policy-makers, journalists, NGO workers, political commentators, among others—quickly dismissed the religious framing of the violence. They argue, moreover, that what appears to be a religious war is upon closer analysis really motivated by material-based political interests, socio-economic reasons, and territorial grievances that were mobilized and manipulated by the greedy elites, external provocateurs, or “agents of riots.” Last but not least, religious moderates—both Christian and Muslim elites—have also tended to reject the religious factor for the Maluku violence, noting that religion does not teach its followers to commit violence but instead preaches peace, love, and tolerance. Many argued that the violence was not about religion; rather it was a story of how “greed” manipulated “creed” for political and economic ends.

Religious Significance of the Conflict

Contrasting with claims made by the scholars and religious moderates mentioned above, the “grassroots people” of the Maluku province and Ambon city who took part in the violence and whom I interviewed, namely Christian warriors and Muslim jihadists, were not interested in issues of migration, political ambitions, the market, democratization, decentralization, and the like. While outside observers and religious moderates claim that creed was a camouflage for greed, the “foot soldiers,” the masses engaged in the warfare, declared that political and economic issues were actually just a mask for the true religious goals of the strife. Religion and religious identity were also primordial for Christian and Muslim fighters during the communal riots in North Maluku (Duncan 2013; Farsijana 2005).

This suggests that what the religious moderates think of or idealize as religion might differ from the conceptions of “religious radicals.” While moderates denounce radicalism as irreligious, un-Christian, or un-Islamic, the radicals believe that violence is part of a sacred mission and strongly rooted within their traditions, beliefs, doctrines, and teachings.

Against this backdrop, in a departure from previous analyses and studies that tend to place a singular emphasis on the political economy of the conflict, this article maintains that religious identities and discourses figured prominently in the framing and exacerbation of the Maluku strife. Although later on some local Maluku elites (members of the Moluccan Sovereignty Front and some Christian elites) and “foreign actors” (e.g. those linked to the Laskar Jihad, Laskar Mujahidin, KOMPAK, and other radical wings of Islamic groupings) tried to turn the initial conflict into separatism and terrorism, the Christian and Muslim masses engaged in the fighting still considered religion as a focal point for their involvement in the violence.

Although this article focuses solely on Christianity, this does not mean that Muslims who took part in the strife did not express religious vitality during the Maluku clash. Ex-Muslim jihadists of Ambon and other regions of Maluku whom I interviewed also articulated the same religious concerns and motivations as their Christian counterparts. The militant groups of both religions portrayed the wars as a sacred duty for adherents to defend their religion. The Muslim jihadists framed the fighting as Perang Sabil (a war in the path of God) and therefore their engagement in the combat zones was considered jihad fi sabilillah (struggle in God’s trail) to protect Islam from Christian invasion and missionary activities (see Sumanto 2012).

Similarly the Christian warriors regarded the Maluku conflict as a Perang Salib (the Crusades) intended to guard (1) Christianity from the Muslim dakwah (Islamic propagation) and forced conversion (Islamisasi), and (2) the Maluku territory, which they saw as a Christian land, linking it to the land of Canaan in the Biblical tradition. Over the course of the communal conflict, religious symbols, texts, teachings, and discourses were scattered throughout the island. The findings of a survey questionnaire I distributed to 100 ex-Christian fighters and Muslim jihadists, mostly under 30 years of age during the turmoil, on the islands of Ambon-Lease, also confirmed this portrayal, highlighting how religion had contributed to the escalation of the Maluku wars and how unearthly motivations became among the major contributing factors for actors involved in the violence.

The Maluku chaos, moreover, had involved non-state local actors (e.g. religious leaders, local Christian fighters, Ambonese Muslim jihadists, the masses, and civilian groupings) in initiating and exacerbating the mass violence.3) Throughout the communal conflict, Maluku’s local actors were active agents and not passive victims, as commonly portrayed by political observers and social scientists.4) The Maluku case thus illustrates the appearance of not only “Muslim politics” (cf. Eickelman and Piscatori 1996; Hefner 2005) but also Christian politics. During the communal violence, both Muslims and Christians displayed violent and antagonistic behavior. As in Muslim politics, Christian politics also involved competition and contest over both the interpretation of symbols and control of the institutions, formal and informal, that produce, reproduce, and sustain them. By focusing on Christianity, this article will balance previous studies that have tended to overemphasize the central role of the Muslim jihadists (e.g. Sidel 2006; Schulze 2002; Noorhaidi 2006) in initiating and intensifying the Maluku bloodshed.

Christianity, Militancy, and Radicalism

To begin this section, let me quote a statement from Rev. John Sahalessy, one of the respected pastors of the Protestant Moluccan Church and one of the Christian delegates during the signing of the Malino Peace Agreement in Sulawesi. John Sahalessy was the initiator of the “Tim 20 of Wayame,” a group consisting of Christian and Muslim leaders in the village of Wayame on the island of Ambon, whose main objective was to establish peace and social stability in the region and to create mutual trust and understanding between the two religious communities. Wayame was one of the small areas in Ambon that was safe during the communal violence (Sumanto 2013; Pariela 2008). This group later inspired political elites in Jakarta, most notably the late President Abdurrahman Wahid and M. Jusuf Kalla, to initiate a peace pact for Maluku known as the Malino II Peace Accord.

In my interview with him, Rev. Sahalessy said:

All [Protestant] pastors on Moluccan Islands, directly or indirectly, were involved in the Maluku wars, except me. You can note this [statement]. Thus it is wrong if they declare in public that they were not involved in the fighting. Before going to war, the pastors brought their followers to the church for praying and blessing. They said: “God will accompany you.” This is a little example of how pastors were engaged in the fighting. Going to war [against Muslims] was an initiative of the local churches, from the pastors, and not from the Synod [i.e. the Moluccan Protestant Church Synod]. They convinced followers that the “Ambon War” was a “religious war” to defend God. In fact, God does not need our defense; God will defend us. They also believed that if Christians prayed faithfully and went to the battlefield, they would get victory. They went into the combat zone while singing the “Onward Christian Soldiers” song.5)

This statement by Sahalessy is a hard slap in the face for Christian apologists who have denied the engagement of Ambonese Christian leaders and institutions in the Maluku violence. It is also a strong critique of academics who have neglected the religious nature of the conflict. Sahalessy himself may not have believed that the Ambon conflict was a religious war, but his comment indicates that most Christian leaders and lay adherents of Christianity in Ambon and other areas of Maluku province were convinced that the war was religious and sacred. An ex-Christian fighter of Rumahtiga in Ambon city told me eagerly, “The role of religion during the Maluku wars was not only important but very important. Christians and Muslims fought and killed each other due to their religion being humiliated by other religious communities. Because of religion, Christians and Muslims in Ambon were involved in the wars for about five years since 1999.”6)

Indeed, many Moluccan Christian fighters (and Muslim jihadists too) have considered the conflict as a sacred war and a means of purifying previous sins, misconduct, and bad deeds committed before the wars. PM, an ex-field commander of the Christian militia group revealed, “For me, the Ambon war was a sacred war so that whoever killed (Muslims) will be rewarded a place in paradise by God.”7) PM also believed that the war was a medium for self-purification. For him, self-purification includes not only unworldly matters (e.g. repenting from sins) but also worldly matters such as changing from negative behavior to a positive one.

The findings of a survey I distributed to 50 ex-Ambonese Christian fighters also confirm Sahalessy’s comment. During my field research in Ambon and surrounding areas from 2010 to 2011, I administered a questionnaire to 100 former members of Moluccan/Ambonese militia groups: 50 ex-Christian fighters and 50 ex-Muslim jihadists. Christian respondents I surveyed were residents of Rumahtiga, Wailela (Ambon Island), Kudamati (Ambon city), Kariu, and Aboru (Haruku Island in the Central Maluku regency), all of which are the stronghold of Christians. I deliberately selected former combatants as my respondents partly because I wanted to hear from those directly engaged in the warfare. The questions were categorized into three main parts: (1) respondents’ educational, religious, political, and social backgrounds; (2) respondents’ motivations in getting involved in the wars and their perception of the Maluku carnage; and (3) respondents’ responses toward the future of Christian-Muslim relations in Maluku.

It is startling to discover that the majority (76 percent) of the respondents of the survey believed that the Ambon war was a religious war. As reflected in the survey findings, their primary motivations for engaging in the warfare were as follows: (1) to defend religion/Christianity and the Christian community (90.2 percent); (2) Jesus Christ had been humiliated (80.4 percent); (3) churches were destroyed (80.2 percent); (4) the Bible was burnt (70.5 percent); (5) Christian pastors/ministers had been murdered (64.7 percent); and (6) to guard Christian territory (82.4 percent). Moreover, about 98 percent of respondents rejected the war as an opportunity to gain new belongings and other Muslim properties. Interestingly, 94.1 percent of respondents admitted that prior to leaving for the battlefields, they had been “blessed” by local pastors or ministers, 86.3 percent sang the “Christ Soldier” song during the riots, and 80.4 percent brought along “Christian symbols” including a small Bible in their pockets, the crucifix, and the “Jewish flag” (Star of David) as an amulet on the battleground. It should be noted that for most Moluccan Christians, Jewish/Israelite identity is equivalent to Christian identity, thus it should not be surprising if they adopted Jewish symbols during the war.

My conversations and interviews with most ordinary ex-Christian fighters also confirm the survey findings, namely, that most of them portrayed the Maluku mayhem as a holy war. Indeed, throughout the communal conflict, they represented themselves as Abel while Muslims were portrayed as Cain. Moreover, even if Sahalessy’s remark that all Protestant leaders except him were involved in the conflict were an exaggeration—since there were in fact some Christian religious leaders who advocated peace from the outbreak of the violence—it is hard to deny the fact that most Protestant ministers were directly or indirectly involved in the warfare.

Hartford Seminary-trained Ambonese Protestant reverend and activist, Jacky Manuputty, whom I interviewed, also recognized the participation of Ambonese Christian leaders, either in the form of administering blessings and motivating combatants before they left for the battlefield, or by directly participating in the fighting. Jacky Manuputty admitted that, prior to his involvement in the peace and reconciliation process with the Baku Bae Movement and later with the interfaith group called “Peace Provocateurs,” he participated in the war as Christian communities were being attacked and their properties devastated. He even added, “Today’s Ambonese Protestant pastors might be ashamed to recognize their involvement in the previous wars. In fact, there were no Christian warriors who moved forward to the battleground without prayers and blessing from the priests and Church ministries. Indeed, they used to consider the Ambon conflict as a sacred war. The attacks of the Gambus Market in the first stage of conflict, for instance, were released with worship rituals in the Maranatha Church led by Rev. No Pattinaya. During the conflict, whoever acted as Moses would be respected by the Christians. They preferred to choose Moses as an ideal figure to Jesus.”8)

Indeed, there is no doubt that since the beginning of the conflict, Christian leaders and institutions were directly or indirectly involved in the warfare. One of the main Ambonese Protestant centers was in the fiercely religious Kudamati suburb, on a hill a few kilometers west of the Maranatha Church. Hundreds of Christian fighters were stationed at the home of Agus Wattimena, former civil servant, devout church activist, and supporter of a secular nationalist political party PDIP (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan). They could be instantly deployed to any trouble spot in Ambon and to neighborhoods where local fighters risked being overwhelmed. In addition to these main centers, the Protestants also built posko (centers for communication and gathering) at the village level under the auspices of local churches, jemaat (the smallest unit of Protestant congregation), majelis gereja (church ministries), and klasis (the unit of Protestant churches at the district level).

The Bankom (Bantuan Komunikasi, Communication Assistance), an Ambonese Protestant communication office at the Maranatha Church, and the posko at Kudamati were created to gather information about the conflict, identify victims of the wars, collect funds, and mobilize Christian fighters, especially youths and men. Kirsten Schulze (2002) estimates that over the three years of mass violence from 1999 to 2002, there existed about 25 Christian militia groups with roughly 100 to 200 members operating all over the island of Ambon. About 60 percent of these militia fighters were youths between 12 and 25 years old; a few were women. The young Christian fighters were referred to as Agas, a small mosquito with a nasty bite. Agas also stands for Anak Gereja Allah Sayang (Child Church God Love).9) Explicit in its name is the notion that the formation of Agas was regarded as a blessing from God. Agas was vital during the collective conflict and militia members were very often in the frontline during the attacks. Ronald Regang, an ex-Agas militia member who had fought since he was 10 years old, related at the Unicef Asia-Pacific meeting held in Yogyakarta, his brutal experiences of killing people (Muslims) and destroying their places of worship (mosques) and houses. When asked by a Unicef staff member why he committed violence and murdered Muslims, Regang replied, “Because that was a holy war, and I had already submitted myself to Jesus of the Christ.”10)

Boy warriors were an integral part of the Christian military force in Ambon. The Agas formed disciplined fighting units that were headed by adults and they were given specific assignments in battle. Herry Penturi, a 16-year-old Christian, was known as a small commander in the Agas due to his regular involvement in the fighting. Herry and his family were affiliated with the Bethabara Church community in Ambon. Although he was only 16, Herry was clever enough to make and detonate bombs. He claimed that his participation in the battle was to save the Christian community. His mother, Maria Penturi, always allowed him to leave for the battlefield because she believed that God had a plan for him. She explained, “If I do not permit him to go to the battlefield, then I am opposing God’s plan.” It is obvious that for Maria Penturi, God had given permission to commit acts of violence against Muslims.

In his study on Ambon’s child militias (pasukan cilik), both Christians and Muslims, Rizard Jemmy Talakua (2008) argues that religion was the strongest reason and motive for their involvement in the warfare. An ex-Agas member from Kudamati said, “Since the first days of the communal riots, my friends and I were involved in the combat zone to defend Christian communities, help Christian brethren, in the name of Jesus” (ibid., 37). Agas members, aged between 8 and 16 years old, mostly came from the crowded troubled areas of Kudamati, Batugantung, and Benteng. Talakua discussed not only Christian child soldiers but also Muslim child militias group called Linggis (“crowbar”). Interestingly, their engagement in the battlefield was also driven by “religious passion.” An ex-Linggis member from Air Kuning in Ambon town said, “We [Muslim child militias] were involved in the violence because of ukhuwah Islamiah [Muslim brotherhood], to aid and protect Muslim communities from Christian infidel attackers. We were not afraid of death since we defended God’s religion” (ibid., 37–38).

In addition to Agas, there were two famous Christian fighter groups linked to the Moluccan Protestant Church, based in Kudamati in the uplands of Ambon city. These were (1) the Kudaputih (“white horse”) under the leadership of Agus Wattimena, a member of the Rehoboth Church, who was depicted by The Economist (2001) as “a latter-day Jesus with his wiry frame and long flowing locks” and (2) the Coker, under the direction of Berty Loupatty (a member of the Emanuel Church at OSM in Ambon town). Agus Wattimena was a renowned Ambonese war commander who claimed to be the leader of approximately 20,000 Christian fighters across the Moluccas. Although the numbers could be exaggerated, he nevertheless played a primary role during the war. In an interview with The Age, Agus Wattimena stated, “Ambonese are traditionally strong fighters. If we are attacked, and the enemy is not strong, we counterattack. This is a real war. We have to protect ourselves” (cited in Murdoch 2000, 1). After the death of Agus Wattimena on March 22, 2001, the Kudaputih came under the headship of Emang Nikijuluw, Femmy Souissa, and Melkianus Tuhumury, in addition to Hendrik Wattimena, the son of Agus Wattimena.

The Coker originally stood for cowok keren (the handsome boys), a name given by its leader Berty Loupatty, a leader among Jakarta-based Ambonese street hoodlums. This group existed even before the communal conflict erupted. At first, the group consisted of dozens of unemployed youths, but they were soon joined by many Ambonese Christian young men. Coker members stood out during the conflict due to their fighting capacity and their bravery in the face of Muslim fighters. An Ambonese Protestant priest described the Coker as “a group of Christian fighters who were willing to die (pasukan berani mati) in the battlefield against Muslim jihadists and rioters, and were always in the forefront in each act of violence.”11) The Coker gained fame as the vanguard of Christian communities and territories. Headquartered in Kudamati, members of the Coker fought in many areas in Ambon and surrounding areas where Christian-Muslim communal violence took place. My Christian informants told me that whenever and wherever Christians needed help to fend off attacks from Muslim jihadists, the Coker would send its fighters. For this reason, Ambonese Muslims called the Coker cowok Kristen (the Christian boys) and not cowok keren (the handsome ones).

It is imperative to note that the Kudamati Christian militia groups were also supported by local churches (such as Gereja Sinar, Gereja Paulus, Gereja Rehoboth, Gereja Christy, and Gereja Natalia), jemaat (the smallest unit of Protestant group), and klasis, the Protestant congregation of Ambon city. Protestant ministers who were in charge at Kudamati during the conflict included Rev. Simon Maskikit, Rev. O. J. Tetelepta, Rev. N. Pattinaja, and Rev. N. Latuihamallo. During the period of conflict, their jobs included first, leading ritual ceremonies for the Christian militias before they left for the combat zone and second, delivering religious sermons and motivating the militias by quoting verses from the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, that justified their actions. Verses from the Old Testament about David’s struggle against Goliath were applied, in particular, to provide a theological explanation of the war. Christian militias associated themselves with David as a symbol of truth and goodness, while Muslims were portrayed as Goliath, symbolizing wickedness and immorality.

The third role of the Protestant ministers during the conflict was blessing the weapons to be used in the wars. These included tombak (spear), parang (blade), panah (arrow), senapan (guns), senjata rakitan (homemade guns), peluru (bullets), granat (grenades), and bom ikan (dynamite). The ammunition was placed in a particular spot or altar in a church, and the ministers would anoint it by using blessed water. After anointing the weapons, the church ministers, wearing clerical suites, prayed to God and asked Him to protect “His sons” in the battlefield and give them triumph over “God’s enemies,” that is, Muslim jihadists. After the ritual ceremonies were over, the Christian warriors then took the weapons and left for the combat zone.

Besides these groups, each Christian village across Moluccan Islands also had the Laskar Kristus (“Army of Christ”) or Laskar Kristen (Christian militias), which were responsible for protecting their regions and attacking Muslim rioters.12) The Laskar Kristus, which was primarily if not entirely Protestant, was mainly coordinated by local churches and the klasis (the Protestant Church unit at the district level). Officially and institutionally, sinode (a Protestant congregation at the provincial level named the Protestant Moluccan Church Synod or the GPM Synod for short) did not give a direct command to Christian communities to take part in the warfare, but the Synod did not prohibit Ambonese Christians from engaging in the wars either. The Synod was unable to ban Christian fighters since many pastors, ministries, and church officials were also involved in the fighting.13)

The Laskar Kristus or Laskar Kristen existed before the arrival of the Laskar Jihad in May 2000. University of Indonesia sociologist Thamrin Amal Tomagola, a native of North Maluku, even argued that the Laskar Kristus existed before the January 19, 1999 incident. But the group gained its fame after the arrival of Java-based Islamist paramilitary groups. The village-based Christian fighter groups were also called akar rumput (the grassroots). It is unclear who named the Christian militias Laskar Kristus, but it indicates that the Maluku conflict was seen as a holy war. The above Christian fighter groups were formed at the beginning of the conflict and gained momentum with the destruction of Ambon’s old Silo church by Muslims.

On November 22, 2001, a Jakarta-based national newspaper Tabloid Adil reported on the Laskar Kristus from the Ambon-based Petra Church. After witnessing a series of bloody religious communal conflicts in Ambon, the Petra Church organized the Maluku Prayer Movement (Gerakan Maluku Berdoa or GMB) as part of the Church community’s response to guarantee the safety of people in Maluku. On Friday, November 9, 2001, religious services of GMB included the baptizing of a Laskar Kristus member. The minister delivered a sermon entitled “To Become a Model of Faith, You Should Be Loyal Unto Death” (Menjadi Pahlawan Iman, Hendaklah Engkau Setia Sampai Mati). One of the self-acknowledged members of the Laskar Kristus warriors was 15-year-old Roy Pontoh (see Sukidi 2003). When he died in the village of Hila in Leihitu Peninsula, Ambon Island on January 20, 1999, just a day after the initial outbreak in Ambon City, his last statement was “I am Laskar Kristus.” It is believed that Pontoh’s death made him a martyr of Christ. On August 13, 2000, clergyman Timotius Arifin delivered a similar story at the church’s founding anniversary, recounting how a martyr of Christ in Ambon also proclaimed: “Beta Laskar Kristus (I am Laskar Kristus)!”

However, it should be noted that, unlike the Laskar Jihad, the Laskar Kristus did not receive special training. In the words of Ongky Siahaya, a grassroots field commander in the region of Talake, near UKIM (Universitas Kristen Indonesia Maluku, the Protestant Church’s main university in Ambon city), “we prayed first and then there were only two options—kill or to be killed.”14) Whereas Muslims had access to modern guns from Pindad (Perusahaan Industri Angkatan Darat, the army’s industrial arm), as well as support from Java-based holy war militias, particularly the Laskar Jihad, and some elements in TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, the Indonesian military forces) (Schulze 2002, 63), the Christian militias mainly used traditional arms such as knives, machetes, poisoned arrows, homemade guns, and a few automatic weapons, either acquired from deserted police stations or smuggled in from Kupang, Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT). Some Ambonese Christians were experts in the making of guns. They included Thom Pelmelay, who was widely known as the “professor” due to his expertise in making bombs. The bombs were then distributed to Christian fighters across Ambon and Maluku. In general, however, Ambonese Christians were painfully aware that they were technologically disadvantaged, with limited finances and difficulties in obtaining arms and ammunition. As a result, many Christian fighters were killed during the wars of 1999–2002.

Christian fighters did not receive financial support from the GPM Synod to purchase guns and ammunitions. As a result, Christian individuals voluntarily conducted fundraisings through Christian networks and communal ties, not only throughout Ambon and Maluku but also in Java. Some funds were collected through family ties of Ambonese Christians who had settled in the Netherlands since the time of KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army) in the 1950s, while other funds were distributed through FKKM (Forum Komunikasi Kristen Maluku, Forum for Communications of Moluccan Christians), chaired by Jan Nanere, the former rector of Pattimura University, and Yunus Tipka, a member of the regional parliament from PDKB (Partai Demokrasi Kasih Bangsa, a Protestant-affiliated political party) and his secretary.15) The grassroots (the Laskar Kristus) agenda, some ex-Christian fighters have claimed, was defending Christian faith, territories, and communities, and was never a voice for separatism as Muslims or the central government widely assumed.

Since Ambonese Christian warriors saw the Maluku conflict as a sacred war, performing religious songs was a feature of the battleground. On January 20, 1999, a large group of Christian warriors left the Rehoboth Church in Ambon City, repeatedly singing the following:

We don’t want to go back (three times)
We had won with the Blood of Christ
We had won with His blood.

Furthermore, the Christian fighters—both the ordinary flock and church elites—moved forward while the church choir solemnly sang “Maju Laskar Kristus” (Onward Christian Soldiers) to the accompaniment of trumpets. The song was taken from the Dua Sahabat Lama No. 339, a book, written in Ambonese-Malay language, containing a collection of religious songs authored by C. Ch. J. Schreuder and I. J. M. Tupamahu. This book was translated into Bahasa Indonesia and had spread throughout Ambon and surrounding islands. Ambonese Christians, particularly the warriors, used this song as a march of war. During the conflict, the song was used to galvanize troops. A Christian woman in Waai in Ambon Island told me, “When we were attacked or engaged in the war, we, along with other Christian women, sang that song [Onward, Christian Soldier] while beating dustpans to awaken enthusiasm for fighting. By singing this song, we felt we were getting a ‘new spirit’ and courage in the face of enemies [Muslim jihadists]” (Patty 2006, 33).

Early one morning at around 4:30 a.m. in December 2000, a group of about 40 Christian young men from the neighborhood of Batumeja Dalam in Ambon city walked down Pattimura Street in town, brandishing long knives (parang) and spears, and singing the Indonesian version of Onward, Christian Soldiers. In front of them walked a young female, a then unemployed Protestant minister in the official black vestment, carrying a “Moses’ stick” that “she had found in the woods.” She claimed to have been inspired by a dream that she had. The procession walked up to the A. J. Patty Street, just inside the Muslim quarters, then marched down Ambon’s business center toward the Al-Fatah Mosque. The military had no choice but to shoot at them (Bohm 2005, 113). In addition to the song Onward, Christian Soldiers, slogans such as “I Love Jesus” (Beta Cinta Yesus) or “Jesus is Victorious” (Yesus Raya) were also used by the Christian warriors to boost the war mentality.

Protestant priests and church ministries played a central role during the communal conflict. They served not only as a channel to distribute information about the development of the violence received from other Christian centers to the local Christian communities and fighters, but also led ritual ceremonies before the fighters went to the combat zone, blessed combatants, and conducted Sunday sermons to motivate the Laskar Kristus and Christians attending the church. Sermons (khotbah Minggu) delivered often revolved around the theme of Israel’s struggle to occupy the Land of Canaan in the times of King David and Solomon, as stated in the Old Testament. Ambonese Christians depicted themselves as part of the tribes of Israel and portrayed the Land of Ambon as the Land of Canaan, whereas Muslims were represented as Goliath conquering and taking over Ambon, which they saw as belonging to their ancestors.

Verses in the Bible about the Israelites who entered the Land of Canaan and were ordered by God to drive out the Amalek (later known as the “Theology of Amalek”) were used by some pastors and church leaders to justify the wars against the Muslims (e.g. Joshua 1, 1–10). This “religious duty” is set forth in the verse, “The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17, 16). Thus, if any people seek to destroy us, declared some Christian leaders, we are commanded to do battle against them, and this battle of ours, on the basis of that verse, is an obligatory war. For Christian fighters, in the context of Maluku, the Muslims were considered as the destroyers of their land. Amalek, a descendent of Esau, was not only the ancestor of those who attacked Israel in the wilderness but also, by rabbinic reckoning based on I Samuel 15: 8 and Esther 3: I, the ancestor of Hamman in the Esther story. In Rabbinic literature, Amalek thus becomes a cipher for evil in the world, the arch enemy of Israel and, by implication, of God. Some Christian informants told me that certain priests justified going to war by citing the following verse from the Old Testament: “We are obliged to defend and preserve the life which God has given to us, and if there are people who want to destroy the life, we need to guard it, even through the wars.”

Over the course of the conflict, local pastors, church ministries, and officials were responsible for choosing certain Biblical verses and religious texts for the Sunday sermons and other religious services, based on the socio-political context and adapting to developments. Generally pastors and church ministries selected popular Biblical verses in the Old Testament revolving around violence and the struggle of the Israelites against their enemies, from the Books of Genesis, Deuteronomy, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel (I, II), Kings (I, II), and Psalm. During the conflict, ordinary Protestants also recited these verses. Whenever they went to other places or to the battleground, they carried a small Bible in their pocket for self-protection, making it easier to recite selected verses and stoke the spirit of war (see Patty 2006).

Common verses in the Bible which the Christian fighters “ritualized” during the war included (1) tales of the Jews freed from the Egyptian nation (Exodus 1–19); (2) stories of war between the Jewish tribes and other peoples, and stories related to the rules of war (e.g. Deuteronomy 3, 7–9, 11, and 20); (3) accounts of how the Israelites fought with other peoples before entering the Land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua (Joshua 1: 1–11); (4) Jewish narratives of fighting against the people of Moab, Amori, Midian, Edom, Amon, and Amalek under the headship of Israeli Judges (Judges 1–15); and (5) accounts of Israeli tribes against the nation of the Philistines under the command of Israeli kings, especially Saul and David (e.g. I Sam 7; 17, 40–54; I Kings 18, 20–46).

Regardless which verses were cited by the pastors and church elites (majelis jemaat), one thing is clear: they used the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, to seek a theological foundation or to legitimize acts of violence or, in their terms, wars of “self-defense.” Many Ambonese Christians, as Rev. I. J. W. Hendriks has remarked, associated themselves with the suffering Israelites (the Bangsa Israel Alkitab); consequently they needed to fight against Muslims to gain victory and freedom from suffering. What is more, Ambonese Christians imagined themselves as the Israelites, so if the Israelites had fought against the people of the Philistines, Amalek, Egypt, and so forth, Ambonese Christians had to battle against Muslims whom they saw, at the time, as a representation of the foes of the Israeli people. Ambonese Christians believed that God would be on their side during these difficult times and would let them triumph as He had led the Israelis to victory.

In addition, they were convinced that God would protect them from the Muslim enemies as He had helped and protected the Israelis (e.g. Deuteronomy 20, 1–4; Psalm 3, 11, 23, 27). In other words, God was portrayed as the hero, helper, and guardian of the Ambonese Christians. Ambonese Christians claimed, furthermore, that they were part of the umat perjanjian (“the covenant people”), that is, present-day Israeli tribes, the chosen people and God’s heroes, and that the Land of Maluku was the Land of Canaan granted by God to their forerunners—the Alifuruese. Just as God had made a covenant with the Israelis, the same God had “made a contract” with the Ambonese since they became the followers of Jesus and received the Gospel. Since the Ambonese Christians believed that the Ambon war was a sacred duty granted by God, throughout the conflict, they—especially the Christian fighters—purified themselves by actively conducting ritual practices, religious sermons and services, reading the Bible, following the rules of war, and avoiding wrongdoings as instructed by the Holy Book (e.g. Deuteronomy 20, 1–20).

According to the Christian fighters, as confirmed by my survey findings, the rules of war they practiced during the conflict included: a ban on initiating attack, plundering, mocking or ridiculing the other, torturing the enemy, and so on. In addition, the Christian fighters were prohibited from conflict with their wives or parents before going to battle, from mentioning the name of Jesus in improper places, from insulting other religions, and from transgressing the Ten Commandments of the Torah. All these were considered “taboos of war” that would contaminate the mission of holy war against the Muslims.

Why did Ambonese Christians use the Old Testament and not the New Testament as Biblical justification? Why did they prefer David to Jesus in the time of conflict? The answer is because the New Testament, my Christian Ambonese informants said, teaches peace not violence, love not hate, and brotherhood not conflict, while the Old Testament contains heroic stories of warfare. Whereas Jesus taught his followers and pupils to “love their enemies,” David went to the battlefield against Goliath. An ex-Ambonese Christian fighter told me that during the time of conflict, the verses he recited every Sunday were those of the Old Testament, particularly the gloomy and heroic stories of the Israeli people and kings of the Israelites (Saul, David, and Solomon), which were regarded as fitting for the Ambon socio-political setting.

Concluding Remarks: Bringing Religion Back In

The analysis above suggests that religion did matter during the Maluku conflict. Christian leaders and the masses (and their Muslim counterparts) who were involved in the fighting used religion as a source and legitimation of violence, and they considered the war as a sacred one, rewarded by a place in paradise for those who joined the battle. While Muslims considered death on the battlefield as mati syahid (martyrdom) and an honorable act, Christians believed that death in war is a symbol of sinfulness and dishonor on the part of the deceased. They were convinced that Christian fighters who died in the combat zone were killed mainly because they had committed bad deeds or had transgressed the rules of (holy) war such as the ban on theft, mocking, or adultery, which they considered to be taboos. For Ambonese Christians, salvation is equal to living. Survivors of the battlefield were deemed as not having committed any wrongdoings nor transgression of any taboos.

Moreover, in the concept of Charismatic Christian theology, the war was perceived as a process of selection for Christians, a sort of “survival of the fittest.” Those who survived the war were regarded as the “chosen people,” while death was a natural consequence for those who had engaged in unlawful activity during wartime. This conception differs significantly from the Moluccan Muslims, who consider both death and survival as part of the holy jihad, as long as they followed the “Islamic rules of war.”

It is interesting to note that during the war, some Christian Charismatic groups in Ambon city built a minaret of prayer (menara doa) on the highest floors of hotels or other buildings, on the assumption that prayers from the highest spot would be heard and answered by God. The founding of the minaret of prayer was in part a reaction to Muslim attacks. They attributed their defeat to (1) the lack of prayer on the part of Christians, and (2) their Christianity being not pristine enough such that they needed purification. In order to be victorious over Muslims, Ambonese Christians should become “true Christians” by practicing norms and values taught by the Bible. This is, among other reasons, the root causes of the growth of Charismatic Christianity in Maluku, which came to challenge the mainstream Moluccan Protestant Church congregation.

Although I do not agree entirely with statements put forth by one of the Christian militia commanders Agus Watimena (as well as by the main ideologue of Laskar Jihad Rustam Kastor), purporting that the Maluku violence was a “truly religious war” (Rustam 2000; ICG 2000a; 2000b), neither should we dismiss the religious justifications of violence by those involved in the conflict as evidence of “false consciousness” or “public falsehood” (Goss 2004). In brief, violence in God’s name is not simply a spurious cover for grievance or greed (see e.g. McTernan 2003).

Religion plays an important role in communal conflict because, as Scott Appleby (2000, 4; cf. Gaylin 2003) has noted, “its confessional loyalty translates into clearly defined and durable community and its model of faith counters rational calculation and enlightened self-interest, cultivates a righteous sense of persecution, and provokes passion against evil that fuels the excesses of group hatred.” Although religions are indeed manufactured or invented within particular historical and political contexts, Appleby (2000, 57–61) has argued, “[religions] are represented as fundamental truths, providing some security in times of uncertainty, and countering the challenges of relativism and secularism of late modernity.”

This is precisely what religious radical groups (both Christian and Muslim) had presented in Maluku. Moluccan and Ambonese societies have for centuries been defined in terms of religious adherence (see, for instance, Aritonang and Steenbrink 2008; Chauvel 1980; 1990). Even in urban Ambon, the geographical and social inter-mixing of populations is limited such that the religious “other” is easily discriminated against. The historical origins and experiences of religious communities are distinct, and a contemporary and current conflict could be presented as continuous with an older conflict, as well as with a modern struggle on a global scale (see Goss 2004).

