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Religion or Culture? Change among the Papuans in the Upper-Digul Area, 1956–1967

  • Gerrit R. de Graaf


In August 1958, Meeuwis Drost (1923-86) was the first missionary for the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (Vrijgemaakt), or Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) to start proselytising among the Papuans of the Upper-Digul area in Netherlands New Guinea. He later recalled how that day: “I simply started with Genesis one. And they listened!” Drost finished teaching the entire Old Testament within one year. To start at the beginning seems logical and is in fact the approach used by most missionaries of the Liberated churches. Transfer of religious and cultural knowledge was seen as an important aspect of their work, especially with an illiterate audience. The Protestant religious landscape in the Netherlands had fragmented heavily during the nineteenth century. Two secessions from the Dutch Reformed Church in 1834 and 1886 led to the formation of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in 1892. Its tendency to depose those who refused to adhere to its theological views resulted in the Vrijmaking (Liberation) in 1944. Although the Liberated churches were one of many Protestant branches, they were very secure in their own theological views. Consisting of exclusive political, religious, educational and even recreational organisations they formed a mini-pillar in Dutch society.



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* Gerrit R. de Graaf is co-author of the digital “Repertorium of Dutch Protestant and Catholic missionary archives, ca. 1800–1960” (Huygens ING – Url: His dissertation analyses the cultural interaction between the Liberated mission and the Papuans in the Upper Digul area (1956–1995). G.R. de Graaf, De wereld wordt omgekeerd. Culturele interactie tussen de vrijgemaakt-gereformeerde zendelingen en zendingswerkers en de Papoea's van Boven Digoel (1956–1995). Barneveld: De Vuurbaak, 2012.

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Religion or Culture? Change among the Papuans in the Upper-Digul Area, 1956–1967

  • Gerrit R. de Graaf


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