NELES TEBAY is a diocesan priest of Jayapura, Irian Jaya, Indonesia. He holds a master’s degree in pastoral studies from the East Asian Pastoral Institute, Manila. He presently teaches pastoral planning and sacraments at Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology in Jayapura, Irian Jaya. He also works as freelance writer for The Jakarta Post and Asia Focus. The present article is part of the thesis he wrote for his master’s degree in pastoral studies.
he Ekarians are highlanders or mountain people who inhabit the central highlands of Western New Guinea (Irian Jaya). They are Melanesians by race but politically have belonged to Indonesia since 1963.1 These people had not heard of Jesus until the Dutch missionaries arrived in 1937. The translation of the Scriptures and liturgical prayers into the Ekarian language was part of the evangelization process conducted by the missionaries.
This article will discuss the two names of Jesus as Iniuwai Ibo (the Great Elder Brother of Ours) and Touto Owa (the Living House) as addressed by the Ekarians in their spontaneous prayers and liturgical songs. My goal is to answer the question “what do the Ekarian Christians mean by calling Jesus the Inuwai Ibo and the Touto Owa?” In order to articulate the material systematically, the article will be divided into two major parts. The first part elaborates the two most outstanding characteristics of being the Iniuwai Ibo, namely, Jesus’ all-inclusive love and his obedient faithfulness to the will of God. The second part presents a description of the saving presence of Jesus who is symbolized as the Touto Uwa (the Living House).
This reflection will be enriched by Ekarian Christian liturgical songs and some quotations from their spontaneous prayers because the Ekarian Christians have been articulating their understanding of Jesus by making use of these two means. We will, therefore, attach some of the liturgical songs and quotations of their spontaneous prayers that very clearly express their idea of Jesus.
Jesus as the Iniuwai Ibo (the Great Elder Brother of Ours)
In order to better articulate what Ekarian Christians mean by calling Jesus the Iniuwai Ibo, we will explore the meaning of the title and then describe the two most outstanding characteristics of being the Great Elder Brother, namely, Jesus’ unconditional love and his obedient fidelity to the will of God.
The Meaning of the Title Iniuwai Ibo
The term iniuwai consists of two Ekarian words, namely, ini, which means “we or ours,” and wawa, which means, “elder brother.” So iniuwi means “our elder brother.” The term wawa or iniuwai is exclusively applied to the bringer of salvation in the community.
Taking the same cultural concept of wawa ar iniuwai, the Ekarian Christians now apply it to Jesus. Having seen in the person and work of Jesus all positive elements of a wawa in their culture, they project onto Jesus the cultural title of wawa or iniuwai in order to bring out the meaning of Jesus for them. Thus, to recognize Jesus as iniuwai means to identify him as a wawa or iniuwai in their culture who brings salvation for the community.
In their prayers and liturgical songs, however, the Ekarian Christians never call Jesus iniuwai. Rather, they always call him Iniuwai Ibo. The term ibo means “the great, or the most high.” Therefore, to say Jesus is Iniuwai Ibo means to recognize him as the “Great Elder Brother of Ours.” It is very clear that they do not simply equate Jesus with a wawa. Rather, Jesus is seen as higher and greater than an iniuwai or wawa in the culture.
Believing in Jesus as the Iniuwai Ibo, the Ekarian Christians see themselves as his brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, the term ini (or “ours”) in the Ekarian Christians’ view is not restricted to the Ekarian Christians themselves. Rather, it refers to all human beings regardless of race, religion, and culture. In attributing the title Iniuwai Ibo to Jesus, the Ekarian Christians recognize him as the Great Elder Brother of all human beings. We are equally the brothers and sisters of the same Jesus, the Iniuwai Ibo.
Since Jesus is our Great Elder Brother, the Ekarian Christians believe that his Father is also our Father, the Father of all human beings. They believe that there is only one God who is called Initai Ibo, which literally means “the Great Father of ours.” At times, they call the same God by different terms, such as Gaiye (the one who always thinks) or Ugatame (the Creator). All human beings are the children of God. All men are the sons of God and all women are the daughters of God.
This belief is well expressed in the structure of their prayers. They begin with addressing God as our Great Father, recognizing themselves as God’s children, and end their prayer by emphasizing their belief in Jesus as our Great Elder Brother.
“Initai Ibo, . . .
(“God, the Great Father of ours, . . . )
Kouko Iniuwai Ibo, Yesus, gawaidaiga wado katikanege.
(We ask this through Jesus, the Great Elder Brother of ours)
Yesus too Iniuwai Ibo kiya. Amen.”
(For Jesus is the only Great Elder Brother of ours. Amen”).
They express it also in one of the offertory songs as follow:
Allah ye, Initai ye, niyamotiye
(God, the Father of ours, receive our offerings)
Yesus Iniuwai Ibo gawaidaiga kanete no, niyamotiye
(receive our offerings that we offer through Jesus, the Great Elder Brother of ours)
Ini aki yokaane ka kaneete kaa
(It is we, your children, who offer it to you)
Niyamoti kaya naki niyamoti
(receive our offerings, receive our offerings)
Two Most Outstanding Characteristics of the Title
As Jesus is recognized not simply as the Iniuwai but more than that the Iniuwai Ibo, the Ekarian Christians have seen in the person and work of Jesus something that reveals his greatness. What is the greatness of Jesus in the sight of Ekarian Christians that makes them believe him as the Great Elder Brother of all human beings? Why do the Ekarian Christians call Jesus as the Iniuwai Ibo, not merely iniuwai?
The following Christmas song clearly articulates why the Ekarian Christians recognize Jesus as the Iniuwai Ibo.
Noukai Maria muno doba make Iniuwai Ibo Yesus niyapate
(Our mother Mary gives birth to a baby who is Jesus the Great Elder Brother of ours)
Iniuwai Ibo Yesus kidi ito yuwouda niyapate
(Jesus the Great Elder brother of ours is being born in the feast of this year)
Iniuwai Ibo Yesus ito unu pate, ibo unu pate
(Jesus the Great Elder Brother of ours is being born tonight)
Iniuwi Ibo Yesus kidi domba ka awage make niyapate.