World religions, particularly Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), as well as other faiths, also possess a stock of material metaphors and military imagery, and promise reward for violent sacrifice. The concept of some transcendent authority—the will of God—translates into the absolute authority of church officials and religious myths of election (e.g. the concept of the “chosen and blessed people” for the Christians or the “best religious community of believers” for the Muslims). This provides a powerful alternative to the delusional formation of paranoia, transforming victimhood into vengeful action (Gaylin 2003, 115; Smith 1999). This is among the reasons why doers of violence, the “religious extremists,” rarely or never regret their violent acts.

Religion has the potential to translate secular differences between an “us and them,” the known and the unfamiliar, to the cosmic plane and thus into a moral struggle between amorphous forces of order versus chaos, good versus evil, for which the ultimate sacrifice—murder or martyrdom—is possible (Juergensmeyer 1992, 114; cf. 2003). If public statements by top leaders of Christian communities were more tolerant on the whole, the churches distributed exaggerated images of their victimization, as evidenced in their sophisticated web presence through sites such as Ambon Berdarah Online (Bloody Ambon Online), Masariku Networks, and Crisis Center of the Diocese of Ambon (Brauchler 2003). Lay leaders, moreover, promoted increasingly fundamentalist radical interpretations of the conflict, especially after the arrival of the Laskar Jihad and an increase in Christian losses.

Furthermore, religion did matter during the Maluku conflict since it provided a more powerful and effective force for mobilization than other forms of collective identity. This is because religion is “not only strongly linked to a sense of self, but also provides a far-reaching and uplifting ideology, powerful institutional structures and an enduring and clear-cut definition of an ‘other’” (Wilson 2008, 148). Militias that take part in religious violence, unsurprisingly, often emerge to be driven by religious zeal. As described above, the mobilization of the militias in Maluku’s sectarian conflict was full of religious symbolism. Religious institutions became a main conduit for mobilizing people to commit violence in the name of faith and God. These institutions, moreover, exercised vast emotional influence over adherents of Christianity (also Islam), and provided social meeting places, communication networks, and pools of resources.

Last but not least, religion provides the concept of a “sacred territory” and a set of ready material and symbolic targets whose desacralization provokes intense feelings. Accordingly, during the Maluku turmoil, mosques and churches were desecrated and destroyed, sacred texts and beliefs were ridiculed, prophets were slandered, and other symbols of faiths violated. For instance, the Laskar Kristus gained significant momentum after the destruction of the old Silo church in 1999, while Muslim villagers from Leihitu Peninsula turned on their Christian neighbors early in the conflict in Ambon, in retaliation for rumors of the violation of the great Al-Fatah mosque. To conclude, while religion was never an autonomous cause of conflict, ignoring its role completely would preclude a proper understanding of much of the violence in Ambon city and Maluku more generally.

Accepted: January 8, 2015


I would like to thank anonymous reviewers and the editorial board of this journal for their valuable comments on the previous draft. As always, my thanks also go to my mentors and teachers, particularly Robert W. Hefner and Augustus Richard Norton at Boston University, and Scott Appleby at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, United States. Thanks are also due to the National Science Foundation (United States) and Boston University’s Graduate Research Abroad Fellowship for providing research grants that enabled me to conduct fieldwork in Maluku from 2010 to 2011. My gratitude also goes to the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, which provided generous research fellowships (2012–14) that enabled me to write this manuscript, and to the Department of General Studies at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, which enabled me to complete this article. Lastly, I want to express my deepest thanks to my Ambonese and Moluccan Christian friends, acquaintances, and informants, especially Rev. Elifas Tomix Maspaitella and Rev. Jacky Manuputty, who were willing to share their stories, thoughts, joys, and feelings with me during my research and fieldwork in Maluku. Any remaining faults are of course mine.


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―. 2013. Peacebuilding in Indonesia: Christian-Muslim Alliance in Ambon Island. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 24(3): 349–367.

―. 2012. Interreligious Violence, Civic Peace, and Citizenship: Christians and Muslims in Maluku, Eastern Indonesia. PhD thesis, Department of Anthropology, Boston University.

Talakua, Rizard Jemmy. 2008. Fenomena Keterlibatan Anak-Anak sebagai ‘Pasukan Cilik’ dalam Konflik Kekerasan di Ambon [The phenomena of “child soldiers” during the violent conflict in Ambon]. MA thesis, Sekolah Pascasarjana Universitas Gadjah Mada.

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Tomagola, Thamrin Amal. 2000. The Bleeding Halmahera of North Moluccas. In Political Violence: Indonesia and India in Comparative Perspective, edited by Olle Tornquist, pp. 21–29. SUM Report, No. 9. Oslo: University of Oslo Center for Development and the Environment.

Turner, Kathleen Therese. 2006. Competing Myths of Nationalist Identity: Ideological Perceptions of Conflict in Ambon, Indonesia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

van Klinken, Gerry. 2007. Communal Violence and Democratization in Indonesia: Small Town Wars. London and New York: Routledge.

―. 2001. The Maluku Wars: Bringing Society Back In. Indonesia 71: 1–26.

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Wilson, Chris. 2008. Ethno-Religious Violence in Indonesia: From Soil to God. London: Routledge.

1) Examples of Christian-Muslim tensions during and after the fall of the New Order are: (1) the destruction of churches on October 10, 1996, in Situbondo, East Java; (2) the fight between Protestants and Muslims in Ketapang, Central Jakarta on November 22, 1998, resulting in 14 persons killed and 27 Christian buildings damaged; and (3) anti-Muslim riots that destroyed at least 15 mosques in mostly Christian Kupang in East Indonesia on November 30, 1998 (see, e.g., Sidel 2006).

2) Compare their studies to Colombijn and Lindblad (2002). Although the contributors of this volume do not speak in one voice, they offer a more nuanced perspective on the violent conflicts, pointing out that the “cultures of violence” in Indonesia reach far back into the country’s socio-political history.

3) This focus certainly differs from studies of the Maluku conflict, which stress the central role of Jakarta-based civilian and military elites, Suharto’s cronies, “foreign provocateurs,” or Java-based Laskar Jihad and other paramilitary groups, with a few notable exceptions such as the fine studies of Gerry van Klinken (2001; 2007) or those of Jeroen Adam (2009; 2010).

4) It is interesting to note that despite the fact that local actors, masses, and unions have participated actively in the post-Suharto collective conflicts, including the Maluku warfare, their role has been largely neglected in analyses and studies on the communal violence.

5) Interview with Rev. John Sahalessy, Ambon, August 14, 2010.

6) Interview with ML in Ambon, September 2, 2010. Since there was a plurality of actors and motives during the conflict, it is hard to arrive at a generalization whether religious identity had played a central role in the conflict or did it only provide the symbolism and ideological conviction for those involved in the campaign to achieve more worldly goals. It is vital to recognize that just as there were some who were motivated by “worldly orientations” in their involvement in the conflict (cf. Adam 2009; 2010), there were also others who were driven by “religious passion” and “unworldly goals” in their engagement.

7) Interview with PM, Ambon, August 10, 2010.

8) Online chats with Rev. Jacky Manuputty, September 1, 2010.

9) Muslims also used young fighters or child militias known as linggis (“crowbar”) because in every riot, these child soldiers would use a crowbar to uproot and destroy targeted buildings—houses, shops, churches, etc.—before plundering and burning them.

10) Online chats with Rev. Jacky Manuputty, September 5, 2010. Jacky later adopted Ronald Regang and transformed him into a peace-maker and a peace ambassador for Maluku in international forums.

11) Interview with AL, Ambon, April 26, 2010.

12) Information on the Laskar Kristus can be found, for instance, in the Presidential Decree (Keputusan Presiden No. 38/2002) in the section Pembentukan Tim Penyelidik Independen Nasional untuk Konflik Maluku (Establishment of the National Independent Investigation Team for the Maluku Conflict). Headed by I Wayan Karya, the team was mandated to investigate (1) the incident of January 19, 1999, (2) Republik Maluku Selatan (RMS), the South Moluccan Republic, (3) the Christian RMS, (4) Laskar Jihad, (5) Laskar Kristus, and (6) coercive religious conversion and human rights violations.

13) Online chats with Rev. Jacky Manuputty, September 1, 2010.

14) Interview with Yongky Siahaya, Ambon, June 12, 2010.

15) Founded in 2000, FKKM was part of the networks of FKKJ (Forum Komunikasi Kristen Jakarta, a Jakarta-based Christian forum) and FKKS (Forum Komunikasi Kristen Surabaya, a Surabaya-based Christian forum led by Paul Tahalele), which had existed long before the Ambon conflict. The FKKM’s goals, Yunus Tipka said, were (1) to help Christians who had become victims of the Maluku conflict by providing medical assistance or food supplies; (2) to help Christian fighters find guns and ammunitions; and (3) to link Moluccan Christians with non-Maluku Christian communities.


Vol. 4, No. 2, Pijika, Nguyen, Rambo

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

Homegardens of the Cao Lan, a Tai-Speaking Ethnic Minority in Vietnam’s Northern Mountains

Pijika Timsuksai,* Nguyen Dinh Tien,** and A. Terry Rambo***

* พิจิกา ทิมสุกใส, Program on System Approaches in Agriculture, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen 40002, Thailand

** Nguyễn Đình Tiến, Center for Agricultural Research and Ecological Studies (CARES), Vietnam National University of Agriculture, Gia Lam, Hanoi, Vietnam

*** Program on System Approaches in Agriculture, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen 40002, Thailand; The East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii 96848-1601, USA

Corresponding author’s e-mail: trryrambo[at]yahoo.com

The Cao Lan are a Tai-speaking ethnic group living in the Midlands of Northern Vietnam. Homegardens are an important component of their agroecosystem. The ecological structures of each homegarden of 17 households of the Cao Ngoi village in Tuyen Quang province were described and modal patterns identified. Most homegardens have organically shaped planting areas with indeterminate boundaries, polycentric planting patterns, and contain multiple species within the same bed or planting area. All of the gardens have multiple vegetation levels, with the largest share having 5 levels and a majority having more than 50% of their planting area covered by overlapping vegetation layers. Biodiversity is high with a total of 113 species recorded. Most plant species are used for food, but smaller numbers have ornamental, medicinal, and construction uses or are used for animal fodder, as stimulants, or for other purposes.

Comparison of the modal structure of the Cao Lan homegardens with several Tai minority groups in Northeast Thailand, shows that, although the Cao Lan have been geographically isolated from other Tai groups for many centuries, their homegardens share a similar structural pattern, one commonly referred to as the tropical forest type. This structure is very different from the temperate type gardens of the Kinh in Vietnam with whom the Cao Lan share a common environment and are in frequent contact. The persistence of a common structural pattern among these related Tai ethnic groups, despite their inhabiting different environments, and having had no direct contact with each other for a very long time, suggests that culture exerts a strong influence over agroecosystem structure.

Keywords: Cao Lan ethnic minority, ethnobotany, agroecosystem structure, indigenous knowledge, biodiversity


After Terra’s pioneering descriptions of the different types of homegardens associated with different ethnic groups in the Indo-Malayan region (Terra 1952–53; 1954; 1958), few additional studies were published about Southeast Asian homegardens until the 1980s when homegardens emerged as a major focus of agroforestry research. Much of this research was concerned with describing the architecture, species composition, and functions of homegardens of different ethnic groups in the tropics. Since that time, a considerable number of studies have been published describing the structure, species diversity, and functions of homegardens of ethnic groups in different Southeast Asian countries, including Burma (Terra 1954), Indonesia (Soemarwoto and Soemarwoto 1984; Wiersum 2006), Laos (Kou et al. 1990; The SUAN Secretariat 1990; Dyg and Saleumsy 2004; Nawata et al. 2009), Thailand (Moreno-Black et al. 1996; Jiragorn and Nantana 1999; Nawata et al. 2009; Thanakorn et al. 2010; Kamonnate et al. 2012), and the Philippines (Snelder 2008). There has also been considerable research on homegardens in Vietnam (Le Trong Cuc et al. 1990; Karyono et al. 1993; Hodel et al. 1999; Dao Trong Hung et al. 2001; Luu Ngoc Trinh et al. 2003; Vlkova et al. 2011) but it has mostly been focused on the Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese), the majority ethnic group. Only a very few studies have been done on the homegardens of ethnic minorities. In the case of the Cao Lan, a Tai speaking minority group living in the Northern Mountain region, there are only 2 brief reports (Gillogly and Nghiem Phuong Tuyen 1992; Le Trong Cuc and Rambo 2001) which describe the species composition of their homegardens but not their ecological structure or the functions of the different species.

It was in order to obtain information about the structure and species composition and functions of Cao Lan homegardens, that we carried out a short field study in a Cao Lan community in Tuyen Quang province in Northern Vietnam. This case study was done as part of a larger comparative study of the ecological structures of homegardens of different ethnic groups in Northeast Thailand and Vietnam which was designed to assess the relative importance of culture and environment as determinants of agroecosystem structure (Pijika 2014). The aims of this paper are to describe the modal ecological structure of the Cao Lan homegardens, identify all of the plant species grown in these gardens and categorize their functions, and compare the modal structure of the Cao Lan gardens with those of their Kinh neighbors and ethnically related Tai minority groups in Northeast Thailand.


The Cao Lan Ethnic Group

The Cao Lan speak a language belonging to the Tai family of languages. They are one of 54 officially recognized ethnic groups in Vietnam. They are known officially as San Chay (also often called Cao Lan-San Chi). They first immigrated to Vietnam from China beginning in the 1600s. The Cao Lan numbered about 169,000 people in 2009. They are mainly settled in Tuyen Quang, Bac Can, and Thai Nguyen provinces. Settlements of this ethnic group are also scattered in Yen Bai, Vinh Phuc, Phu Tho, Bac Giang, and Quang Ninh provinces (Dang Nghiem Van et al. 2000; Sumitre et al. 2003; Ethnologue: Languages of the World 2013). According to the 1999 census, a few thousand San Chay live in the Central Highlands, mostly in Dac Lac with smaller numbers in Binh Phuoc, Dong Nai, Gia Lai, and Kon Tum provinces (General Statistical Office 2001). It is likely that these people migrated south to the New Economic Zones in the 1980s.

According to Gregerson and Edmondson (1998), the Cao Lan-San Chay ethnic group is actually a composite of two groups with two different languages and two non-overlapping cultures. The Cao Lan language has been classified as a Central Tai language of the Kam-Tai sub-branch of the Tai-Kadai language family, while the San Chay language is Han Chinese. In their view “. . . the Cao Lan and San Chay do not live in a classical diglossic situation of high language vs low language, but as two groups with mostly different identities despite a small overlap today and a common link in the past,” when these groups lived in close proximity along the border areas of Hunan, Guangdong, and Guangxi provinces of China (ibid., 152).

According to Gregerson and Edmondson’s field study, some Tai speaking Cao Lan groups refer to themselves as San Chay, although this is the official name of the Han-speaking group. Both Cao Lan and San Chay write using Chinese characters. Some older San Chay people can also speak a Tai language just as some elderly Cao Lan can speak and write in the Han language. It can be concluded that, “All these facts tell us that the two were in some sense one nationality with two partially overlapping speech communities whose original bilingualism has developed into separated mostly monolingualism through separation, as the majority of the San Chay live in Quang Ninh and the Cao Lan live mostly in Tuyen Quang, Thai Nguyen, and Bac Giang” (ibid.).

The Study Village

Cao Ngoi village is in Dong Loi commune, Son Duong district of Tuyen Quang province. This village is quite isolated and far away from the main road. The distance from the Son Duong district capital to the village is about 50 km, or 2 hours travel by bus (Fig. 1). The narrow and very rough dirt road that connects the village to the main highway crosses paddy fields in lowlands, then climbs up on to the upper terrace with sugarcane fields and acacia tree plantations, before it descends into the narrow valley hidden between steep sloped mountains where Cao Ngoi village is located.


Fig. 1 Map Showing Location of Cao Ngoi Village, Son Duong District, Tuyen Quang Province

According to the oral traditions of the villagers, Cao Ngoi village was established about 200 years ago by a group of 7 Cao Lan households who migrated there from Hoa Binh province. There are now 21 households with 76 people living there. They all speak the Cao Lan language in their daily activities in the village and also can converse in Vietnamese when dealing with outsiders. Traditionally, Cao Lan was written using Chinese characters but now only one older man in the village can read it. Nowadays the villagers wear Vietnamese style clothes for daily life but they still wear the traditional Cao Lan dress on special occasions.

The villagers live in the traditional Cao Lan style houses which are built on stilts made from large tree trunks. The bottom of each stilt rests on a large flat stone. Most houses have palm leaf roofs. Some houses have walls and floors made of wooden planks and others have woven bamboo walls and floors. They are entered by a wooden ladder on the side of the house. The space underneath the floor of the house is used to store firewood, agricultural equipment, motorcycles and bicycles, and wooden planks for house repairs. A fire-place made of clay is set on the floor of the house and is used for cooking and heating. The ancestral shrine is mounted on a side wall of the house. Agricultural products such as rice grain and dried maize are stored inside the house. Some houses have large attached balconies built from bamboo where they do laundry and sun-dry food (Fig. 2).


Fig. 2 Traditional Cao Lan Style House and Components; (a) Cao Lan House, Well, and Courtyard, (b) Fireplace inside the House, (c) Balcony, (d) Animal Pens under the House

The nearest neighboring Cao Lan village is about 4 km away, or 30 minutes by motorcycle, and the nearest market is about 10 km away. The nearest Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese) village is more than 5 km away. A rudimentary 1 room kindergarten in the village has 1 volunteer teacher and 2 very young students. The nearest primary and secondary schools are about 17 km away in Kinh villages. The older children have to ride bicycles to school there early in the morning and return in the afternoon. The trip takes them almost 3 hours each way.

Natural Conditions of the Study Village

Cao Ngoi village is situated at 169 m above sea level at 21°35’40.18’’N, 105°20’52.38’’E. The climate is classified as humid subtropical. The soil is infertile sandy loam, with poor drainage in the mountain valley. Although this area has scattered rain all year round with a mean annual rainfall of 1,500 mm (Nguyen Thi Mui 2006), there is a relatively dry season from August through January and a relatively wet season from February through July. The rains start from late February, with the heaviest rain in July, and then decrease after that with only a slight amount of rain in December. According to the village headman mean temperatures range from 15°C in winter to 35°C in summer. In the village there is a waterfall which the villagers use for electricity generation, for daily household use, to irrigate paddy fields, and which now serves as a tourist attraction in the summer.

The Agricultural System and Its Components

The agricultural system in the village includes paddy fields, upland fields, homegardens, and livestock. The total area of paddy fields is about 5 ha, with an average area per household of about 1,000 m2. Two rice crops are grown per year with an average yield of about 4 tons of unhusked rice per crop. The fields are irrigated with water from the stream flowing down from the mountainside into the village. Upland field crops are planted under 3 systems: 1) sugarcane on land belonging to the villagers (under contract to the sugar mill), 2) Acacia trees (Acacia mangium Willd) on their own land (under contract to the State Forest Enterprise [SFE]), and 3) Acacia on SFE land (the villagers work as wage laborers for the SFE). The 16 household-owned sugarcane fields cover 8.8 ha. The sugar mill provides the farmers with seedlings and fertilizer. After the harvest, they have to repay the cost of these inputs to the mill. Fourteen hectares, owned by 16 households, are planted with Acacia under contract to the SFE, with the owners receiving 63% of the income at harvest. On the Acacia land owned by the SFE, the villagers who are employed by the SFE receive a regular wage for caring for the trees.

Seventeen households have homegardens (an toon in the Cao Lan language). Homegardens include vegetable plots and fruit trees. The gardens surround the houses but are mostly sited in front of the houses. The front side of the house is determined by the location of the ancestor’s shrine. Within the homegarden are the house, animal pens, fish pond, bee hives, fenced vegetable plots, fruit trees, a concrete paved area for sun-drying crops, and an old-style pit toilet located deep in the garden. The average area of homegardens in this village is almost 3 sao or about 1,004 m2 (1 sao = 360 m2, the traditional measurement unit used in the Northern Vietnam region). The 2 smallest homegardens are only 1 sao, 6 gardens are 2 sao, 4 each are 3 and 4 sao, with the largest garden having an area of almost 6 sao (2,000 m2).

Livestock include about 60 cattle and buffalo, 100 goats (belonging to 5 households), 300 chickens, Muscovy ducks and geese, and 1 or 2 pigs per household. There are 11 fish ponds belonging to 11 households. Six households have honey bee hives.


Selection of Study Site and Study Households

Cao Ngoi village was selected based on discussions with knowledgeable district officers about Cao Lan settlements that maintained their ethnic traditions and met the following criteria: 1) located in rural area, 2) ethnically homogeneous, and 3) the main purpose of their homegardens was production for household consumption. The village was also selected because it was located some distance away from Kinh villages in a remote area in the mountains, and had no recent connections with other Tai groups in Thailand.

Because of the small size of the community, it was not necessary to employ sampling. Instead, all 17 households having homegardens were included in the survey.

Data Collection and Data Analysis

Data collection was carried out for 12 days during September 2012. Data were collected at two levels: 1) community level information on village history and ethnic identity was collected in semi-structured interviews with the village headman and village elders, 2) household level information was collected in semi-structured interviews with garden owners and by making direct observations of their gardens, including measurement of horizontal and vertical dimensions, and enumeration of plant species. Data were collected on homegarden components, functions of individual species, and structural characteristics (horizontal and vertical). These data were recorded on sketch maps, photographs, architectural drawings, and species checklists.

Data on all of the homegardens were entered into an Excel database, which was used to compile tables of characteristics for all gardens of households.

Data analysis employed the classification system for describing the characteristics of homegardens developed by Pijika (2014). This system includes horizontal structural dimensions, vertical dimensions, and measurement of species composition and diversity.

Horizontal dimensions include:

• Shape of planting area or plot: Geometric forms include plots or beds with square, rectangular, or circular shapes. Organic forms include planting areas with irregular or curvilinear shapes.

• Definition of boundaries of planting areas or plots: Boundaries can be sharp and clearly marked or indeterminate and ill-defined.

• Arrangement of individual plants within planting areas or beds: Individual plants can be planted in parallel lines (lineal) or in multiple clusters of plants, usually including representatives of two or more species (polycentric).

• Species composition within each plot: Planting areas or beds can be planted with only a single kind of plant species (mono-species) or with a mixture of two or more different species (multi-species).

Vertical dimensions include:

• Number of levels of vegetation: Plants of different species have different heights, which were recorded for 5 levels: Level 1 = 1 meter or less, Level 2 = 1.01–5 m, Level 3 = 5.01–10 m, Level 4 = 10.01–15 m, Level 5 = >15 m. All plants in the garden may be of the same height (single level) or they may have different heights (two or more levels).

• Canopy overlap: The share of the garden area in which the canopies of plants of different heights overlap each other (non-overlapping, <50% overlapping, >50% overlapping).

Species composition and diversity are measured in terms of the:

• Total number of species growing in the garden.

• Species richness, that is the number of species present by using Shannon-Wiener diversity index (H) (Magurran 1988)


where pi is proportion of the species relative to the total number of plants, and S is the number of species recorded.

• Species abundance, that is how equally abundant the species are by using Simpson’s index (D) (ibid.)


where pi is proportion of the species relative to the total number of plants, and S is the number of species recorded.

Results and Discussion

The Structure of Cao Lan Homegardens

The frequencies with which different structural characteristics of Cao Lan homegardens occur are shown in Table 1. The modal pattern of Cao Lan homegardens is organic shaped planting areas (Fig. 3a) with indeterminate boundaries (Fig. 3c), polycentric plantings (Fig. 3b) of multiple species in the same bed (Figs. 3b and 3d), and having multiple levels (Figs. 3a and 3d) of overlapping canopy layers (Fig. 3a). A large majority of homegardens (72%) have an organic shape of their planting area, 72% have an indeterminate boundary, 78% have a polycentric planting pattern, and 61% have multiple species within the same bed or planting area. All gardens have multiple vegetation levels, with the largest share (88%) having 5 levels. More than half (56%) of the gardens have more than 50% of their planting area covered by overlapping vegetation layers.


Table 1 Modal Pattern of the Cao Lan Homegardens of Cao Ngoi Village, Tuyen Quang Province, Northern Vietnam (n = 17) (Gray shading indicates most common form)



Fig. 3 Homegardens of the Cao Lan of Cao Ngoi Village; (a) Organic, Multi-level and Overlapping Canopy, (b) Polycentric and Multi-species, (c) Indeterminate Boundary, (d) Multi-level and Multi-species

A comparative study by Pijika (2014) of homegarden structures of 8 different ethnic groups in Northeastern Thailand and Central and Northern Vietnam, including 6 Tai groups (Phu Tai, Nyaw, Yoy, Lao, Kalaeng, and Cao Lan) and 2 Mon-Khmer groups (Viet and Kinh), identified 3 distinctive types of garden structures. The homegardens of most of the Tai groups (Kalaeng, Lao, Nyaw, Yoy, and Cao Lan) have structures that resemble the tropical forest type (Nair 2001), which is characterized by having an organic shape, indeterminate boundaries of planting areas, polycentric planting patterns, multi-species composition, multiple vegetation levels, and extensive canopy overlap. The homegardens of both of the Vietnamese groups (Viet and Kinh) have a temperate type structure (Niñez 1984), with geometric shapes, sharp boundaries, lineal planting patterns, mono-species composition, only a few levels of vegetation, and relatively limited canopy overlap. Fig. 4 compares, the modal structural pattern of the homegardens of the Cao Lan of Cao Ngoi village to that of the Yoy, a typical Tai minority group in Northeast Thailand, and the Kinh of Central Vietnam. It shows that the structure of the Cao Lan homegardens is very similar to the tropical forest type structure found among ethnically-related Tai groups in Northeast Thailand, but is very different from the temperate type garden structure of their Kinh neighbors in Vietnam.


Fig. 4 Comparison of Modal Structural Patterns of Homegardens of Cao Lan with the Yoy, a Related Tai Ethnic Group in Northeast Thailand, and Their Kinh Neighbors in Vietnam (% of gardens of each group displaying characteristics)

Species Composition, Diversity, and Functions

Different plant species are scattered around in different parts of the gardens so as to optimize to their habitats in the different micro-zones of gardens. The total number of plant species found in all 17 gardens was 113. Table 2 presents a detailed list of all species grouped according to their functions. The mean number of species per garden was 25, with a range from 11 to 46 species. Six gardens had 11–20 species, 6 gardens had 21–30 species, 4 gardens had 31–40 species, and only 1 garden had more than 40 plant species.


Table 2 List of Plant Species in Cao Lan Homegardens


Table 2 Continued


Table 2 Continued


The most common species are banana (Musa spp.) which was found in 15 gardens, ginger (Zingiber officinale) and taro (Colocasia esculenta Schott.) (14 gardens), guava (Psidium sp.) (13 gardens), Ceylon spinach (Basella albe L.), sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam) and papaya (Carica papaya) (12 gardens), and Indian red wood (Chukrasia tabularis A. Juss.) (11 gardens).

Plant species richness was measured using the Shannon-Wiener’s index (H), in which the higher the index number, the greater the diversity (Table 3). Species richness in the homegardens ranges from H = 1.25–3.04. One homegarden had the highest richness with 35 plant species (H = 3.04). The least rich were 2 gardens with 11 species each (H = 1.25 and 1.36).


Table 3 Species Composition and Diversity in the Cao Lan Homegardens of Cao Ngoi Village, Tuyen Quang, Northern Vietnam (n = 17)


The relative abundance of species was measured using Simpson’s index (D) (Table 3). Forty-seven percent of homegardens have the lowest number of plants for each species ranging from 0.01–0.25, followed by 4 homegardens (23.5%) ranging from 0.51–0.75, and 2 homegardens (11.8%) in the range of 0.26–0.50. Only 3 homegardens (17.7%) have the highest frequency of occurrence of each species.

All species were categorized according to their primary use: food and food-related, medicine, aesthetic, stimulants, fodder, construction materials, and other uses (Table 4). The majority of plant species (58.4%) are used for food, followed by 17 ornamental species (15.0%), 10 medicinal species (8.9%), 8 species for construction (7.1%), 5 species for animal fodder (4.4%), 4 species used as stimulants (3.5%), and 1 species each for other uses including food wrapping, firewood, and weaving. No species are used for ritual or to sell for cash. Only 7 species serve multiple functions: Ginger is used for spice and medicine, the fruit of three species of banana (Musa spp.) are used for human food and the stalks as food for pigs, and bamboo shoots are eaten as human food and the stalks used as construction materials, peach is used for food and serves an aesthetic function, and betel is used as a stimulant and for aesthetic purposes.


Table 4 Primary Functions of Plant Species in the Cao Lan Homegardens (number and percentage)


A small number of species are used as stimulants (areca nut [Areca catechu Le.] and betel leaf [Piper betle L.]), as food dye for cooking sticky-rice cake (spring bitter cucumber [Momordica cochinchinnensis (Lour.) Spreng], ramie [Boehmeria nivea, and Peristrophe bivalvis L.]), and as food-wrapping leaves [Stachyphrynium placentarium (Lour.) Clausager & Borchs.]. Three households have mulberry trees in their gardens, the leaves of which used to be used to feed silkworms that yielded thread that was formerly used to weave cloth and one household grows cotton, which also used to be used for weaving.


The homegardens of the Cao Lan of Cao Ngoi village are an important component of their agroecosystem. The many different species of plants grown in these gardens provide food and other necessities for the people as well as fodder for their livestock. With a total of 113 species the gardens also contribute to conservation of biodiversity.

Although the Cao Lan of Cao Ngoi village have been geographically isolated from other Tai groups for many centuries, their homegardens display a tropical forest type garden structure that closely resembles that of several Tai groups in Northeast Thailand. This type of homegarden structure is very different from the temperate type structure of the gardens of their Kinh neighbors in Vietnam with whom they share a common environment and are in frequent contact. The persistence of a common structural pattern among these related Tai ethnic groups, despite their inhabiting different environments, and having had no direct contact with each other for a very long time, suggests that culture exerts a very strong influence over agroecosystem structure. This finding provides empirical support for Richard O’Conner’s (1995) earlier suggestion that culture and agriculture are tightly linked together to form durable “agro-cultural complexes” that offer a useful key to reconstruction of the cultural history of Southeast Asia.

Accepted: October 28, 2014


This paper is part of the first author’s thesis research for a doctoral degree in Systems Agriculture, Graduate School, Khon Kaen University. The research was supported by a fellowship from the Higher Education Research Promotion and National Research University Project of Thailand, Office of the Higher Education Commission (HERP-NRU) which was administered by Sakon Nakhon Rajabhat University. Additional funding was provided by a grant (BRG5680008) from the Thailand Research Fund (TRF) Basic Research Program to the corresponding author. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and are not necessarily shared by the Higher Education Commission or TRF. We would like to thank Prof. Fukui Hayao and Assoc. Prof. Suchint Simaraks of the Khon Kaen University Program on System Approaches in Agriculture, and Dr. Jefferson Fox of the East-West Center, for their helpful suggestions about this research. Prof. Tran Duc Vien, President of Vietnam National University of Agriculture (VNUA) helped to arrange our fieldwork in Vietnam and Dr. Nguyen Thi Bich Yen, Deputy Director of the VNUA Center of Agricultural Research and Ecological Studies (CARES) provided logistic support for our field study. We owe a special debt to the Cao Ngoi villagers for the very great cooperation they extended to our research.


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Luu Ngoc Trinh; Watson, Jessica W.; Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hue; Nguyen Ngoc De; Nguyen Van Minh; Phan Thi Chu; Sthapit, Bhuwon Ratna; and Eyzaguirre, Pablo B. 2003. Agrobiodiversity Conservation and Development in Vietnamese Home Gardens. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 97: 317–344.
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Vol. 4, No. 2, Feener

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

ʿAbd al-Samad in Arabia: The Yemeni Years of a Shaykh from Sumatra

R. Michael Feener*

* Department of History, National University of Singapore, 21 Lower Kent Ridge Road, Singapore 119077

e-mail: hisfm[at]nus.edu.sg

This paper provides an in-depth exploration of a previously under-utilized Arabic source for the history of Islam in Southeast Asia. This text, Al-Nafas al-Yamani was compiled in the Yemen by ʿAbd al-Rahman b. Sulayman al-Ahdal (d. 1250 H./1835 C.E.), and includes a biographical sketch of the Sumatran scholar ʿAbd al-Samad b. ʿAbd al-Rahman al-Jawi al-Palimbani. Through a close, annotated reading of that text this article develops new insights into the configuration of people and ideas populating specific nodes of trans-regional networks in Sumatra and Arabia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At the same time, it also brings to light important dimensions of Sufi belief and ritual practice during this important transitional period of Islamic history in Southeast Asia. This material is then further explored through a discussion of some ways in which documents of this type might be approached by historians working on the intellectual and cultural history of early modern Southeast Asia more broadly.

Keywords: Islam, Indonesia, Sumatra, Arabia, Sufism, history

This article aims to contribute to our understanding of the history of Islam in pre-modern Southeast Asia through the critical examination of previously under-utilized source material.1) In particular, it presents a translation and close examination of an excerpt from a work written in the tradition of Arabic “biographical dictionaries” (tabaqat) that may serve to supplement the source bases traditionally consulted for the history of Islam in Southeast Asia and its “inter-Asia connections” in the eighteenth century.2) The discussion begins with the contexts in which the Sufi scholar discussed in the text was born, focusing on the Sumatran city of Palembang and the Arab diaspora in the Indonesian Archipelago. I will then introduce the main character of our story, ʿAbd al-Samad al-Jawi “al-Palimbani,” with a focus on his scholarly pedigree, and the place of his work in the reconfiguration of Sufi thought and practice in Southeast Asia. From there the focus shifts to the site where his Arabic biography was composed, the “scholars’ city” of Zabid in the Yemen—and thence to a close reading of the text that reveals ʿAbd al-Samad’s position in contemporary debates on Sufi thought and practice that established his place in the global scholarly networks that came together in Arabia during his lifetime.

