Weathering the Storm: Indonesia’s Rain Shamans | News Arts and Culture
Medan, Indonesia — Damai Santoso, who also uses the name Amaq Daud, lives 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Mandalika International Street Circuit which hosted the MotoGP Grand Prix earlier this month on the Indonesian island of Lombok .
MotoGP, Indonesia’s first time hosting the race since 1997, went viral thanks to an unexpected interlude from 39-year-old Rara Istiati Wulandari, who took to the circuit barefoot and armed only with a singing bowl and incense, like a storm. beat the track.
The ritual was one Santoso knows well, as he and Mbak Rara – as Wulandari is affectionately known in Indonesia – are pawang hujan or rain shamans, tasked with controlling the weather so it doesn’t spoil anyone’s big day. .
“Rain shamans ‘traditionally’ move the weather from one place to another,” Santoso told Al Jazeera. “We do this by praying to God and asking him to help move the clouds. If many people ask for it at the same time, they will be heard. God is always near and he will deliver.
Santoso knows the Mandalika circuit and its surroundings well, having lived and worked there since his birth. Whenever there’s a big event in the area like a party, wedding, or grand opening, he’s the man people call.
Originally from the indigenous Sasak group of Lombok and a devout Muslim, he has practiced the rain shaman since the age of 20. Like almost all shamans, her gift has been passed down from generation to generation, though not all of her family members have the ability to control rain. Santoso, who is now 50, has six brothers and seven sisters but he is the only one in the family in this profession, and has decided not to pass on his knowledge to his children because it is too “heavy”.
“You have to fast and you can’t go to the bathroom when you’re working. You should be as pure and clean as possible before and during a ritual,” he said. “We will not be heard by God if we are considered dirty.”
The fact that Santoso is a Muslim sometimes raises eyebrows, and some online commentators were quick to criticize Mbak Rara’s appearance on the circuit as contradicting religious norms in Indonesia.
Among them was Abu Fatihul Islam of the Islamic Geographical Institute, who described the event as a “state-sanctioned pagan outrage” and a sign of a “moral and intellectual crisis” in the country.
Dicky Senda, a food writer and activist based in Mollo in East Nusa Tenggara, worked with the local community to catalog the relationship between residents and how they interact with the natural world and interviewed rain shamans as part of his research.
“Many people perceive rain shamans as mystical and superstitious, but that depends [on] how you look at it. The majority of people in Indonesia are religious, so they see it from a religious perspective. A lot of the comments we saw after the MotoGP event said that this practice was “wrong” according to religion. But we must also examine it from the point of view of local religions, which existed years before what we can call imported religions.
Indonesia has six “official” religions, including Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, although animism and indigenous beliefs long predate the arrival of these religions. in the archipelago.
“These rituals have been around for thousands of years, as has the relationship between people and the natural world, but people often use religion as a yardstick to measure traditional practices and say it’s just mysticism or even Satanism,” Senda said.
Purnomo, better known as Pak Gofur, a rain shaman based in Surabaya in East Java, learned the practice from his grandmother and told Al Jazeera he saw no conflict between his religious beliefs as a Muslim and shamanism.
“When we perform a ritual, we burn incense and kindly ask all resident spirits to leave us alone,” the 67-year-old said. “In Islam, we believe in jinn [genies], which are also created by God. It is therefore not a belief in the occult that is forbidden in our religion.
He added that a rain shaman’s motives must be pure for a ritual to work.
“Is there a guarantee of success? If God wills and we sincerely pray in our hearts. If we wonder if we’ll get an envelope [of money] or not, it won’t work. It’s not about the money.”
Pak Gofur is so successful at what he does that he regularly travels all over Indonesia and was recently asked to work for a logging company in Indonesian Borneo to make sure it didn’t rain while they transported stocks of heavy logs because of the danger. soggy ground.
“The company set up a special camp for me in the forest and I prayed there every day for a month,” he said. “Thank God it was a success and it didn’t rain.”
During MotoGP at the Mandalika circuit, the rain did indeed stop after Mbak Rara performed his ritual, but that did not silence many of his critics.
In addition to criticism of a belief in the occult and idolatry, some Indonesian social media users have also expressed embarrassment over the ritual, particularly following video footage of some participants appearing to mock Mbak Rara. as she sang in the rain.
“It’s sad that people laugh at this because it means people like us who research local customs and local communities trying to preserve them are not seen as important,” Senda said.
Senda also argues that Western knowledge is often used to measure what is considered logical and scientific in Indonesia, while local knowledge and traditions are considered unscientific and unstudied.
“The colonial period still has an influence today, including the discrediting of local traditions and beliefs that were considered taboo and culpable by the colonizers,” he said.
Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch from the 1800s until independence in 1945, and the Portuguese for over 300 years before that. The British and Japanese also controlled parts of the archipelago for shorter periods.
“In my research I have found that local communities often have a very spiritual and close relationship with the Earth which may not yet have been scientifically proven but which means they are very sensitive to their environment and the changing seasons and weather,” Senda said.
“Just because we don’t fully understand them doesn’t mean local customs are wrong.”