(Jesus the Great Elder Brother of ours is being born in the stable)
Ugatame ya dimi ka yoka, noukai Maria ya wawa etai
(The son of the Creator’s mind is laying peacefully in Mary’s lap)
Idima bage ipa me, Yesus niyapata mana wo yawegai
(Proclaim that Jesus, the one who loves all human beings, has been born)
Wo yawegai, wo yawudi, Yesus pata mana
(Proclaim and continue praclaiming about the birth of Jesus).
As articulated in this song, there are two most outstanding characteristics which provide the basis for the recognition of Jesus as the Iniuwai Ibo. The first characteristic is his being the Idima bage ipa mee (the one who loves all human beings) and the second is his being the Ugatame ya dimi ka yoka (the son of the Creator’s mind).
1. Being the Idima Bage Ipa Mee
From the above song, we have seen that Jesus is believed to be the Iniuwai Ibo on the basis of his being Idima bage ipa mee, which literally means the one who loves all human beings. Through this identification, actually, they intend to express his unconditional love for all. The following description will help us to understand how the Ekarian Christians understand Jesus’ unconditional love.
His All-inclusive Love
We assume that if the Ekarian Christians believe and experience Jesus’ all-inclusive love, they could express it in their spontaneous prayers and liturgical songs. Therefore, perhaps it would be helpful if we take one liturgical song they composed and see their understanding of Jesus’ all-inclusive love. Let us take a look at the following song.
Daba bage na aniya mee, peu bage na aniya mee, Yesus akiya mana
(The poor are also my people, the sinners are also my people, Jesus you’re saying)
Dobiyo bage na aniya mee, Ani ikiuwai Ibo topa, Yesus akiya mana
(The orphans are also my people, I am your Great Elder Brother, Jesus, you’re saying)
Didi bage na aniya mee, gaagaa teena bage na aniya mee, Yesus akiya mana
The sick are my people, the suffering are also my people, Jesus, your’re saying)
Tonowi na aniya mee, daba mee na aniya mee, Yesus akiya mana
(The rich are also my people, the poor are also my people, Jesus you’re saying)
Dege bage na aniya mee, buna bage na aniye mee, Yesus akiya mana
(The whites are also my people, the blacks are also my people, Jesus you’re saying).
Yame na aniya mee, yagamo na aniya mee, Yesus akiya mana
(Men are also my people, women are also my people, Jesus you’re saying)
Through this liturgical song they forcefully express their understanding of Jesus’ all-inclusive love. This song denotes a description and rccognition of Jesus’ all-inclusive love.
Aniya mee: Ekarian Christians’ Expression
The Ekarian Christians’ understanding of Jesus’ all-inclusive love is well expressed in the Ekarian term aniya me, which literally means “my people.” In the Ekarian sense, saying to somebody “you are my people” is a recognition that “you are neither strangers nor excluded.” Thus, through this song the Ekarian Christians proclaim that Jesus loves all people. Jesus welcomes all human beings without excluding anybody.
To the poor (daba), Jesus stands for their human dignity. He listens to their cry, their problems and needs. Jesus, then, shows his love for them by addressing their problem. He treats them as human beings. He accepts them as people. He respects each person as a daughter and son of the same Father. He shows it constantly through his saving action. He speaks to them about their dignity and worth as daughters and sons of the Father. He proclaims God’s constant care. He assures them that God’s justice is coming soon. He speaks words of hope, words of Jesus, through actions and words, proclaiming to them “All of you are also my people” (ikii na aniya mee). His brotherly love for them reveals his being the Iniuwai Ibo. It proclaims that “truly, I am your elder brother.” If Jesus were not the Iniuwai Ibo, he would not show his saving love for them. The Ekarian Christians identify themselves as the poor in their spontaneous prayers and always ask Jesus for help by pleading “Ini daba bage kaa, Jesus Iniuwai Ibo, aki nedadai” (We are also poor people, may Jesus the Great Elder Brother of ours help us).
Jesus also shows his unconditional love for the sinners (peu bagee). To the sinners he proclaims that they are also Aniya mee (my people). Jesus welcomes them as human beings. Through eating and drinking with them, Jesus expresses his fellowship and solidarity with them. Forgiving their sins, Jesus proclaims that they are also the daughters and sons of the same Father who cherishes all equally. Thus, sinners are not only forgiven, but empowered to change their lives. The sinners find encouragement, hope, strength in Jesus’s presence, actions and words.
The orphans (dobiyo) are not excluded. The Ekarian Christians see that Jesus also pays attention to the orphans. He welcomes them. He teaches them. As the Great Elder Brother Jesus takes responsibility for their lives. Through his presence and saving actions, Jesus proclaims that “you are also my people” (ikiina aniya mee). They experience his brotherly protection. They feel, therefore, that they have the Iniuwai Ibo to whom they can ask for protection and help.
To the sick and suffering, Jesus reveals himself as the Iniuwai Ibo. He listens to their pleas. Out of his compassion, he is deeply responsive to people in need, to the sick and sufferings. The sick, he heals. The victims of the devil spirit, Jesus exorcises. The suffering he releases from pain. Through such actions Jesus proclaims that they are also Aniya mee (my people). Through the healings and exorcism, the people recognize Jesus as “truly the Great Elder Brother of ours.”
Not only the poor, but also the rich are considered to be the people of Jesus. Jesus speaks of the death-dealing value that keeps the rich in bondage, which is the enslavement of the heart to riches, to self-serving security, to selfishness. Such attachment closes one’s heart and hands to the needs of people. Jesus also points out some life-giving values such as giving, caring, respect for human dignity, sensivity to others’ pain, a sense of compassion and generosity. He proclaims that giving is better than taking, sharing more freeing than hoarding. Jesus emphasizes the necessity of taking care of the needy and the poor. To the rich, Jesus proclaims clearly that life is more important than prestige, honor and wealth. He shows them the basic value of a human being which is not material thing but human dignity. This teaching is also found in the Ekarian saying aki mee too ma which means “the most important thing is your presence as a person.” Jesus preaches that power should be rooted in love and mutual service. He challenges people to be generous as he himself is. As the Iniuwai Ibo, Jesus takes responsibility to teach the rich. By so doing, Jesus proclaims that the rich are also Aniya mee (my people).