The article concludes with reflections on how documents like this tabaqat text might be approached by historians working on intellectual and cultural histories of early modern Southeast Asia. There attention turns to frameworks for the interpretation of such biographical texts of individual scholars, and how they might be read in relation to the magisterial macro-histories of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean world produced by scholars like K. N. Chaudhuri (1990), Anthony Reid (1993; 1988), and Denys Lombard (1990). These works have helped us immensely in identifying some of the most significant broad historical patterns across the region during the early modern period. Moving back and forth between such “oceanic” perspectives and the individual focus presented by documents like this Arabic biographical text can, I argue, help us to better appreciate the specific character of inter-personal network linkages crucial to developing more nuanced understandings of the intellectual and cultural history of early modern Southeast Asia. For that, however, a brief introduction to this genre of Arabic biographical texts is first necessary.

Arabic Biographical Dictionaries (Tabaqat)

Tabaqat are collections of individual biographical entries in a more or less standardized format, and arranged in one of a number of ways, including alphabetically, by generation, or chronologically by one’s year of death. Such works have long served historians of Muslim societies, particularly those focusing their work on the Arabicized “Central Lands” of Islam, as primary sources for intellectual and social history.3) Some scholars, though far fewer in number, have also turned to such texts as sources for the history of Islam in Southeast Asia.4) This paper presents a close reading of one such text with an eye to highlighting ways in which readings of works of this type may be integrated into discussions of various aspects of the history of early modern Southeast Asia. In doing this, however, I am not claiming that studies of such materials will completely solve the problem of sources facing historians working in this field. Rather I would like to more modestly suggest that their careful use may help us in glimpsing aspects of certain developments that feature less prominently, if at all, in contemporary documents in European and Southeast Asian languages from the early-modern period.5)

The text upon which I will focus here is entitled, Al-Nafas al-Yamani (al-Rahman 1979), has yet to receive such treatment.6) It was compiled by ʿAbd al-Rahman b. Sulayman al-Ahdal (d. 1250 H./1835 C.E.),7) a scholar who descended from a long line of South Arabian sayyids distinguished for their religious learning (Löfgren 1960 I, 255–256).8) While active mainly in the Tihama and the Hijaz, the al-Ahdal family were linked through scholarly circles in Arabia to extensive networks of scholars from all around the Indian Ocean world and beyond. The author of our text, ʿAbd al-Rahman b. Sulayman al-Ahdal, in particular is reported to have both received ijazas from, and issued the same to, scholars “from every corner of the Muslim world” (Haykel 2014). These connections are clearly reflected in the biographies of ʿAbd al-Samad “al-Jawi” (and others) discussed in our text. Since the fifteenth century, scholars of the Ahdal family produced works across a broad range of the Islamic religious sciences, with many of them devoting considerable attention to Sufism. Some of the most illustrious scholars of their line, however, also composed important works of history and biography (Voll 2014).

ʿAbd al-Rahman b. Sulayman al-Ahdal’s biographical dictionary contains entries on dozens of the most prominent figures in the Muslim scholarly networks of the eighteenth-century Yemen, and is thus a source with great potential value for research into this period of Southeast Asian Islamic history. The importance of al-Ahdal’s Nafas al-Yamani for the study of the world of Islamic scholarship during this dynamic period has been demonstrated by Stefan Reichmuth (1999) in his study of the great South Asian hadith transmitter and lexicographer, Murtada al-Zabidi (d. 1791). This paper will focus on this biographical dictionary’s entry on a figure more generally known through Malay-language sources: Shaykh ʿAbd al-Samad b. ʿAbd al-Rahman al-Jawi, often referred to in Southeast Asia as “al-Palimbani.”

Arabs and the Malay-Muslim World of Palembang

ʿAbd al-Samad hailed from Palembang, South Sumatra in the early eighteenth century and it is from this place he takes the name (nisba) by which he is most commonly referred to in Malay sources, al-Palimbani.9) However his Arabic biography neither supplies this name associating ʿAbd al-Samad with Palembang nor gives any information about his early years spent in Southeast Asia. Instead he is referred to by the Arabic nisba “al-Jawi”—signaling an association with the broader region of the Indonesian Archipelago.10) This Arabic source thus presents us with some new perspective on the life of this important figure that compliments the information known to us through sources in Malay and European languages.

Much has been written toward a biography of ʿAbd al-Samad, despite the fact that few contemporary sources have been available to reconstruct aspects of his life beyond his own surviving writings.11) ʿAbd al-Samad is known to be the author of a number of works in both Malay and Arabic, including works in the Islamic religious sciences and an influential invocation to jihad.12) The bilingual body of work that he produced reflects the cultural milieu that characterized his South Sumatran birthplace, as well as the cosmopolitan world of Islamic religious scholarship that linked Southeast Asia to the broader Muslim world at that time.13)

In the eighteenth century, Palembang was home to a number of prominent Muslim scholars and authors of Malay literature.14) The emergence of Palembang as a center of Islamicate culture in the region was significantly linked to the growing Arab community there and its role in facilitating increased contact between Southeast Asia and the Middle East (Syamsu As 1996, 36–46). The increased Arab, and especially Hadrami, immigration during ʿAbd al-Samad’s day was stimulated in part by the patronage offered by the contemporary rulers of Palembang. Attracted by such measures, Arab scholars migrated to the banks of the Musi River where they came to take prominent places in the local economy and religious hierarchy (B. W. Andaya, 1993, 204–241).

Such developments, however, were not peculiar to Palembang during that period, as Arab immigrants and their descendants in other port cities and towns of the Indonesian Archipelago became increasingly active in not only in the literary and cultural life, but also in the politics of sultanates across the region during the eighteenth century (Ho 2002). This may be seen partially as a result of changes that accompanied the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) consolidation as a territorial power in the archipelago and their concomitant withdrawal as a hegemonic naval force in the region. A number of historians have noted that this had the result of temporarily recreating something of the “open and pluralistic” patterns of commerce and communication on the sea routes that had been characteristic of earlier periods (Chandler et al. 1987, 57).

These developments mark the acceleration and proliferation of processes that had been at work across the broader region for some time. In the eastern isles of the Indonesian Archipelago, for example, Arabs and their descendants born in ports ringing the Indian Ocean were ascending to prominent local ranks, as attested to by the late seventeenth-century tomb of Shaykh ʿUmar Ba Mahsun in the royal cemetery at Bima, on the eastern Indonesian island of Sumbawa (Noorduyn 1987, 85, 109). This is one of the earliest recorded examples of patterns of close association between Arab immigrants and local elites that was reproduced with variation across the region in the centuries that followed. In Aceh, for instance, the descendants of an embassy of Meccan sayyids established itself as a new dynasty that ruled there from 1699–1726 (Crecelius and Beardow 1979). Soon thereafter, in 1737, a Javanese royal embassy to Batavia returned to the court of Pakubuwana II, bringing with them an Arab shaykh named Sayyid ʿAlawi. This new arrival at the central Javanese capital quickly rose to prominence, being granted one of the Sultan’s concubines for a wife and charge over religious affairs for the realm (Ricklefs 1998, 198–199).15) As a result of such collaborations, cosmopolitan Muslim immigrants came to assume primary leadership roles in numerous communities stretching across the archipelago, including Siak and Pontianak in the eighteenth century (Andaya and Andaya 1982, 93; Heidhues 1998). While ʿAbd al-Samad’s hometown was not governed by an “Arab” dynasty per se, the Palembang elite too came to include a number of migrant Arabs during his day—one of whom is known to have married the sultan’s sister in 1745 (Azra 2004, 112). Later, as the British established themselves in Batavia during their Napoleonic-era interregnum, news of that major shift in the power dynamics of the Indonesian Archipelago were communicated to the sultan of Palembang via Arab emissaries.16) As the life and work of ʿAbd al-Samad further demonstrate, movement between and among the ports and polities of the Middle East and Southeast Asia was complex and multi-vectored during the long eighteenth century.

Teachers and Texts

With this context established we can take up with the account of ʿAbd al-Samad’s life contained in our Arabic biographical text. The entry opens by noting the date of his arrival at the Yemeni town of Zabid in 1206 H./1791 C.E. The author then goes on to praise this Sumatran sojourner as, “the very learned friend of God, the deeply understanding and pious notable of Islam, [a] productive ulama and [one of the] masters of knowledge of many fields.” These accolades were due in no small part to his prestigious scholarly pedigree, which established ʿAbd al-Samad firmly within the Muslim scholarly elite of his day. As our text tells us:

He studied under the scholars of his age, from among the people of the two noble sanctuaries such as the learned Shaykh Ibrahim al-Rais . . .17) Shaykh ʿAta al-Misri . . .18) Shaykh al-ʾAlama Muhammad Jawhari . . .19) and Shaykh Muhammad b. Sulayman al-Kurdi,20) among others.

At Zabid, ʿAbd al-Samad was fully integrated into the heart of a network of Arabophone Muslim scholars that extended across the entire range of the Indian Ocean littoral and beyond, from West Africa to China. This is a milieu in which the author of our text, al-Ahdal, was fully at home—working as he did in that cosmopolitan center of Islamic learning during what has been characterized as “a period of intense and international scholarly interaction among Sunnis” (Haykel 2014).

In addition to an extensive listing of the people he studied with during his time at Zabid, this biographical entry on ʿAbd al-Samad moves on to highlight some of the subjects and, importantly, even mentions some of the specific Islamic texts, that he studied with those teachers:

. . . he turned toward Sufism and directed most of his work toward studying and teaching al-Ghazali’s Ihya ʿulum al-din. He called on people to occupy themselves with this book, and thus increased its prestige and maximized its benefits. . . .

Our text then goes on to emphasize, through reference to classical Arabic poetry and pious anecdotes, the exceptional qualities of Ghazali’s (d. 1111) work and the benefits which its study brings to those who pursue it.

It is told that one of those who occupied themselves with this work read a book entitled, Tanbih al-Ihya . . . and turned towards studying it, but when he was just about to finish it, he lost his sight. He wept and supplicated God. . . . He then turned toward God, Great and Exalted, in repentance, and God restored the man’s sight. Shaykh Husayn b. Abd Allah al-Hadrami21) says, “the Ihya treats against the poisons of forgetfulness; it arouses the exoteric ulama and extends the knowledge of the firmly established scholars.”

Al-Ghazali’s Ihya occupied an increasingly prominent place in the scholarship of reform-minded Sufis during ʿAbd al-Samad’s day. A number of scholars have commented on a perceived shift in orientation in Indonesian Islam in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—one that included a renewed appreciation of al-Ghazali’s work. Such developments have parallels extending well beyond Southeast Asia, for as John Voll has noted a resurgence of interest in al-Ghazali’s work was one of the hallmarks of Sufi reform movements in Arabia, Africa, India, and elsewhere during the eighteenth century (Voll 1982, 36, 58, et passim).22) Debates over the terminology used to refer to reformist trends among Sufi scholars of the period aside, it is clear that across the Muslim world major shifts in Islamic thought were taking place.23)

These complex developments were, moreover, by no means limited to Sufism, but were integrally related to the reorientation of work in other fields ranging from jurisprudence and hadith scholarship to historiography and lexicography. ʿAbd al-Samad himself was to become a major figure in this project of reforming Sufism in Southeast Asia during this period, as is clear from his most popular surviving works in the form of Malay-language interpretations of and elaborations upon al-Ghazali’s writings.24) The influence of these texts on the subsequent development of the Malay kitab curriculum of Southeast Asian circles of Muslim learning can be traced through the works of major Malay authors such as ʿAbd al-Samad’s younger colleague Daud al-Patani, who hailed from what is today southern Thailand and flourished in the early nineteenth century.25) Al-Patani spent most of his scholarly career at Mecca, which has long been recognized as an important center for Southeast Asian Muslims studying in the Arabian peninsula. However for earlier generations of such itinerant Islamic scholars, other cities also held considerable appeal. Prominent among such regional centers of scholarship in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was Zabid, located in the Tihama west coastal plain of the Yemen.

Zabid: A Southern Arabian Center of Islamic Learning

Zabid was founded in 820 CE when, in response to several local revolts, the Abbasids appointed Muhammad b. ʿAbdullah b. Ziyad as governor of the Tihama. Soon, however, this appointed official took advantage of the distance from Baghdad to establish his own dynasty, which continued to rule the region for over two centuries with Zabid as the capital (Wilson 1985). The city remained the center of administration under the Ayyubids (1173–1229), who expended great energy in reconstructing its walls and building a number of mosques and madrasas. By 1391, a survey conducted under the auspices of the Rasulid Sultan al-Ashraf documented some 230 such institutions in Zabid (Hibshi 1977). Over the centuries that followed the city came to develop a far-flung reputation as an important center of Muslim learning.26) In the seventeenth century, for example, Zabid attracted Southeast Asian Sufi scholars including Yusuf al-Maqassari, who spent his first years in Arabia there (Azra 2004, 89–91). Zabid continued to attract students from throughout the Muslim world until the early nineteenth century, as evidenced by various entries contained Nafas al-Yamani. Modern scholarship on ʿAbd al-Samad’s life and work have tended to repeat very similar remarks on the importance of his studies at Medina, and the composition of his most important works at Mecca and Taʾif.27) The time that this scholar spent at Zabid, on the other hand, has been largely neglected in earlier studies—although as our text makes clear it proved a formative part of ʿAbd al-Samad’s Arabian experience.28)

Our text gives us a valuable description of the time that ʿAbd al-Samad spent in Zabid, as well as an intimate view into some of the ways in which particular inter-personal bonds were formed and remembered between individuals across the expansive scholarly networks of the eighteenth century. In reading this account, furthermore, one cannot escape an impression of the admiration that the author of this text—an Arab sayyid from the prominent Yemeni family of al-Ahdal—held for this Jawi shaykh from Palembang, as we read that:

When our scholar arrived at Zabid, he continued to increase his exhortations toward the study of Ghazali’s Ihya, and I read under him, thanks be to God, the first quarter of every chapter. I asked him for an ijaza (document of certification) for the study of this book, to relate that which is good in it and to benefit from its knowledge. He wrote for me in his own noble hand a very long ijaza, it being his way that if a student came to him asking detailed questions and he saw something good in the student, he would lengthen his praise of the student in the ijaza. He would also explain to the student about law and literature to increase his adherence to it, and the student would see clearly that which was presented to him. The Shaykh continued to explain for me the literature of legal decisions and the requirements of a mufti: it is not enough only to inquire [into the facts of a certain case] but if he has knowledge of the situation he must call attention to it in the writing of his decision. . . .

Here our text opens a window on to the micro-dynamics of the specific ways in which Sufism and the study of Islamic law were integrally related for many of his contemporaries in the networks. This aspect of eighteenth-century Muslim intellectual culture contributed to various movements for religious reform and continued to influence developments throughout the Muslim world for at least two centuries. Beyond this, our text also provides a glimpse of the personal touch that ʿAbd al-Samad had as an inspiring teacher, and how he was remembered by his former students.

The intimacy and generosity highlighted in al-Ahdal’s account here testify to the importance of personal relationships in the construction and maintenance of scholarly networks—something that, while rarely glimpsed in surviving sources, is crucial to appreciate in developing our understanding of the broader processes through which the Indonesian Archipelago came to be a significant part of the global umma (Johns 1978, 471). Such passages in this Arabic biography of ʿAbd al-Samad also convey a sense of the respect that this Sumatran shaykh commanded from his Arabian co-religionists. The text then can serve as a point of critical reflection upon abiding, un-critical assumptions about Islamic religious authority that tend to view the Middle East as a place where Muslims from many parts of Asia and Africa came to learn from “Arab” masters. The relative positions of this scholar hailing from Palembang and his Arabian sayyid disciple presented in our text thus point to a far greater range of possibilities in the kinds of relationship formed between natives of the holy land and migrants from Southeast Asia (and elsewhere) during the pre-modern period.

Sufi Practice and Scholarly Polemic

The next section of the Arabic biography of ʿAbd al-Samad moves on to provide a detailed treatment of his place within the Sufi circles of his day. These passages elaborate ʿAbd al-Samad’s credentials in renouncing the vanities of this world, as well as his generosity in the sharing of his knowledge:

Our shaykh did not see any value in this world, and his magnanimity and generosity are regarded as a wonder of wonders. He was asked by one of his best students for a book . . . and our shaykh went to his book cabinet and said, “Please take from it what you like,” and the student took from it a number of precious books of great price.

However most of the “Sufi” material of this biographical entry is concerned not with hagiographic portraiture of the shaykh’s spiritual virtues, but rather with technical discussions of aspects of devotional practice that were being energetically debated across the Indian Ocean networks of Muslim scholarship during his day:

ʿAbd al-Samad took the [Sufi] way of dhikr (ritual “remembrance of God”) from his shaykh, the great saint Muhammad b. Abd al-Karim al-Samman al-Madani.29) He stayed with Shaykh al-Samman for a considerable time and took from him his way, as he in turn took it from the famous Shaykh Mustafa al-Bakri.30) Al-Samman and al-Hifni31) both had the same shaykh and their way is to pronounce the dhikr aloud, the recitation coming together [to a crescendo at its conclusion].32)

Over the paragraphs that follow in the entry it becomes clear that practices such as jahr (the audible pronunciation of Sufi dhikr) were the subject of considerable controversy among the original audience of this text:

It is clear that this [vocalized dhikr] is not forbidden or discouraged, as its detractors would have it, for a group of scholars including al-Jalal al-Suyuti33) and the very learned al-Kitan34) have written on the evidence for the permissibility of reciting the dhikr aloud. Among those who have written extensively on this subject is Shaykh Mulla Ibrahim al-Kurani35) who has a great treatise36) on the evidence for vocalized recitation (jahr). . . .37)

 Shaykh Ibrahim continues on to say, and this is clearly indicated in the hadith of Abi Musa al-Ashari, in the two sound collections, and elsewhere in the texts of Bukhari on jihad: “Abu Musa said that we were with the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) and when we approached a valley we pronounced the tahlil and takbir, raising our voices, and the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) said, ‘Oh people, stay your voices’.
 . . . The Prophet exhorted gently to abandon this practice of extreme shouting, but not to abandon jahr altogether. And among the evidence for this is the meaning of jahr in the Holy Qurʾan, “And you (O reader!) bring your Lord to remembrance in your very soul, with humility and in reverence without loudness in words. . . .”38) Thus that which must be abandoned is the loud shouting and not jahr altogether. This verse and the sound hadith indicate the legality of jahr in the recitation of dhikr and its thorough recommendation.

In this discussion of jahr included within his tabaqat entry on ʿAbd al-Samad, al-Ahdal goes to considerable lengths to contextualize and re-interpret texts of Qurʾan and hadith that were frequently deployed by critics of vocalized dhikr in his own attempts to defend the legitimacy of the practice. The fact that so much attention is given to debates on the permissibility of the practice of jahr in this short biography of ʿAbd al-Samad indicates something of the importance of this issue to him and those, like our author al-Ahdal, who studied under him in the Muslim scholarly networks of the period. It also enables us to delineate some of the significant fault lines that created internal divisions even among scholars who moved and assembled along the same network pathways across the Muslim world at that time.39)

Nodes in the Scholarly Networks

After this rather lengthy digression on the technical aspects of ʿAbd al-Samad’s devotional practice, and some notes of praise for ʿAbd al-Samad’s teacher Muhammad al-Samman, our text draws to a close with his authority for these practices being linked back once again to the specific teachers he studied with in the networks:

. . . among his shaykhs is the above-mentioned Shaykh Muhammad b. ʿAbd al-Karim al-Samman, and Shaykh al-Kabir al-Mustafa Bakri, [and] a group of them, al-Shaykh Muhammad al-Daqaq and al-Sayyid Ali al-ʿAttar,40) living in Mecca with their scholarly lineages reaching back to Nakhli41) and Basri.42)

With this last list of scholars in ʿAbd al-Samad’s lineage, we are once again reminded that the networks of this Sumatran-born scholar in southern Arabia had connections that extended from the most distant corners of the Muslim world to the very center of Mecca itself. As Azyumardi Azra’s work has so clearly mapped, Arabia was a site of productive encounter between scholars from widely diverse ethnic and geographical origins who had become integrated into a shared culture of Islamic learning (Azra 2004, 8–31). The life and work of the scholar as presented by texts like the tabaqat entry discussed here presents us with a focused look at the construction of a particular node in the networks that shaped the development of Islam in Southeast Asia and beyond until the early twentieth century. It must also be noted, however, that these networks were reconfigured in significant ways over this period. Indeed, what might strike modern readers as the conspicuous absence of any mention of either “ethnicity” or geographic origin in this biography of ʿAbd al-Samad highlights the fact that such concerns were not at the forefront of how this individual was configured within the cosmopolitan scholarly networks of his day—and should also caution us against attempting to view that period through the lenses of our own contemporary conceptions of “identity.” The Arabia of ʿAbd al-Samad was rather different from that of the “Jawi” scholars who settled in Arabia in far greater numbers a century later, who as a group were both identified, and increasingly self-identified as sharing a common identity based on their origins.43)

In conclusion, I’d like to comment a little more broadly on the use of previously under-utilized Arabic biographical sources for the history of Islam in Southeast Asia. Such texts hold the potential to highlight aspects of various sociological “subsets” of total history—especially the intellectual, the cultural, and the religious—that might otherwise escape our attention. Through the sweeping, synthetic works of scholars like Chaudhuri, Reid, and Lombard we have come to recognize the development of some of the most significant broad historical patterns across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean world during the early modern period.

Gazing at these wide horizons from within the textual confines of our entry on ʿAbd al-Samad, we might now be able to more clearly discern in the particulars recorded in this text, reflections of these broader trends as they made themselves felt in the specific times and places that he lived. These would include, inter alia, the rise of Islamic renewal and reform currents and the growth of regional cities, like Zabid and Palembang, during his day. Carefully contextualized readings of biographical materials such as the text explored here thus might be pursued as a way in which to view some of these macro-structures of la longue durée in relation to the micro-mechanics of continuity and change in a mutually informative way.

In contextualizing our readings of specific accounts of written lives we must of course acknowledge that historical structures involve more than just the sum total of innumerable individual biographies. At the same time, we should distinguish our use of such biographical sources from that of Romantic historians—and their post-modern avatars—with their pervasive penchant for particularism. In our reading of these texts we are not primarily looking for either “guiding personalities,” or the atomistic amplification of isolated, internally-verified narratives. Rather, what I would like to suggest is an approach to biographical materials that traces the paths of unique human lives with an eye toward viewing the ways in which interaction with various areas of society’s “set of sets” (Braudel 1982, 458-599) is integrated within the experience of individuals. Dilthey might see such an approach as enabling us to “apprehend . . . an historical whole in contrast to the lifeless abstractions which are usually drawn from the archives” (Dilthey 1989, 85). I would simply suggest that biographical texts such as the one discussed here comprise a potentially valuable source of detailed information for illustrating broader themes set forth in more synthetic, structuralist works of historical scholarship.

Braudel once framed his critique of histoire événementielle in relation to an anecdote about observing fireflies in Brazil:

I remember a night near Bahia, when I was enveloped in a firework display of phosphorescent fireflies; their pale lights glowed, went out, shone again, all without piercing the night with any true illumination. So it is with events, beyond their glow, darkness prevails. (Braudel 1980, 10–11)

In my approach to this Arabic biography of ʿAbd al-Samad, however, I have been concerned not with the “flash” of one individual life as “event” in the darkness of the uncharted past, but rather reading it in the somewhat brighter shadows of larger, more enduring, historical structures. Working in this way, readings of texts like al-Ahdal’s tabaqat could be seen as a process of simultaneously trying out different lenses to help in refining our field of vision; with the hope that some of them might manage to catch and magnify some of the warmer light of such firefly flashes in a way that may just give us a better view of the broader structures of “Inter-Asia” Islamic connections.

Accepted: October 2, 2014


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1) I would like to thank Merle Ricklefs, and the anonymous reviewers of the journal for their constructive comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

2) My thinking in these terms has benefitted much from my ongoing collaboration with Prasenjit Duara and colleagues at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute in our reading group on the “Historical Sociology of Asian Connections.”

3) For more on this genre of literature, see Gibb (1962); Hafsi (1976; 1977); al-Qadi (1995).

4) The most notable work in this direction has been that of Johns (1978); Azra (2004). For work tracing even earlier connections between Southeast Asia and the Arabian peninsula through Arabic language sources, see Feener and Laffan (2005).

5) For an overview of this earlier history of Islam in Southeast Asia, see Feener (2010).

6) In the preface to this print edition, the full title is given as: al-Nafas al-Yamani waʾl-ruh al-rahayni fi ijazat al-qudat baniʾl-Shawkani. Serjeant (1950, 587) refers to this text under the title of, al-Nafas al-yamani fi ijazat baniʾl-Shawkani. See also O’Fahey (1994). The use of the word nafas in the title plays upon a well-established Sufi trope in the form of a tradition in which the Prophet is believed to speak of Uways al-Qarani with the words, “The Breath of the Merciful (nafas al-Rahman) comes to me from the Yemen.”

7) He studied at both Zabid and Medina under several prominent shaykhs, including Muhammad b. ʿAlaʾuddin al-Mizjaji, Muhammad Murtada al-Zabidi, and Muhammad b. ʿAli b. Muhammad al-Shawkani. He eventually went on to become mufti of Zabid in 1197 H./ 1783 C.E., and was host to the Maghribi saint Ahmad b. Idris during his visit to this city in 1243 H./1827-28 C.E. See al-Shawkani (n.d., 267–268); al-Sanaʿi (1929, 30–31); and Brockelmann (1937–42, 1311)

8) Their line is traced back to the sixth Shiʿite Imam Jaʿfar al-Sadiq through such well-known saints as the miracle-working Abuʾl-Hasan ʿAli b. ʿUmar b. Muhammad al-Ahdal, whose tomb to the north of Bayt al-Faqih in the Tihama remains a pilgrimage site to this day. See al-Zabidi (1986, 195–198). Another work on this prominent family of Sufis and scholars, entitled al-Nasiha al-ʿalawiyya liʾl-sada al-ahdaliyya, is attributed to Muhammad al-Samman (Hunwick and O’Fahey 1994). Muhammad al-Samman is one of the scholars listed in al-Ahdal’s work as being active in the same Arabian Sufi circles as ʿAbd al-Samad.

9) From internal evidence from his surviving works we know, for example, that ʿAbd al-Samad dated his work entitled Hidayat al-Salikin at Mecca in 1192 H./1778 C.E., and the Sayr al-Salikin at Taʾif in 1203 H./1789 C.E. These dates are taken from the colophons of the Dar Ihya al-Kitab al-Arabiyya Indunisiyya letter-press edition of the Sayr al-Salikin, 4 vols. (Jakarta: n.d.), and the lithograph edition of the Hidayat al-Salikin published in Indonesia by Sharika Maktaba al-Madiniyya, 1354 H./1935 C.E.

10) On the use of “Jawa” and “Jawi” to refer to the Indonesian Archipelago, its people, and its products, see Feener and Laffan (2005); Laffan (2009a; 2009b).

11) Beyond ʿAbd al-Samad’s own writings, another source base that has been used by some in attempts to reconstruct his biography comes from later Malay-language texts such as the Tarikh Salasilah Negeri Kedah (1968); See Abdullah (1980, 95–107). The validity of such texts as reliable sources of information is, however, subject to question in light of such claims as their account of his death as a centenarian martyr in a jihad against the Buddhist Siamese. While there is no other information suggesting that ʿAbd al-Samad ever returned from Arabia to Southeast Asia, some local Muslims find support for this claim in sites regarded as his burial place in both Palembang and Patani (Southern Thailand). See, for example: http://pondhuk.blogspot.sg/2013/02/kematian-syekh-abdusshamad-al-palimbani.html. Accessed June 1, 2015.

12) This last text is entitled Nasihat al-muslimin wa-tadhkirat al-muʾminin fadaʾil al-jihad fi sabil Allāh, and is regarded as having inspired the prolific genre of prang sabi (“holy war”) texts in nineteenth century Aceh. For more on this, see Hadi (2011). Aside from his formal treatise on the subject of jihad, ʿAbd al-Samad also wrote letters from Arabia to rulers in Java encouraging them to take up arms against the expansion of Dutch colonial power in 1772. See Ricklefs (1974, 134; 150–155).

13) Synopses of his works in both languages can be found in Drewes (1977, 222–224). There and elsewhere Drewes (1976) included in that list the Tuhfat al-raghibin fi bayan haqiqat iman al-muʾminin wa ma yufsiduhu fi riddat al-murtadin. More recently, however, Noorhaidi Hasan (2007) has demonstrated that this work is more likely attributed to ʿAbd al-Samad’s younger contemporary, Muhammad Arshad al-Banjari.

14) For more on this environment and the writings that were produced in it, see Drewes (1977, 219–237).

15) Michael Laffan has recently reconstructed the subsequent course of Sayyid Alawi’s life after his rapid ascent in Javanese court circles, and through his transportation, detention, and later career among the expanding Muslim community of Cape Town, see Laffan (2013).

16) The royal receptions of Said Zain Bafakih, Said Bakar Rum, and Syarif Muhammad are recorded in a Palembang Malay manuscript edited by Woelder (1975, 88–89).

17) Abu al-Fawz Ibrahim b. Muhammad al-Raʾis al-Zamzami al-Makki (1110–94 H./1698–1780 C.E.), a teacher of Murtada al-Zabidi and a student of al-Basri and ʿAta al-Misri who took an ijaza in the Khalwatiyya from Mustafa al-Bakri (see below). This scholar also had a number of important connections with the al-Ahdal and Mizjaji families in the Yemen (Azra 2004, 114).

18) ʿAtaʾAllah b. Ahmad al-Azhari al-Misri al-Makki, the renowned muhaddith and teacher of Ibrahim al-Raʾis and Murtada al-Zabidi. He also may have had some connection with the leading family of the Egyptian Tasqiyaniyya al-Ahmadiyya order, who continued their dominance of the organization into this century. See de Jong (1978).

19) Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Jawhari al-Misri (1132–86 H./1720–72 C.E.), a well-known Egyptian traditionist with a highly-regarded isnad who strengthened his connections to our networks of scholars through his extended study and teaching visits to the Haramayn (Azra 2004, 115).

20) Muhammad b. Sulayman al-Kurdi (1125–94 H./1713–80 C.E.), a Sufi and legal scholar who was a student of al-Bakri, al-Nakhli, and al-Basri (see below).

21) The published edition of the Arabic text has a footnote here that reads: “He is Husayn b. ʿAbd Allah Ba Fadl (d. 979 H./1571–72 C.E.). Please see our book Masadir al-fikr al-Islami, 286.”

22) For more on the dynamics of debates on and within Sufism during this period, see collected essays in de Jong and Radtke (1999) by Esther Peskes, Bernd Radtke, Kamel Filali, R. Sean O’Fahey, Marc Gaborieau, Jonathan N. Lipman, and Azyumardi Azra.

23) For a brief overview of these recent debates within Islamic Studies, see Reichmuth (2002).

24) Entitled Hidayat al-Salikin and Sayr al-Salikin, these works are still printed in Jawi script and available in kitab shops in various parts of the Southeast Asia. Drewes (1977, 222–223) mentions other editions of these texts that were published at Mecca, Bombay, Cairo, and Singapore. The Hidayat al-Salikin has generally served as a beginner’s introduction to Sufism, drawing in part on Ghazali’s Bidayat al-Hidaya (and other works), and arranged broadly along the Bidayat’s organizational scheme. More advanced students then continue with the larger, four-volume Sayr al-Salikin on a path that should lead adepts eventually to al-Ghazali’s Ihya itself (Kushimoto 2014).

25) Daud b. ʿAbd Allah b. Idris al-Patani was one of the most prolific authors of such books, and among his works are Malay adaptations of al-Ghazali’s Mihaj al-Abidin. Biographical material on this important Malay kitab author can be found, van Bruinessen (1998, 19–20); L. Y. Andaya (2012, 235). For more on the production of Islamic scholarship in his milieu, see: Matheson and Hooker (1988); Hassan Madmarn (2002); and Bradley (2010).

26) Attested to not only in the medieval texts of local histories (e.g. al-Dayba 1983, 47), but also in local historical memory today by drivers on the Tihama road whom I have heard shouting: “Zabid, madinat al-ʿulamaʾ!” (“Zabid, City of the Scholars!”) upon approaching the (now nearly ruined) town.

27) A popular recent example of this is found in the section on ʿAbd al-Samad in Iskandar (1996, 441–443).

28) The major exception to this is Azyumardi Azra’s groundbreaking work (2004). Unfortunately, however, he was unable to consult the text of the Nafas al-Yamani in preparing that study.

29) Muhammad b. ʿAbd al-Karim al-Samman al-Hashimi al-Madani al-Khlawati al-Qadiri al-Shadhili al-Shafiʿi (d. 1190 H./1776 C.E.) was a student of al-Hifni and Mahmud al-Kurdi (d. 1780), khalifa of Mustafa Kamal al-din al-Bakri in the Khalwatiyya order. He was born and died at Medina, 1132–89 H./1719–75 C.E. The listing of his works in Brockelmann (1937–42, SII, 535, 629) has been revised in Drewes (1992). Muhammad al-Samman is of particular importance here as the order he established at Medina gained considerable popularity in Muslim Southeast Asia, due to a considerable extent to the work of his “Jawi” pupil ʿAbd al-Samad and his contemporary Palembang countrymen including Muhammad Muhyiddin b. Shaykh Shihabuddin. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, the order had established itself in several centers in the region, including the Dutch capital of Batavia (Drewes 1977, 224–225). By the late nineteenth century Sammaniyya practices came under considerable critique from a number of prominent members of the Arab community in Southeast Asia, including Salim b. ʿAbd Allah b. Sumayr and Sayyid ʿUthman b. ʿAbd Allah b. ʿAqil b. Yahya (Drewes 1992, 83–84). For more on his al-Samman and his students from Southeast Asia, see Muthalib (2007). The Sammaniyya order was also widely propagated in Ethiopia and the Sudan. See O’Fahey (1994, 91).

