Indonesia is a country that hosts the largest Muslim population in the world. But it has a strong Christian presence on its eastern area, living in sparsely populated islands like Flores, Rote, Timor, Papua, the Malukus, central and north Sulawesi as well as smaller islands like Tanimbar, Kei, Dobo etc.
By FRANS ANGGAL
Chief editor of the Flores Pos in Ende
Indonesia’s most important island is Java where around 65 percent of Indonesia’s total population of 220 million live. Java’s landmass, however, accounts for about six percent of the total land areas, putting the issues of population the most crucial agenda in Indonesia.
Flores is a predominantly Catholic area. Around 95 percent of its 2.5 million population are Catholics. The most influential Catholic organization in Flores is the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD). In 1912, SVD established office in Ende, a small town in central Flores, to start doing evangelical works initiated earlier by Jesuit and Dominican priests since the 17th century in eastern Flores and Timor Island.
SVD runs not only churches but also schools, farms and publications. It currently has a book publishing company, PT Arnoldus Nusa Indah, as well as the Flores Pos daily, the Dian weekly tabloid and the Kunang-kunang children magazine. PT Arnoldus' office is located on El Tari Street in Ende, sharing a single compound with the Flores Pos daily, the Dian weekly and the children magazine. It also has some meeting rooms and a hall for a bigger event.
In 1925, four years after securing its office in Ende, SVD published the Bintang Timur monthly magazine. Unpaid subscription, however, prompted the SVD to close this magazine in 1937. It is very likely that Indonesia nationalist leader Soekarno, who was exiled in Ende in the early 1930s by the Netherlands Indies administration, also subscribed to Bintang Timur. Soekarno befriended some SVD priests in Ende.
In 1948, SVD published Bentara bi-weekly and its insert Anak Bentara children magazine. Bentara became quite popular, supporting SVD’s education programs and schools, making the circulation to peak at around 35,000 copies. Financial difficulties again prompted SVD to close the bi-weekly in 1958.
In 1973, SVD made a new magazine, publishing the Dian bi-weekly and Kunang-kunang children monthly magazine. Kunang-kunang was pretty famous not only in Flores but also in many parts of Indonesia, including Java. In 1987, Dian became a weekly tabloid.
In the 1980s, Indonesia started to see the emergence of Java-based media conglomerates such as the Kompas Gramedia Group, the Tempo Jawa Pos group and the television industries. An unexpected result of the SVD’s media works is that Flores has produced many journalists, prompting the Flores-educated journalists and editors to work in the emerging media networks. Today the number of Flores journalists working in Java is bigger than those working in their homeland.