Thus the Ekarian Christians believe that Jesus’ love is not limited only to a certain family, or a tribe, or a religious tradition or a race. Jesus loves all people regardless of any boundaries made by humans. He, therefore, is the man for all. Based on this awareness, sometimes Ekarian Christians call Jesus ipa bokouto, which literally means “source of compassion.” Their belief in Jesus as the source of compassion is well expressed in the following song.
Yesus Iniuwai Ibo, ipanigai no
(Jesus, the Great Elder Brother of ours, show your compassion)
Yesus wae ipanigai no
(Jesus, show your compassion)
Iniuwai Ibo wae ipanigai no
(The Great Elder Brother of ours, show your compassion)
Why do the Ekarian Christians ask Jesus for campassion? There is an Ekarian saying: “if you need something, you go to meet the one who has the thing you need and ask for help.” For example, if you need wisdom, you should go to meet the one who is acknowledged to be a wise person. Based on this idea, in terms of compassion, the Ekarians Christians always ask for campassion from the one who is believed to be the source of compassion. Having believed in Jesus the Iniuwai Ibo as the source of compassion, they always ask for compassion from him. With courage they ask for compassion, because they believe that they are his people, his brothers and sisters.
Akiya mana: Ekarian Christians’ Recognition
After clarifying to whom Jesus says Aniya mee, the Ekarian Christians end every verse of the song with the phrase Yesus, akiya mana which literally means “Jesus, your saying.” The real meaning of the phrase is that “Jesus, that is your teaching.” Putting the phrase at the end of the verses, it is an expression of recognition. Through the phrase, the Ekarian Christians articulate their recognition on what Jesus has done repeatedly in his life and ministry.
The Ekarian Christians’ recognition on Jesus’ all-inclusive love is largely influenced by their cultural way of recognizing a person. The Ekarians in their culture pay very particular attention to actions. They believe that we can grasp the characteristics of a person primarily by examining his or her actions. The repeated actions of the Ekarians reveal personal characteristics. Thus, the starting point to determine whether a person has a good character or bad is through the examination of his or her actions. The Ekarians say, “Just by looking at his or her actions, you will come to know the character of the person.”
The spoken words are always taken into consideration as long as they are connected with the actions. The actions, then, can be affirming and/or negating one’s spoken words. Thus, one’s action is the only determining factor. If somebody speaks not from his or her experience, or the people have yet to see one’s action as the proof of the spoken words, Ekarians will force him or her to keep silence. The Ekarians will say, “Simply speaking for the sake of speaking, everybody can do that. Even a baby and the foolish are capable of it.” The spoken words which are not affirmed by actions are categorized as puya mana (telling a lie). Consequently, people would not listen to such a person whatever his or her profession, and how rich he or she may become. The Ekarians would listen to and trust people who have proven the spoken words in their actions. They will say “Keep saying, because it is truthful.” Thus, the Ekarians really pay attention to one’s actions and not to the spoken words. And the truth of one’s spoken word lies in action.
This Ekarian way of recognizing a person, which is primarily from the actions that one does repeatedly, determines one’s recognition of Jesus’ all-inclusive love. They must have examined Jesus’ life and ministry as articulated in the Gospels. Thus, in saying “Jesus, it is your teaching,” they recognize that Jesus has revealed all-inclusive love in his deeds and words. It is a recognition by which Ekarian Christians want to say that “It is very true that you always love all human beings. That is what you have revealed in, your life and ministry.”
The phrase Yesus, Akiya mana (Jesus, you’re saying) is also an expression of their own experiences interpreted in faith. Through the phrase, they want to articulate that “we have also experienced your love for us in our everyday life. Through the action of love, you announce to us that we, whatever our condition is, are your people. Thus, it is very true that your love is for all.” Thus, the recognition comes from their faith experiences, from what Jesus has done for them in daily life.
He Brings Life for All
Having seen in the Gospel what Jesus has done during his earthly life, and having reflected upon their experiences of faith, the Ekarian Christians begin to realize what Jesus brings into the world. If Jesus comes to bring something, it must be intended for all, not only for a particular group. This is because Jesus is the Great Elder Brother of all humankind. The Ekarian Christians clearly express what Jeaus brings in the following song:
Enaa umi-tou nimaine tiyake, Yesus mei meyao
(Jesus comes to give harmonious life)
Koya umi-tou nimaine tiyake, Yesus mei meyao
(Jesus comes to give peaceful life)
Ideide umitou nimaine tiyake, Yesus mei meyao
(Jesus comes to give joyful life)
Muka-muka dimi nimaine tiyake, Yesus mei meyao
(Jesus comes to give a healthy mind)
Ena dimi nimainetiyake, Yesus mei meyao
(Jesus comes to enlighten us)
Ini meido ipanigayake, mei meyao
(Jesus comes to love all human beings)
Through this song, the people articulate two things: what kind of life Jesus brings into the world and the way to create that life. As articulated in this song, the Ekarian Christians believe that Jesus comes into the world to bring life for all human beings. He has revealed it in his own life and ministry. Jesus brings life for the sick, for those who sorrow, the hungry, the thirsty, the needy, the weak, the sinners, and the poor. His presence always brings about life for all human beings. He is the giver of life. Through the above song they express their understanding of what kind of life Jesus brings into the world. The Ekarian Christians believe that Jesus comes to offer life which is peaceful, harmonious, and joyful.
Secondly, Jesus also reveals the way to create such a life. He shows it through his actions and teachings. The Ekarian Christians believe that the life that Jesus brings can be experienced in the world by following his deeds and words. It can happen when one’s mind is enlightened. Jesus, therefore, comes also to bring a healthy mind as well as to enlighten the mind of people.