30) Mustafa b. Kamal al-Din b. ʿAli al-Siddiqi al-Hanafi al-Khalwati Muhyi al-Din al-Bakri (d. 1162 H./1749 C.E.) was an eighteenth-century khalifa of the Qarabashi branch of the Khalwatiyya order. He also issued the ijazat khilafa of the Khalwatiyya order to the later Egyptian founder of the al-Afifiyya branch of the Shadhiliyya order (Elger 2014).

31) Najm ad-Din Muhammad b. Salim b. Ahmad al-Shafiʿi al-Misri al-Hifni al-Husayni (d. 1181 H./1767–68 C.E.) was an author of Shafiʾi legal and devotional works (Brockelmann 1937–42, SII, 445) who was the Shaykh al-Azhar and head of the Khalwaityya order in Egypt during his day. See Marsot (1972, 150). For more on the sub-order founded by him (al-Hifniyya): de Jong (1978, 114–116). The networks he was involved in extend even further, as his brother Yusuf al-Hifnawi was a colleague of Muhammad Murtada al-Zabidi and his students included Jabril b. Umar, the foremost teacher of Uthman dan Fodio (Voll 1982, 81).

32) The interpolated rendering of the last sentence is based upon the practice of a Sammaniyya dhikr session as I have observed it at a session led by a Sudani shaykh and his disciples in Sanaʿa during early August, 1997.

33) i.e. Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti(d. 911 H./1505 C.E.). This renowned Egyptian scholar was the author of several works which have long been popular in Muslim Southeast Asia and continue to be used there today. For more on al-Suyuti, see Sartain (1975). For the adaptation of one of his more well-known works in Southeast Asia, see Riddell (1990).

The published edition of the al-Ahdal’s Arabic text has a footnote here that reads, “His book is entitled, Natija al-fikr fi al-jahr biʾl-dhikr.”

34) The published edition of the Arabic text has a footnote here that reads, “Perhaps this is the Sufi Muhammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahid al-Kitani (d. 1289 H./1872–73 C.E.).”

35) Ibrahim b. al-Sharazuri al-Hasan Shahrani al-Madani al-Kurani (d. 1101 H./1690 C.E.), the Kurdish scholar and mystic who studied throughout the Muslim world before settling in Medina where he succeeded his famous teacher al-Qushashi upon the latter’s death in 1071 H./1661 C.E. (EI2, V: 432b, 525b). This particular scholar had a profound effect on the development of Islam in Southeast Asia during the seventeenth century via the mediation of his Sumatran colleague ʿAbd al-Raʾuf al-Singkli. See Johns (1978).

36) The published edition of al-Ahdal’s Arabic text has a footnote here that reads, “Entitled al-Jawabat al-Ghurawiyyat.”

37) Kurani’s position on vocal dhikr had also influenced earlier generations of Muslim scholars from Southeast Asia, including the seventeenth-century Acehnese shaykh ʿAbd al-Raʾuf Singkili (Le Gall 2005, 101–102).

38) Qurʾan (7, al-Aʿraf, 205).

39) Polemics over the legitimacy of vocalized, as opposed to silent dhikr, pursued by Sufis involved in the scholarly circles of eighteenth-century Yemen came to be part of significant social and political cleavages in several parts of the Muslim world, including China. For more on this see Lipman (1997, 85–93).

40) This reference may be to al-Sayyid Ali al-ʿAttar (d. 1250 H./1834 C.E. or 1254 H./1838 C.E.), an Egyptian writer to whom several works of history and grammar are attributed (Brockelmann 1937–42, SII, 720).

41) Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Nakhli (1044–1130 H./1634–1718 C.E.), a hadith scholar resident in Medina who was a student of the prominent Egyptian Shaykh Muhammad b. ʿAla al-din al-Babili (d. 1077 H./1666–67 C.E.). See Voll (1980, 266).

42) ʿAbd Allah b. Salim al-Basri (1040–1134 H./1640–1722 C.E.), an important hadith scholar whose students included Mustafa al-Bakri and the South Asian muhaddith Muhammad Hayya al-Sindi (d. 1750). See Voll (1975, 38).

43) For more on the “Jawah colony” of Southeast Asian Muslim students and teachers at Mecca, see: Hurgronje (1970); Laffan (2003).


Vol. 4, No. 2, Takahashi

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

Food Supply in Cambodian Buddhist Temples: Focusing on the Roles and Practices of Lay Female Ascetics

Takahashi Miwa*

* 高橋美和, College of Human and Cultural Sciences, Aikoku Gakuen University, 1532 Yotsukaido, Yotsukaido City, Chiba 284-0005, Japan

e-mail: miwat[at]aikoku-u.ac.jp

This article, based on field research in temples in urban areas of Cambodia, aims to examine the roles of lay ascetics in Cambodian Buddhist temples from the viewpoint of the food supply system for temple residents. A number of Cambodian Buddhist temples are not only monasteries inhabited by monks but also residential places for laypeople of various categories, including female ascetics called daun chi. Cambodians in general view lay ascetics as needy people who have no family to rely on in their old age; most monastic laypeople are elderly. In reality, if we focus on food, we can see that lay ascetics do not depend entirely on the temples in which they live. From detailed observations at three temples in Phnom Penh, it is clear that temples are supported by the Buddhist community in general but that food for monks and laypeople comes through different systems of supply routes that are partly connected to each other. This article first explores how these two different food supply systems are run and maintained. Second, by depicting how female ascetics get involved in food-related practices, this article examines their dual position: female ascetics are temple residents just like monks but remain in the lay category.

Keywords: Cambodia, Buddhism, temple, food, monk, lay ascetic, daun chi

I Introduction

In Theravada Buddhist societies, which consist of people ordained as monks and laypeople, what kinds of roles are played by lay ascetics living in temples? While there have been countless studies on Theravada regions in Southeast Asia, studies that focus on laypeople in particular, especially those based in Cambodia and Laos, are very scarce. Lay ascetics1) have mostly been described as part of the faithful lay community or just mentioned on a footnote level as temple inhabitants who are subordinate to monks.

While so-called revival movements of the bhikkhunī (fully ordained female monk) order have recently taken place in Sri Lanka and Thailand, no such movements have occurred in Cambodia so far. It is believed that Cambodia has never had bhikkhunī,2) but it has female renouncers in the lay category called daun chi (ដូនជី) or yeay chi (យាយជី).3) There are some research works that focus on daun chi. Nobue Hamaya (2004) has carried out fieldwork on daun chi in Siem Reap and described their temple life, including their social engagement. Elizabeth Guthrie (2004) has provided historical analyses of laypeople’s practices based on the key word “puos (បួស)” and focused on one daun chi, who was a meditation teacher. The Buddhist Institute, Cambodia (2006) has surveyed daun chi life in one district and submitted concrete data on female renouncers’ attributes. All of these works have given us thought-provoking analyses and presented new findings, but we still cannot see clearly who lay ascetics are and what it means to live as a temple resident within the lay category. For example, ANLWC,4) a socially engaged Buddhist group that Hamaya wrote about, is unique to Cambodia, but its activities are very limited in region and even its name is not known widely among daun chi in general. As far as I have observed, most lay ascetics are not social workers or meditation teachers or Buddhist university students but seem simply to live in a temple. Therefore, to understand the general situation of daun chi, focusing on a particular group or prominent persons is probably not enough. What kind of human relationships do they have within a temple community? In order to understand lay ascetics better, we probably need to not only focus on daun chi but also observe a temple as a whole, including monks and other people.

This article focuses on, among various aspects of Cambodian Buddhist temples, food supply for temple residents, placing an emphasis on the roles and practices of lay ascetics. I use the word “practices” here in a broad sense; it means not only, for instance, purely religious practices in search of enlightenment, but also daily activities in Buddhist temples. I try to analyze Cambodian Buddhist temples through the real lives of lay temple inhabitants in order to understand how the religion “lives” in today’s Cambodian society.

It has often been said that in Theravada Buddhist societies, temple going is part of people’s everyday lives—and Cambodia is no exception. More than 90 percent of the total population of Cambodia is thought to believe in Buddhism, which is the national religion as defined in the Cambodian constitution. In fact, people have a number of occasions to visit Buddhist temples—such as during Buddhist festivals, most of which are national holidays. On a “precept (p. sīla)5) day,” which occurs four times in the lunar calendar, temples in both urban and rural areas are crowded with people gathering to “seek precepts (សុំសីល)” from monks. As a daily practice, many families place freshly cooked rice and other food in the alms bowls of monks who come to their threshold in the morning. It is very common for laypeople to invite monks to chant at rituals held in their homes, including funerals, memorial rites for the deceased, and ceremonies wishing for a long life for living parents.

Temple-goers tend to be middle-aged or elderly. The institution of the Buddhist temple has much to do with people’s life stages. In other words, Cambodians have a clear idea that their life as older people will naturally entail activities such as visiting a temple to listen to monks’ dhamma talks (សម្ដែងធម៌), receiving and keeping lay precepts, serving the monks by doing chores in a temple, preparing for festivals, and even becoming lay ascetics or monks living in a temple.

These activities, especially those occasions where laypeople have contact with monks, have one practice in common: offering food to monks. Besides placing food in the monks’ alms bowls, which is the most direct act, people also bring food to monks on precept days. In addition, when people invite monks to their houses to chant, if the monks are there before noon they are always offered a meal.

Today, Buddhism in Cambodia follows the Theravada tradition, which originated in Sri Lanka. Following the teachings of Theravada Buddhism, monks must live only on food offered by others. For laypeople, giving food to monks is one of the most important religious obligations in support of Buddhism. This basic relationship between monks and laypeople has been described by many scholars. For example, Masaki Onozawa ([1982] 1995), who studied Thai Buddhist society, points out that there are two kinds of aspiration among Thai Buddhists: monks aspire to supreme enlightenment (p. nibbāna), while laypeople aspire to make merit (p. puñña) so as to realize a better life in this world and the next. Onozawa explains that monks and laypeople are in an interdependent relationship through the exchange of materials (food and donations) and Buddhist “merit”: material to monks and merit to laypeople.6)

This view of the relationship between monks and laypeople can also, in general, be applied in Cambodia. So what about lay ascetics? They live in temples but are not ordained as monks, so they cannot go out for alms. Sumiko Yamazaki (2011) provides a unique analysis of conflicts in Buddhist communities about food gathering/offering activities in a Lao-speaking area of Stung Treng Province, but she takes into account only food for monks, not food for lay ascetics.

Therefore, this article will examine the food supply in Cambodian Buddhist temples based on information collected in my own fieldwork, focusing on laypeople’s lives and practices. The primary data used in this article come from the first and second sources as follows, but some findings from the third source are also included:

(1) interviews with several lay ascetics at Temple SD, conducted in December 2012;

(2) interviews and questionnaires with lay ascetics at three temples (Temples SD, CK, and NV) in Phnom Penh City,7) conducted in August 2011;

(3) interviews and questionnaires with all inhabitants—including monks and lay ascetics—at all 48 temples in Kien Svay District, Kandal Province, conducted in August 2009 and August 2010.

Although the third set of interviews and questionnaires included rural areas, it should be noted that my research targets in the first and second sets were limited; I took up only the city-type temples in Phnom Penh with a relatively large population of daun chi, so some of the findings shown in this paper might not be observed in rural areas.

II Overview of Cambodian Buddhist Temples

What Is a Temple?

The voatt (វត្ត, p. vatta) is the most common type of Buddhist institution in Cambodia.8) Most voatts are registered by the Ministry of Cults and Religions, but there are some cases where only a district-level office of religious affairs admits their existence. In any case, in this article I take a voatt to be a temple. In 2013 there were 4,676 temples in Cambodia (AKP 2013).9) In the plains region that includes the capital, Phnom Penh, and its surrounding provinces, there is a very high density of temples as well as population; almost every commune has more than one temple.10)

A voatt’s compound normally contains the main hall (ព្រះវិហារ, p. vihāra) with a sacred area (p. sīma) marked by sacred stones buried underground, where ordination ceremonies are held; the monks’ dining hall (សាលាឆាន់11)), where laypeople gather on precept days and for various other ceremonies; and the monks’ huts or dormitories (កុដិ, p. kuṭi). Many voatts have a public school that adjoins the compound or is located inside it. Some, although not many, also have a crematorium.

Residents of Cambodian Buddhist Temples

 1. Monks

A temple has at least two monks who are full-time residents. Monks are classified into two categories: (1) monks who have been fully ordained (p. bhikkhu) through the ordination ceremony (p. uppasampadā) and are older than 20,12) and (2) novice monks or probationers (p. sāmaṇera) to become bhikkhu who are not yet fully ordained. The total number of both categories was 57,573 in 2013.13)

According to the data collected in Kien Svay District, Kandal Province, in 2009—when I visited all 48 temples in the district—there were 1,182 residents. Among them, about 40 percent were born in the 1980s and about 50 percent in the 1990s. In other words, the majority were in their twenties or teens. This age imbalance was observed also in Kampong Thom Province, where Satoru Kobayashi, a member of our joint research group,14) obtained a similar result in his data in the same year; most monks were sāmaṇera or young bhikkhu under the age of 30. Because the same disproportion in age was observed in both semi-urban (Kandal) and rural (Kampong Thom) areas, it is strongly suspected that this is a nationwide trend.

As is well known, no religious activities were allowed during the Democratic Kampuchea period (the so-called Pol Pot regime), and monks were forcibly disrobed. The Cambodian people removed the ban on Buddhism after 1979, when the new socialist regime began. During the 1980s, however, only elderly men were allowed to be ordained as monks because the government needed young men for military service and conscription. Therefore, officially ordained young monks were absent for as long as a decade after 1979. At present, more than half the monks are students who are taking courses from the Buddhist Education (ពុទ្ធិកសិក្សា) curriculum. Education is obviously one motivation for becoming a monk, as middle-level education is not yet nationwide. So far there are no statistics regarding the length of monkhood, but as far as I have observed and heard in Cambodia, few people are monks for their whole lives. Thus, the absence of young monks in the 1980s and the situation of monkhood today have resulted in the present age distribution of monks: most are younger than 30 or very elderly, and monks in their thirties to fifties are quite scarce.15)

2. Lay Residents

In the Cambodian tradition, only men can be ordained as monks. According to the vinaya, the basic rules of monks, monks must refrain not only from marriage and any sexual acts but also from touching women physically. Originally, Buddhist temples were monasteries housing only male monks. The segregation of women is still observed in some areas in Southeast Asian Theravada regions. For example, in Thailand I observed that women were not allowed to enter the main hall (p. vihāra or uposatha) in the ethnic Mon people’s temples, even if they were mothers whose sons’ ordination ceremony was being held inside. The same goes for the compound of a cone-shaped tower (p. cetiya) at some of the temples in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. In Cambodia, however, women are not banned from entering any buildings in the temple compound. They are allowed to talk to monks in their room if the door is kept open, hand things to monks directly, and even live inside the temple compound, as long as their residence is clearly separated from the monks’ residential sections. As a matter of fact, Cambodian temples, especially in the urban areas, have many categories of laypeople, both male and female, who reside in the compound:

(1) Ascetics (male/female): There are often more female than male ascetics in a temple;

(2) Volunteers: Monks’ disciples (male only) who do chores for monks (កូនសិស្សលោក); a usually male lay priest (achar អាចារ្យ, p. ācārya);16) male/female members of the temple committee (គណៈកម្មការវត្ត) organized to take care of its financial matters, among other things; temple cooks (male/female); and others;

(3) Students or workers (male only) who stay in vacant rooms or spaces in the monks’ dormitories and commute to their college, office, etc.;

(4) Employees (male/female): Temple cooks, guards, etc., who work in the temple in order to receive a salary;

(5) People with long-term illnesses (male/female).

Not all temples have people in all the above categories. For example, the people in the first category are concentrated in a limited number of temples, especially in urban areas. In the second category, not all achar and temple committee members stay in the temple compound permanently. Most of these people live in their own houses and commute to the temple. People in the third category are commonly seen in urban areas, while people in the fourth category are seen at a limited number of large temples. The fifth category is a rather rare one in Cambodia: such people are observed only in a temple where there is a monk who is famous for his special ability to heal sicknesses.

The first category is taken up for analysis in Section IV, since the people in this category are most numerous among the lay residents in temples.

III Food Supply and Maintenance for Monks

Food and Eating in Compliance with Vinaya

According to vinaya, Theravada monks must live on food offered by others; therefore, they do not purchase food, engage in farming, or hunt animals by themselves. In other words, monks’ lives are entrusted to laypeople.

Usually monks have meals twice a day, with the second one finishing before noon. They have breakfast around 6:30–7am and lunch around 10:30–11am. From noon until the following morning, they are allowed to ingest only liquids. While alcoholic beverages are all prohibited because they can prevent monks from thinking clearly, there is no restriction on the intake of food, including meat and fish. Thus, monks are not allowed to choose what they can eat.

As a general rule, monks as a group go out to practice mendicancy from house to house in the morning, shortly after nine o’clock. The food that they collect in their alms bowls is supposed to be their lunch for the day. Laypeople prepare freshly cooked rice and other dishes for monks; they do not give leftovers from the day before. Rice is put directly into the alms bowls, but other food is usually put in a small plastic bag and then placed into the alms bowls or into stacked metal food containers. Sometimes the monks’ disciples who accompany this alms walk receive food from laypeople and help to carry the food containers. In any case, laypeople give food to all the monks as a group, not to the monks whom they prefer personally. For breakfast, however, monks eat simple rice porridge. The rice for this porridge, donated by laypeople or bought with donated money, is stored in the temple, so monks do not have to go out to collect it.

At mealtimes all monks from the temple, except the sick or elderly, get together in the dining hall and sit at low tables in order of their monkhood status and length of service, with two to four monks at a table.17) The collected food is put onto ordinary plates. Rice is served individually, while other dishes are shared. Thus, the general rule for the monks’ daily meals appears to be: the same food, with everybody, at the same place, at the same time.

On precept days, which occur every lunar week, monks do not practice mendicancy, because—as mentioned earlier—a number of laypeople visit temples not only to receive precepts from monks but also to donate food (praken changhan, 18002.jpg)18) to them. In many cases the amount of food donated on a precept day is more than needed, so the surplus can be distributed to lay ascetics or other temple residents. During annual Buddhist festivals, more food is gathered by temples.19) Particularly during the 15-day phchum ben (ភ្ជុំបិណ្ឌ) period, temples are literally full of rice, various dishes, fruits, and sweets.20)

Monks sometimes take meals at laypeople’s houses when they are invited to chant sutra on occasions such as funerals, memorial services for the deceased, and rituals wishing for a long life for elderly parents. If they are invited in the afternoon, however, only beverages are served. When laypeople invite monks to their homes, in addition to meals or beverages, they often offer cash in an envelope, daily necessities (candles, incense sticks, stationery, etc.), and preserved foods (sugar, canned condensed milk, tea leaves, bottled soft drinks, etc.). People do not name the monks they want to invite but just inform the temple achar in advance as to the number of monks they need, so these meals and gifts are offered collectively to the group of monks who visit, not to preferred individuals.

Food Cooked in Temples

Since Phnom Penh and the surrounding districts in Kandal Province have a concentration of middle- and higher-level schools that are part of the Buddhist Education curriculum, where the students are mostly monks, there is a very high density of monks; Phnom Penh, with the highest density, had 57.4 monks per temple on average in 2008.21) The majority of young monks who reside in temples in the Phnom Penh area are quite busy commuting to and attending these schools, which are located in other temples or in the compound of the Ministry of Cults and Religion. They attend school every day, both in the morning until the before-noon meal and in the afternoon, except on precept days, when Buddhist schools close. Because of this learning schedule, young student monks are simply too busy to practice mendicancy in the morning.

Thus, while at some temples monks take turns going for alms walks to maintain the tradition, more temples in the Phnom Penh area prepare all or most of the food for the monks in the temple kitchen instead. The cooks are laypeople; some commute to the temple and work in the kitchen voluntarily, some are allowed to live in the temple as a reward for labor, and a few others work as temple cooks to earn wages. Some female ascetics also participate in the kitchen work or take responsibility for the overall management of food preparation for monks, as shown below.

Dak Ven in Food Supply

Dak ven (ដាក់វេន)” literally means to assign (dak) duties (ven) to a person or people. This phrase is not particularly Buddhism-limited but is heard very often when talking about monks’ food supplies. Even though monks’ meals are cooked in the temple kitchen, the ingredients essentially have to be offered by laypeople outside the temple. Providing monks’ food every day is a meaningful but heavy task for Buddhist laypeople to fulfill, so the local people share this burden through dak ven (assigning duties) among themselves; they take turns providing prepared food or ingredients on a regular basis so that the everyday food supply for monks is secure.

There are three basic ways of fulfilling the duty: (1) bringing home-cooked dishes to the temple, (2) carrying foodstuffs (meat, fish, vegetables, etc.) to the temple kitchen and asking the temple cooks to prepare meals, and (3) bringing cash for meal expenditure and entrusting the temple cooks with shopping and cooking.

Let us take Temple SD in Phnom Penh as an example. The monks in this temple have not practiced mendicancy for years, because most of them are young student monks and are busy attending school. The temple has its own kitchen and six cooks, of whom five are laywomen who live in the neighborhood and one is a female ascetic who lives in the temple. Their task is to purchase ingredients in the market and cook food in the kitchen. One cook said that the market vendors know that the food purchased by the kitchen staff is for monks, so they sometimes give additional amounts for the same price. And if the cooks need chickens, for example, the vendors choke them to death for the cooks, because they know that the cooks observe Buddhist precepts and must refrain from killing animals.22) The cooks work on a voluntary basis without a salary, but the temple subsidizes their medical fees when necessary because their health is of great concern to the temple in maintaining its meal supplies.

Temple SD accepts any of the three methods of dak ven above, but the third occurs more often than the other two. In this temple, the administrative work related to the kitchen budget and dak ven is managed by the chief of the female ascetics and the vice chief, in consultation with certain temple achar. The chief keeps the collected money received from ven members and hands the daily budget, which averages 60,000 to 70,000 riel,23) to the cooks each day. A day’s ven is fulfilled by one or more families, i.e., ven members, whose leader is called “mchas ven (ម្ចាស់វេន),” literally meaning “owner of ven.” Each ven leader is obliged to fulfill the duty on the same date of the lunar calendar every month. The temple usually needs dak ven every day except precept days.

The total amount of money from the mchas ven varies each day; it can be as much as US$100. As a general rule, each day’s ven money is required to be spent on that day to reflect the wishes of the mchas ven. On the other hand, if a mchas ven is not able to bring food or money in time, the chief of the daun chi temporarily makes up for the shortfall out of her own pocket.24)

Temple SD accepts irregular or partial ven as well as regular ven. For example, there are rich Cambodians living abroad who may visit this temple to fulfill only one day’s ven. On the other hand, sometimes a family is not rich enough to fulfill a full day’s ven and so would like to offer a meal to one or a few monks only. Essentially, according to the chief, any donation or form of fulfilling ven is welcomed.

The 15-day phchum ben in the latter half of lunar October is a special festive period of the year. This is a significant occasion for temple fund-raising, and for laypeople it is the time for remembering ancestors and accumulating a lot of merit by donating food and money to several temples, including those in remote areas. Each temple organizes a special dak ven system for phchum ben, usually assigning duties to local people living near the temple. It is usually the lay committee of a temple that is in charge of dak ven for phchum ben.25) In rural areas, several villages (ភូមិ) may share this duty for one temple. A village is divided into several groups, each consisting of around 10 households, and the group leader plays the role of the temple ven’s leader and takes responsibility in case any group member cannot fulfill their duty.

IV Food Supply and Maintenance for Lay Ascetics

Lay Ascetics

In Cambodia, ordinary laypeople (p. upāsaka [male]/upāsikā [female]) customarily keep lay precepts (កាន់សីល) at home when they get old, whether they live in rural or urban areas. There is no strict rule about the age that they should start keeping precepts, but they generally start around age 50 to 60, when they retire from taking economic or housekeeping responsibility for their family. There are two kinds of precept sets: five precepts and eight precepts. Those who keep precepts are required to refrain from the following activities: (1) killing living things, (2) stealing somebody else’s belongings, (3) having extramarital relationships, (4) telling lies, (5) imbibing liquor or drugs that would affect consciousness, (6) wearing accessories or perfume and enjoying music or dancing, (7) eating at the wrong time, and (8) sleeping on a high bed.

Of the eight, the seventh requires the greatest effort because “wrong time” here means from noon until dawn of the following day; so people who hold the eight precepts have to maintain a half-day fast. Therefore, many laypeople prefer to keep the first five precepts and add the other three only on precept days.

Lay ascetics in Cambodia often identify themselves as upāsaka/upāsikā. Lay ascetics keep the same precepts, but they keep the set of eight precepts every day and live in a temple all the time. In addition, they shave their hair and eyebrows and wear white robes. As mentioned above, female ascetics are called daun chi or yeay chi; male ascetics are called ta chi. As far as I have observed in temples in several provinces in Cambodia, while some temples have only monks, many temples have both daun chi and ta chi, and the ascetic population tends to be concentrated in a few temples in one region, not spread evenly. In addition, if a temple has any ascetics, the population of daun chi always outnumbers that of ta chi. So far, I have not ascertained the exact reason behind this gender imbalance, but I speculate that it might be due to the gender gap in religious practices as well as demography. First, men have the choice to become ordained as monks all through their lifetime regardless of their age if they wish to do so, whereas women do not; there have never been female monks in Cambodia. Second, according to the census, there are fewer widowed men than widowed women in Cambodia in the middle-aged and elderly population, so more men tend to stay at home with their spouses as ordinary laymen.

Attributes of Lay Ascetics

This sub-section and the sub-sections of Section IV that follow are based on my 2011 survey conducted at three temples in Phnom Penh, where a comparatively large number of lay ascetics reside. Using the questionnaire sheets, the members of my survey team interviewed ascetics individually.26) Out of around 250 ascetics in total, I received data from 206: 195 females (95 percent) and 11 males (5 percent). To abstract gender elements from consideration, here I exclusively analyze the women, who predominated. Therefore, the percentages in the following description come from the denominator of 195.

1. Age

As Table 1 shows, 158 of the ascetics were in their sixties and over and accounted for 81 percent of the group. This tendency is identical to that of the lay ascetics as a wider group in Kien Svay District, Kandal Province; most female ascetics are elderly.


Table 1 Age Distribution of Female Ascetics in Three Phnom Penh Temples


2. Marital Status When They Started Ascetic Life in a Temple

Fifteen percent had never been married, while 68 percent had been married at least once but had lost their husbands through either death (58 percent) or divorce (10 percent). Interestingly, 16 percent of them were still married. This means that the husbands were either living at home (13 percent) or residing in a temple (3 percent) as male ascetics (ta chi), lay priests (achar), or monks. In cases where wife and husband resided in the same temple, they lived separately in different sections within the temple compound.

3. Number of Children

Seventy percent had at least one living child, and 32.8 percent had four or more. It should be noted that some of these people may have been able to rely economically on their own child/children or had the choice of living with them in the future. In addressing the question of their future plans, 34 percent said they were planning to leave the temple and live with their close relatives or children when they were older, while 63 percent said they would stay in the temple as long as they lived.

4. Economic Conditions before Entering a Temple

I did not ask specifically about previous annual income and so forth, but most of the lay ascetics were not from rich families, according to the interviews. Their previous occupations were wide ranging: farmers, vendors, public workers, housewives, etc.

5. Literacy

Elderly people in Cambodia in general have little education, and ascetics’ literacy levels reflect this. While 30 percent of them answered that they could “read and write well,” 32 percent of them answered that they could “neither read nor write at all.” The rest were able to “read a little but cannot write” or “read and write a little.” This literacy situation indicates that only a limited number of ascetics would be able to absorb Buddhist teachings through books.

6. Ethnicity

I did not include questions on ethnicity in the questionnaire. Each temple apparently had a number of people of Chinese descent, which we could sometimes tell by a person’s name or appearance—but all were Khmer nationals, and this was how they identified themselves. The ethnic factor did not seem to make any significant difference to the ascetics’ lives or human relationships within a temple, as far as I could observe.

Food Supply and Its Support

In the case of small-scale temples with fewer than 10 female ascetics in rural areas, they cook and eat together. The three temples in this survey are located in an urban environment and have a large number of ascetics. The temple population and the means of food supply are slightly different for the different temples, as shown in Table 2, but the common point is that lay ascetics get everyday food on a self-supply basis, and they essentially eat alone or with a few close ascetic friends. In other words, lay ascetics in the temple do not depend solely on the temple for food.27)


Table 2 Overview of Three Phnom Penh Temples and Their Food Supplies


As Fig. 1 shows, the most frequent answer to the question “How do you supply your everyday food?” is “Self-supply” (either cooking or buying), at 81 percent. The answer “Receive temple food” (16 percent) refers to the case of Temple CK, where polished rice (uncooked) is distributed to ascetics. According to my own observations and interviews, even ascetics who usually cook by themselves eat temple food on precept days and Buddhist festival days, when temples have large amounts of food donated by ordinary laypeople outside.


Fig. 1 Sources of Food Supply

Source: Field survey by the author in 2011

According to Fig. 2, while a limited number of ascetics (9 percent) work as cooks in the temple kitchen every day, the majority do not.


Fig. 2 Labor in the Temple Kitchen

Source: Field survey by the author in 2011

The result I did not anticipate was that many of the ascetics offered food to monks (Fig. 3). As many as 91 percent of them answered that they offered food to monks every day, occasionally, or on precept days. This reveals the ascetics’ dual characteristics: they are temple members, but at the same time they also remain in the lay category, so they still offer food to monks.


Fig. 3 Frequency of Food Offering to Monks

Source: Field survey by the author in 2011

The cash that ascetics need to buy food or materials for cooking, as Fig. 4 shows, comes most often from family or close relatives, and secondarily from donations (p. paccaya) they receive outside the temple when they are invited to funerals or other family rituals (29 percent). They receive donations from ordinary laypeople just as monks do, but they are supported mainly by their own family and relatives.


Fig. 4 Sources of Cash Income

Source: Field survey by the author in 2011

Fig. 5 sheds light on another aspect of lay ascetics’ lives. We can see that the top category of expenditure is everyday food, which is understandable,28) but the second-most frequent expenditure is on donations to monks and temples. Making donations is certainly a major part of their temple life.


Fig. 5 Cash Expenditures (multiple answers)

Source: Field survey by the author in 2011

Cases: As a Food Taker and a Food Giver

Each female lay ascetic has a different way of securing food as well as cash for food and other expenditures. Following are some of the sources of supply among those who reside in Temple SD.

Daun chi A (Age 85; born in Kampong Chhnang Province in the central region, on the southern coast of Tonle Sap Lake)

I have only one daughter and a grandson. She is a single mother, employed as a maid and babysitter by a family in Phnom Penh. Although she has this stable job, her income is barely enough to make ends meet. Her son is grown up but jobless, so I cannot rely on him.

After my daughter left Kampong Chhnang for Phnom Penh to work, I felt lonely and was not sure how to support myself. Sometimes I felt scared of ghosts and such things. I decided to come to Phnom Penh and start living in this temple as an ascetic in order to strengthen my mind and to be near my daughter. My daughter was also happy because this temple is not very far from her workplace. As a matter of fact, she stayed with me in this room for two years as an ascetic. She eventually stopped being an ascetic and went outside to work again because she needed to earn money.

I share this room with several other ascetic women, but we prepare meals separately. Usually, I eat rice porridge for breakfast and cooked rice and a couple of dishes for lunch. I occasionally receive some portion of the dishes prepared for monks in the temple kitchen, but I usually go to the market by motorbike taxi to buy groceries and cook for myself. For my expenditures, my daughter gives me 40,000 to 50,000 riel a month. Another source of income is donation money that laypeople give us, but such donations are not regular. When I was much younger I used to be invited to laypeople’s houses for funeral chanting and received donations, but I do not go nowadays because of my health condition.

I have gallstones. I do not think I will have an operation, because I am too old, but I need medication. This temple does not provide us with any medical support, but my daughter has given me about $500 in total for my medical fees. Her employer is so kind that he drives me to the hospital. My daughter lives a busy life but visits me at least once a month to give me some delicious food, help me bathe, and so forth. She says it is her employer who buys the food for me.

Several monks come to this temple for alms. Only when I have freshly cooked food or a lot of food from my daughter do I give some to them.

Daun chi B (Age 85; born in Kampong Thom Province in the central region, on the east coast of Tonle Sap Lake)

I have lived in this temple since I was over 60 years old. I became an ascetic because I wanted to be able to chant sutras. My husband died during the Pol Pot regime. I had 12 children: seven sons and five daughters. Sad to say, I lost all the sons—but the five daughters survived. My daughters are all married and living in Phnom Penh. This temple is located near their houses. That is why I chose this temple to live in. If I need any help, I can call them and ask them to come here any time.

Of the five, the second and third daughters are richer than the others and give me more financial support. All five visit me, but because they are quite busy, when they come to give me something to eat, they leave the food and return very quickly. If the daughters are too busy my grandchildren come instead. This morning one of my grandchildren came to bring me a pot of soup. The two weeks of the phchum ben period is the exception; all the daughters visit me one after another and stay longer. Anyway, my daughters or grandchildren bring the rice and dishes that are my main food every two or three days. They also buy me the medicine that I need.

