Religion and social organisation

Jingi tiu, the ancestral religion of Savu

In Indonesia local religions and beliefs have been brought under the loose umbrella of Hinduism since every man and woman has to belong to one of the five officially recognised religions of the country. Hence the link between Jingi tiu, the traditional religion of Savu, and Hinduism is rather nominal. Jingi tiu rituals are held for the well-being of the population, for connecting people with their ancestors (and through them to God) asking for fertility for humans, animals and plants as well as for rain and a good harvest. Offerings are placed on pillars of the house and on specific stones while reciting a sacred text.

In pre-European times each small ‘state’ or polity on Savu was not only independent in political, but also in religious matters. When referring to the religious organisation and practices of the island I refer to ‘domains’ instead of polities since some of the early ‘states’ have been absorbed by others, but have retained their independence in matters of religious organisation (for instance Teriwu, Menia). Therefore the label ‘domain’ is favoured here in order to distinguish between the political and the religious aspects.

Each traditional domain of Savu has (or had) at least one Council of priests called Mone Ama. The Councils of Priests have been shaped by history and their structure is particularly complex. Their members can be recruited in one single clan (udu) only or in a combination of clans, as a result of past wars and alliances. When a priesthood position has been acquired it is passed on from brother to brother and/or from father to son inside the clan. In Seba, Mesara and Liae the highest position is held by the priest Deo Rai, ‘Lord of the Land’. The second position may vary: for example in Mesara the Priest Rue (‘Priest of misfortune’) occupies the second position while it is Apu Lod’o (‘Descendant of the Sun’) in Seba. In the past parallel or competing Councils of Priests existed in all ritual domains of the island; they left traces in today’s practices. Parallel Councils still exist today in Liae and Dimu.

The priesthood tasks are linked to male clans, however a priest cannot exercise his function without the participation of his wife (Bèni Aji); therefore he has to be married and should he become a widower he has to withdraw from the position. The complementarity male / female is essential for the cosmic balance in Savunese thought.

Each domain has its own ritual calendar and is identified with a specific number for calculating the day of a ritual in the lunar month (Seba, nine; Mesara and Liae, seven; Dimu, six). Therefore the traditional religion Jingi tiu is at the heart of the social organisation of Savu. The domain of Seba having precedence over the other domains the adat year starts first in Seba (April/May). The first lunar month (wèru) of the year is A’a which means ‘elder sibling’, followed by the month Ari, ‘younger sibling’. The year ends with the numerous festivities of the month Bangaliwu after harvest, for example Hole, which can be translated as ‘Thanksgiving’ ceremony. The months may or may not carry the same name in different domains.

Ceremonies linked to male clans are held by the priests for the entire population of a domain; they take place at fix dates and belong to the category kewèhu rai (‘knots of the land’). Life crisis ceremonies which do not take place at fix dates are more secluded and private and are held at household level. In this case the woman of the house and her husband (or her brother if husband and wife do not belong to the same moiety) conduct the ceremony. The life crisis ceremonies are: hapo, shortly after birth, d’ab’a, or traditional ‘baptism’ (in the first year and then between the ages of three to six years), kenoto or marriage ceremony, and funeral.

Adat calendar of Savu (after N. Kana and G. Duggan)






April /May1. Wèru a‘a
May/June2. Wèru ari1. Wèru a‘a1 Wèru a‘a
June/July3. Kelilawadu2. Wèru ari2. Wèru ari1. Wèru a‘a
July/August .4.Tunumanu3. Hob’o3. Kelilawadu2. Wèru ari
August/ September5. Bègarae4. Wadu ae / Kelilawadu4. Wadu ae3. Kelilaheole
September/ October6. Ko’oma5. Ke’i èi5. Ha’erae4. Wadu ae
October/November7. Naikikeb’ui6. Ha’erae6. Ko’oma5. Wadu kepete
November/December8. Wilakolo7. Ko’oma7. Naiki keb’ui6. Ha’erae
December/Jan9. Hangadimu8. Nyale kuj’a8. Kelila èjilai7. Ko’oma
January/February 10. D’ab’a iki9. Nyale ae9. Nyale8. Naiki keb’ui
February/March11. D’ab’a ae10. Penèta10. D’ab’a9. Wilakolo
March/April12. Bangaliwu (Hole)11. D’ab’a ae 11.Bangaliwu Kolorae(Hole for certain clans only)10. Hangadimu
April/May    (see above)12. Bangaliwu (Hole)12. Bangaliwu rame (Hole for entire community)11. D’ab’a
May/June     (see above)      (see above)12. Bangaliwu (Hole)


Social organisation

The society is classified as bilineal and recognizes localized patrilineal descent groups, clans (udu) as well as two matrilineal descent lines or moieties (hubi) descended from two sisters (see Savu ceremonial textiles).

The diagram below reproduces the formation of clans in the paternal line. The formation of the moieties is, according to mantra knowledge, anterior to the formation of clans and are subjected to more secrecy. In the course of time the clans have formed lineages (kerogo) and the moieties too have formed subgroups called wini. According to tradition, it is of no consequence if a man marries in the same clan or outside his clan or lineage, but he should marry in the same wini, or at least in the same hubi as his mother. Consequently the marriage rule from the paternal line can be endogamy or exogamy while from the maternal (moiety) point of view the rule is endogamy (See J. Fox 1972; N. Kana 1978; G. Duggan 2001).

Land is usually owned by the clan (udu) or the lineage (kerogo), or it can be individually owned if conquered through warfare. However in the New Order Regime (Suharto times) land started to be individually owned. In the past land could be given by a father (or a brother) to his daughter (or sisters) and this gift of land is referred to as ‘rai lere’, ‘the land that follows one another’. Such land is inherited from mother to daughters and in the case of extinction of the maternal line it has to be given back to the clan which made the gift in the first place. For this reason remembering the genealogies in the maternal line is of importance not only for ancestor worship, but also for claims over rights of land.

Genealogies and the formation of clans

The extent of the genealogical knowledge on Savu is rather unique and forms the backbone of social and collective memories and the basis for oral history. Knowledge about genealogies has been transmitted orally only over tens generations in Savu and Raijua. Genealogies are constant memory markers used as stable references. People believe in the power of the recitation of their genealogies and consider that what is mentioned in the genealogies is necessarily factual and authentic.

Wadu Mea

Wadu Mea, 'Red Rocks' where the first ancestor is said to have reached Savu

A peculiarity of Savu is the fact that genealogical knowledge is neither limited to male descent lines nor is it restricted to the ruling classes that emerged during colonial times since the 16th Century. Therefore it was difficult for a ruler to control the genealogical knowledge if this is not the prerogative of an elite or the responsibility of specialists. In each domain a Regent (raja) and a Second Regent (fetor) were chosen by the Portuguese and later by the Dutch, creating new classes in the community. One reason for remembering long genealogies is the fact that this knowledge is essential in proving landownership. A second reason is that after death one is to reunite with the ancestors of the maternal line in the after-world (Duggan 2009).

The publicly known genealogies of the people of Savu consider that they are all descended from the same ancestor, Kika Ga (see below), and this gives them a sense of unity and shared identity. However the priests of the traditional religion know genealogies prior to the ‘first ancestor’ Kika Ga; yet this is a secret and sacred (mantra) knowledge.

Savu, outline of key male ancestors and clans.
(Click on image to enlarge it)