As the Iniuwai Ibo, Jesus does not only bring earthly life. More than that, he brings eternal life which the Ekarian Christians call mobu to tou (which literally means “eternal satisfaction”). In the eternal life proclaimed by Jesus, the Ekarian Christians believe, there is no more suffering, domination, oppression, and manipulation. In the eternal life, everybody is treated equally as a daughter or son of the same Father. Sometimes the Ekarian Christians describe eternal life in the following phrases expressed in their prayers:
gaagaa ma beu makiyo
(the place where there is no more suffering),
wane ma beu makiyo
(the place where is no more darkness),
didi ma beu makiyo
(the place where there is no more sickness).
The Ekarian Christians, then, believe in Jesus as the giver of life. He offers life out of his love for all human beings. Jesus also shows the way to achieve and experience such a life not only after death but also in the world, now and here.
His Death as the Greatest Sign of His Love for All
Thc Ekarian Christian understanding of Jesus’ death is influenced by the cultural understanding of the one who sacrifices oneself for others. In the culture of Ekari, the one who sacrifices oneself for the sake of a community is highly respected. The death of the person will be remembered. The story of such a death is always handed down from one generation to the next because it is the greatest sign of his love for the community. There is an Ekarian saying “the one who died for the sake of us is the only great one.” The family and descendants of the person will be treated as brothers and sisters by the community. If one of the descendants faces a problem, whatever it is, the community will handle it.
As in their culture, the Ekarian Christians do not isolate Jesus’ death from his concrete history. They believe that during his life time, Jesus has shown his compassionate love through his deeds and words. It is the same compassionate love that Jesus reveals in his death. His death, is even perceived as the greatest sign of his unconditional love for us. This belief can be seen in their understanding of the passion and death of Jesus. In his passion, to the Ekarian Christians, Jesus reveals compassionate love for his brothers and sisters. Their understanding of falling when he carried the cross is well expressed in the following song:
Yagi yagi tita, piya boko udoka, yagi yagi tita
(Falls and falls again, for carrying the heavy cross, falls and falls again)
Yagi yagi tita iniya peu maida make, yagi-yagi tita
(Falls and falls again, for carrying our sins, falls and falls again)
Yagi yagi tita iniya puya mana wegai kouya maida make, yagi-yagi tita
(Falls and falls again, for our telling a lie, falls and falls again)
Yagi yagi tita iniya peuka, mee idima peu ka yagi yagi tita
(Falls and falls again, the sin of all human beings, falls and falls again)
Yagi yagi tita, ini meido ipa maida make, yagi-yagi tita
(Falls and falls again, for loving all human beings, falls and falls again).
Thus from the above song, we come to see that Jesus is depicted as carrying the heavy cross. The cross was heavy with our sins, the sins of all human beings. Thus, the cross Jesus carried is a symbol of the sins of everybody and all human beings. Jesus takes over our sins so that we become free from sin. As the Iniuwai Ibo, Jesus was readily carrying the heavy cross out of his love for his brothers and sisters.
The Ekarian Christians also believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is a powerful expression of his love. They believe that he died on the cross out of his love as he has revealed it in his life. During his lifetime, he has sacrificed himself for the sake of others. Now on the cross also Jesus sacrifices his body for others. The Ekarian Christians believe that his death on the cross is very salvific. It is the blood of his own body on the cross that cleanses all the sins of human beings. They express this belief in the following song:
Niyatumita emo ma nako no uwomako no
(The blood and water that spring out for us)
ini meido ipanigayake niyatumita emo ma nako no
(For loving human beings, the blood springs out from your own body)
iniya peudo niyawudaine tiyake.
(to cleanse our sins)
Ini meido ipa maida make piya boko maida niyabokata
(You die on the cross for loving us, all human beings)
Thus Jesus’ death on the cross to the Ekarian Christians is not a curse. It is a clear action of love.
Dying on the cross, Jesus truly reveals himself to the Ekarian Christians as the one and only Great Elder Brother of ours. Through his death, Jesus very strongly reveals his compassionate love for us unto the end of his life. Thus, Ekarian Christians recognize it by saying: “Truly, Jesus loves his brothers and sisters, even until his death on the cross.” He can surrender his body to be crucified for the sake of our life because he is the true Iniuwai Ibo. Having realized that, sometimes Ekarian Christians acknowledge him by saying Yesus okai too maa, which literally means, “Jesus is the only great.”
2. Being the Ugatame ya Dimi ka Yoka
The second most outstanding characteristic of Jesus as the Iniuwai Ibo is his being obediently faithful to God’s will. The Ekarian Christians express it by calling Jesus the Ugatame ya dimi ka yoka (the son of God’s mind). In order to articulate the second characteristic of being Iniuwai Ibo, we will, first, explore the meaning of Ugatame ya dimi ka yoka. Then we will descibe the characteristic of being the Son of God’s mind according to the Ekarian Christians’ understanding.
The meaning of Ugatame ya dimi ka yoka
The term ugatame consists of two words, namely, ugata and me. The term ugata means “have created,” and me means “person, or people.” So, Ugatame means “the one who created things,” or “the creator.” The term dimi literally means “the mind,” and the term yoka means a child either a boy or a girl. Therefore, Ugatame ya dimi ka yoka means the son of God’s mind. What do the Ekarian Christians mean by this title?
In the Ekarian sense, there is a big difference between God’s son (Ugatame yoka) and the son of God’s mind (Ugatame ya dimi ka yoka). Ekarian Christians believe that all human beings are the children of God. A man or woman is, therefore, perceived as God’s child (Ugatame yoka). Jesus, then, is a son of God. Here, Jesus is the same as other sons of God. In the culture of Ekari, every son is expected to reveal the dimi of God, the Father, in everyday life.
However, the Ekarian Christians in their prayers and liturgical songs never call Jesus the Iniuwai Ibo, God’s son (Ugatame yoka). Rather, they believe in him as the Son of God’s mind (Ugatame ya dimi ku yoka). What do the Ekarian Christians mean by calling Jesus “the Son of God’s mind?”
