Monday, November 20, 2006

Mysticism in Java

The Javanese are a mystical group of people, ghosts, spirits, Dukuns (magic men/women for want of a better word), the paranormal; all of these constitute a real and valid part of Javanese life. The average Javanese will consult with a Dukun if a problem crops up, and implicitly and explicitly believe what they are told. The Dukun holds enormous sway over the people and take their positions seriously. They will enter into consultation for little more than the price of a packet of cigarettes and try to settle the fears or queries of their customers. There has been a lot written about them thus I won’t go into the details, suffice to say that as a child we ourselves used the service of a Dukun after a house we were renting in Jakarta was found to be haunted.

My parents enlisted the help of a local Dukun after the maids were scared witless encountering ghostly spectres about the house. The final straw was when my mother, a practical New Zealander, came across one of these ghostly spectres for herself. Thinking it was one of the maids, Mum called her over and was a bit disconcerted when the ghost swept by and vanished.

The Dukun duly came, walked around scattering rice grains throughout the house and did his bit. After that, no more ghosts were encountered. Go figure.

So, when S, my ever faithful driver, suggested he should visit a Dukun, a man he calls his “teacher” who possesses the sight, to try and figure out who perpetrated the burglary on A’s house, it was somehow made sense to me and off he went.

He came back the next day full of news. The burglary was organised by a woman, and from the description of the woman it strongly resembled the mother of A’s young maid who works for a friend of ours. S brought two small packets of herbs. One was to be scattered into the drawer where the jewellery was kept, and the other emptied into a jug of water. The suspects are gathered, the water drunk, and then asked to write a brief statement in front of the drawer stating that in God’s name they had nothing to do with the burglary. The hand that shakes, according to S’s teacher, will be the culprit.

As you can imagine, this filled both C and me with consternation. Not only was the accused working for a friend of ours, but we would have to get her to drink the water and write a statement? Seemed just too far off our usual beat, and so, I decided to take S to A’s house for him to explain to her what she should do per the “teachers” advice.

A was less than happy with the idea, coming from a culture that made this tantamount to an accusation, whereas for S, he couldn’t see the problem. As far as he was concerned, we were giving the suspect a chance to clear herself and all this was perfectly acceptable according to tradition.

We discussed this for some time and finally we reached an agreement. A would talk to a few of the Javanese teachers on the morrow and find out if this was indeed an okay thing to do.

She duly did and while they agreed that yes, it was within the bounds of being okay, whether to believe such a thing was another matter entirely. As sophisticated teachers, and of a new generation, they do not hold with such ideas as steadfastly as their elders do.

So, a dilemma. A was torn between wanting to get her mothers rings back and the way out there idea that S’s “teacher” may be right. What would you do?

In the end, A decided to not take action, even though S was positive that A’s maids mother was somehow implicated. It was just too far fetched for a western mind to accept. Have to admit, I felt the same way. What if the suspect had drunk the water, her hand didn’t shake, then where would we be? How would she feel thinking that she was accused? Or would she accept this as being a matter of clearing her name? No way of knowing and too big a chance to take. We could hurt her pride, destroy her name, cause our friends hurt etc. We never did say anything to the maid’s mother and never will.

So, A is still hoping the police will find the thief. As for S? He asked his “teacher” to put a curse on the thief and this will apparently make it very difficult for him/her to sell the goods. Let’s hope.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Lil C with her beloved "lamby"

At the housing complex pool

The pool

Looking up our street (we are four doors up on the left) from the pool

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Sunday afternoon, relaxing and reading a good book when the phone rings. Thus starts one of the more bizarre experiences I’ve had.

On the other end, the trembling voice of one of our newest teachers, a woman in her early fifties, all the way from New Zealand. You can’t help liking her; A is tough, with a great laugh and an assured way of looking at the world. To come all the way out here speaks of courage and a zest for life which she has in abundance. However, that Sunday afternoon she was anything but happy.

“I’ve just got home and I’ve been burgled” her voice breaking.

I grabbed my keys and headed out. She lives just up the road, in one of the newer estates which at this point still only has a few houses and not much in the way of good security. Then again, in this area, one doesn’t think there is much need for security apart from the usual, burglaries are very uncommon, almost unheard of, and here she is; only four months out, living alone and comes home to find her jewellery strewn across the bed. The thief had a discerning eye, only gold necklaces and rings were taken, plus an ipod, docking station and speakers, and of all things, an electric iron.

It was the jewellery that was hardest to bear. Her mothers two rings handed down through time were gone, ripped out of their velvet lined box that had been locked up in a drawer in the bedroom cupboard. A was in tears, cursing the thieves and herself for leaving the back door unlocked which opens to a small courtyard. The thief had climbed the high back wall, or so we thought, jumped down in to the garden then strolled into the house, in broad daylight.

