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Asian Religions timechart


Doctrines Both in the island world of Indonesia and on the Indo-China mainland the people who inhabited these lands in the pre-Christian era were largely animists. The people believed that inanimate objects had spirits which could affect the well-being of those around them. There were also considered to be spirits in trees, rocks, mountains as well as people. Animism entailed worship of ancestors and spirit worship. In modern Thailand, both in the cities and in rural areas, each home will have erected in the corner of the garden, a spirit house (in Thai called Phra Pume).
Animism or Spirit worsyhip is often accompanied by ritual chants and dances, special folk drama or masques such as the shadow play. Burial mounds usually include special items to honour the dead or assist them in their next life such as the bracelets and utensils found in the prehistoric site of Ban Chiang in North East Thailand, a site which goes back, it is thought to around 3,000 BC.
Animism is commonly found throughout agricultural, rice-growing communities of SE Asia, and among the often nomadic rural, hill tribes peoples, both on the mainland and in the island world. Spirit worship in these communities gave rise to a body of social and religious responsibilities which in Indonesia came to be called the Adat. Animism is said to be more obviously part of village life rather than town life and in Indonesia is associated with the Abangan traditions. These social and religious beliefs originating in Animism have persisted since ancient times and have become part of the syncretic system of SE Asian cultures. Two thousand years of penetration by Buddhism, Hindusim, Islam and both Catholic and Protestant Christianity have not annihilated Animistic beliefs and practices from the normal, everyday world of SE Asian peoples, whether they live in the Indonesian world or on the Indo-China peninsula.

History Animism is characteristic of primitive social structures in tribal, often nomadic communities. It is typically associated with the early bronze age cultures of the pre-Christian era which lacked a writing system or written history. Without such written records, archaeologists piece together suggestions of what the societies practising animistic beliefs must have been like based on the artefacts found in burial mounds or excavations and the rituals and folk beliefs which have survived to the present time through the syncretic system which is religion in modern day SE Asia.

Symbols There are no exclusive symbols representing animism. A common feature is the spirit house which can be made of various materials and in various styles and is common in mainland SE Asia. Another feature is the sacrificial animal pillar characteristic of Indonesian cults.

Adherents The number is unknown. Almost all practising Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu and Christian devotees of present day SE Asian societies also include in their belief systems elements of animism.

Main Centre
 There is no one centre of animism. Its geographical distribution would include the village and rural communities of certain T'ai hill tribes in the mountainous parts of northern Burma, Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam and Cambodia as well as the rice growing and agricultural communities in the Indonesian island world. Animism today has been assimilated to the mainstream script religions of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.