In the culture of Ekari, one is recognized as the son of his father’s mind, if people see that he repeatedly reveals the dimi of his father in his saying and doing. Such a son is acknowledged as nakame dani, which literally means “like his father.” The Ekarian’s recognition is expressed in the phrase nakame ya dimi ka yoka, which literally means “the son of his father’s mind.” This kind of recognition is usually given by others, not by himself. Such a recognition basically comes after having examined his words, deeds, and behavior in his life for a long time. A son of the sons of a wawa (the bringer of salvation) is highly expected by the community to be the son of wawa’s dimi.
Following the cultural notion of the son of the father’s mind, the Ekarian Christians came to recognize Jesus as the Ugatame ya dimi ka yoka, the Son of God’s mind. This attribution is applied to Jesus by the Ekarian Christians, after having examined his life, ministry and death as narrated in the Gospels and proclaimed by the Church. Jesus, the Iniuwai Ibo, is called “the Son of God’s dimi” because they believe that what he did and said during his lifetime was in line with the will of the Great Father. They believe that Jesus has revealed God’s mind through his life and ministry. In the eyes of Ekarian Christians, among all the sons of God, Jesus is the one and only Son of God because he has followed the dimi of the Great Father faithfully and perfectly, even unto death. His being the Son of God’s dimi among and above God’s other children leads the Ekarian Christians to believe in and acknowledge Jesus as the Great Elder Brother of ours. Thus, if one intends to know God’s will or God’s dimi, one should examine the life, ministry and death of Jesus the Iniuwai Ibo.
His Obedient Faithfulness to God’s Dimi
The Ekarian Christians believe that God, Initai ibo, is the only source of everything that is good. God has only good intentions, good will and good ideas. There is nothing in him that is bad. He is the only source of compassion (ipa bokouto). God never punishes his children. Rather, God has given to each of his children his dimi to be the guidance of life. Being blessed with his own dimi, everybody is expected to live it out in ordinary life.
Following the will of God, in the Ekarian Christian sense, means to see (dou), to judge or think (gai), and to act (ekowai) according to the will (dimi) of the Great Father of ours. Only if constantly living out God’s dimi in everyday life, can one be recognized as the son of God’s mind. Thus, to say that someone is the son of God’s mind is to recognize that the person has repeatedly lived out God’s will in his or her earthly life by seeing (dou), thinking (gai), and then acting accordingly (ekowai).
So when the Ekarian Christians believe in Jesus as the Ugatame ya dimi ka yoka, they recognize his obedient faithfulness to God’s mind. Through the phrase, they recognize that Jesus has truly lived out the will of God in his earthly life. They believe that he has emphasized the dimi of God, the Great Father of ours, above all in his life by seeing, judging and acting according to God’s mind. Jesus sees (dou) the poor, he listens to (dou) the plea of the sick; he is moved by compassion (gai); He, then, acts accordingly (ekowai). They believe that Jesus follows the dimi of God until his death. Jesus is, therefore, the only son of God’s mind, to Ekarian Christians, precisely because he has followed the will of God faithfully and perfectly. The recognition comes after having examined Jesus’ life and ministry during his earthly life.
Another Ekarian way of acknowledging his obedient faithfulness to God’s will is by saying Yesus ki Initai Ibo ya dimi nota. This phrase literally means “Jesus has eaten the will of God.” By so saying, the Ekarian Christians want to communicate that Jesus has received, personalized, internalized, and therefore lived out the will of God, the Father of ours, in his life, ministry and death.
Since Jesus has been obediently faithful to God’s dimi, the Ekarian Christians believe that every action that Jesus does is always in line with God’s dimi or the will of God. By healing the sick, comforting those who are mourning, feeding the hungry, accepting sinners, standing up for the sake of the weak and poor, and all the life-giving actions, Jesus prolongs, expands and enriches the life of the people. The Ekarian Christians believe that Jesus, through such actions, reveals God’s dimi. Since he has perfectfully exercised the will of God, Ekarian Christians recognize him as the Inuwai Ibo.
His perfect obedience to the will of God leads the Ekarian Christians to believe that Jesus’ teaching also reveals the will of God, the Father of ours. Since God is believed to be the only source of all good things, every word that comes from Jesus is also truly good news. The Ekarian Christians express it in the following song:
Yesus ya mana, kabo mana,
(The words of Jesus, the foundation of all good news)
Ugatame ya mana, kabo mana,
(The word of the Creator is the foundation of all good news)
Mana-mana, kabo mana, epauto mana
(The true news, the foundation of all good news, the source of the news).
Thus, all that Jesus proclaims is the foundation of all good news. It is the source of the news. It is because what Jesus proclaims is coming from God’s dimi.
Following the cultural way of recognizing a person as mentioned above - the Ekarians would listen to the spoken words which affirmed by actions - the Ekarian Christians see that Jesus does not proclaim God’s will without proving it by his deeds. His saving actions affirm his good news. The Ekarian Christians see that Jesus proclaims what he lives. Hence, Jesus’ teaching is truthful for them. The truth of his teaching lies in his ministry. They come to recognize that Jesus’ teaching is truly good news, because he has proved it in all his life, ministry and death. Therefore, the Ekarian Christians want to listen to him, to the Gospels. Their willingness to listen to Jesus’ teaching is very clearly expressed in the following song:
Dimi damo kegepa damo kebai niyakebai
(Open our minds and hearts)
Injil mana yuwine no
(Because we would like to listen to the Gospel)
Ena mana yuwine no
(Because we want to listen to the enlightening news)
ena mana yuwine no,
(Because we want to listen to the good news,)
ideide mana yuwine no,
(Because we want to listen to the joyful news,)
papaa mana yuwine no
(Because we want to listen to the enlightening news)
Yesus aki neno kapeine no,
(Jesus, we want to follow your footsteps)
kebai, niyaikebai, Initai ibo aki kida kebai niya kebai
(God, the Father of ours, you yourself open our hearts and minds).