Sometimes I cook for myself if necessary. I give some money to a temple cook and ask her to buy groceries when she goes to the market. I just broil fish and cook simple dishes when the food from my daughters is not enough. For this, they give me around $10–20 in cash every month. I do not cook every day, so I can rarely offer food in the alms bowls of the monks who come to this temple.

When I was younger I used to be invited to funerals often, but these days I do not go because I am too old. If I sit on the floor for long while chanting, I cannot stand up by myself. Therefore, I usually have no occasion to receive donation money from laypeople, but the phchum ben period is different. A layperson will give me a donation, on average, of 3,000 to 5,000 riel at a time.

Daun chi C (Age 65; born in Takeo Province in the southern region)

Before I came to this temple to live, around 1993, I stayed home, keeping the lay precepts. In those days, Ven. Pal Haun was the abbot of this temple.29) There were not many monks, but there were more than 100 female ascetics. I often used to come to this temple to do volunteer work. Knowing that I had no husband or children to rely on, Ven. Pal Haun recommended that I live here. I was not yet old, but I decided to become an ascetic and live in this temple because I realized that it was my way of life to serve the three gems (i.e., the Buddha, dhamma, and saṅgha).

When I was very healthy, I was often invited to laypeople’s rituals, including funerals, where I recited chants and received donation money; but now I rarely go to chant because my knees and back ache if I stay seated on the floor for too long.

I have no direct descendants, but I have four nephews and nieces who are related to me by blood. All of them are the children of my sister, who passed away. Among them, one nephew supports me continuously. He lives in Otdar Meanchey Province in the northern region and sends me rice and money via a bus driver whom he trusts. I receive $50 a month.

This nice hut where I live over here was given by its former owner who stayed in this temple as an ascetic but later immigrated to Australia. Now she comes to visit me every year and gives me $20. I expanded this hut into a two-storied one with a ladder and a bigger roof using money donated by my friends and acquaintances, my nephew’s wife, and so on, together with my own savings.

I live alone, but I often host acquaintances who need one night’s stay on a precept day or who want to stay for three months of the Lent season as short-term ascetics. I became acquainted with them in this temple, so even though I have no family I do not feel lonely.

I go to the market for groceries and cook for myself. The market people know me very well, so they sometimes give me extra food for the same price. Almost every day, I offer food to three monks who belong to another temple and commute to this temple for alms. Sometimes I also offer food to the young monks of this temple who have missed breakfast because of their busy study schedules.

I take part in ven for this temple, so I cook in the temple kitchen five times a month. I’ve also enrolled myself in a group of ven with about 300 members that fulfills part of ven for as many as 28 temples. I support the group by paying 10,000 riel per month.

In addition to working to fulfill ven, I keep learning dhamma. I often go to other temples to listen to lectures by a dhamma teacher.

I am deeply satisfied with my temple life and feel very happy.

V Conclusion

Food Supply Systems and the Connections between Monks and Lay Ascetics

Food for monks and lay ascetics is supplied via different systems that are connected to each other by means of various apparatuses—economic necessities and religious values (Fig. 6)—and the food for temple residents as a whole is well provided and maintained.


Fig. 6 Food Supply and Religious Merit

Source: Prepared by the author

Monks, who never get involved in productive labor, entrust laypeople with everything related to food. Aside from direct food offerings to the monks, such as mendicancy and meals served at laypeople’s houses at rituals, daily meals for monks in temples in urban areas are supported by shared ven, for which the labor and management are provided by faithful laypeople and ascetics.

The food supply for lay ascetics is more varied because such people are not restricted by vinaya. A number of needy ascetics depend on the temple kitchen for food to some extent. Some get enough food by providing their own labor in the temple kitchen, but most ascetics secure their food through support from their family and close kin. They also get a cash income in donations from the laypeople who invite both monks and ascetics to their family rituals. It is worth noting that while lay ascetics manage to secure their own food in either of the above ways, many of them still try to offer food to monks by cooking personally, helping in the temple kitchen, or joining a ven group. They are food receivers but at the same time play a part in food provision.

Regarding the relationship between monks and laypeople in general, all the food (and money) for the former comes from the latter, and the donated food is offered to all the monks of the temple, not to individuals. Even the food put into alms bowls during mendicancy is shared at meals. Lay ascetics, too, are sometimes invited to laypeople’s houses together with monks and receive donations, but only as part of their role of being attached to a group of monks. They do not practice mendicancy and are not supported by ven. Therefore, lay ascetics need to seek way(s) of supporting themselves on an individual basis. In the process of doing this, some ascetics, like daun chi C in the previous section, can create new personal relationships with other laypeople outside the temple through their religious practices.

For lay ascetics, the temple is not only a place for religious practices, such as sutra chanting, meditation, and listening to dhamma talks, but also a place where they live a peaceful life during their old age as faithful Buddhists; consequently, many of them include food offerings to monks in their practices. Some offer food to monks once in a while when they receive large amounts of food from their family or kin members, some become involved in temple ven and cook regularly for monks, and some take responsibility in the management of ven, which involves many laypeople outside the temple. All of these practices are considered to accumulate merit, which is quite important for ascetics, who are mostly elderly, because their remaining time will not be long.

The fact that a number of temples in Cambodia have lay residents living in them means that Cambodian Buddhists have multiple choices in their practice all through life, so they always have the opportunity to become involved, in various positions that they can choose, in receiving and supplying food, one of the most fundamental and important practices in the sustenance of Buddhist temples and Buddhism itself.

Lay Buddhists and Temples: Implications for Future Research on Cambodian Buddhism

The discussion above regarding food supply for monks and lay ascetics leads first to rethinking the significance of lay ascetics in Cambodia. A Buddhist temple has been considered to be a monastery where (male only) monks reside. Few other research works on lay ascetics in Cambodia have appeared so far, and the section of the Cambodian administration that is involved in religious affairs did not show any interest until 2009.30) Using the annual statistics of temples and temple residents issued by the Ministry of Cults and Religion in 2009 as an example, it is clear that not all of the provinces reported the population of lay ascetics, which means that the number of lay ascetics was not regarded as requisite data. From the facts I have presented in this article, we can see that female ascetics play a significant role in temples and in the wider Buddhist communities surrounding each temple, especially in urban areas. For female ascetics, a Buddhist temple is relevant for three reasons: (1) being Buddhist disciples, female ascetics can engage in practices such as sutra chanting, meditation, etc.; (2) being advanced-level precept keepers, they can become merit-making targets for laypeople in general, just like monks; and (3) being in the lay category, they can serve monks by becoming involved in food supply in a direct or indirect way. To sum up, lay ascetics have their own roles and activities, including food supply, and they are not completely dependent on monks.

Second, it should be noted that the condition of lay ascetics has been changing and is continuing to change, albeit gradually. Cambodian people in general share a common image of lay ascetics as being pitiful old people who have no family to rely on and no other choice but to stay in the temple for the rest of their lifetime. This was true to some extent in the 1990s, just after the UNTAC period; I personally encountered numerous such cases. However, it is not always the case any more. There are probably more and more ascetics who prefer to stay in a temple for a limited number of years and then move on to their daughter’s (or other kin’s) house to live out their remaining years. In short, most of them are not alone.

Third, I would like to suggest that we should look at temple residents from the perspective of the life course. Being a monk or a layperson is not usually a lifelong status. In today’s Cambodia, it is no longer a social norm for young men to become monks either. The decision to become a monk or a lay ascetic is made by the person himself/herself, not by force. Therefore, people’s choices in Buddhist practices can change in accordance with their life stage, family environment, preferences, etc. A man might become ordained as a monk, stay in the monkhood for several years, disrobe and get married, visit temples occasionally, and start living in a temple again as a lay ascetic in his old age. The statuses of monk, ascetic, and ordinary layperson can be chosen one after another during the course of a person’s life. Although monkhood is not yet open to women in Cambodia, it should be noted that there are some female ascetics who have considerable knowledge of Buddhism and give lectures to monks and laypeople.31) For some of these people, becoming a learned ascetic may be an option in the future.

Accepted: June 25, 2014


This work was supported by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Sciences KAKENHI, Grant numbers 23520997 and 20251003. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who answered my endless questions and cooperated in the questionnaire, especially the laypeople in Temples SD, CK, and NV.


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―. 2011. Josei to Bukkyo Jiin 女性と仏教寺院 [Women and Buddhist temples]. In Sei to Do no Bukkyo 静と動の仏教 [Buddhism of statics and dynamics], edited by Yasuaki Nara 奈良康明, Masahiro Shimoda 下田正弘, and Yukio Hayashi 林行夫, pp. 415–449. Tokyo: Kosei Publishing.

―. 2009. Shukke to Zaike no Kyoiki: Kambojia Bukkyo Jiin ni okeru Zokujin Josei Shugyosha 出家と在家の境域―カンボジア仏教寺院における俗人女性修行者 [Boundary sphere between monks and laypersons: Female lay ascetics in Buddhist temples in Cambodia]. In “Kyoiki” no Jissen Shukyo: Tairikubu Tonan Ajia Chiiki to Shukyo no Toporoji〈境域〉の実践宗教―大陸部東南アジア地域と宗教のトポロジー [Practical religions in mainland Southeast Asia: Topology of religion from the region and “in-betweenness”], edited by Yukio Hayashi 林行夫, pp. 359–409. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press.

―. 2006a. Konnichi no Kambojia Bukkyo Jiin to Zokujin Josei: Nikushin Soshitsu Taiken o Koete 今日のカンボジア仏教寺院と俗人女性―肉親喪失体験をこえて [Cambodian Buddhist temples and women today: Beyond family loss experiences]. Ajia Yugaku アジア遊学 [Exploring in Asia] 89: 60–71.

―. 2006b. Gendai Kambojia ni okeru Zokujin Bukkyoto no Shukyo Jissen to Jinsei: Josei Shugyosha (Don Chi) o Chushin ni 現代カンボジアにおける俗人仏教徒の宗教実践と人生―女性修行者(ドーンチー)を中心に [Religious practices and lives of lay Buddhists in Cambodia today: Focusing on female ascetics (daun chi)]. In Tonan Ajia Tairikubu, Seinan Chugoku no Shukyo to Shakai Henyo: Seido, Kyoiki, Jissen 東南アジア大陸部・西南中国の宗教と社会変容―制度・境域・実践(科学研究費補助金(基盤A)平成15~17年度研究成果報告書)[Religions and social transformation in continental Southeast Asia and Southwestern China: Institutions, boundaries, practices]. Report of the Research Grant-in-aid by the Japanese Society of Promotion of Sciences: Years Heisei 15–17, edited by Yukio Hayashi 林行夫, pp. 616–651.

Takeda Ryuju 武田龍樹. 2010. Gendai Kambojia ni okeru Bukkyo Tokushinka tachi: Porupoto Jidai Igo no Tobu Sonrakubu o Jirei ni 現代カンボジアにおける仏教篤信家たち―ポルポト時代以後の東部村落部を事例に [Lay Buddhist devotees in contemporary Cambodia: A case study of a village in the eastern part of Cambodia after the Pol Pot era]. Shukyo to Shakai 宗教と社会 [Religion and society] 16: 65–87.

Thomson, Ashley. 2006. Buddhism in Cambodia: Rupture and Continuity. In Buddhism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives, edited by Stephen C. Berkwitz, pp. 129–167. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Yamazaki Sumiko 山崎寿美子. 2011. Kambojia no Rao Sonraku ni okeru Kyogo to Shakai Keisei: Soryo no Ue no Jirei kara カンボジアのラオ村落における競合と社会形成―僧侶の飢えの事例から [Competition and society formation process in a Lao village of Cambodia: A case study of food shortage for monks]. Nempo Tai Kenkyu 年報タイ研究 [Journal of Thai studies] 11: 47–64.


Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP). 2013. Preah reachdamnang baoek anusang vacchara mohasannibat montrei sang tuteang prates loekti 22 ព្រះរាជតំណាងបើកឣនុសំវច្ឆរៈមហាសន្និបាតមន្ត្រីសង្ឃទូទាំងប្រទេសលើកទី២២ [Royal representative opens 22nd national congress of Buddhist monks], accessed January 3, 2014, http://www.akp.gov.kh/kh/?p=71854.

1) Some researchers call female lay ascetics in the Theravada region “nuns” or “precept nuns” (Crosby 2014, 230) in English. Kate Crosby (2014) has given her view on the general condition of female ascetics in the Theravada region.

2) Trude Jacobsen (2013) has studied inscriptions of the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries and provided a historical analysis.

3)Daun chi” is often used as an official term for female lay ascetics.

4) Association of Nuns and Lay Women in Cambodia. By providing selected daun chi with training on Buddhist values and human rights, the association aims to nurture them so that they can contribute to DV counseling, HIV/AIDS prevention, and other solutions to social problems. ANLWC has two training centers, in Kep and Kandal Provinces, and branches in 14 provinces, according to my interview in 2011. Its activities, however, have had to be reduced since aid from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, its main donor, ended in 2005.

5)p.” indicates the Pāli language. In this paper, for terms of Pāli origin related to Buddhism, I give priority to the Pāli spelling over Khmer (Cambodian) transcription, but non-Pāli key terms are transcribed in the Roman alphabet with their original Khmer script (when mentioned for the first time), based on the transcription system used by Judy Ledgerwood (2002).

6) In reality, the relations between the two kinds of aspiration are not that simple. For example, in both Thailand and Cambodia, even becoming a monk is considered an opportunity to make a lot of merit. I should discuss the meaning of “merit making” more in detail and also in the context of gender, but would like to do so in a future article. For the relationship between gender and “fields of merit” in Thailand, see, for example, Falk (2007).

7) Temple SD is located in the central area of Phnom Penh City. In 2009 the addresses of Temple CK and Temple NV were in Kien Svay District, Kandal Province, so both were included in the second as well as third categories of sources. The commune where the two temples are located has since been incorporated into Phnom Penh City due to the provincial border changes of September 2010.

8) For details on the varieties of Cambodian Buddhist institutions, see Kobayashi (2013).

9) This number is taken from the AKP article that reported the opening of the 22nd national congress of executive monks (anusang vacchara mohasannibat montrei sang tuteang prates) held on December 17, 2013.

10) Using the data taken in 2008 (before the provincial border changes) as an example, Kandal Province, which consists of 155 communes, had 395 temples. One commune had an average of 2.5 temples (Cambodia, Ministry of Cults and Religion 2009).

11) ឆាន់ (chan) means that monks “eat”; a different word is used for eating by non-monks. There are many other special verbs, nouns, and pronouns for monks.

12) The ordination to become a bhikkhu can be postponed if the candidate sāmaṇera thinks that he is not yet ready. When an elderly man wants to become a new monk, it is very common for him to be a sāmaṇera for a while to prepare for full ordination.

13) The source is the same as in footnote 9.

14) For this joint research project, supported by JSPS 20251003 “Time-Space Mapping of Buddhist Societies in Mainland South East Asia” (project leader: Yukio Hayashi), Kobayashi covered four districts in Kampong Thom Province, and I was in charge of Kien Svay District in Kandal Province.

15) This disproportionate age distribution is one reason for the lack of teachers in the Buddhist education system today (Khy Sovanratana 2008; Kobayashi 2009).

16) There are several kinds of achar, according to specialty: an achar of wedding ceremonies, an achar of funerals and cremations, and so forth. An achar of a temple is one such specialty.

17) In Cambodia, only monks use low tables for meals. Laypeople sit on the floor or on a chair when eating. Monks have different styles of having meals. For example, when they are invited to a layperson’s house for a family ritual, one tray full of dishes is prepared for each monk. Monks who practice dhūtaṅga (wandering in the forest for spiritual training) eat food from the alms bowl directly by hand without plates or a spoon.

18)Changhan18003.jpg is a special term for monks, meaning “food” or “meal.”

19) The main festivals besides phchum ben are: the māgha pūjā (February or March), the Khmer new year (April), the visākhā pūjā (April or May), the beginning of rainy season retreat (July), the end of rainy season retreat (October), the kaṭhina (October or November), and the “flower festival” held periodically for fund-raising.

20) Both phchum and ben (p. piṇa) mean “to collect.”

21) Calculated by the number of temples and monks in the data taken in 2008 (Cambodia, Ministry of Cults and Religion 2009).

22) In the fresh food market, fish and chickens are usually sold live.

23) The riel is the Cambodian currency, but US dollars are also widely accepted in markets. In 2013, US$1 was equivalent to about 4,000 riel. Polished rice retails for around 2,500 riel per kilogram in Phnom Penh.

24) It should be noted that this ascetic chief is from a rich family, unlike ascetics in general.

25) Temple SD does not have a lay committee. Several achar, the chief, and the vice chief of daun chi fulfill the duties instead.

26) For the interviews, the research team, which consisted of nine native Cambodians, worked with me. This team included graduates of Royal Phnom Penh University, elementary school teachers, and high school teachers.

27) In my interviews, people said that the population of lay ascetics increased sharply from the late 1980s until the early 1990s, at the end of the civil war period. In those days, many people may have begun living in temples in order to secure food.

28) This does not mean the highest in price.

29) Pal Haun was a well-known monk in the rite of “pouring sacred water (ស្រោចទឹក)” for laypeople during the 1990s. He was not only successful in rebuilding Temple SD using money donated for water pouring but also kept supporting laypeople such as daun chi and male students from the provinces by providing accommodation in the temple.

30) The Ministry of Cults and Religion, following the instructions of Prime Minister Hun Sen, started training seminars for achar in 2009. In 2012 the ministry also started another seminar series for female ascetics. These events may show that the Cambodian government began to recognize the significance of lay monastic members. See also Cambodia, Ministry of Cults and Religion, Department of Buddhism Publicity and Social Relations (2012) and Takahashi (2014).

31) I made a preliminary analysis of a sign of change in Cambodian Buddhist society brought by such learned daun chi in another paper (Takahashi 2014).


Vol. 4, No. 2, Aguilar

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

Church–State Relations in the 1899 Malolos Constitution: Filipinization and Visions of National Community

Filomeno V. Aguilar Jr.*

* Department of History, School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Ave, Quezon City, 1108 Metro Manila, Philippines

e-mail: fvaguilar[at]ateneo.edu

The most contentious issue in the Revolutionary Congress that crafted the 1899 Malolos Constitution pertained to the separation of church and state, which won by a mere one vote. Until now this episode in Philippine history has not received a satisfactory explanation, which this article seeks to offer. The debate in Malolos, as argued here, was profoundly divisive because the two sides were driven by differing visions of national community. A crucial point was the Filipinization of the Catholic Church, which the proponents of church–state unity championed and which their opponents sidestepped. Even as the debate raged, however, Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government acted on the church–state issue out of political expediency. In the end, the issue that Filipino elites could not resolve was settled by US colonialism, which imposed church–state separation without Filipinization.

Keywords: separation of church and state, Catholic Church, Filipino nationalism, Spanish friars, Masonry, Mabini, Aglipay

The Revolutionary Congress that convened on September 15, 1898—which Apolinario Mabini, who became Aguinaldo’s chief adviser, originally conceived to be merely an advisory body—went on to write a constitution for the fledgling Republic of the Philippines whose independence was declared on June 12, 1898 (Agoncillo 1960, 294–295). In the Congress’s debate over the new nation’s charter, the most divisive, controversial, and “energetically debated” (Majul 1967, 153) issue pertained to the relations between church and state. Interestingly this assembly was meeting within the premises of the Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan, which was momentarily desacralized and converted to a state legislative arena adorned with numerous Philippine flags.

In the 1960s Teodoro Agoncillo (1960) and Cesar Majul (1967) wrote about this aspect of the Malolos Congress as part of their larger projects on the Philippine revolution. Since then scholarship on this topic has stalled, with hardly any new work published in subsequent decades. This article builds on these early writings. However, as shown here, the analyses by Agoncillo and Majul of the question of church–state relations were inadequate, not necessarily in terms of historical sources—with Felipe G. Calderón’s Mis Memorias Sobre la Revolución Filipina (My Memoirs of the Philippine Revolution, 1907) serving as the main source,1)—but in the interpretive frame with which they explained the divisiveness of this issue. Agoncillo (1960), for instance, reduced the Malolos Congress to, in his words, “triumphant conservatism,” offering no satisfactory explanation for the victory of church–state separation by one vote, a feat that should not be undervalued in a meeting of supposed conservatives. Majul (1967) bequeathed an exhaustive and very informative narrative, but interpretatively his work was inconclusive, unable to rise above the deep divide in Malolos. Because of this historiographic gap, the present discussion links the narrative to an analysis of the imagined community that each side in the debate propounded. An important aspect of this analytical frame is the desired Filipinization of the Catholic Church, which resulted in a number of contradictions, such as in the way Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government acted on the issue of church–state relations. In other words, the significance of church–state relations as debated in Malolos and the events that transpired at that time and in its immediate aftermath had not been analyzed in Philippine historiography. With the benefit of writing in an age of a more mature Philippine nationalism but with church–state relations remaining a sensitive social issue, I attempt in this article to examine this significant episode in Philippine history.

To set the debate in Malolos in context, it is worth recalling that at this time in Europe there was no separation of church and state, even after most of Northern Europe had turned over to different variants of Protestantism following the Reformation. In the case of France, despite the ravages suffered by the Catholic Church in the late eighteenth century, a fleeting declaration of church–state separation in 1795, and Napoleon’s Concordat with the Vatican that brought the church under the authority of the state, it would not be until 1905 that France would become the first country in Europe to formally adopt and sustain the principle of church–state separation through the concept of laïcité (laicism or secularity). As in the case of nationalism that according to Benedict Anderson (1991) was essayed by creole pioneers, the principle of church–state separation was formally invented in the former colonies, particularly in the United States where the Bill of Rights, specifically the 1791 First Amendment to the US Constitution, established complete religious freedom. The exact metaphor of “the wall of separation between church and state” in reference to the First Amendment was derived, as is well known, from a letter of Thomas Jefferson written in 1802. In Mexico the issuance in 1859 of the Ley Lerdo was seen as establishing separation of the hostile kind, for its purpose was to compel the Catholic Church as well as municipal and state governments to sell landed properties, with these entities permitted to retain ownership only of buildings that were directly used for their operations. In this light, the debate in Malolos in 1898—with the Philippines in the throes of being a postcolony—was relatively early when seen from the perspective of Europe and even global history.2)

Theoretically the separation of church and state is often seen as a structural concomitant of the spread of rationalization, the rise of religious pluralism, and the growing dominance of the state in social life. Although the separation of church and state has often been seen as part of a simple linear development, this view is ahistorical. The multiplicity of different arrangements in the relations between church and state around the world—from a situation in which the state is subject to religious authority (theocracy) to a state with an official religion (protected, supported, and/or controlled in variable ways), to friendly, indifferent, or hostile separation—suggests that these relations change and evolve in ways specific to the historical dynamics of particular social formations. In the Philippines the late nineteenth century provided a complex set of conditions that made a debate on this issue possible, specifically in the context of the Malolos Congress. However, as shown here, the separation of church and state eventually occurred not as the outcome of an autochthonous process of structural social change but as an imposition by an imperial power.

The sections that follow this introduction provide an overview of the Malolos Congress and the principal contenders. Subsequent sections contextualize the debate in Malolos through a discussion of the Catholic Church in the Philippines in the nineteenth century, which was beset by an internal controversy over the control of parishes that eventually spilled over and stimulated Filipino nationalism in the last two decades of that century. The critique of Spanish friars was a preponderant concern of the nationalist movement. Yet, the intelligentsia did not directly address the nation’s relationship with the Catholic Church itself and neither did they examine the prevailing unity of church and state under the Spanish dictum of the Patronato Real (Royal Patronage). Malolos provided the venue for this singular debate in Philippine history. The arguments advanced by both sides, both with their respective limitations, are presented in later sections. The article concludes with an analysis of what the two sides represented and their irreconcilable difference, which, as the epilogue discusses, was settled by the US imposition of its colonial policy on church–state separation, a process that brought to the fore some legacies of the contending ideas in Malolos.

Malolos: An Overview

In his Memorias Calderón (1907, 234–236) recounted that the committee tasked to prepare a draft constitution received two versions, one prepared by Mabini (said to have been patterned after the Spanish constitution) and another by Pedro Paterno (also averred to have been copied from the Spanish constitution, and actually prepared by Ricardo Regidor). It should be noted that the Spanish constitution of 1869—the first “liberal” constitution since 1812 and a product of the Glorious Revolution that deposed Isabella II—upheld the principle of a national religion, but it also permitted the practice of other religions, especially among foreigners.3) However, unlike the Spanish charter, Mabini’s constitutional program declared religious freedom and disavowed any state religion.4)

Calderón believed that most delegates personally liked Paterno but disliked Mabini, so he made it appear that what he would present to the Congress was Paterno’s draft with some revisions. But, hurriedly, he prepared an entirely different document, which he claimed to have patterned after South American constitutions, particularly that of Costa Rica.5)

On October 8 Calderón’s draft was submitted to the committee and approved with some modifications, although it was opposed by a faction that Calderón referred to as “Mabini’s partisans” (ibid., 236). Subsequently, on October 21, copies of the draft were distributed to the delegates. Debates and voting on the articles commenced in late October and lasted until November.

Title 3 on religion was among the early provisions of Calderón’s draft constitution that would have been tackled on October 28, but given its contentiousness and the protracted debate it was expected to consume the delegates agreed to defer the discussion till the last (ibid., Appendix CR29). There could have been other options in dealing with the fraught relationship between church and state, as native elites held various views that ranged from absolute adherence to total repudiation of the Catholic Church. Many who were antifriar remained loyal to the church. “Besides the doctrinaire anticlericals, there were also those in the government or the congress who wanted clerical cooperation, but who cared, or understood, little about problems of doctrine or ecclesiastical jurisdiction and were determined to bring the Church under state control” (Schumacher 1981, 76). In Malolos, however, the debate was polarized into Calderón’s proposal on the union of church and state and the opposing amendment introduced by Tomás del Rosario, Felix Ferrer, M. del Rosario, Arcadio del Rosario, and Cecilio Hilario. This amendment reduced the three articles in Title 3 to one article that declared, “The State recognizes the freedom and equality of all religions, as well as the separation of the Church and the State” (El Estado reconoce la libertad e igualdad de todos los cultos, así como la separación de la iglesia y el Estado) (Calderón 1907, Appendix CR28).

The Congress returned to the issue of church–state relations on November 22 (ibid., Appendix CR70). Two days later Calderón continued his argumentation, but a number of “interruptions” by Tomás del Rosario were recorded. When the Congress met again on November 29 Calderón resumed his peroration; Joaquin Gonzales would have spoken also in favor of church–state unity but relinquished his turn in order that the delegates could vote on the issue (ibid., Appendix CR91–92). This faction was probably confident of having the numbers. It was agreed that votes would be cast by secret ballot. At the precise moment when the casting of ballots was to take place, a group of delegates against the principle of state religion headed by Antonio Luna entered the session hall (Agoncillo 1960, 305; Calderón 1907, 243). When the votes were counted, the result was a tie, each side garnering 25 votes (Calderón 1907, Appendix CR92). Among proponents of church–state unity, there was dissatisfaction that Pedro Paterno, the presiding officer, did not cast his vote. A small debate on the assembly’s internal rules ensued, which was settled by holding a second round of voting. This time Pablo Tecson, one of the assembly’s secretaries who had abstained in the first round, voted, effectively breaking the tie and enabling the amendment on church–state separation to triumph in Malolos by one vote (ibid.).6)

The completed draft was submitted to Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo, who temporized as he weighed his political options. On January 25, 1899 the Constitución Política de 1899, popularly known as the Malolos Constitution, was finally proclaimed, but modified by a set of transitory provisions. However, in less than a fortnight, on February 4, 1899, fighting erupted between US and Filipino troops. The Philippine Republic officially declared war on the United States on June 2, 1899, but US might cut short the republic’s existence.7)

The Principal Contenders

In the 1960s scholars dismissed Calderón’s advocacy of church–state unity as owing to his irretrievable conservatism. Majul (1967, 156) described Calderón (as well as another proponent, Manuel Gómez) as “typical Filipino conservatives, weaned and educated by the Mother Church.” With pretensions to psychoanalytic depth, Agoncillo (1960, 298) was even more denigrating: “Whether Calderon was aware of it or not, the fact that he was a grandson of a Spanish friar probably militated against his impulse to provide for religious equality. Here the conservative mind, deeply rooted in the marriage of Church and State, came to the surface and protruded like a buoy swaying in all directions but unable to free itself from its anchorage.”

Calderón (1907, 65) admitted that he had “intimate relations” with the Jesuits, who taught him at the Ateneo Municipal (he obtained his law degree from the University of Santo Tomas). In Malolos he “collaborated closely” with Fr. Mariano Sevilla, who had been exiled in 1872 and held the highest educational attainment among the native priests (Schumacher 1981, 81). However, Calderón was a more complex figure than the flat character sketched by Agoncillo and Majul. Like other ilustrados (literally, enlightened) and many other native elites, Calderón was staunchly antifriar. In last minute talks with the Spanish general and the Manila archbishop, as US forces were poised to move to the Philippines with the return of Aguinaldo from Hong Kong in May 1898, Calderón (1907, 68) recalled that “all conciliation with Spain was already impossible.” His narrative stated that he demanded the immediate withdrawal of Spanish governors from the provinces; the immediate withdrawal of all friar parish priests and the turning over of parishes to secular (native) priests; and the promise to break up the monastic estates for sale to the tenants (ibid., 71–72). Evidently Calderón’s stance concerning the friars was uncompromising. Perhaps for this reason he revered Rizal’s novels. In the law school, the Escuela de Derecho, that he founded in 1899 (now the Manila Law College), as Teodoro Kalaw (1965, 33) recalled, Calderón “held special Sunday classes on the works of Rizal, especially on the Noli Me Tangere and the Filibusterismo, which he called his Bible.”

Across the divide was the fiercest advocate of separation, Tomás del Rosario. He was in Madrid in 1888 when Rizal and Del Pilar had serious disagreements; in the same year he returned to the Philippines and received successive appointments as Justice of the Peace, Prosecuting Attorney, and Judge of the Court of First Instance in Manila. In 1896 he was deported to Ceuta, Spain’s enclave on the northwest coast of Africa, where he was detained for 11 months. After his release in 1897 he returned to the Philippines (Bolasco 1994, 54–55) and became a major force in Malolos.

In addition to being led by lawyers, both sides of the debate shared a common antipathy toward the Spanish friars—a hallmark of the ilustrados of this period who, as the core of the intelligentsia, assumed a critical stance toward the Spanish colonial establishment. However, many of the separationists could be distinguished from the unionists by their adherence to Masonry. How did Masonry affect the deliberations in Malolos?

That Tomás del Rosario was affiliated with Masonry has been remarked upon a number of times, as if it were somehow an explanatory factor for the deep division in Malolos.8) The same has been noted of Arcadio del Rosario, who also vigorously defended the separationist principle (Majul 1967, 154 n. 3; Bolasco 1994, 55; Agoncillo 1960, 298). As Majul (1967, 175) put it, with a good dose of speculation, “some of the proponents of the principle of separation were Masons who were closely aware of or in contact with the liberal movement in Spain. As such, they had definite ideas on the problem or possibly even some commitments.”

What is remarkable is that, although Masonry had inspired the alternative vision of the imagined community propounded by Tomás del Rosario and others, Calderón (1907, 112, 242) deftly avoided labeling any of his fellow delegates as Masons. He did refer to a group that he called “Mabini’s partisans” and, in turn, pointed to Mabini as fomenting “the sectarian Masonic spirit.”

It is worth recalling that at this moment in Malolos José Rizal had been executed (December 1896); Graciano Lopez Jaena (January 1896) and Marcelo del Pilar (July 1896) had died overseas in miserable poverty; Andres Bonifacio had been executed by fellow revolutionaries (May 1897); after Bonifacio’s execution, Emilio Jacinto had refused to join forces with Aguinaldo; and Isabelo de los Reyes had been temporarily muted (deported to Spain, jailed in Montjuich in Barcelona, released in December 1897, and given a sinecure as counselor in the Ministro de Ultramar [Ministry of Colonies] from 1898 to 1901). Mabini was the one nonclerical intellectual who drew the line around which deep divisions were carved. But, as we shall see, Mabini himself was torn and in fact would prove himself overwhelmed by the war with the United States.

Notwithstanding his opinion of Mabini, Calderón (ibid., 242)—like other ilustrados—regarded Masonry as it had developed in the Philippines as “more than an anti-Catholic sect, [but] a society geared to counteract the power of the friars, not so much as ministers of a religion, but as agents of a political order, or, rather, as a manifestation of the Spanish political colonizing power.” In this view friars were not even deemed ministers of religion but political agents of the colonial state.

Significantly Calderón, who faced the opponents of his proposal on state religion, was tactful in not considering Masonry as providing explanatory force to the deep division over the question of church–state relations. In writing his memoirs he had the benefit of hindsight in knowing that Aguinaldo and Mabini, albeit Masons, deferred the implementation of the separationist principle that won in the Malolos Congress and, as will be seen below, their actions established a de facto state religion during the tumultuous interregnum. Nevertheless, Calderón considered Masons as mistakenly assuming that friar abuses were inherent defects of the Catholic Church (ibid.). Indeed one of the issues in Malolos was disentangling Catholicism from the Spanish friars.

