Untangling conversion: Religious change and identity among the Forest Tobelo of Indonesia

Christopher R. Duncan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


In the late 1980s, after decades of refusal, the Forest Tobelo foragers of northeastern Halmahera, Indonesia, converted to Christianity. The version of Christianity they accepted was not the one offered (or imposed) by coastal Tobelo-speaking communities with whom they share kinship and affinal ties, but was brought to the region by the American-based New Tribes Mission. This essay examines the factors and motivations behind this change, and offers an explanation that takes into account local histories, larger political and economic changes, such as deforestation and land encroachment, and the rarely examined topic of missionary methodologies. The Forest Tobelo decision to convert is best understood as an attempt to maintain their distinct identity from coastal communities with whom they have a long history of poor relations; the methods used by the New Tribes Mission made conversion an attractive option at that time. (Christianity, missionaries, Halmahera, conversion motivations)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-322
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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