In other words, from the perspective of Ekarian culture, we can say that what makes Jesus’ teaching truly good news in the eyes of Ekarian Christians is his saving actions. Seeing his deeds, they want to listen to Jesus’ teaching, to the Gospels. If Jesus never lived what he proclaimed in his life, there is no reason to listen to his teaching. Without the witness of his actions, how can people come to know that Jesus’ teaching is truly good news? It is his saving actions that make the Ekarian Christians recognize his obedient faithfulness to God’s dimi and listen to his teaching.
Thus, after having examined Jesus’ actions and teachings as narrated in the Gospel and proclaimed by the Church, as well as experienced in their daily life, the Ekarian Christians come to recognize his obedient faithfulness to God’s mind or God’s will. His perfect obedience to God’s will, as proven in his life, ministry and death, becomes the second most outstanding characteristic that leads the Ekarian Christians to recognize Jesus as a true Iniuwai Ibo. Thus, Jesus is believed to be the Iniuwai Ibo, because of his unconditional love for all and his perfect obedience to God’s dimi.
Jesus the Touto Owa (the Living House)
After articulating the Ekarian understanding of Jesus as the Iniuwai Ibo, we continue to reflect on how the Ekarian Christians experience his presence in their daily life. Based on their experiences of Jesus’ presence in their life, sometimes the Ekarian Christians in their spontaneous prayers and liturgical songs call Jesus the Touto Owa. The Ekarian term touto means “living,” and owa means “house.” So, to call Jesus the Touto Owa means to believe in him as the Living House. They depict the presence of Jesus like a house in which they dwell.
In order to understand better how the presence of Jesus in their life leads them to symbolize Jesus as the Living House, we will describe the meaning of the presence of Jesus in their life as expressed in their spontaneous prayers and liturgical songs. We will then proceed to reflect on how they symbolize the presence of Jesus as the Touto Uwa. Finally we will elaborate a bit more about what they mean by calling Jesus our Living House.
The Meaning of the Presence of Jesus in Daily Life
The Ekarian Christian’s belief in the presence of Jesus in their life is well expressed in the following song:
Nitopi no, nidoutopi no
(Still being with us, taking care of us)
Yesus Kristus, Inuwai Ibo, nidoutopino
(Jesus Christ, the Great Elder Brother of ours, is still taking care of us)
Yesus ki inima nitougi kiya, umi woya-tou woya nituogi kiya
(Jesus is always with us, forever and ever with us)
As articulated through this song, they believe that Jesus is still with us. He is still taking care of us. And Jesus will be with us forever and ever.
For the Ekarian Christians, the death of Jesus does not mean the end of his presence. They experience that Jesus, who was crucified, is still alive. They have been experiencing his presence after his death. From their salvific experience interpreted in faith, they believe that Jesus is not far away. They feel his brotherly protection in everyday life situations.
The meaningful and salvific significance of the presence of Jesus is deeply felt in time of crisis. When they encounter the problem that threaten their life, they come to find the saving presence of Jesus. They believe that his presence is always to prolong and extend their life. The following song very clearly expresses how they experience the saving presence of Jesus, the Inuwai Ibo, in their ordinary life.
Akima too, Yesus akima too
(With you, Jesus, we are with you)
Didi duba maiya akima too,
(When we get sickness, we are always with you)
gaagaa duba maiya akima too
(in time of suffering, we are with you)
Naidi duba maiya akima too,
(When we feel thirsty, we are with you)
Igapu duba maiya akima too,
(When we feel hungry, we are with you)
Akima too, Yesus akima too
(We are with you, Jesus, we are with you).
Through this song, the Ekarian Christians express their experience of the saving presence of Jesus the Iniuwai Ibo. The saving presence is deeply experienced when their life is threatened. When the Ekarian Christians feel thirsty, they believe that the presence of Jesus brings about life. When they feel hungry, the presence of Jesus saves them.
In this song, we see that they end every verse by the phrase akima too, which literally means “always with you” or Yesus akima too, which literally means “always with you, Jesus.” This phrase denotes an expression directed to Jesus. Through the phrase they communicate to Jesus about their experiences of his saving presence. The basis to recognize the presence of Jesus is their salvific experiences interpreted in faith. Here, the Ekarian Christians are speaking from their experiences of faith. The experience of his saving presence in their life is the starting point. Thus, it is after having reflected on their salvific experiences that they come to acknowledge Jesus’ presence. It is, therefore, to emphasize their experience of Jesus’ presence, the formulation of the phrase is not “Jesus is with us,” but “we are always with you.” We have experienced his saving presence in our life. They want to say to Jesus “Jesus, we have been experiencing your saving presence. We never feel alone in our life. We feel we are always with you, Jesus.” Through this phrase they express their belief that no matter how bad things look at times, the problems and evil can be overcome. It is Jesus’ presence that saves, prolongs and enriches their lives. They confess his saving presence by saying Yesus akima too (with you, Jesus). The phrase Yesus akima too, then, is a clear recognition of the presence of Jesus on the basis of faith experiences in their lives.
According to the Ekarian Christian understanding, since we are always with Jesus, there is nothing to be afraid of. The Ekarians believe that Jesus’ presence strengthens them to face any problem they meet. When someone wants to go alone to another village by passing through the forest, other Ekarian Christians will remind the person of the presence of Jesus with him or her by saying: “Aki too ko beu ka, epa beu ka uwi.” It literally means “Do not be afraid, because you are not alone.” It obviously suggests that “You are not alone. You are with Jesus, the Great Elder Brother of Ours.” When the Ekarian Christians in their village gather to share their faith experiences of the saving presence of Jesus in their lives, a lot of stories are told. At the end of each story, they sum up with their belief in the saving presence of Jesus by saying “Yesus okaima koda,” which literally means, “It is because I was with Jesus.” Through this phrase, they want to communicate that “At that moment, I was saved, because of Jesus’ presence.” It is a recognition of Jesus’ presence, on the basis of their own experience interpreted in faith.