Catholicism and the Nationalist Movement

Although Calderón’s antifriar sentiment was consistent with much of the nationalist movement in the late nineteenth century, his position on church–state unity differed from those who advocated the opposite scenario in that it articulated a specific vision of the national community. This vision was built on the fact that the Filipino nationalist movement owed its origins to the struggle between Spanish friars and the secular priests (creoles and natives) over the control of parishes. This struggle, known as the secularization controversy, commenced in the 1820s when the policy that allowed native secular priests to become parish priests was reversed owing to their lack of preparedness for their positions and because of the fear stoked by native priests’ participation in the wars of independence in the Americas. In Manila, starting in 1849, Fr. Pedro Peláez took up the cudgels for the secular clergy as a matter of right based on canon law. After Peláez’s death in the earthquake of 1863, Fr. José Burgos pursued the issue but turned it into a racial one, arguing that Spanish friars treated native secular priests as inferior and undeserving to be elevated as parish priests (Schumacher 1999; 2006; Blanco 2010). Burgos, along with two other priests, Mariano Gómez and Jacinto Zamora, were martyred in the wake of the failed revolution known as the Cavite Munity of 1872 (Schumacher 2011).

Situating himself in this revered tradition, Calderón’s (1907, 243, Appendix CR82–83) defense of church–state unity paid homage to Peláez, Burgos, Zamora, Gómez, and other priests who were incarcerated, deported, and executed for the sake of the patria, they being the “principal authors of the reform movement.” The “Filipino clergy” shed their blood and planted the seed of the movement that culminated in the revolution. Calderón’s advocacy was rooted in this history; for him recognizing Catholicism as the state religion would signal that the revolution accorded the pioneers of the nationalist movement due respect. Based on this particular reading of Philippine history and his view of the European situation, Calderón regarded religious freedom as historically absurd and politically inappropriate for the Philippines: “Religious freedom is an impossibility, philosophically considered, an historical absurdity, and a political contradiction, especially in the Philippines” (ibid., Appendix CR84).

Looking back at this debate in Malolos, Calderón (ibid., 242) wrote, “the power of the native priests is very well known, and to proclaim the separation of church and state at those moments was tantamount to putting aside this very valuable element of our people.” Certainly the role of the native clergy in the rise of Filipino nationalism could not be denied. In fact Calderón’s position was consistent with, or at least not overtly contrary to, the Propaganda Movement, which did not campaign against the Catholic Church per se but only against the Spanish friars.

The immediate antecedent of the 1896 revolution, the Propaganda Movement articulated the issues confronted by Spain’s colonized subjects. The ilustrados at the forefront of the movement, particularly Rizal, Del Pilar, and Lopez Jaena, were staunchly antifriar. In his political tracts, Del Pilar described friar hegemony and the friars’ stranglehold on native society as La Soberania Monacal (The Monastic Sovereignty) and La Frailocracia (The Friarocracy). However, the Propagandists, realizing that natives had appropriated Catholicism as their personal religion, did not publicly denigrate the Catholic Church. Thus they trained their criticisms on the friars. For a good part of the history of the Propaganda Movement since its inception in Spain in the early 1880s, its campaign was for assimilation, particularly for representation in the Cortes. There was an element in assimilation that suggested Hispanization that in turn rested upon a Catholic identity.

Although the lines were sometimes blurred, the Propagandists emphasized that they were against the rule of the friars but not against the Catholic Church itself. However, in one private letter dated March 25, 1889 Del Pilar stated, “I can discern clearly now that we need the weakening of the Pope” (Maliuanag at naaninaw ko ñgayon kailañgan nga natin ang hina nang Papa), suggesting further that what “the Pope” (i.e., Catholicism) had sown in the Philippines was not deeply rooted and therefore the faith of the people could be easily discredited (Del Pilar 1955, 72–73). Nonetheless, in Del Pilar’s letters to Blumentritt he took the stand that the struggle against the friars was for the benefit of Spain and the Catholic Church. For his part, Graciano Lopez Jaena ([1889] 1996, 30, 31) declared in his famous speech delivered at the Ateneo Barcelonés on February 25, 1889 that Filipinos were at war with the friars, but it was not a fight for or against religion (No es una lucha por la religión ni contra la religión). When Rizal crossed the boundary lines, he allowed himself to be corrected in print by Blumentritt, a good Catholic but also morally a liberal, whose prologue to Rizal’s annotated edition of Antonio Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas stated that Rizal confused his attacks on the abuses of the friars with that of the whole of Catholicism.9) As John Schumacher (1997, 140–142) has pointed out, Ferdinand Blumentritt’s profession of Catholicism buttressed the ilustrados’ contention that the periodical La Solidaridad, to which he was an avid contributor, was not against Catholicism as such but against friar abuses. Evidently Calderón’s (1907, 242) belief that it was an error to think that the abuses of the friars were “defects” of the Catholic Church was consistent with the public stance of the Propaganda Movement.

It is noteworthy that the ilustrados did not promote atheism; rather, they continued to profess faith, if not in God, then at least in Divine Providence. Del Pilar (1955, 50) wrote on March 7, 1889 that “we should not forget that we are no more than mere instruments to be used in the inscrutable designs of the God of peace, who in his eternal Love will not permit the misfortunes of millions of his creatures to go on forever. Let us praise heaven and have faith, a strong and resolute faith in the future.” As Rizal himself wrote on April 2, 1889, “Perhaps you would find it strange that the Calambano, who has mocked many beliefs and superstitions, should be a firm believer in Providence”; in fact, Rizal averred that he had “more faith in God than all the friars put together” (ibid., 80). Theirs, they claimed, was the genuine faith in contrast to the spurious religiosity of the Spanish friars.10)

Given the nationalist movement’s official stance of being antifriar but not anti-Catholic Church, there was no room to question the Patronato Real, by which the Vatican allowed the Spanish crown to sponsor and financially support Catholic missionary work in Spain’s colonies and, in exchange, have the deciding voice in the selection of ecclesiastical personnel and the disposition of the local church’s revenues.11) The Patronato Real underpinned the unity of church and state in the Spanish colonial Philippines.

Only somewhat late in the Propaganda Movement was there a mild questioning of this union when in September 1892 Del Pilar criticized Gov.-Gen. Eulogio Despujol’s decree ordering Rizal’s deportation to Mindanao. Rizal was banished for “wresting away the treasure of the Catholic faith from the hearts of Filipinos,” to which Del Pilar ([1892] 1996, 434) replied, “One should respect the Catholic faith in its proper time . . . but it is unjust, illegal, and arbitrary to invoke the argument of national integrity for every injury to the religious elements” (Respétese en buen hora la fe católica . . . pero es injusto, ilegal y arbitrario sacar el cristo de la integridad nacional por cualquier molestia de los elementos religiosos). National integrity was to be distinguished from religion. Del Pilar (ibid.) also pointed to the religious diversity in the Philippines and that religion was not the social glue, not the basis of social cohesion, within the colony and in the colony’s relationship with Spain. Even then, Del Pilar, in asking how Rizal’s supposed offense became one against the state religion, hesitated to question explicitly the existence of or need for such a state religion.

In general, the Propaganda Movement took the prevailing arrangement in the Philippines as a given. It was assumed that once the goal of expelling the friars had been attained, the native clergy would step in their place and perform their roles in a social formation that was essentially the same as the colonial society but for the friars. The idea of simply replacing Spaniards with Filipinos but with everything else intact undergirded the nationalism of ilustrados.

However, a focal point of ilustrado nationalism was the exclusion of so-called primitive races from the imagined community for whom the Propagandists struggled to gain civil liberties (Aguilar 2005). For them, the label “Filipino” stood for the dominant Catholicized and Europeanized native elites. For being deemed unassimilable, the cultural groups represented by Muslims and other highland tribes most of whom had not converted to Catholicism—and therefore continued to enjoy religious freedom—were not deemed as part of the Filipino nation. This idea of the nation emanated from a racist impulse that excluded minority cultural groups. It was this nation that Calderón (1907, 242) had in mind when he argued that the “totality of the Filipinos, even those who boasted they were Masons and sectarians, were Catholics”; to Calderón freedom of religion would be “extremely dangerous” as the separation of church and state would cause an outrage to “the consciences of nearly all” and create “deep division” among the already divided Filipinos. In this view, the unity of church and state would be a cohesive force that would bring together the nation, conceived in the specifically ilustrado sense. In such a society, Catholicism would be the putative social glue.

Calderón’s Proposal on Church–State Unity

Under Title 3, Calderón’s (1907, 241) draft of the constitution declared Catholicism as the state religion. The original proposal read as follows:

Artículo 5. La nación protege el culto y los ministros de la religión católica, apostólica, roma, que es la del estado, y no contribuye con sus rentas a los gastos de otro culto.

Art. 6. Podrá ejercerse privadamente cualquiera orto culto siempre que no sea contra la moral y los bienes costumbres y no atenten a la seguridad de la nación.

Art. 7. La obtención y el desempeño de todos los empleos y cargos de la republica, así como los pagos de los derechos civiles y políticos, son independientes de la religión de los filipinos.

[Article 5. The nation protects the worship and the ministers of the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion, which is the religion of the State, and does not use its revenues to contribute to the expenses of any other form of worship.

Article 6. Any other form of worship may be practiced privately, provided that it is not contrary to morality and good custom and does not imperil the safety of the nation.

Article 7. The appointment to and performance of all work and positions in the republic, as well as the payments of civil and political dues, are independent of the religion of Filipinos.]

Article 5 is unequivocal about Catholicism’s proposed status as “the religion of the State,” whose ecclesiastical personnel would be “protected” by the state. However, Article 7 clarified that the state was autonomous from, and not subordinated to, the Catholic Church; on the contrary, the Catholic Church was dependent upon the state for protection and support. This provision could be interpreted, even if it was not necessarily Calderón’s intention, as putting the state above the church as in the Patronato Real.

In Article 6, the proposed charter contained an incipient idea of religious freedom contingent upon the private practice of religions other than Catholicism. This echoed the spirit of the Spanish constitution of 1869 as well as the Costa Rican constitution.12) At the same time, it can be seen as an acknowledgment of the existence in the Philippines of religious practices other than Catholicism. Thus other religions would be tolerated but these would have to remain in the social margins and without state subsidy, in contrast to the open and state-supported practice of Catholicism. Other religions were supposed to neither go against morality and the established customs of the people nor undermine the state’s security. This provision implied the proscription of proselytization, which could be construed as undermining the nation, conceived irreducibly as a Catholic nation. In effect, Calderón’s proposed charter would tolerate other religions but these would be consigned to the twilight zone.

Nonetheless Calderón’s proposal reflected the prevailing policy in the Philippines in the late nineteenth century. As Marcelo del Pilar ([1892] 1996, 432) stated:

 Para la legalidad vigente en el Archipiélago, la religión católica es la religión del Estado, pero no es obligatoria á los habitantes del país. El código penal de aquella región reserva al catolicismo la supremacia religiosa y el derecho exclusivo á la manifestación pública y propaganda pública; pero lejos de imponer sus doctrinas ni el ejercicio de su culto, sanciona y garantiza la respetabilidad de las otras creencias religiosas, á despecho de los exclusivismos del dogma católica. (art. 219 á 227)

 [According to the existing laws in the Archipelago, the Catholic religion is the religion of the State, but it is not obligatory on the inhabitants of the country. The penal code of that region reserves to Catholicism religious supremacy and the exclusive right to public worship and public propagation; but far from imposing its doctrines and the exercise of its worship, the law sanctions and guarantees the respectability of other religious beliefs, in spite of the narrow-mindedness of Catholic dogma. (Art. 219 to 227)]

This policy could be an indirect admission of Spain’s inability to proselytize all of the islands’ inhabitants, especially those who lived in remote locations. At the same time, it mandated respect for their religious beliefs and practices, which did not sit well with the state’s directive to missionize these communities in a new reducción program conceived in the early 1880s (Aguilar 1998, 157).13) Amid these realities Calderón’s proposal may be seen as a reaffirmation of the status quo. It could also have been crafted in view of the fact that many resident foreigners, especially other Europeans and Americans, were not Catholics and many native elites had to deal with them in the economic and social realms. Thus the proposed charter would maintain the status quo except for one fundamental difference: Filipinos would staff and control the parishes as well as the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

Filipinization: The Native Clergy as Heir to Power

In the minds of countless native priests as well as of the native elite, the Filipinization of parishes was the culmination of the secularization movement.14) In Malolos, however, proponents of church–state unity wanted to push Filipinization not only of the parishes but also of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, deemed as the logical outcome of the struggle for secularization. As Majul (1967, 159) put it, the native clergy “expected to have a share in the government for which they had sacrificed so much.” In defense against anticlericalism, Schumacher (1981, 81) contended that some of the clergy saw “the necessity of political participation on their part if they were to safeguard the rights and interests of the Church.” For varied reasons, members of the native clergy believed it had a birthright not only to ecclesiastical power but to political participation as well.

Moreover, Calderón (1907, 242–243) had a pragmatic concern. The establishment of an official church would be a tactical device to ensure that the Philippine state would name the heads of religious orders; if there would be separation of church and state, he contended that the Vatican would be in a perfect position to name “foreign bishops and ecclesiastical authorities and absolutely disregard the native clergy.” With an official church, conceived as a national church, Calderón argued that any indemnification for the disposition of the monastic properties would remain in the Philippines rather than be siphoned off to the Vatican. This view was based on the premise that Filipino church officials would be loyal to the Philippine state rather than to the Vatican, although exactly how the religious orders would be controlled was not specified. In any case, with a national church Calderón felt the country was in a position to negotiate a concordat with the Vatican.

Interestingly, at the last minute, an “additional article” was appended to the long list of transitory provisions in the Malolos Constitution. It stated that “All the estates, edifices, and other property possessed by the religious corporations in these islands shall be deemed restored to the Philippine State as of May 24, 1898 when the Dictatorial Government has been constituted in Cavite.” Perhaps this provision on the expropriation of friar-owned properties was added in view of the problem identified by Calderón. In any event the Revolutionary Government was in no position to enforce it. Subsequently, under US imperial rule that broke up the friar lands for sale to the tenants in exchange for a hefty compensation, Calderón felt vindicated: “The fact of the matter is that . . . a large amount of money has left the Philippine Islands and gone into the treasury of the religious corporations” (Kalaw 1957, 247).

It should be pointed out that Mabini, despite his stance on the separation of church and state and being a well-known Mason, was behind the concept of a national church (Majul 1967, 169–170). In May 1898 the Junta Patriótica in Hong Kong declared that

Queremos qué la religión de los naturales y la de los que al pais vengan, sean rigurosamente respetadas por los poderes públicos y por los individuos en particular.

Queremos que el cristianismo, base de la civilización presente, y el fundamento sólido de sus instituciones religiosas, viva sin fuerza, ni imposiciones; y que el clero natural del pais sea el que dirija y enseñe á aquellos naturales, en todas las jerarquías eclesiásticas.

Queremos que el sostenimiento de ese clero se sufrague como lo acuerden los distintos gobiernos regionales ó como lo determinen los municipios ó instituciones populares electivas, que en la localidad funcionen. (Calderón 1907, 33)

[We want the religion of the indigenes and of those who come to the country to be strictly respected by the public authorities and by those individuals in particular.

We want Christianity, the basis of the current civilization, and the solid foundation of their religious institutions to subsist without force or compulsion, and the country’s native clergy to lead and teach the people at all levels of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

We want the maintenance of that clergy to be provided for, as the different regional governments shall decide, or as the municipalities or popular elective institutions functioning in the locality shall determine.]

Calderón’s inclusion of this manifesto in his memoirs suggested his cognizance of Mabini’s desire that Catholicism and the indigenous religions be “strictly respected” (as in Article 6, which we have seen was a nod to the reality of religious pluralism in the Philippines); that Christianity should not be imposed on or forced upon the people; but also that the native clergy—whose subsistence ought to be provided for by the people through their local government units—should be the people’s pastors and occupy the full range of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (Calderón’s Article 5). As the principal force behind this manifesto, Mabini had expressed his patriotic desire for a Filipino to head the Catholic Church in the Philippines, “although subject to the Pope in Rome” (Majul 1967, 170).

Mabini deemed the national church, as the legitimate fruit of the revolution, should be under the direction of the revolutionary government. From around the middle of 1898 this concept began to assume organizational form, a position that hardened as the revolution proceeded and Mabini’s influence on Aguinaldo deepened. On June 20 of that year Aguinaldo declared all marriages invalid unless preceded by a civil wedding (Achútegui and Bernad 1960, 61). Calderón (1907, 108) considered this decree as “anti-Catholic” and as “doing violence to the consciences of Filipinos, nearly all of whom are Catholics”; he also deemed it objectionable to the Filipino clergy as it violated the sacrament of matrimony (ibid., 109). However, Aglipay supported the introduction of civil marriage, an act that solidified his alliance with Mabini (Schumacher 1981, 70). Aguinaldo’s decree was a sign that the state would dictate upon the church precisely because of the union of church and state, a scenario that rather curiously Calderón kept out of his purview.

In the nineteenth century, the Patronato Real acquired specific characteristics that provided the framework for church–state relations, which the native Filipinos would seek to emulate. A consequence of the definitive triumph of liberalism that dismantled the absolutist ancien régime church, the exclaustración of 1836 and 1837 dissolved the religious orders in Spain, leaving only three seminaries under the jurisdiction of the Ministerio de Ultramar exclusively to train missionaries for overseas deployment (Aguilar 1998, 23). Thus the Spanish Philippines was one of the very few places where friar orders could thrive. Coping with their emasculation, the friars sought to make themselves useful to the state, ultimately developing an excessive patriotism (españolismo). At the same time, Spanish authorities increasingly treated the clergy as mere “employees of the state” (Schumacher 1999, 2). As John Schumacher (2006, 296) put it, the Patronato Real became “a political instrument . . . for maintaining Spanish rule over a subject people . . . an instrumentalization [of the church] not resisted by many friars seeking the advantage of their own particular orders.” Based on this model of the Patronato Real, Aguinaldo’s government sought a far-reaching enforcement of the idea of a national church through the appointment of Gregorio Aglipay as capellán castrense (military chaplain) sometime in May or June 1898.

Before this appointment, Aglipay had been a parish coadjutor, particularly in San Pablo, Laguna, when the revolution broke out in August 1896 and in Victoria, Tarlac, by the end of that year (Achútegui and Bernad 1960, 36).15) On September 4 Aglipay, as an official of the revolutionary government, took it upon himself to appoint a secular priest, Fr. Eustaquio Gallardo, then parish priest of Santo Domingo, Ilocos Sur, as Provisional Vicar General of the diocese of Nueva Segovia after the Spanish Dominican bishop had fled the see in Vigan in mid-August because of the arrival of revolutionary forces (ibid., 42). Aglipay’s action suggested that he deemed the authority of Aguinaldo’s civil government as sufficient basis to make an ecclesiastical appointment. However, it should be noted that Aglipay’s ideal of church–state relations, although based on the Patronato Real, was not entirely in accord with the historical realities of the nineteenth century and with Aguinaldo and Mabini’s view concerning state control of the church.16) Guided by his own patriotic zeal, Aglipay exercised his appointing power and made decisions he hoped would receive the Vatican’s acquiescence.

Signifying the hardening of the revolutionary government’s position, on October 20, 1898 Aglipay, while attending the Revolutionary Congress in Malolos, was elevated to the post of Vicario General Castrense, a position that made him head of all military chaplains in the revolution and later interpreted to mean head of all the Filipino clergy (Schumacher 1981, 72; Achútegui and Bernad 1960, 43). In this elevated post Aglipay sought to mobilize the Filipino clergy to support the revolutionary government, admonishing them to “harmonize [their] situation with the state of affairs created by the Revolution” (Achútegui and Bernad 1960, 56); to unite and organize themselves to take over the reins of ecclesiastical power in the parishes and dioceses and, thereby, withdraw adherence from Fr. Bernardino Nozaleda OP, Manila Archbishop and patriarch of the Philippine church; and, finally, to seek canonical confirmation from Rome for the new appointments created (ibid., 50–54).

Evidently, there were significant points of convergence between the position of Calderón on church–state unity and Mabini’s own advocacy about a national and Filipinized church. In fact, outside of the Malolos Congress, Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government acted in ways that resonated with the Patronato Real, with Aglipay as the main conduit to implement the revolutionary state’s policy.

Debating Church–State Relations

When the Malolos Congress returned to the issue of the state and religion in late November 1899, a vigorous debate did ensue. Deploying his oratorical skills continuously for five hours, Tomás del Rosario explained his opposition to the unity of church and state (Calderón 1907, Appendix CR71). In the afternoon of the same day, Manuel Gómez spoke on behalf of the unity of church and state (ibid., Appendix CR76–78). The following day Arcadio del Rosario, with “patent erudition,” took his turn to defend the necessity of religious freedom. Subsequently Calderón, also a polished orator, spoke to elucidate the reasons for his position on church–state unity (ibid., Appendix CR81). On November 24 Calderón continued his presentation, but a number of “interruptions” by Tomás del Rosario were recorded.

In the heat of these exchanges, according to Teodoro Agoncillo (1960, 302), “one group hurled charges and counter-charges against the other. Thus, the Calderon group was accused of being the stooges of the friars. More cutting was the indictment that the men carrying the burden of defending the State religion were traitors to the cause of the Revolution.”

The lead separationist Tomás del Rosario, for instance, emphasized that “Christianity was the best of all religions, if it had not been altered by human passions. He said that with the doctrines of Christianity it would have been possible to establish the Universal Republic, but religious intolerance had made it impossible” (Calderón 1907, Appendix CR73). This statement sought to differentiate “true Christianity” in theory and in practice. In fact, Tomás del Rosario stressed that in the Philippines “the true Catholic religion has never been preached and the teachings of Jesus Christ have been prostituted” (ibid., Appendix CR75). As a result, what he called “feudalismo teocrático” (theocratic feudalism) characterized “our present religion” (ibid.). In response, Manuel Gómez argued that Catholicism was “the most perfect” religion into which “the Filipino people” had been born and that even though its ministers had prostituted their calling it did not “divest the Catholic religion of its superior worth,” pointing instead to the need to distinguish human frailties from the tenets of the faith itself (ibid., Appendix CR78). Aware of sensitivities among Congress delegates, Tomás del Rosario stood to clarify that he did not in the least intend to impugn Catholicism, even going to the extent of claiming that it was also his religion (ibid., Appendix CR81). The separationists thus focused their criticisms not on religion itself but on the faults of its ministers—reminiscent of the conventional Propagandists’ line.

Manuel Gómez argued that Catholic priests, although subject to all vices and passions, nonetheless sought the good of humanity; besides, he argued, no nation could boast of having its members rigorously complying with all its precepts and mandates (ibid., Appendix CR78).17) Gómez also ruminated that, with the union of church and state, the evil in humanity would be restrained by two coercive forces: the “internal” force through religion and the “external” force through the state (ibid.). However, in questioning the value of Catholicism as a state religion, Arcadio del Rosario’s riposte highlighted that comparative statistics on crime in countries with and without a state religion did not support the idea that a state religion made any difference in reining in human passions (ibid., Appendix CR80). Indeed the consensus among the native elite was that the friars themselves did not transcend their human passions.

Apart from their personal morality, the friars were widely decried for interference in—even “usurpation of”—the affairs of the state.18) But the advocates of state religion emphasized that, with the friars’ ouster, the native clergy would take over the Philippine church and would prove to be unlike the Spanish friars. Because of their tested patriotism, Filipino priests would not usurp governmental powers (ibid., Appendix CR94). As far as the separationists were concerned, however, the religious minister’s nationality was not a consideration. In advancing the first of 12 reasons why a state religion was not acceptable, Arcadio del Rosario sounded a warning even about the native clergy: “The ministers of a religion protected by the State usually begin the exercise of their ministries as self-sacrificing martyrs but end as tyrants and executioners (verdugos)” (ibid., Appendix CR79).19) This blanket portrayal of church ministers demanded the ability to step back from one’s patriotism as a Filipino, but for an advocate of church–state unity it was not easy to countenance this radically different perspective.

For each argument in this debate a counterargument was easily found, even when the critical gaze shifted from Catholicism to its ministers. On the basis of argumentation alone, it was an apparent stalemate. What is more, for the protagonists the question of church–state relations was profoundly emotional, as Tomás del Rosario acknowledged at the outset: “it was with aversion that he would speak, since the religious question is linked with highly venerated memories and all the legends with which we were rocked from our cradle” (ibid., Appendix CR72).

Perhaps to create emotional distance, the separationists highlighted not local history but European history, which they presented as pivoting around the Papacy. They trained their intellectual armaments against papal power, even if under Spain the Vatican did not govern the Philippine church directly but through the Spanish monarchy in the form of the Patronato Real. In the exchange that saw Calderón defending the native clergy’s patriotism as the source of confidence for their non-usurpation of state power, Arcadio del Rosario countered: “Not the clergy, but the Papacy” (No es el clero, es el Pontificado) (ibid., Appendix CR95).

Separationists and the Papacy

As the main proponent of the separation of church and state Tomás del Rosario argued on the basis of a profound historical distrust of the Papacy, which harked back to Del Pilar’s 1889 statement about the need to weaken the Pope. In his defense of separation, Tomás del Rosario presented his own take on European history to stress the long struggle of the state to free itself from the clutches of Rome, which had created a state within a state, a social formation in which ecclesiastical power overwhelmed the state and acted despotically.

He spoke of the errors and the constant ambitions of the Pontificate, which resulted in intolerance, persecutions and religious wars. He dwelt on the dual dangers of public power whenever religious power is joined with civil power. . . . He deplored the odious and military character assumed by Catholicism, when the Popes proclaimed themselves leaders of civil government, reducing the princes of the church to soldiers of the Pontiffs. (Calderón 1907, Appendix CR73)

He explained the Crusades as impelled by “religious fanaticism” and he discoursed on the policy that proclaimed the Papacy as “ruler of the world” (dueño del mundo) and the conquest of the Indies (ibid., Appendix CR74).

He examined the obstacles to the formation of a juridical community among the pueblos, which was opposed by the Catholic Church, thereby establishing religious inequality, and the princes were forced to accept the temporal supremacy of the Church, thus there remained a permanent state of war. . . . He said that the Popes considered the State as a religious and ecclesiastical institution, the absorbing and irresistible apogee of the Middle Ages. (ibid.)

He went on to discuss the Reformation and the monarchs’ claim to their divine origin to counteract the power of the Roman pontiff. He analyzed the consequences of the Reformation, which he said “annihilated” the Roman Church and proclaimed “the liberty of the human conscience” (ibid.). He discussed “the policies of [Cardinal] Richelieu, who emancipated the State from ecclesiastical control, and whose diplomacy was continued by Mazarin, until religious liberty and equality of all religions had been achieved” (ibid.). He then reviewed the “Congress of Westphalia” and discussed “the independence of the States from ecclesiastical tutelage” (ibid., Appendix CR75).

Tomás del Rosario’s recounting of European history overdrew the Vatican’s power and underemphasized the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. But his point was to suggest that the newly independent Philippines should seize the opportunity brought about by the struggles and wars in Europe that had liberated the state from Roman control. To advocate the contrary was regressive, a return to the Medieval Ages.

Supporting the view that church–state unity was repugnant was Arcadio del Rosario’s proposition that papal power in countries without religious freedom always resulted in intervention in civil power with disastrous results. The Philippines should not think it could restrain the Vatican, for he pointed that France had not been able to diminish or weaken the power of the Pope despite many concordats. It was also Arcadio del Rosario who pointed out that in the United States, where religious freedom had reigned for “over a hundred years,” the Catholic Church was flourishing. In contrast, he attributed the “decadence of Spain” primarily to “the denial of religious freedom and the consequent preponderance of the clergy” (ibid., Appendix CR80–81).

Tomás del Rosario devoted nearly five hours of expostulations on European history, which to him was the basis for the necessity of church–state separation. Conspicuously absent was Philippine history. Although fully aware of his own country’s past, Tomás del Rosario opted not to make any reference to the secularization movement and the martyrdom of Burgos, Gómez, and Zamora. The separationists kept their distance from an issue of vast subjective importance to members of the native elite many of them were related by kinship to native priests.

When he finally mentioned the Philippine situation, Tomás del Rosario took the perspective of non-Catholics, focusing on Muslims in Mindanao and Jolo “and the distinct beliefs professed by the inhabitants of the Philippine Archipelago,” for whom, he said, privileging the Catholic Church as a state religion would be unjust and would bring about “serious conflicts” and “provoke a civil war” (ibid., Appendix CR75). Similarly Arcadio del Rosario spoke of the “genuine tolerance” that prevailed in the Philippines, which should not be reversed by adopting a state religion (ibid., Appendix CR80). This line of reasoning recalled Del Pilar’s criticism of the decree on Rizal’s deportation to Mindanao: “we maintain that the Philippines is composed of people with heterogeneous religions. . . . To hold the theory that Catholicism is the national tie in the Philippines is to exclude from Spain’s community the non-Catholic groups—those who are not even Christians and above all the polytheists” (Del Pilar [1892] 1996, 432).

The Catholic Clergy and the Deferment of Separation

Members of the Filipino clergy attended the sessions of the Revolutionary Congress, eagerly participating “as spectators and lobbyists” (Schumacher 1981, 82).20) According to Majul (1967, 159), “many Filipino priests interested in the outcome of the discussions were seen occupying seats reserved for guest[s].” They were disappointed by the turnout. The lone Catholic priest who was a member of the Revolutionary Congress, Gregorio Aglipay “tried to have the amendment suspended” and apparently was instrumental in persuading Mabini to do just that (ibid.; Schumacher 1981, 83).

Earlier, on October 22, 1898 Aglipay, whom Aguinaldo had appointed Vicario General Castrense, had issued a circular to the Filipino clergy to indicate that the intention of the revolutionary government was to “preserve [the Catholic religion] in all its purity” (and presumed dominance), thus meriting the clergy’s recognition and cooperation (Majul 1967, 172). Their noncooperation could impel the revolutionary government to adopt the separation of church and state (Schumacher 1981, 72), which in Aglipay’s view would “gravely . . . prejudice the interests of the clergy and above all the service of religion” (cited in Gowing 1969, 206 n. 5). The turn of events in Malolos was probably beyond Aglipay’s expectation, for had it been he would have endeavored to be present and influence the vote. As it turned out, he was away on official business when the vote was taken (Achútegui and Bernad 1960, 62–63).

After the triumph of the principle of separation, a number of Filipino priests petitioned Aguinaldo to preserve the Catholic Church’s position and veto the Congress’s decision. In a memorial Fr. Mariano Garces (Calderón 1907, Appendix CR113–121) argued that religion, as the source of morality, was the basis of society and government. In the Philippines it had to be Catholicism because it was the religion of the majority of Filipinos. He stated that the separation of church and state was one of the errors of liberalism and condemned by the Popes. Moreover, religious liberty meant that people could think of God in whatever way they wanted, giving rise to error and impiety. Garces concluded that the triumph of the revolution was God’s handiwork; therefore, people had to be grateful and demonstrate this gratitude by safeguarding the Catholic Church as the state religion and prohibiting other religions.21)

The vexations caused by the approval of the provision on church–state separation were so grave that Mabini, who personally advocated this principle, was compelled to seek its suspension. As Calderón (ibid., 244) put it, “The religious problem was of such tremendous implications that Mabini himself, a fierce sectarian and a Mason with serious commitments, did not dare to accept” the principle as presented and approved by the Revolutionary Congress.

While the debate in Malolos was going on, Mabini had warned Aguinaldo about the fallout that could destabilize the revolutionary government:

There is now going on in Congress a heated discussion on the religious question. If you favor one faction, then the other will separate itself from the government. . . . It is imperative that you commission a Secretary to inform Congress that, unless the times become normal, such problems should not be discussed. . . . This is just a warning of what may happen in the future. (cited in Majul 1967, 161; cf. Schumacher 1979, 278)

Indeed, the revolutionary government had thought it necessary to obtain the cooperation of the native clergy in rallying the support of the masses, akin to the way the Spanish colonial state relied on friars to prop up the rule of Spain in the islands. Earlier on July 26, 1898 Aguinaldo had ordered local officials “to call upon the patriotism of all Filipino clergy . . . to impress upon their parishioners . . . that in order that our independence should be secured it is necessary to give absolute adhesion to the revolutionary government and its worthy president” (cited in Majul 1967, 165).

With this apprehension, after the triumph of church–state separation, Mabini (1931, 231) as prime minister addressed a memorandum to the council of state in mid-December 1898, declaring

No es admisible en estos momentos la votada por el Congreso, por dos razones: 1.a Porque no se pueden sostener por ahora las garantías constitucionales que establece en pro de las libertades individuales, precisamente en los momentos en que se ha indicado la necesidad del predominio del elemento militar; y 2.a porque no sería conveniente establecer abiertamente la separación de la Iglesia y del Estado en estos difíciles momentos, dando motivo al retraimiento de los mantenedores de la religión del Estado.

[The voting in Congress is inadmissible at this time for two reasons: 1. Because it is not possible to sustain for now the constitutional guarantees that have been provided to establish individual liberties, precisely at this time when military dominance is necessary; and 2. Because in these difficult times it would not be appropriate to establish openly the separation of Church and State, causing the withdrawal of those who support the State religion.]

Given the exigency of the moment, Aguinaldo would not risk alienating the Filipino clergy and their supporters, yet he could also not veto the approved provision on church–state separation. To stem the tide of disaffection, Aguinaldo adopted Mabini’s proposal—conveyed to the assembly on New Year’s Day 1899—to postpone the implementation of Title 3, Article 5, “until the official recognition of our Independence”; meanwhile, the status quo would prevail, with the municipality concerned providing for the maintenance of the local priest. This evasive technique was adopted into one of the constitution’s transitory provisions.

It was astute of Aguinaldo not to court disaster by offending the clergy. Although many native priests supported the revolution, many members of the native clergy also remained loyal to Nozaleda—“compelled to satisfy the demands of conscience and fidelity to the Church if they were not to cut themselves off from the whole meaning of their calling as priests” (Schumacher 1981, 69).

