Christian minorities in Muslim countries tend to keep their heads down. And many Christians in Indonesia are Asian shopkeepers who still remember the violent assaults by Muslim thugs. But things are different in this region where a local minority is defending its culture.
Where critics say Rahmayadi went too far was when he suggested regulating the decidedly non-halal practice of slaughtering pigs in public. To mark a birthday or wedding, residents around Lake Toba typically kill and carve a hog for a feast, sometimes on someone’s driveway.
“If [Muslim] tourists see that, they’ll never come back to Lake Toba again,” Rahmayadi told reporters.
If this were almost any place else in Indonesia — the world’s largest Muslim nation — many would nod in agreement. But Lake Toba and the surrounding region is home to the country’s largest Christian ethnic minority group, the Batak.
Converted by German missionaries in the 1800s (sometimes at great peril because of instances of ritual cannibalism), the Batak have farmed pigs for generations. Their cuisine is synonymous with pork, often served grilled or stewed in a spicy sauce made with pig blood.
The governor’s mere suggestion the tradition could be curtailed led one local Batak activist to announce a pork festival for later this month replete with hog races, a bacon cookoff and a booth to take selfies with the fair’s most impressive sow.
Rahmayadi’s comments touched a nerve. Batak in the area now say they’re unwilling to cede their culture, particularly as the power and influence of Islam has encroached deeper into Indonesian life.
Lake Toba’s tourist demographic still leans decidedly non-Islamic.
Sidabutar is a third-generation pig farmer and operates two Western-style restaurants in Tuk Tuk, one of which gleefully displays hand-painted signs that read “It’s Beer O’Clock” and “Don’t Stop Beerlieving.” Halal-observant tourists are not his sweet spot.
But, Islam has a way of imposing its beliefs on others, whether by economic and political pressure, as in Lake Toba, or through outright violence.