Believing in Jesus, they pray to him so that he continues to be with them in the future. Their belief about the presence of Jesus in the future is well expressed in the following song:
Niuwiye, Yesus aki tiga niuwiye
(Go with us, Jesus, we are before you)
Ita kotuwai, Yesus aki tiga niuwiye
(In facing the difficulties, Jesus, may you go with us)
Koto kotuwai, Yesus aki tiga niuwiye
(In encountering the temptations, Jesus, may you go with us)
Udo no gaiya kodoya, Yesus aki tiga niuwiye
(Life is not so easy, Jesus, may you go with us)
Kaga no gaiya kodoya, Yesus aki tiga niuwiye
(Sometimes we get tired, Jesus, may you go with us)
Weda no gaiya kodaya, Yesus aki tiga niuwiye
(Sometimes we are afraid of something, Jesus, may you go with us)
Uwi yawi dobaiga, Yesus aki tiga niuwiye
(Wherever we go, Jesus, may you go with us)
Didi gaagaa dobaiga, Yesus aki tiga niuwiye
(In coping with sufferings and sickness, Jesus, may you go with us)
Igapu naidi kuuga, Yesus aki tiga niuwiye
(When we feel thirsty and hungry, Jesus, may you go with us)
Thus, the Ekarian Christians believe that Jesus is always with them. They have been experiencing his presence as the live-giving and compassionate presence. His presence is to prolong, deepen, and enrich their everyday life.
Touto Owa as the Symbol of Jesus’ Presence
One of the symbols they use in visualizing the loving presence of Jesus in their lives is that by means of owa, which means “house.” Thus, a house is used to symbolize Jesus’ presence. They use this symbol in their spontaneous prayers. Before communicating their intention sometimes they begin their prayer with the following sentences:
Yesus, Aki too Iniuwai Ibo
(Jesus, you alone are the Great Elder Brother of Ours)
aki too iniya Touto Owa kabo
(You alone are the living foundation of our house)
Aki too iniya uguwo ka kabo mee kabo
(You alone are the foundation of our family and human beings)
Aki too Touto Owa takago uguwo ka takago
(You alone are the pillar of house and family)
Aki too Touto Owa yaga idima meido ka yaga
(You alone are the wall of house and all human beings)
Aki too Touto Owaiye, ini meido ka Touto Owaiye
(You alone are the roof of house and everybody)
Akitoo iniya Touto Owa
(You alone are the living house of ours)
(......they continue offering their intentions..... )
There are two reasons for the Ekarian Christians to use the symbol of house in visualizing the salvific presence of Jesus. First, the Ekarian Christians use the symbol of owa on the basis of its significance for life. A house (an owa) is one of the basic needs of human beings. It is undeniable that every human being, either rich or poor, regardless of race, culture, or religious tradition, needs a shelter of whatever form and size. Emphasizing the significance of house, there is an Ekarian saying owa geepa make too mee ko epe ya tiya. It literally means “a person cannot live and grow peacefully unless under the protection of a house.” Thus, without having shelter, one cannot live his or her life in safety. Wherever we go, therefore, we always need shelter.
Secondly, they take the symbol used to express the significant presence of a wawa in their culture. The Ekarians use the symbol owa to express the significant presence of a wawa as the bringer of salvation in the community. The Ekarian Christians now use the same cultural symbol to express the salvific significance of Jesus’ presence.
Nevertheless, as articulated in the quotation of the above spontaneous prayer, the Ekarian Christians do not revere Jesus as an owa. Rather, they symbolize him as the Touto Owa (the Living House). There are two reasons. First, from their experiences, the Ekarians know that their house is not strong enough. They build their house out of wood. Every three or four years they have to build a new house. They experience that their house can easily be destroyed by natural disturbances such as the rain, wind and the like. Their houses can be shattered, destroyed, or become rotten by termites and insects. Therefore, they realize that Jesus’ presence cannot be symbolized by the ordinary house.
Secondly, the significant presence of a wawa is experienced only during his life time. After his death, they do not experience his presence at all. Thus, the meaningful presence of a wawa is restricted to his earthly life and to his community. On the contrary, the salvific presence of Jesus is for all and for ever. The Ekarian Christians have been experiencing the salvific presence of Jesus, even after his death. During his lifetime, Jesus offered himself as the shelter of all human beings. Jesus has shown his being the Living House, the shelter for the poor, the sick, and the outcast. In Jesus they regained their God-given human dignity. In our day, Jesus is still at work saving us. The saving presence of Jesus was, is, and will be saving and bringing about life for his brothers and sisters. Having realized the everlasting presence of Jesus, the Ekarian Christians symbolize Jesus as Touto Owa.
1. Jesus as Touto Kabo (the Living Foundation)
The Ekarian term kabo literally means “the foundation of a house.” The function of the foundation is to sustain the house. Realizing such a function, the Ekarians always take some special wood, acknowledged as very strong, for the foundation of their houses. They know the significance of kabo in building up a house. The kabo must be placed properly. When people lay the kabo, they remind the owner of the house by saying “Kabo tiga epimake tai.” Literally this means “First of all, you must lay down properly the foundation of the house.” Otherwise, the house can easily collapse, because of a little wind. Consequently, the family will suffer.
Nevertheless, they do not symbolize Jesus’ presence as the kabo of a house, because the foundation of a house can be destroyed by natural disturbances. It is also impermanent. On the contrary, the presence of Jesus is experienced as undestroyable and durable. It sustains the life of human beings forever and ever. Reflecting on their life experiences in the light of faith, the Ekarian Christians come to believe that the salvific presence of Jesus in their ordinary life is like a living kabo. Thus, they experience the presence of Jesus as the foundation of their life. They believe that Jesus, the Iniuwai Ibo supports and sustains the life of all human beings regardless of race, culture and religious tradition. Everybody lives their life based on Jesus as the living foundation. Hence, Jesus is called touto kabo which means “the living foundation of life.” This is the reason why Ekarians also believe his Gospel as Kabo mana. This means, the Gospel is perceived as the life sustaining foundation.