For their part, Aglipay’s supporters did not convene to establish a national church until a year later in Paniqui, Tarlac (cf. ibid., 109–112). The Paniqui assembly declared itself independent of the Spanish ecclesiastical hierarchy, confirmed allegiance to Rome, and vowed it would not accept any foreign bishop unless approved by native priests in a plebiscite (Clifford 1969, 228). On April 29, 1899 Aglipay was sentenced by a tribunal created by Nozaleda, but this move was publicized only on May 4, when the revolutionary government was in retreat (Scott 1987, 26–28). He was excommunicated for “‘usurpation of authority’—making ecclesiastical appointments while only an army chaplain, assuming functions of a prelate by virtue of a civil appointment, and ordering Filipino clergy not to obey their Spanish superiors” (ibid., 26). Nevertheless, the revolutionary government continued to support Aglipay, who remained one of its officials, Mabini even assisting Aglipay write his defense (Achútegui and Bernad 1960, 95–103).22)

Aglipay’s own position, along with the Filipinization of the Catholic Church, was undermined by the approval of the separation of church and state in the Malolos Congress. Still, the actions of Aguinaldo and Mabini, particularly in appointing Aglipay, indicated a determination to ignore the outcome of the vote in Malolos. Although for a while some lower officials might have prevaricated on this issue or were determinedly moderate (Schumacher 1981, 74–78, 80–81, 86), the actions of the top leadership of the revolutionary government fitted the model of a state religion, with the civil government exercising appointive authority in the church. At the extreme, many local government officials harassed native parish priests and “interfered with the religious practices of the inhabitants,” although Aguinaldo sought to curb abuses and safeguard the rights of the clergy (ibid., 80).23) These contradictions underscored the politics, tensions, and pragmatics of attempting to build a state in the throes of war and revolution. Amid the chaos, the revolutionary government did in fact operate on the basis of church–state unity, a vindication of Calderón’s position.

Conclusion: Conflicting Visions of National Community

In the face of how the stark options on the relations of church and state were presented and debated in the Revolutionary Congress—and even though both sides were animated by a shared antipathy toward the Spanish friars—it can now be understood why, in the absence of a middle ground, the Filipinos elites in Malolos were sharply divided.

Calderón and other proponents of church–state unity wanted to build a state on the foundation of a “Filipino Catholic nation” that merged two distinct imagined communities: the imagined egalitarian community of the nation within a definite territorial boundary, on the one hand, and that of the hierarchical Catholic ecumene that was global in scope, on the other hand. In other words, their imagined community was simultaneously nationalist and Catholic, a tricky conflation of two types of imagined communities that operated on the basis of diametrically opposed time and space coordinates.24) To Calderón and other supporters of state religion, this merger was unproblematic for they perceived it as the basis of social cohesion and national unity, narrowly conceived. However, this unity made sense at the expense of non-Catholics in Philippine society.

The imagined national community of the champions of church–state separation was radically different from those who advocated church–state unity: they recognized a pluralist Philippines and their notion of community was inclusive of Muslims and adherents of indigenous religious traditions. As such, their imagined community of the nation was informed by the country’s religious heterogeneity, which justified religious freedom and religious pluralism. This notion of community meant the effective diminution of the Catholic Church, regarding it as just one among several religions despite the fact that it was the religion of the majority. Proponents of separation held a deep distrust of the Catholic Church’s officialdom, symbolized by the Papacy, the history of which they presented with their own twist. Ultimately, proponents of church–state separation were animated by the desire to undermine ecclesiastical power because of their experiences with the colonial Spanish church and their ideological insistence on a secular state free from Roman interference. At the same time, because they considered the institutional church as inherently prone to abuse, they did not consider a shift to a Filipinized church as ground for optimism. Institutional infirmities, they believed, would corrupt church ministers regardless of nationality. This stance left the proponents of church–state separation at the Revolutionary Congress in Malolos with no acceptable response to the profound desire for Filipinization of the Catholic Church. In effect, they negated the history of the Filipino nationalist movement. Their inclusivity could not accommodate Filipinization. Their imagined community of the nation took account of the present but not of the past; their desired state’s historical moorings were in Europe more than on Philippine soil.

The advocates of church–state union espoused an exclusive notion of community that sought to do justice to the history of Filipino nationalism, while the proponents of church–state separation advanced an inclusive notion of community but made no connection to the local history of struggle rooted in the secularization movement within the church. Advocates of union were strong on the clamor for Filipinization of the church, espousing a “Catholic nation,” while their opponents held to the grand idea of a secular state buttressed by European history. One was narrowly patriotic; the other, broadly universalist—twin but contradictory impulses that simultaneously tugged at the nation.

Epilogue: The Imposition of Separation

The question of church–state relations remained essentially unresolved—a profoundly divisive issue at the historic juncture when Filipino elites confronted the task of defining their vision of national community and the type of state they wanted to erect. However, for the sake of political expediency the short-lived Malolos Republic maintained the unity of church and state. Amid the exigencies of the moment, it opted to retain Catholicism as the state religion on the model of church–state union under the Patronato Real of the nineteenth century. It would take the American imperial occupation of the Philippines to settle the issue that the Filipino elites could not resolve.

The US colonial policy on church–state separation was first enunciated on July 6, 1900 by Major Gen. Elwell Stephen Otis who, as military governor, pledged that “As under the Constitution of the United States complete freedom is guaranteed, and no minister of religion can be interfered with or molested in following his calling in a peaceful and lawful manner, and there must be a complete separation of Church and State” (Gowing 1969, 209). Animated by the First Amendment, the principles of religious freedom and church–state separation were confirmed in the Organic Act (or Cooper Act) passed by the US Congress in 1902 (also known as the Philippine Bill of 1902), which provided the framework of government in the Philippines until its replacement by the Jones Law of 1916. Section 5 of this legislation declared: “That no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and that the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.”25)

Despite this avowed US policy, at the outset there was a period of confusion on the part of some Filipinos, who represented the separationist position in Malolos, because of how the US seemingly favored the friars. The 1898 Treaty of Paris bound the US to protect friars and other Spanish subjects, respect property rights of the Catholic Church, and indemnify the church for war-inflicted damages to ecclesiastical property (ibid., 207–208). This working out of the US policy of separation, which extended protection to the church, its ministers, and properties, was based on the “friendly” separation that then prevailed in the United States, which was beyond the ken of the separationists in Malolos whose stance indicated “hostile” separation. Based on their limited grasp of how an independent Philippines would relate to Rome, Filipino elites on both sides of the debate were also not attuned to the political maneuvering that the United States had to play with the Vatican.

Soon, however, Filipino elites began to grasp the US policy on church–state separation and the colonial government’s adherence to it. The Catholic Church was clearly disestablished as it no longer received state funds nor controlled public education; priests qua priests no longer held positions in the government; the state had no authority to make appointments in the ecclesiastical hierarchy; and Protestants were free to proselytize and establish their own churches. Most significantly, because the US considered discontent in the friar estates a major cause of the Philippine revolution, it insisted on the redistribution of these properties to which the Vatican agreed albeit subject to “consultation” with the religious orders. A long period of haggling ensued, with the Dominicans, Recollects, and Augustinians resorting to machinations and “intrigues” (as in the nineteenth century) “in an effort to realize greater profits for themselves,” as Antolin Uy (2001, 172) put it. Eventually the agreement was signed in December 1903, resulting in the partition of these monastic estates to the benefit mainly of wealthy Filipinos (Endriga 1970; Escalante 2002; cf. Connolly 1992). Despite limitations, the American policy effectively dismantled the friar lands and the friar orders lost their powerbase in the Philippine countryside.

Spain’s loss of the Philippine islands logically suggested the cessation of the Patronato Real, which the Vatican acknowledged in December 1902 through Leo XIII’s promulgation of the Quae Mari Sinico (Gowing 1969, 218; Uy 2001, 171). This Bull suppressed the ancient privileges of the religious orders. However, the Vatican refused to order the withdrawal of the friars from the Philippines, although it acquiesced to an informal agreement with the US for their voluntary expatriation (Gowing 1969, 215). At the start of the revolution against Spain in 1896, there were 1,124 friars in the country. During the fighting most of them escaped to Manila, but about 300 were taken prisoner and about 50 were killed (ibid., 204).26) By December 1903 only 246 friars remained; they were either too old or infirm to return to parish work or just plain realistic to confine themselves to educational institutions in Manila, Cebu, and Vigan (ibid., 217). With schools as their new powerbase given their reduced personnel, the friar orders were permitted by the United States to remain in the Philippines without being perceived as a threat to the social order. However, the leadership of the friar orders remained in Spanish hands, who decided to relocate their headquarters to Spain.27) The Vatican subsequently moved to replenish the depleted stock of Spanish clergy with American and other European clergy. Religious congregations with no prior engagement in the Philippines started to set up shop for the first time in the country.28)

US intervention and agreement with the Vatican also ensured that, under US rule, the Filipinization of the Catholic Church would not happen in any substantial way. In effect, the Catholic Church in the Philippines remained a largely colonial institution. Most parishes were indeed passed on to Filipino priests for lack of alternative personnel, and this might have pleased the proponents of Filipinization. But the church’s upper echelon was a different story. By 1906 four of the five episcopal sees in the Philippines were held by American bishops, with Fr. Jorge Barlin being named the only Filipino bishop, who was assigned to Nueva Caceres (ibid., 218; Uy 2001, 180). The appointment of American bishops “was resented by Filipinos, who wished to see Filipino clergy raised to the episcopate in their own country” (Gowing 1969, 218). To appease this resentment, three years later two more Filipinos attained episcopal rank: Pablo Singzon for Calbayog and Juan Gorordo for Cebu (Uy 2001, 180)—token gestures to pacify the clamor for Filipinization.

In analyzing this episode, Peter Gowing (1969, 218) suggestively commented that these appointments “proved to be a wise move. The American bishops were able to give leadership in a time when the Roman Catholic Church was adjusting to the new condition of separation of church and state in the islands and could no longer look to the civil authorities to support its policies, enforce its regulations, and provide all the other benefits of ‘patronage.’” By implication, the Filipino clergy by and large remained trapped in the tradition of church–state unity under Spain and could have been troublesome to the American colonial authorities.29)

As far as the new imperial ruler was concerned, the prime see of Manila was definitely outside of Filipino hands. Because the Catholic Church remained a powerful institution, although far from what it was like during the Spanish period, the United States would not risk having it under a Filipino. Leadership of the Philippine church was crucial, even if the Vatican through Quae Mari Sinico had proscribed the clergy in the Philippines from engaging in political activity (ibid., 215; Clifford 1969, 245). If any consolation, Nozaleda was the last of the friar-archbishops; all subsequent archbishops of Manila belonged to the secular clergy. The Archbishop of Manila from 1903 to 1916 was Jeremiah J. Harty, an American whose previous assignment was in Missouri. Succeeding him was Michael J. O’Doherty, an Irish, who served as bishop of Zamboanga starting in 1911 when the diocese was created and, prior to coming to the Philippines, had been rector of the Irish College in Salamanca, Spain, for seven years. At ease with both Hispanic and Anglo-American cultures, O’Doherty held the archbishopric of Manila lengthily from 1916 until his death in 1949, outlasting formal US rule of the Philippines.30) Despite their ethnicities, these archbishops presided over a church that remained predominantly Spanish, unable to come to terms with US colonial rule as well as connect meaningfully with Filipinos who spoke the local languages and, increasingly, English.

Indeed, as the American period wore on, most of the Filipino clergy continued to be steeped in Hispanic language and outlook, forever longing for the Spanish past and perpetuating this nostalgia in Spanish-language seminaries (Schumacher 2009). The church was colonial in an out-of-sync way. Like the Filipino clergy who lobbied against the outcome in Malolos, this “Hispanicized clergy in an Americanized country” repudiated the separation of church and state, an attitude that prevailed until the 1950s, as Schumacher (ibid., 257) perceptively observed. In fact, from the mid-1940s onwards, in defending their interests in education against perceived nationalist threats, Catholic bishops began to make pronouncements that since then have fostered the imaginary of a “Catholic nation,” based on a conflation of the body Catholic and the body politic (Francisco 2014), with all the contradictions already evident at the end of the nineteenth century. Thus was made into a holy grail the vision of national community that in Malolos Calderón championed, Mabini devised, and Aglipay executed.

Accepted: February 18, 2015


This is a revised version of a paper presented at the International Colloquium “Les États Impériaux Ibériques: Une Globalisation Originale? (1808–1930) / Los Estados Ibéricos: ¿Una Globalización Original? (1808–1930),” Casa de Velázquez, Madrid May 8–9, 2014. I am grateful to Xavier Huetz de Lemps for inviting me to participate in this research network and for his comments and suggestions as well as those by my fellow teammates Lola Elizalde, Gonzalo Álvarez Chillida, Adriam Camacho Domínguez, Hugo Gonçalves Dores, and Miguel Rodríguez. Ever the mentor, Ben Anderson helped me greatly with his incisive and detailed comments on an earlier draft. Lola Elizalde and Francis “Chas” Navarro helped me greatly in translating a difficult passage to English. I thank the referees for their constructive comments that helped improve this paper considerably.


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1) Like Agoncillo (1960), Majul (1967), Zafra (1999), and others, I rely heavily on Felipe G. Calderón’s (1907) memoirs, which contains an appendix that offers a fair and useful account of the debates in Malolos.

2) Catholicism was disestablished as recently as 2009 in Bolivia, 1987 in Haiti, and 1985 in Italy; it remains the official or state religion in Argentina, Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Malta, and Monaco.

3) Calderón (1907, 235) referred to the Spanish Constitution of 1868; it should be 1869. Article 21, Title 1, of the 1869 Spanish Constitution stated that the practice of Catholicism and its ministers would be “maintained” by “the nation,” although the practice of other religions, especially by foreigners, was also guaranteed:

The Nation is obliged to maintain the worship and the ministers of the Catholic religion. The public or private practice of any other religion is guaranteed to all foreign residents in Spain without restrictions other than the universal rules of morality and law. If some Spaniards profess a religion other than the Catholic religion, everything contained in the preceding paragraph [sentence] is applicable to them.

The loose phrasing of the 1869 Constitution was reversed in the charter of 1876, which restored the Spanish monarchy under Alfonso XII and created a parliament that was alternately under the Liberal and Conservative parties. Article 11, Title 1, of the 1876 Constitution declared unequivocally that Roman Catholicism was the state religion:

The Roman Catholic Apostolic religion is the religion of the State. The Nation is obliged to maintain this worship and its ministers. However, none in Spanish territory will be molested for their religious opinions or the practice of their respective religions, as long as they accord due respect to Christian morality. Nevertheless, ceremonies or public demonstrations other than those of the State religion will not be permitted.

4) Under Title 1, Article 12 of Mabini’s draft charter stated (Mabini 2011, 131–132):

The Republic as a collective entity does not profess any religion, leaving this matter to the conscience of the individual who will be free to select the religion that he believes is most noble and logical.

Thus no one may be persecuted for his religious beliefs or for the practice of his faith within the Philippine territory, unless this violates universal morality.

Nevertheless, public manifestations of a religious nature may not be carried out without a license from the local authority.

5) See note 12 for the provision on religion in the constitution of Costa Rica.

6) The number of delegates in the Malolos Congress, all members of the native elite, changed over time. By the end of 1898 there were 94 representatives; 35 had been elected and 59 appointed (Majul 1960, 167). Note that only 51 votes were cast on November 29, 1898 to decide the question of church–state relations—roughly 54 percent of the 94 delegates by the end of 1898. Reportedly some provinces could not elect delegates while others could not send the elected ones to Malolos because of the unsettled conditions. However, by July 7, 1899, when the Philippine–American was already raging, there were 193 delegates; of these, 42 were elected while 151 were appointed (Agoncillo 1960, 276–277).

7) The war officially ended on July 4, 1902. Earlier, Spain’s loss and its cession of the Philippines to the US was formalized in the Treaty of Paris that was signed on December 10, 1898, coming into effect on April 11, 1899.

8) On Masonry in Philippine history, see Schumacher (1997, 171–178; 1991, 156–177). On the economic and cultural implications of Masonry, see Aguilar (1998). Cf. the website of the Philippine Center for Masonic Studies at http://www.philippinemasonry.org, accessed May 26, 2014.

9) Blumentritt (1962, xiii) stated in his prologue: “The second point with which I don’t agree is some unbosoming against Catholicism. I believe that the origin of numerous occurrences regrettable to religion, to Spain, and to the good name of the European race should be sought in the harsh behavior and abuses of many priests.”

10) Millenarian movements advanced a similar claim to authenticity of religion in contrast to what they saw as the friars’ false religion. After Spain’s downfall Papa Isio’s movement on Negros Island saw itself as the defender of “the holy faith” against “Protestant” Americans; Isio’s dream was to establish a theocratic government (Aguilar 1998, 180–183). For this millenarian movement, church–state unity was a given. This claim to authenticity could well be not far from the sentiment of Filipino priests who supported the revolution against Spain, calling it a “holy war” against the Spaniards (cf. Schumacher 1976, 409; 1981, 53).

11) At best the Propaganda Movement sought to reform the system, such as supporting the proposal of the Ministro de Ultramar to fix the stipend of parish priests in lieu of the variable 12.5 percent of the income taxes (cedulas personales) collected in the parish; implemented in 1890, the measure caused much consternation, according to Del Pilar (1955, 193, 211).

12) The current constitution of Costa Rica declares in a single provision: “La Religión Católica, Apostólica, Romana, es la del Estado, el cual contribuye a su mantenimiento, sin impedir el libre ejercicio en la República de otros cultos que no se opongan a la moral universal ni a las buenas costumbres” [The Roman Catholic and Apostolic Religion is the religion of the State, which contributes to its maintenance, without preventing the free exercise in the Republic of other forms of worship that are not opposed to universal morality or good customs]. See note 3 for the relevant provision of the 1869 constitution of Spain.

13) On the original reducción that sought to “reduce” converted natives into compact settlements, see Phelan (1959, 44–49); Rafael (1988, 90–91).

14) In 1898 there were 967 parishes (746 regular parishes, 105 mission parishes, and 116 missions), all except for 150 or 15.5 percent under the control of the friar orders (Majul 1960, 295 n. 1). In 1845 there were about 700 secular priests, a figure that declined to about 550 in 1875; by 1890 it had risen to 825 (ibid., 305). Despite the growth in numbers, the secular clergy’s control of parishes remained basically unchanged. Viewed differently, assuming all secular priests gained control of parishes, there would remain about 15 percent of parishes that would not be filled.

15) Aglipay probably met Aguinaldo, Mabini, and Isabelo de los Reyes at San Juan de Letran when they were students there in the early 1880s (Schumacher 1981, 69 n. 11).

16) Aglipay’s ideal of church–state relations was elucidated upon in his third manifesto of October 28, 1898 in which he stated that: (a) the church was independent of the state and must not be subordinated to it; (b) nevertheless, the cooperation of civil power was necessary for the spiritual ministry, hence the clergy must live in harmony with the civil authority; (c) the Vatican had granted rulers who had shown “great zeal and love for the good of the Church” the right to intervene in church affairs, such as through the Patronato Real, but only the Pope possessed this prerogative, not the clergy; (d) the Filipino clergy must seek from the Filipino government whatever was needed for their work and later inform the Pope of favors received from the state in order that the Pope could reward those services; (e) all initiative in ecclesiastical matters must come from the clergy, not the civilian authorities; and (f) the clergy must follow and not violate church doctrine and canonical prescriptions (Achútegui and Bernad 1960, 57–60).

17) On this point Manuel Gómez was amplifying an argument advanced by the friars a few months earlier, that is, that only a few of their ranks had “failed in their duties”; that these acts were never tolerated, and the erring friars were corrected; and that all social groups had their own small group of offenders. See the last-minute defense addressed to the Ultramar by the heads of the Augustinians, Franciscans, Recollects, Dominicans, and Jesuits on April 21, 1898 (Gutierrez et al. 1907; 2014).

18) For a discussion of the friar orders’ desperate attempts to salvage Spain’s rule over the Philippines during the period 1896–98, such as the ouster of Gov.-Gen. Ramón Blanco, see Blanco (2004).

19) Mabini would express an analogous opinion after his capture by US forces in 1900: “the interest of the Catholic religion requires a radical change of conduct on the part of those who are to administer the Philippine parishes, be they friars or secular priests, Filipinos or Americans” (cited in Schumacher 1981, 88).

20) Over a century later, a similar scene would be replayed as members of the Filipino Catholic clergy observed and sought to influence the deliberations in the House of Representatives over the Reproductive Health Bill in 2012.

21) The Catholic Church hierarchy’s claim to its centrality in society through a religious explanation of the success of the Philippine revolution would reverberate nearly a century later in an analogous claim regarding the 1986 People Power revolution.

22) On the so-called Aglipayan schism, see Achútegui and Bernad (1960; 1966; 1971; 1972); Clifford (1969); Scott (1987). On the cultural nationalism of the Philippine Independent Church, see Gealogo (2010).

23) In the case of Negros Island the local revolutionary government, in staunchly favoring the separation of church and state, issued instructions in November 1898 to limit the power of the Catholic Church through measures such as “secularizing cemeteries” by putting them under the jurisdiction of the respective municipalities (Fuentes 1919, 112, 121).

24) On the distinction between national and religious communities, see the classic work of Benedict Anderson (1991).

25) American Catholics “generally favored” the application of these principles to the Philippines, “though they vigorously warned the Protestants of the futility of sending missionaries to a land as devoutly Catholic as the Philippines” (Gowing 1969, 210).

26) Many friars were publicly beaten. In some places as in Cavite, “thirteen were savagely put to death, one by being burned alive, another by being hacked to pieces, and still another by being roasted on a bamboo pole” (Gowing 1969, 204). In Schumacher’s (1976, 401–405; 1981, 49–51) opinion, Aguinaldo was not anticlerical and he allowed the friar parish priest of Kawit to flee and treated the captured friars with courtesy; in contrast, Bonifacio, with Mariano Alvarez’s consent, ordered the execution of friars and other Spanish prisoners, an act that Aguinaldo publicly condemned.

27) The headquarters of Augustinian operations in the Philippines was moved to Madrid in 1901, returned to Manila in 1927, but moved back to Spain in 1935. For most of the twentieth century Spaniards comprised the handful of Augustinians in the Philippines. “Native vocations” did not begin until the 1950s. In 1980 natural-born Filipinos accounted for 29 of the 59 Augustinians, although 11 Spaniards had undergone naturalization as Filipino citizens (Augnet 2010). The administration of the Philippine province of the Franciscans was transferred to Madrid in 1905, leaving behind a Provincial Commissariat to oversee the remaining activities. By 1948 23 Spanish Franciscans remained in the Philippines (Gutay c. 2007). The Dominican Province of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary remained in Spanish control with its seat in Avila, a Filipino Dominican Province being established only in 1971 (Dominican Province of the Philippines 2014). Interestingly only the Society of Jesus and the SVD have produced historians (principally Fr. John Schumacher SJ and Fr. Antolin Uy SVD) who have studied the nineteenth century critically.

28) The Irish Redemptorists and the British Mill Hill Missionaries both arrived in 1906; the Dutch and Belgian priests of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM, Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae) in 1907; the Dutch Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC, Missionarii Sacratissimi Cordis) in 1908; the German Society of the Divine Word (SVD, Societas Verbi Divini) in 1909; and the American, plus a handful of English-speaking European, Brothers of the Christian Schools (FSC, Fratres Scholarum Christianarum) in 1911.

29) Certainly there were exceptions; most notable were Frs. Mariano Sevilla and Manuel Roxas who in the early 1900s championed Filipinization while accepting church–state separation (Schumacher 1981, 245–247).

30) O’Doherty was succeeded by Gabriel M. Reyes, the first Filipino Archbishop of Manila who was elevated to the post in October 1949. But Reyes died soon after becoming archbishop, and the archbishopric was handed to Rufino J. Santos, Archbishop of Manila from 1953 to 1973.


Vol. 4, No. 2 of Southeast Asian Studies

Published in August, 2015


Note from Editorial Committee ・・・ pdficon_large
Food Supply in Cambodian Buddhist Temples: Focusing on the Roles and Practices of Lay Female Ascetics ・・・ TAKAHASHI Miwa pdficon_large
ʿAbd al-Samad in Arabia: The Yemeni Years of a Shaykh from Sumatra ・・・ R. Michael FEENER pdficon_large
Church–State Relations in the 1899 Malolos Constitution: Filipinization and Visions of National Community ・・・ Filomeno V. AGUILAR Jr. pdficon_large
Christianity and Militancy in Eastern Indonesia: Revisiting the Maluku Violence ・・・ SUMANTO Al Qurtuby pdficon_large
The Emergence of Heritage Conservation in Singapore and the Preservation of Monuments Board (1958–76) ・・・ Kevin BLACKBURN
TAN Peng Hong Alvin
Homegardens of the Cao Lan, a Tai-Speaking Ethnic Minority in Vietnam’s Northern Mountains ・・・ PIJIKA Timsuksai
NGUYEN Dinh Tien
A. Terry RAMBO
Japan’s Role in Peacemaking in Cambodia Factors that Contributed to Its Success
・・・ YAMAMOTO Tadamichi pdficon_large
Book Reviews
Eve Monique Zucker. Forest of Struggle: Moralities of Remembrance in Upland Cambodia. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013, 256p. ・・・ Judy LEDGERWOOD pdficon_large
Irving Chan Johnson. The Buddha on Mecca’s Verandah: Encounters, Mobilities and Histories along the Malaysian-Thai Border. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012, 223p. ・・・ Chiara FORMICHI pdficon_large
Vikram Lall. The Golden Lands: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam (Architecture of the Buddhist World). Kuala Lumpur: JF Publishing, 2014, 280p. ・・・ John N. MIKSIC pdficon_large
Oliver Pye and Jayati Bhattacharya, eds. The Palm Oil Controversy in Southeast Asia: A Transnational Perspective. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Publishing,
2013, xxi+283p.
・・・ HIRAGA Midori pdficon_large
Donna J. Amoroso. Traditionalism and the Ascendancy of the Malay Ruling Class in Colonial Malaya. Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre and Singapore: NUS Press, 2014, 312p. ・・・ Meredith L. WEISS pdficon_large
Tamaki Endo. Living with Risk: Precarity and Bangkok’s
Urban Poor. Singapore: NUS Press in association with Kyoto: Kyoto University Press, 2014, 360p.
・・・ Danny MARKS pdficon_large
Freek Colombijn and Joost Coté, eds. Cars, Conduits, and
Kampongs: The Modernization of the Indonesian City, 1920–1960. Leiden: Brill, 2015, 351p.
・・・ Michael D. PANTE pdficon_large
Susan F. Quimpo and Nathan Gilbert Quimpo. Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years. Manila: Anvil Publishing, 2012, 468p. ・・・ JPaul S. MANZANILLA pdficon_large
Caroline S. Hau. The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation, and
Region in and beyond the Philippines. Singapore: NUS Press in association with Kyoto: Kyoto University Press, 2014, ix+379p.
・・・ Richard CHU pdficon_large
Nicole Constable. Born Out of Place: Migrant Mothers and the Politics of International Labor. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. 2014, xvii.+259p. ・・・ Mario I. LÓPEZ pdficon_large

Vol. 4, No. 2, MEMOIR, Yamamoto

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2


Japan’s Role in Peacemaking in Cambodia: Factors that Contributed to Its Success

Yamamoto Tadamichi*

* 山本忠通, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Kabul, Afghanistan

e-mail: yamamotot[at]un.org

Japan’s role in the peace process in Cambodia is generally considered to have been a success. It was the first major post-World War II effort by Japan to participate in bringing about peace to an international conflict. There have been later efforts on the part of Japan to participate in peacemaking and peace building, but none have been as impressive—nor featuring Japan in such a leading role—as was the case in Cambodia.1)

In this paper, the focus is on the period immediately after the Paris Conference on Cambodia of 1991. This was when the government of Japan took the initiative to resolve the deadlock brought about by the refusal of the Khmer Rouge to go into the second phase of the peace process as prescribed in the Paris Peace Agreements. This move on the part of the Khmer Rouge posed a severe threat to the holding of elections to establish the Constituent Assembly, which was designed to approve the new Cambodian Constitution and then turn itself into a legislative assembly. The efforts on the part of Japan, including dialogues with the Khmer Rouge conducted together with Thailand, paved the way for the elections to be implemented as envisaged in the Paris Peace Agreements. The government of Japan also played an important role in the UN Security Council in this process.

The Constituent Assembly elections gave two major rival political factions in Cambodia an almost equal number of seats. The results could have led to a political stalemate or even a clash between the two factions. The government of Japan moved quickly to support Prince Sihanouk, who came up with the idea of a coalition government in order to avert a political crisis.

The author, as one of the participants in the process in the years 1992–94, would like to discuss the conditions that made it possible for Japan to take on such a political mediating role and why it was effective.

Let us first remind ourselves of the major events in the peace process, which is now a part of history.

I Course of Events2)

(1) Paris Peace Agreements

The Agreements on the Comprehensive Settlement of the Cambodian Conflict, otherwise known as the Paris Peace Agreements, were signed in Paris in October 1991. The Agreements chartered, step by step, the course for establishing a democratically elected government in Cambodia, a country that had been battered by conflict for 13 years. The Paris Peace Agreements were a crystallization into a concrete road map for peace of the efforts of all the major powers and neighboring countries seeking to bring peace to Cambodia, and which all the Cambodian parties to the conflict accepted. Because of the comprehensiveness of the content and because of the universality of acceptance, the Paris Peace Agreements were an unwavering solid guideline for actions throughout the peace process.

Peace settlements require opportune moments. In the case of Cambodia, the moment came in the late 1980s. The conflict in Cambodia reflected the hostility between China and Vietnam. These two countries even fought a war over Cambodia in February–March 1979. The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), or the Phnom Penh regime, had the strong support of Vietnam; and the three other factions, particularly the Khmer Rouge, had the support of China. What made the two countries change their positions, which led to the normalization of their relationship in 1990?

For Vietnam, the decline of military and economic assistance from the Soviet Union was a serious blow, particularly in maintaining its support and presence in Cambodia. It was also clear that without resolving the Cambodian conflict, assistance from the West to replace the assistance from the Soviet Union was just a dream. Vietnam’s new policy of Doi Moi, which was adopted in 1986 and called for the introduction of a market economy and promotion of international cooperation (with the West), required a fundamental review of its external policy. (Japan resumed its economic assistance to Vietnam in November 1992, after the latter clearly showed its support for the international efforts to bring peace to Cambodia.) Vietnam had a reason to settle the Cambodian conflict and pave the way for development of the region as a whole.

For China, the Cambodian issue was becoming an unaffordable burden. The rapidly changing situation in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was forcing China to review its place in the international arena, especially since the Tian’anmen incident of 1989 had isolated China from the mainstream international community. Propping up the Khmer Rouge, which occupied a small area near the Thai border with little future prospects and which had committed intolerable human rights violations and atrocities, would not help China, which was itself suffering from the aftermath of human rights issues of the Tian’anmen incident. Thus, the stumbling blocks, apart from the positions of the Cambodian parties themselves, were being dissolved away and the ground was being set for international efforts to be successful.

The Paris Conference of 1991 was held against such a background. Chaired jointly by France and Indonesia, the Conference saw the participation of all the major parties concerned, including the P-5, neighboring states, Japan, and Australia. All four factions of Cambodia were represented. The Paris Peace Agreements, concluded at the Conference, were the culmination of many international efforts, including those by France, Australia, Indonesia, and Japan, to try to bring settlement to the conflict. They stipulated, in detail, the steps to be taken to implement the elections to establish the Constituent Assembly. They tasked the United Nations with taking on the central role, including the overseeing of the administration of the country during the transitional period. They provided an unwavering core and foundation for all international efforts to bring peace to Cambodia.

(2) Road Map Set by the Paris Peace Agreements

The Paris Peace Agreements had three goals. The first was to establish, through a democratic election, a new Cambodian government with international legitimacy and the mandate of the Cambodian people. The second was to put an end to a long period of civil war and to start the process of national reconciliation. The third goal was to embark upon nation building under the new Cambodian government, with the international community assisting in the process.

In order for those goals to be attained, some key operations had to be implemented. Refugees and internally displaced persons were to be returned to Cambodia and resettled so that they could vote in the upcoming elections. A ceasefire had to be put in place: Cantonment of troops, and their disarmament and demobilization, were to take place so that there would be a stable environment for the elections to take place. The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was to be established to manage the election and to oversee the administration of Cambodia during the transitional period so that the neutrality of the political environment leading up to the elections could be ensured.

A successful holding of the Constituent Assembly elections was critical. The UN was tasked in Cambodia not simply with ensuring free and fair elections but with holding the elections under its auspices. The election law was drafted by the Supreme National Council (SNC), in which all the Cambodian factions were represented, with assistance from UNTAC.

(3) Khmer Rouge Blocks the Implementation of the Road Map

The return and resettlement of refugees and displaced persons began on March 30, 1992, according to schedule and with the strong commitment and leadership of Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and the election law was being drafted. However, when it came to the ceasefire, the process came to a halt when the Khmer Rouge refused to go into its second phase, which was due to start on June 13, 1992.

The second phase of the ceasefire required the following three conditions: the cantonment of troops of all factions, a minimum 70 percent of demobilization, and verification of the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The Khmer Rouge refused to place its forces in cantonments and demobilize them, citing two reasons. It claimed that the SNC, which was supposed to play a more prominent role as the adviser to the UNTAC, was not functioning as it should and that the Phnom Penh regime de facto continued to rule Cambodia. It also claimed that Vietnamese troops continued to remain in Cambodia.

