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Indonesian diocese bans wedding ritual sacrificing animals

Sacrificial ceremony performed by Dawan people has no basis in socio-cultural life, Atambua bishop says
Indonesian diocese bans wedding ritual sacrificing animals

The Dawan people of West Timor perform a ‘hel keta’ ceremony. (Photo supplied)

Published: February 08, 2022 07:32 AM GMT
Updated: February 08, 2022 09:06 AM GMT

An Indonesian diocese has banned Catholics from carrying out a traditional marriage-related ritual involving animal sacrifice, saying it is contrary to the Catholic faith and has no basis in the socio-cultural life of the community.

Bishop Dominikus Saku of Atambua in East Nusa Tenggara province announced the ban against the hel keta ceremony which is usually practiced by Dawan indigenous people from West Timor.

The ban was announced in a Feb. 5 circular addressed to Catholics in the diocese.

The ceremony is usually performed by the Dawan people when someone marries into another indigenous group.

It involves the slaughter of a sacrificial animal such as a chicken or a pig, which is claimed to be a symbol of purification for the couple from the past sins of their ancestors.

Bishop Saku said in his letter that the ceremony was against the Catholic faith and was superstition and mystical practice that had no basis in socio-cultural life. He also said it harmed kinship and human relations and added to the heavy economic burden on families and society.

"If the hel keta ritual is practiced, both by the couple who are getting married and by the family carrying it out, then the wedding blessing in the Church will be cancelled," he said.

"I ask that parish priests, administrators, assistants and all pastoral agencies pay attention to this and announce it to all people in their respective service areas to be known and implemented," he said.

The ban has been widely discussed and has sparked mixed reactions, with some accepting it, and others opposing it.

Sevan Ambanu, a Dawan community member said he was surprised that the diocese “suddenly made new rules to eliminate customs that have been passed down from generation to generation.”

"Has this been discussed with the traditional elders of the Dawan community? Or is this a one-sided decision?” he said.

He said the ceremony does not need to be eliminated but only needs to consider things that really don't need to be done so that it doesn't burden people economically.

“The decision of any authority must have a solid basis of legitimacy. Culture has an anthropological value, so it becomes very strange if the Church authority determines a culture is based on socio-cultural life or not," said Fransiskus Solanus Afeanpah, another Dawan community member.

"On the contrary, the Church takes care of serious matters such as the environment, human rights, corruption and sexual harassment," he added.

In a statement on the diocese's official website, Vicar-General Divine Word Father Vincentius Wun said the diocese stood by its decision and said the meaning of the ceremony had been twisted by the community.

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