2. Jesus as Touto Takago (the Living Pillar)
The Ekarians call the pillar of a house takago. Only the pillar can make a house stand up. Without the pillar, there is no house. Even a tent needs a pillar. Realizing its function, the Ekarians use some particular kind of trees, acknowledged as very strong, to be the pillar in building up their houses.
Based on their experience interpreted in faith, the saving presence of Jesus is symbolized as takago of life. Jesus is believed to be the main pillar of life. They believe that Jesus is also the main pillar of everybody, family, community, society and all humankind. Having realized that his saving presence as the main pillar of life is forever and for all human beings, the Ekarian Christians depict him as the touto takago (the living pillar).
3. Jesus as Touto Yaga (the Living Wall)
Literally the Ekarian term yaga means “the wall of a house.” A wall is a boundary between inside and outside of the house. The wall protects everybody occupying the house from all disturbances coming from outside so that people can safely live inside.
Reflecting on their life experiences in faith, they come to realize how Jesus has been protecting them. They symbolize Jesus as the yaga of life, the wall of life. Everybody is protected against danger. During the night, Jesus becomes the wall of the family, so that the family can feel warm (the Ekarians live in a cool area), and take rest without any disturbance from outside.
However, Jesus is not identical with the ordinary yaga that is because the wall of a house is immovable and can be damaged. For instance, a person with a bad intention can break down the wall of a house. Jesus is forever the wall of life and for all human beings. He protects human beings wherever they go. Having realized that, Ekarian Christians call Jesus as the touto yaga, the living wall.
4. Jesus as Touto Owaiye (the Living Roof)
The Ekarian term owaiye, literally, means “the roof of a house.” People cannot live in a house without having any kind of a roof. One can live safely in a house under the protection of the roof. Therefore, the Ekarian always use a special tree bark or a special wild grass as the roof of their houses. The roof protects everybody inside the house from the rain and heat.
Based on the saving presence as experienced by Ekarian Christians, they believe that Jesus has been their shelter. Jesus’ presence is experienced like an owaiye which protects everybody and the family from the rain and heat. All the people, regardless of religion, culture, race or profession experience his brotherly protection.
However, from their experiences they know that the roof of their houses are not durable. A roof can be shattered, destroyed, or become rotten by various causes. The roof is also immovable. Jesus, then, cannot be equated with an ordinary roof. Jesus is experienced as protector of life. Jesus is with all his brothers and sisters protecting them anytime and anywhere. Having realized the saving protection of Jesus for all and forever, the Ekarian Christians picture him as the Touto Owaiye, the living roof.
Jesus as Iniya Touto Owa (Our Living House)
From the above description, we see that Ekarian Christians experience the saving presence of Jesus as the Touto Owa (the Living House) sheltering all human beings. Ackowledging his presence with them, they confess Jesus as Iniya Touto Owa, which literally means, “Jesus, our Living House.” By so saying, they want to communicate that we, all human beings, have been living in Jesus, the Living House of ours. In Jesus as the Living House of ours, every human being comes, sits, sleeps peacefully and feels comfortable. We feel safe in him. When the rainy season comes, Jesus is the sheltering place. Under the heat of the sun, he is the shady place. Jesus is truly our Living House for in him we live and move and have our being. Thus, Jesus the Living House of ours (the Iniya Touto Owa) is already a symbolical recognition of what we have been experiencing from Jesus in our earthly life. They recognize that we are living our earthly life in Jesus, our Living House. As Iniya Touto Owa, Jesus is believe to have been sustaining our life, strengthening us, and protecting us in our earthly life situation.
It does not mean that the presence of Jesus as the Living House is limited to our eathly life. Jesus is also believed to be the Touto Owa, even in the life after death. The Ekarian Christians believe that when we die we will go to the eternal house where Jesus is. They express this belief in the following song:
Yawegi/a kaa, Allah wae damo yakebaiye
(He/she has come to you, o God, so open the door)
Makida yaikidokiyake aki yoka (the name of the dead) yawegi/a kao, damo yakebai
(Having left the world, your son/daughter.... has come to you, o God, so open the door)
Ibo Iniitai, akiya owa pa yawegi/a kao, damo yakebai
(The Great Father of ours, he/she has come to your house, o God, so open the door)
Ibo Iniitai, akiya gaagaa ma beu owapa yawegi/a kao, damo yakebai
(The Great Father of our, he/she has come to your house where there is no more suffering, o God, so open the door.)
Yawegi/a ka, Allah wae, damo yakebai
(He/she has come to you, o God, so open the door)
Through this song people pray to God so that he may open the door of his house. They believe that in the house of the Father there is no more suffering. They pray to God so that God may open the door accepting the dead, letting him or her to be with the Father, and Jesus forever. It does not mean that God will not open the door if they do not beg him. Rather, they pray to God because they believe that Initai Ibo, the Great Father of ours, who loves all human beings, will accept him or her. How can a father reject his own son or daughter and refuse to stay with him in his house? It is impossible. If God is our Father, his house is also the house of his children. It is our house.
Thus, the Ekarian Christians believe that during earthly life Jesus has been the living house of ours. We have been experiencing his saving presence in our life. And after death, we will go the Father’s house where God the Initai Ibo and Jesus the Iniuwai Ibo are. So, we are with Jesus, not only in this earthly life but also in the life after death, in the house of the Father.
Having analyzed the Ekarian understanding of Jesus as expressed in the two names, we could say, as a conclusion, that Jesus is given the title Iniuwai Ibo for his unconditional love for his brothers and sisters and his faithful obedience to the dimi of God. Out of love, he has brought life for all in the world. His life is extremely dedicated to others, for the sake of his brothers and sisters. He is also dedicated to his Father. His saving presence is symbolized as the Living House, the Touto Owa. During our life time in the world, the Ekarian Christians believe, we live in Jesus the Living House of ours, and after death we will go to live in the house of Father, where the Great Elder Brother of Ours is. Thus, the presence of Jesus with us is forever.
1.Frank L. Cooley, Indonesia: Church and Society (New York: Friendship Press, Inc., 1968), p. 60.