According to the Paris Peace Agreements, the UNTAC was to be responsible for the administration of the country, with oversight of the existing administrative structure. The SNC was to advise the UNTAC, and the latter was to follow the advice as long as the advice was in conformity with the objectives of the Paris Peace Agreements. The existing institutions and bureaucracy were to remain and be supervised by the UNTAC. This was a practical solution that enabled continuity in the administration and was accepted by all. The fairness of the administration was to be ensured by the supervision and direction of the UNTAC, which received advice from the SNC.

The Khmer Rouge claim regarding the presence of Vietnamese troops was not well founded. The UNTAC could deal with it by taking some concrete measures to verify the departure of foreign troops. The issue of the role of the SNC in regard to the administration of the country was more subtle. It seemed obvious that the Khmer Rouge wanted to weaken the influence of the Phnom Penh regime by enabling the other Cambodian factions, particularly the Khmer Rouge, to intervene and if necessary to empower them with a de facto veto in the implementation of administration in the areas where the existing administration of the Phnom Penh regime was to be in charge, which was more than 80 percent of the territory of Cambodia. The Paris Peace Agreements did not empower the SNC with such a veto; they empowered the SNC only to provide advice to the UNTAC, which was to supervise the existing administration of Cambodia. However, it was possible to argue that the SNC was not performing this advisory function well enough to effectively reflect the views and positions of all the factions.

(4) Japan Decides to Hold Dialogues with the Khmer Rouge

The government of Japan became concerned over the situation in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge was accusing the international community of not faithfully implementing the Paris Peace Agreements. Its intention might have been to jeopardize the whole process and blame the international community for the breakdown.

International efforts were made to call upon the Khmer Rouge to implement the second phase of the ceasefire. At the Tokyo Ministerial Conference on Cambodian Reconstruction in June 1992, so-called the “11 Point Proposal for Discussion,” was issued. It offered a compromise with the Khmer Rouge as well as a more active role for the SNC. The Khmer Rouge, however, refused the 11 Point Proposal without making any concrete comment on its contents. Some members of the international community were getting impatient. There was a talk of imposing sanctions on the Khmer Rouge if it did not show a more compromising attitude in its implementation of the Paris Peace Agreements. Although this was one logical course of action, the government of Japan felt that before thinking of imposing sanctions, more international efforts should be made to persuade the Khmer Rouge to go into the second phase of the ceasefire. Without such efforts, it was feared that the international community may end up divided in its actions against the Khmer Rouge, particularly in regard to the imposition of sanctions. It seemed clear that China, for instance, was unlikely to accept the implementation of sanctions without the international community having paid due attention to the claims by the Khmer Rouge.

Although the Khmer Rouge expressed discontent over the functioning of the SNC, it did not indicate what exactly it wanted done to improve the situation. It simply claimed that the Paris Peace Agreements had not been implemented faithfully. The Japanese government’s position was that it should at least make an effort to understand what the Khmer Rouge wanted—in as concrete a term as possible—so that it may make a judgment as to whether their demand was within the framework of the Paris Peace Agreements. The Japanese government felt that the Khmer Rouge had the right to be listened to, to explain what it was trying to achieve through its non-cooperation. It felt that the international community should exhaust all means of accommodating legitimate claims of the Khmer Rouge so that any failures or difficulties with the process would become the responsibility of the Khmer Rouge and not that of the international community.

The government of Japan thus decided to attempt to talk to the Khmer Rouge. Given the intransigent position displayed by the Khmer Rouge thus far against any efforts by the international community, the government of Japan did not harbor any illusions regarding the prospect of the coming talks.

(5) Japan Asks Thailand to Join the Efforts

The first task was to get the Khmer Rouge to come to the table for talks. Thus far, the Khmer Rouge had refused to negotiate over the issues it had raised; it had just issued a statement by Khieu Samphan, the President of the Democratic Kampuchea party (Khmer Rouge), describing its position. The government of Japan alone would not have the leverage to force the Khmer Rouge to come to the table. The two countries that had influence over the Khmer Rouge were China and Thailand—China because of the support it had extended to the Khmer Rouge over the years, and Thailand because the Khmer Rouge obtained its financial resources by trading logs and jewelry across the Thai border. After the Paris Peace Agreements, China stopped military aid to the Khmer Rouge in accordance with the agreements, and the influence of Thailand was becoming more immediate.

The government of Japan contacted the governments of both countries and asked them to work together with Japan to talk to the Khmer Rouge. The government of China appreciated Japan’s intentions and efforts but decided to work on the Khmer Rouge on its own. The Thai government agreed to work with the government of Japan.

(6) Conditions for the Success of the Talks

In order for Japan to have meaningful talks with the Khmer Rouge, it had to clear a number of hurdles. First of all, the Khmer Rouge had to trust in Japan’s sincerity if there were to be any progress at all. Second, the other Cambodian factions, particularly Prince Sihanouk’s and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s, had to, at the very least, not object to the Khmer Rouge-Japan talks, if not give their blessings which was unlikely. Third, the UNTAC and other key international players had to have no objections to Japan’s efforts.

The Japanese government felt that the initiative had to be viewed by the Khmer Rouge as strictly Japan’s own, not a result of consultations with the P-5. It had to be seen as a sympathetic helping hand to the Khmer Rouge in the face of the deadlock. This was not difficult, because it simply reflected the reality that the initiative came strictly from Japan and Thailand.

Japan’s efforts would be futile, however, unless they were eventually accepted by the other Cambodian factions and the international community. This meant that the efforts had to be strictly an extension of the efforts made by the international community in the process of the implementation of the Paris Peace Agreements. Japan and Thailand, therefore, made it clear that any ideas to be discussed or any concessions they made to the Khmer Rouge had to be within the framework of the Paris Peace Agreements. In other words, if the Khmer Rouge made claims that fell within the agreements, it was entitled to have those claims considered.

(7) Reactions of Cambodian Factions and International Community

When Japan and Thailand notified Prince Sihanouk of their intention to go into dialogue with the Khmer Rouge, the Prince was skeptical about making any progress. But he understood the reasoning behind their efforts and let them try it out.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, as expected, expressed strong displeasure. It was perhaps a surprise to him that such a proposal had come from the government of Japan. The Japanese government had held sincere and in-depth high-level dialogues with the Prime Minister since before the Paris Conference, and trust had been nurtured between him and Japan. Therefore, it must have been a surprise to him that Japan, which understood his difficulties and worries, should wish to extend a hand to the Khmer Rouge. Hun Sen wanted Japan to refrain from taking the initiative. In the end, however, he trusted Japan and—probably grudgingly—gave it a nod to go ahead with the initiative.

The response of the international community was no more favorable. The initial reaction of the P-5 was skepticism and displeasure at not having been consulted on the initiative. It was interesting that the displeasure was stronger in Phnom Penh than in the respective capitals. Japan’s logic that it should exhaust all its efforts so that it may put the onus of responsibility on the Khmer Rouge should its goodwill efforts fail seemed to gain more understanding in the capitals.

The UNTAC was also skeptical of Japan’s initiative at first, fearing that it might undermine the former’s administrative authority. However, Yasushi Akashi, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in charge, appreciated Japan’s intentions and exhibited flexibility in accommodating its initiative.

(8) Talks with Khmer Rouge

The talks with the Khmer Rouge began on July 17, 1992. A total of four meetings were held the last one on October 31, 1992. The conclusion of the talks became apparent after the third talk on August 27.

In the first meeting, Thailand and Japan listened to the position and claims of the Khmer Rouge, trying to understand what the latter really wanted in concrete terms. The Khmer Rouge repeated its known claims regarding the functioning of the SNC and the alleged lingering presence of Vietnamese troops. It was during the coffee break, when Khieu Sanpang spoke to the Japanese delegates in English and in a more frank manner, that the Khmer Rouge gave specifics of its complaint regarding the functioning of the SNC. No breakthrough was made, but the Khmer Rouge agreed to continue with the talks.

Before the second round of talks, which was held on August 22, Japan came out with a proposal that tried to accommodate the claims of the Khmer Rouge. The proposal was carefully drafted to be strictly in conformity with the Paris Peace Agreements. The governments of Japan and Thailand consulted with the UNTAC and the P-5 before the meeting with the Khmer Rouge. When the proposal was presented to the Khmer Rouge in the second round of meetings, the Khmer Rouge seemed somewhat interested but not enthusiastic. Representatives of the Khmer Rouge seemed unhappy that the plan had been extensively discussed with the UNTAC and the P-5 before being presented to them for negotiation. The parties ended with an agreement to meet again soon to hear the response from the Khmer Rouge.

The third round of talks was held five days later, on August 27. The Khmer Rouge did not accept the Japanese-Thai proposal. To make matters worse, it came out with a new complaint as an additional reason for not going into the second phase of the ceasefire. The additional complaint was not well founded and placed the sincerity of the Khmer Rouge into serious doubt. The governments of both Japan and Thailand felt that the additional complaint was fabricated as a pretext to not comply with the Paris Peace Agreements and that the Khmer Rouge was not willing to cooperate with the smooth implementation of the Agreements. The two governments concluded that the claims of the Khmer Rouge were simply pretexts for not cooperating with the international process.

(9) Significance of the Japanese-Thai Efforts

To some who had been critical of the Thai-Japanese initiative, the above conclusion was a foregone issue and the governments of Japan and Thailand were simply wasting time and energy. But in reality, the process, which was held in partnership with one of the two parties that held close ties to the Khmer Rouge—Thailand—and with full consultation with the other party that had supported the Khmer Rouge—China—meant that both Thailand and China had come to acknowledge, along with Japan, that the Khmer Rouge did not have a sound basis in the Paris Peace Agreements to make those claims. In other words, both Thailand and China understood that all feasible efforts had been exhausted and that it was time to move on to the next stage in the peace process.

(10) International Reactions to Japanese-Thai Efforts

Let us look at how some key countries viewed the Japanese-Thai initiative. When the first bout of skepticism had subsided, all the players were watching the unfolding of talks between the Khmer Rouge and the governments of Japan and Thailand.

The United States welcomed the fact that Japan was taking the initiative. The US government had been urging Japan to take on a more politically salient roles commensurate with its economic power.

France, the United Kingdom, and China supported the initiative. France, in particular, endorsed the Japanese-Thai approach. Russia did not embrace the initiative, although it did not oppose it. Russia’s position perhaps reflected the skepticism of the Phnom Penh regime with which it had maintained close ties.

(11) UN Endorsement of the Japanese-Thai Efforts

The next step necessary was to turn the Japanese-Thai initiative from a voluntary effort by the two countries into a legitimate link in the chain of international efforts to implement the Paris Peace Agreements.

Before the third meeting, Japan—anticipating a negative response from the Khmer Rouge—had asked the key countries (the “G-10,” including Australia, Indonesia, and Germany) to be ready to convene a meeting in the United Nations soon after the talks so that the Khmer Rouge would clearly be warned that there was not much time available for it to drag on the talks or stall the peace process by not implementing the Paris Peace Agreements.

The meeting of the G-10 was convened in New York on October 7 and 8, 1992. Japan and Thailand reported the outline and outcome of the talks. In the meeting the G-10 decided to ask Japan and Thailand to make one more attempt to talk to the Khmer Rouge. A United Nations Security Council resolution was drafted thanking Japan and Thailand for their efforts and urging the Khmer Rouge to come back to the peace process.

(12) Final Talks with Khmer Rouge

The fourth round of talks was held on October 29, 1992, in Phnom Penh. It was understood that if the Khmer Rouge did not accept Japan and Thailand’s proposal, this would be the end of the international efforts to woo the Khmer Rouge back into the process. This time, Japan and Thailand were no longer voluntarily exploring a possible way out of the deadlock but were negotiating with the Khmer Rouge on behalf of the international community mandated by the Security Council resolution.

The Khmer Rouge did not accept the proposal. The international efforts initiated by Japan and Thailand ended. The Khmer Rouge did not come back to implement the Paris Peace Agreements. The process was ready to move on to the next stage with all the key members of the international community on board. After the talks with the Khmer Rouge terminated, Japan and Thailand wrote a report on the talks and submitted it to the UN Security Council for circulation.

The Japanese-Thai initiative was a win-win one. If the talks with the Khmer Rouge had been successful, the Khmer Rouge would have come back to the peace process. If, on the other hand, the talks had turned out to be unsuccessful, it would have become clear in the eyes of all—including China and Thailand, which had traditionally held close ties with the Khmer Rouge—that it was the Khmer Rouge that was at fault in obstructing the peace process.

(13) UNSC Resolution to Implement the Constituent Assembly Elections

The next stage in the peace process was an action by the United Nations Security Council. On November 30, 1992, the Security Council passed Resolution 792. This expressed the will of the international community to conduct Constituent Assembly elections in Cambodia even if the Khmer Rouge did not participate in them. Economic sanctions against the Khmer Rouge were also stipulated. The door for the Khmer Rouge to come back to the process was, however, carefully kept open.

In drafting this resolution, Japan played an important role. A meeting of the SNC at the ministerial level was held in Beijing on November 7 and 8, with the participation of all the Cambodian factions and representatives from the G-10 countries. The Khmer Rouge was still not prepared to cooperate in the further implementation of the Paris Peace Agreements. Furthermore, it had indicated its intention not to take part in the electoral process so long as, in its view, neutral political conditions were not ensured. At the side of the Beijing meeting, efforts began among the G-10 countries to work out some key elements for a UN Security Council resolution to allow for the elections to be held as scheduled even without the participation of the Khmer Rouge.

The Security Council met on November 15 to hear the report by the Secretary General on developments in Cambodia. Work began on drafting a Security Council resolution, but the United States and France could not come to an agreement on the draft. Japan had dispatched to New York the Director in charge of Cambodia (the author of this paper), to help move along the process. He became the only official in New York who had personally attended all the key meetings and therefore had the most knowledge about the consultations and negotiations in the period leading up to the Security Council meeting. When the deadlock became apparent, the Japanese representative, under instructions from the home government, contacted both the French and the US capitals and suggested a way to resolve the deadlock. Both governments saw a possible compromise. France asked Japan to prepare a draft for France, the United States, and the United Kingdom to look at. After the draft was agreed to among the three countries, Japan undertook to contact China, which in the voting had decided not to object but to abstain. Furthermore, Japan, as one of the drafters, joined the US government representative in Washington, DC, at the latter’s request, to explain the content and intent of the resolution to a group of friendly states to seek their support. The Japanese draft thus became the basis for Security Council Resolution 792.

(14) Unwavering Support for Prince Sihanouk after the Elections

The elections for the Constituent Assembly took place on May 23–28, 1993. The Khmer Rouge had announced earlier, on April 4, that it would not take part in the elections. As the second phase of the ceasefire had to be suspended due to the noncompliance of the Khmer Rouge, disarmament of the Cambodian factions’ forces did not take place. Violence was feared, and there were some—but not enough to jeopardize the elections. Almost 90 percent of the registered voters (almost 4.3 million people) voted. The SRSG for UNTAC, Mr. Yasushi Akashi declared the elections to be free and fair.

The results showed the FUNCINPEC (Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif; National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia), the party of Prince Ranariddh—Prince Sihanouk’s son—winning with 45.3 percent (58 seats) of the votes and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) coming second with 38.2 percent (51 seats). The CPP under Hun Sen immediately protested, saying that there had been irregularities in the elections. More than 80 percent of the country was administered under the control of the CPP.

Prince Sihanouk immediately saw the difficulties and suggested the establishment of a coalition government with two prime ministers: one each from the FUNCINPEC and the CPP. The United States opposed this idea, citing the need to respect the democratic outcome and the fact that Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen had not even met after the elections. On encountering the objection, Prince Sihanouk immediately retracted the proposal. Japan felt that the idea proposed by Prince Sihanouk was a wise one taking into account the realities of the situation and with an eye to the effective functioning of the government after its establishment. Only Prince Sihanouk could have come up with such an idea and pulled it off. Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa understood the delicateness of the situation and supported the proposal. So did France and Thailand. Tokyo called Washington and argued that it would be best to let Prince Sihanouk take the lead in bringing about a national reconciliation. The US government understood the argument. Japan then asked France and Indonesia, the co-chairs of the Paris Conference, to convene a meeting of “core” countries in Phnom Penh. It should be noted here that Japan asked France and Indonesia to convene a meeting instead of holding the meeting on its own because those two countries had greater political legitimacy as the co-chairs of the Paris Conference, which had laid the foundation for the elections. The meeting, which was held on June 16–17, 1993, in effect gave support to Prince Sihanouk’s initiative and led to the establishment of the Joint Administration of the FUNCINPEC and the CPP.

II Factors that Enabled Japan to Play a Key Role in Peacemaking and Nation Building

(1) Qualifications to Play a Key Role

 (a) Three Stages in Peacekeeping and Nation Building

The process of peacemaking and nation building may be looked at in stages. First, conflicts must be brought to an end. At this stage, in order to put an end to the destruction of order and institutions, the use of force or the ability to use force—that is to say, military capability—is often necessary. In order to bring civil wars or violent ethnic confrontations to an end, the ability and willingness to intervene militarily by a country or a group of countries may be required. Although such capability is not always necessary for a country to play a leading role at this stage, Japan, which had renounced the use of force to resolve conflicts in its constitution, was not a natural candidate to take on this role.

Needless to say, at this stage of peacemaking, in addition to the element of “force” there are other key qualifications of political nature—such as creativity, experience, and wisdom—which are needed to bring tenuous situations under control. In the next stage of peacemaking, and in the succeeding stages of nation building and reconstruction, the qualities required for playing key brokering or facilitating roles are of different nature. In the latter stages, political prowess carries more weight than military capability. In order for a party to play a significant peacemaking role, it must be trusted by the conflicting parties. If not, its suggestions and initiatives will fall on deaf ears. Confidence from key members of the international community is also important in order to ensure cooperation from the parties concerned or any influential powers. The ability to exert pressure on the basis of such trust is also crucial for getting things done. Such trust and confidence cannot be won overnight.

(b) Issue of Legitimacy and Confidence

This may be expressed in a different way. In order for a country to play a leading role in peacemaking and nation building, it must have legitimacy as well as the ability to deliver—the former offers a basis for it to gain trust. The legitimacy is sometimes formally assigned or endorsed by the international community, a typical example being designation or acknowledgment of such a role in the form of a UN Security Council resolution. But very often, countries, through their active and constructive activities and roles, acquire such legitimacy.

Confidence in a country may be gained only with a manifest expression of the will of the country’s leader to take on a key role. In order to gain the confidence of the parties in the conflict and the international community in its efforts toward peacemaking, it is critical for the political leader at the highest level to have a clear and public commitment. The peacemaking process is a serious and weighty political matter that determines the future of the country in question. Therefore, the leaders of the parties in the conflict must be able to feel that they can trust their future in the hands of the political leader undertaking the mediating role. Such trust can be gained only with an explicit commitment from the highest political level. Efforts to broker a peace place at stake the reputation and integrity of the country undertaking such efforts and hence require the commitment of a leader who can mobilize the necessary resources for the undertaking. No matter how capable the diplomats in charge or the negotiators may be, their commitment and dedication alone cannot suffice to build the credibility needed by the political leaders of conflicting parties who are staking their future in the process. The leaders of conflicting parties weigh the qualifications of the leader and the country willing to undertake the mediating role. They look at political prowess, influence, sincerity, ability to mobilize resources, impartiality, and ability to bring along the international community. Diplomats or negotiators chosen to take on the actual mediation and consultation are people of experience and integrity, but even so, they are very often designated as personal representatives of the leader (president or prime minister) or the foreign minister in order to make it clear that they have the trust of the leader.

International confidence in the leader and the country or its government is also critical. In order for any agreement to be reached or achievements to be implemented, international support and cooperation—or at least acquiescence—is necessary. Not every country or leader can enjoy trust and confidence. Sometimes the country but not its leader may have a track record for being trustworthy, or vice versa. Confidence may exist for certain cases, but the same country and leader may not enjoy the same degree of confidence in a different situation, due, for instance, to historical reasons.

(c) Japan: Well Placed to Take on a Mediating Role

In the case of Cambodia, Japan enjoyed the confidence of the parties to the conflict and of the international community, and the Japanese political leaders made clear their commitment to the peace process. The commitment by then Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa was particularly important, and it proved to be unflinching and critically important when two Japanese lost their lives during their mission.

Prior to the commencement of intense efforts on the part of the international community to bring about peace in Cambodia, Japan had enjoyed the confidence of the three parties to the conflict other than the CPP, the regime in Phnom Penh. This was because of its standing support for the three parties since the establishment of the CPP regime in Phnom Penh in 1979, after Vietnam invaded Cambodia the same year. Japan’s consistent support and assistance to them including for its representation in the United Nations have earned their confidence. In addition, Japan maintained particularly strong ties of support and cooperation with Prince Sihanouk through the years, including during his difficult times. Some of the main diplomats who played key roles in the later peace process, such as Director General Tadashi Ikeda and Ambassador Yukio Imagawa, had established personal sense of rapport with the Prince through this process. This rapport proved to be an important asset throughout the peace process.

In the late 1980s, when it was becoming clear that the time was arriving for a peace settlement in Cambodia, Japan decided to establish closer ties with the CPP. Japanese Foreign Ministers put in personal efforts and met with Prime Minister Hun Sen to bring home to him the importance of an international process to put an end to the years of conflict and give legitimacy to the government to be established through a democratic process. For instance, Michio Watanabe, the foreign minister during the critical period in the peace process, made a special effort. Even while hospitalized due to a terminal illness, he met with Hun Sen and talked to him in an effort to move the peace process forward. Hisashi Owada, the then Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, had extensive tete-a-tetes on a number of occasions with Hun Sen, which the latter, in a later meeting with the Permanent Secretary, recalled as having had an important influence in his decision to attend the Paris Conference. Through such efforts, the CPP, in addition to the three other factions (the FUNCINPEC, the Khmer Rouge [DK (Democratic Kampuchea)], and Son San [KPLNF]) came to have confidence in Japan.

Internationally, the environment was conducive for Japan to take on a role in Cambodia. Japan itself was ready to take on such a role. With its successful economic growth, Japan was beginning to become conscious of its international roles and responsibilities commensurate with its economic capabilities. The United States was encouraging Japan to be more active politically, and it welcomed the latter’s efforts. After the Cold War, the idea of pax consortis, where key powers cooperated in managing the world order, was earnestly being discussed. Japan was ready to commit resources to important international issues even if there was no direct Japanese interest involved. It was ready to contribute to bringing about and maintaining stability and prosperity in the international community purely for that purpose.

Furthermore, Cambodia was more or less free from the burden of Japan’s history. It did not have any reason for Japan not to play an active international role in the peace process. This contrasted starkly with the situation in the Far East, where the lingering memory of World War II made it much more difficult for Japan to be active in matters relating to security.

(d) Japan’s Role: Welcomed by Key International Countries

Situations surrounding other countries also made it opportune for Japan to play an active mediating role. The United States did not enjoy the trust of the CPP, because of the persistently critical position that the US government took against the latter. The US government’s position was naturally a consequence of its adverse relations with the Vietnamese government. Russia was not seen to be neutral, because of its long support for the CPP and Vietnam. Neither was China seen to be neutral, because of its long active support for the Khmer Rouge. Among the other P-5 members, the United Kingdom did not show a strong interest in taking on an active role in the region. This left France, which had been playing a critical role in the Cambodian peace process, including the hosting of the Paris Conference on Cambodia in 1991. France was happy to see Japan take on an active role in Cambodia. France and Japan had a pragmatic approach to the problem and saw almost eye to eye on many key issues. Australia and Indonesia were the other two countries that—due to their neutral position and political standing—would have played key roles; and they actually did play very substantive roles in the course of the peace process. They, too, welcomed Japan taking on an active role and maintained confidence in the general thinking with which Japan took the political initiative in the peace process. It may also be said that particularly during the years 1992–94, the political commitment and personal involvement by the Japanese leadership in their efforts to help the peace process were among the most serious on the part of the key players. Japan’s efforts were welcomed by these key players.

During this period, the support and cooperation of three countries were of special importance: the United States, France, and Thailand. The United States encouraged Japan in its efforts in Cambodia, particularly after the Paris Conference. At first, when Japan began to have active contacts with the Phnom Penh (CPP) regime, there was some skepticism on the part of the United States. But close and timely consultations and communications by the Japanese government gradually won it over. Once confidence was established, the United States became a reliable and understanding supporter of the Japanese endeavors.

French policy was managed by the Director General for Asian affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jean-David Levitte. He must have seen in Japan a pragmatic and balanced approach to addressing the peace process. France supported Japan’s efforts at critical junctures in its capacity as one of the co-chairs of the Paris Conference. For instance, France immediately responded to Japan’s request to organize a core group meeting in Phnom Penh after the Constituent Assembly elections. When the UN Security Council arrived at a deadlock in drafting a resolution in November 1992, France asked Japan to draft a compromise text. Such was the confidence that existed between the two countries.

Thailand was a most important partner in moving the peace process forward. It saw the need for a change on the peninsula and put forward a political slogan: “From a battle-field to a market place.” This phrase symbolized graphically what was to come in the region and on the peninsula. Thailand saw in Japan an influential partner without any ulterior motive to compromise the future of the peninsula. Throughout the peace process, Thailand was a true working partner of Japan. The talks with the Khmer Rouge which are described in this paper were examples of such cooperation.

(e) Competent Officials and Negotiators

It should be pointed out here of the importance of establishing personal rapport among and between the policy makers and negotiators. When dealing with delicate issues such as peacemaking, it is important for the parties involved to have confidential exchanges to explore and discern each other’s honest thinking. Often, such a process requires direct communications between the policy makers or negotiators responsible in addition to more formal channels of communication using embassies and offices in the respective ministries. This is because sensitive information has to be held closely among designated a few. These people must satisfy two conditions. First, they must be capable enough and mandated by the government to speak on the latter’s behalf, and be able to make judgments—including compromises and new proposals, often on an ad referendum basis. But probably of more importance is that they must have the trust and confidence of the political leadership of their own country, usually the prime minister, the foreign minister, or the permanent secretary.

In the case of Cambodia, Japanese policy makers and negotiators fulfilled these qualifications; more accurately, those who fulfilled those qualifications were chosen. They established good working relationships with their counterparts in the key countries and utilized them at times of emergency and when immediate efforts had to be made to formulate international policy consensus.

(f) Japan: A Major Donor

At the stage of nation building or rehabilitation and reconstruction, in addition to the qualifications above it is essential for a country to have the ability to extend substantive cooperation in either financial or human terms. Although the country does not need to be the top donor, if it has the ability to lead the development cooperation, underlined with development cooperation of its own, it will get the necessary authority to coordinate international efforts and manage the process.

During this period when Japan led the assistance efforts in Cambodia, Japan was the largest ODA donor in the world. It was not only expected to lead international assistance efforts, but the actual contribution it made qualified it to take on this role.

Already at the Paris Conference on Cambodia of 1991, Japan was designated to host the Tokyo Ministerial Conference on Cambodian Reconstruction in June 1992. As has been described above, Japan’s having chaired the conference with a successful outcome made it possible for the country to take on further political roles. It is also worth noting that since Japan was expected to become one of the largest donors for the reconstruction of Cambodia, its claim that there should be “no taxation without representation” ensured it a key seat in the Paris Conference and the ensuing peace process.

(2) Domestic Support

In democratic societies, support from the public is critical for undertaking a key role in a peacemaking and nation-building process. Whatever the stage of the process may be, playing a key role in peacemaking and nation building requires a country to commit a substantial amount of resources, whether in the form of human contribution or financial contribution. Without solid domestic support, it may not be possible for a country to accomplish the task.

This is evident when a country contributes military support. Military involvement places human lives at risk and requires a huge budget, military capacity, and technology. Loss—or a lack—of domestic support would erode the political foundation of the government and could even lead to its downfall. Conversely, we should note that there are cases where a decision not to intervene could erode the confidence of the people in their government’s foreign policy. Such a situation could occur when people feel that the foreign policy interests of their country would be harmed without military involvement.

No leader can be free from concerns at home for the safety of “our boys.” Even in the phase of peacekeeping, the concern is valid.

In the case of Cambodia, Japan was involved in peacekeeping operations and dispatched a contingent of Self-Defense Forces. Japan also sent police officers to participate in civilian police duties. There were also Japanese civilian volunteers working with NGOs. Incidents occurred in the period leading up to the elections, in which a police officer and a young volunteer worker were killed.

The decision to dispatch security personnel was based on the premise that there was a ceasefire and that lives were not threatened by actual combat. Danger was expected, but only under exceptional circumstances. However, the precariousness of the situation on the ground—with constant violence disrupting the electoral process and sometimes leading to loss of lives—could have put the whole premise of the dispatch in question. In 1992, when Japan was participating in the large-scale UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) for the first time, loss of lives of security personnel could have triggered a debate calling for the withdrawal of such personnel.

When the news of the death of the police officer first reached the Japanese government, Prime Minister Miyazawa was not in Tokyo but in Karuizawa, a highland resort about two hours’ drive from Tokyo. The news hit the headlines, and the whole of Japan was shocked and grieved. The media naturally talked about whether Japan should continue with the PKO operations. The Prime Minister set out from Karuizawa the night he received the news, and by the time he reached Tokyo he had made up his mind. The decision was to continue with the PKO in Cambodia. The private secretary to the Prime Minister, Yukio Takeuchi, later recalled that there were tense moments and that the Prime Minister made the decision fully cognizant of the long-term implications of his decision beyond Cambodia. Such a decision would have been very difficult if there had not been widespread and strong support among the Japanese public for the PKO in Cambodia.

Almost every day there were TV reports on the Japanese peacekeeping operations as well as the dire social and economic conditions in Cambodia and the need to assist them in their social and economic development. Japanese volunteers went to establish schools for children. Reports on such activities appeared not only in the news but also in special programs explaining history and the current situation. Interviews with Japanese members of the PKO in Cambodia were also broadcast, as well as segments on life in villages and people from near the base of the Japanese contingent. People used to say, “Cambodia came into living rooms of ordinary Japanese households.” The atrocities and tragedies in Cambodia were widely known.

The strong interest of the average Japanese public in Japan’s efforts in Cambodia, particularly in the PKO, formed the basis of the support. There was a more profound understanding among the public of the government efforts than of most other foreign policy issues. Prime Minister Miyazawa’s decision was supported by the majority of the public.

The incident in which two personnel died was perhaps one of the most tense moments when domestic support for the government’s efforts was tested. The most visible expression of public support for the Japanese efforts in Cambodia was seen when the returning members of the PKO contingent received a hero’s welcome from the public and the media. The status of the Japan Self-Defense Forces also transformed with the appreciation by the public of their efforts in Cambodia.

III Conclusion

In the case of Cambodia, many factors converged to enable Japan to play a leadership role in the peace process. Japan’s willingness to play such a role, with the strong commitment of the prime minister, was the major reason that it could do so. Domestic interest and support from the general public were critical in mobilizing resources and weathering difficult moments. International encouragement and cooperation prepared the ground for Japan to be active and take the initiative. There were the right people in the right places: Yasushi Akashi, the UN SRSG for UNTAC; Director General Tadashi Ikeda and Ambassador Yukio Imagawa, who had personal ties and friendship with key players in Cambodia, including Prince Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen; young and capable officials able to draft proposals and resolutions with imagination and accuracy; capable officers and soldiers in the PKO who were able to establish warm relationships with the residents of Cambodia. This effort of Japan is generally regarded as a success.

Many lessons were also learned. The most severe came from the loss of two lives. Efforts to obtain prior knowledge of what is to be expected, including risks, should never be spared. Some incidents may be unavoidable, but efforts should be made to minimize the risk of encountering them.

Japan also learned the importance of political “legitimacy.” For instance, it saw that being a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council gave countries the political legitimacy to organize and host international meetings, and thus gave them more opportunities to take initiatives of their own.

Japan also realized the importance of working together with countries with the same objectives and aspirations. For instance, unless we were abler to work with Thailand, Japan would not have achieved what it did. The leverage that Thailand had over the Khmer Rouge and its understanding of the whole Cambodian issue was critical.

Japan also realized its weight in its ability to provide development assistance for the rehabilitation and reconstruction process. International expectations of Japan in this respect, including from the conflicting countries themselves, opened the opportunity for Japan to take on a political role in the peace process.

Japan’s involvement in the peace process in Cambodia had an icebreaking effect. Japan was to participate more actively in the peacemaking and nation building process with more experience and more confidence. Legacies and lessons learned from Cambodia helped Japan to be more prudent and, at the same time, more active in areas where it felt it could contribute. However, there were not many cases where political commitment at the highest level was as strong as was the case in Cambodia.

Japan now has capable personnel with regional knowledge and personal connections to leaders of countries in need of assistance. Officials are more experienced, and many are very capable. Japan’s ability to garner international support for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of countries is as critical, in many cases, as it was in Cambodia. In other words, Japan’s experience and capability to play a leading role in international peacemaking and nation-building efforts are greatly enhanced now compared to the time when Japan played a key role in Cambodia.

With the right international environment, strong political will, and domestic public support, Japan will be able to play an even greater role in peacemaking and nation-building processes in the future.

Accepted: September 11, 2014

1) In the period leading up to the Paris Conference on Cambodia of 1991, there were two significant contributions to the peace process by the government of Japan. One was its effort to persuade the Cambodian factions, particularly Prime Minister Hun Sen of the Phnom Penh regime (Cambodian People’s Party, CPP), to join the international peace process. The other was its effort to apportion the ratio of representation of the Cambodian factions in the Supreme National Council (SNC), giving a ratio of three to the Phnom Penh regime and one each to the other three factions.

There are books and papers on the role and contribution of Japan during this period, including those written by officials in charge at the time (see, for example, Masaharu Kono 河野雅治, 1999, Wahei Kosaku: Tai Kambojia Gaiko no Shogen 和平工作―対カンボジア外交の証言 [Peacemaking efforts], Iwanami Shoten).

2) For the official UN account of events, see “Cambodia-UNTAC Background” (accessed September 2014,