Kei, Tanimbarese in Indonesia

Joshua Project has identified the Kei only in Indonesia





Largest Religion

Main Language


Introduction / History

Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world and continues to grow rapidly. It has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world, with more than 750 distinct people groups, many of whom are Muslim. Located in southeastern Asia, the islands of Indonesia serve as vital sea routes between Australia, Europe, and the Asian mainland. They are the principal link between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The Kei Islands, a part of Indonesia, are a small group of islands located in the Banda Sea between Irian Jaya and Australia. The inhabitants of these islands are called the Kei (or Tanimbarese), and their language is also called Kei. Although their physical features resemble those of the people of Papua New Guinea, the Kei islanders are of a very mixed ancestry. They were introduced to Islam as early as the fifteenth century, and later during Dutch rule, Christianity was brought to the islands.

What Are Their Lives Like?

Fishing is the main livelihood of the Kei villagers. The people go out, usually at night, in plank boats or in dugout canoes. They use spears, harpoons, hooks, and traps to catch the fish.

The Kei also engage in some farming, using the "slash and burn" technique. In this type of agriculture, the land is first cleared by burning the existing vegetation. Then, in the resulting fertile top soil, the crop is planted. After a year or two on the land, the farmer moves to a new area and begins the process all over again. Using this method, the Kei cultivate taro (a potato-like vegetable), yams, maize, and rice. They also collect sago (a powdery starch obtained from the trunks of sago palms) from the swamps. For export and cash, the people make boats and canoes, cut timber, and produce copra (dried coconut meat yielding coconut oil).

Formerly, settlements were built on the tops of high, steep rocks or hills for protection. They were usually grouped in dense clusters of 20 to 50 houses, surrounded by a stone wall. Today, the houses lack any one type of distinctive style, apart from being built on stilts.

The most important group in the Kei village is the fam (group with a common male ancestry). Some fams are small, with their members living in a few villages close together. Other fams are very large, with their members living in many villages spread over a broad area. A village may also contain members of several fams. However, one fam is usually regarded as being the "senior fam." Its members are the direct descendants of those who first settled the village.

The ideal marriage to the Kei is a cross-cousin marriage. The man will usually pay a bride-price, and this will be reciprocated by a gift from the girl's relatives. To avoid a large bride-price, the man may practice bride-service instead. In this case, he will live and work for his wife's parents for a number of years.

Traditional Kei culture recognizes three social classes: the village heads, the ordinary people, and the slave class. The members of the ruling lineage of village heads are called the mel mel, and many of these claim foreign descent. The village head is called the rat or orang kaja.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Kei are primarily ethnic religionists, practicing their ancient traditions and religions. An important element in their religion is the belief in spirits of the dead. The spirits of those who died a violent death or of women who died in childbirth are especially feared. Mythology also speaks of Duan Lerwuan, the god of the sun, and of Duan Luteh, the god of the moon. Other Kei deities include Hejan Suwat, the god of the sea, and Lir Majoran, the god of agriculture.

What Are Their Needs?

While the Kei have a history of evangelization to some degree, there has been little response, and today, very few are Christians. Although there are two missions agencies currently working among the Kei, they have few Christian resources available to them. Evangelistic literature and Christian media are desperately needed if the Kei are to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Prayer Points

* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to any missions agencies that are focusing on the Kei of Indonesia.
* Pray that God will give the Kei believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Kei church for the glory of His name!

Profile Source:   Bethany World Prayer Center  

People Name General Kei
People Name in Country Kei, Tanimbarese
Population in Indonesia 110,000
World Population 110,000
Countries 1
Progress Scale 2.2
Least-Reached No
Indigenous Yes
Alternate Names Tanimbarese
Affinity Bloc Malay Peoples
People Cluster Maluku-Southern
People Name General Kei
Ethnic Code AON09e
People ID 12605
Country Indonesia
Region Southeast Asia
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
Persecution Rank 47  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Location in Country Southeast Maluku, Kei Kecil, Kei Besar, surrounding islands, except Banda Eli and Banda Elat villages on Kei Besar; Kur Islands, where Kei is a lingua franca. About 207 villages on about 10 islands.   Source:  Ethnologue 2010
Languages & Dialects on file:  1  (up to 20 largest shown)
Kei (110,000)
Languages & Dialects (speakers if known) - up to 20 shown
Kei 110,000
For Primary Language: Kei

Bible Translation Status  (Years)
Bible Portions No
New Testament No
Complete Bible No
Resource Format
Audio Bible teaching (GRN) Audio Recordings
Primary Religion: Christianity
Religion Subdivision: Roman Catholic

Major Religion Percent
0.00 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 1.00 %)
49.00 %
Ethnic Religions
20.00 %
0.00 %
31.00 %
0.00 %
Other / Small
0.00 %
0.00 %

Christian Segments Percent
0.0 %
0.0 %
0.0 %
Other Christian
0.0 %
0.0 %
Roman Catholic
100.0 %
Photo Source: Franc Le Blanc  
Map Source: Ed Travis  
Profile Source: Bethany World Prayer Center  
Data Sources: Data is compiled from various sources. Read more

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