We cleaned up, and I took her back to my place, stopping along the way to tell the security guards at the front entrance what had happened. They promised to send someone round to my place.

Twenty minutes later a guard’s car plus ute with six fellas sitting in the back all pull up outside the hose.

They come inside and we set down the details, knowing there was buckleys in catching the thieves. The head honcho, G, one of the biggest Indonesians I’ve ever seen, at least 6’4, asks me if we want to go to the police. A and I look at each other and I shrug, “Can’t do much harm”.

He drives us out there, it wasn’t far, but almost in another world, smack bang in the middle of a busy little village, yet the building was quite new. The casually dressed policeman sitting behind the desk takes down the details by way of a long and involved conversation, the security head honcho hovering around offering his own viewpoint on what had transpired. Obviously this was a no-no and the cop fixes him with a glare, “Sit down, there,” he point to a chair a few metres away and G meekly sits. Another cop is busy on the phone, ringing aound the various stations for a dog squad. One of the first questions he asks is how old is A? This becomes the most common question that night, from just about every cop I meet. Seems they find it extraordinary that a woman of her age lives alone, not even a maid to keep her company. Or did they have ideas of asking her out on a date?

So we talk, the heat pressing down, thirst building until he is satisfied and rolls his chair to a fairly old but working computer. We go through all the details again and with two fingers he taps out a report, taking ages to get out a single sentence. I wanted to leap over and do it for him but stayed silent. No use getting him offside.

While he is tapping away, some pople turn up with bags of food and bottles of water and wander off into the back of the police station. I ask G who they are. Turns out they are the relatives of the prisoners currently being held in lockup. Don't they get food and water in there I ask G. They do, he assures me, but it's a hot day and sometimes their allocated water runs out. I shudder to think of what it must be like back there and ask no more questions.

Finally the typing cop finished his tapping and tried to print the document, one page rolled out then the printer stopped. Out of ink. He tells me they will make copies when new ink is delivered. A signs the one sheet and the other cop comes back and says there are people waiting for us at A’s house. So, we head out there, nearly two hours after first sitting down at the cop station.

When we arrive at A’s house, there were about 20 cops there, from plainclothes guys with pistols stuck in their waistbands, to the dog squad to a bunch of uniformed fellas.

The turnout was extraordinary. I walk about, shaking hands with them all and thanking them for coming. I have no idea of the levels of authority so play it safe and am as polite as possible. One chap who wanders over to greet me is a short rotund man in full dress uniform. G leans over and whispers that this is the Deputy Commander of the local police. I'm impressed that he would come out and thank him for his time. He airily waves his hand around, telling me that this is an important incident and of course he should come. The animation they all show however, seemed to me to born more of excitement at having something to do on a quiet Sunday afternoon than a serious interest in finding the thief. Theyall stand around chatting, smoking ciggarettes, catching up on each others news and so on. After half an hour of this I ask G whats going to happen next. He shrugs, not sure, he says, and goes over to the DC, who is deep in conversation with a plainclothes cop, to ask. The DC seems somewhat surprised by this question and finally notices that we are all just standing around.

After some further discussion, the dog handler plus dog do a tour of A’s house and find the trail. Apparently the thief came through the empty house next door, climbed up onto the roof and let himself down through the upstairs maids quarters and down into the house. An inside job is suspected and all the guards are called in.

They are made to stand in a line and the dog wanders around them, sniffing at their shoes. The guards stand rigidly, obviously terrified of this huge panting dog (I was wondering if anyone was going to give the poor thing some water) but the dog finds no trace on them.

A is asked to walk the line and look at each face as apparently she did have a visitor that morning who asked if he could work in her garden, but was noticed later to be hanging around the area even though she said no. The thinking was that it might have been one of the guards. A walks along the line, uncomfortable and tells me that no, it’s none of them. She smiles apologetically at the guards and stands aside.

Next it’s the DC's turn. He surveys the guards with a cold expression and asks them how it was that this could happen. They stay silent. He then proceeds to give them a lecture on allowing in people without checking ID, something this particular group are well known for. Finished, he turns away and all the cops stand around quietly chatting. One of them finds the guards (still standing in a straight line) annoying and barks an order. They swivel and face the other way. I wince, this is worse than anything I could have expected but for the cops its all in a days work.

Finally the deputy commander barks another order and they swivel forward again. This time he raises his voice and threatens them with dire consequences if another burglary is perpetrated on their watch. He shouts a word, and the guards shout “Siap pak!” (Ready sir!). Two of them didn’t shout loud enough and the DC fixes them with a steely glare. “I didn’t hear you” he says, and the two guards noticeably shrink. They shout again, “Siap pak!” and the DC, satisfied, turns away.

The guard’s commander steps up next. He surveys them with a sour expression and talks of what they had done wrong, failure to check ID’s, failure to patrol the area, and so on. Sanctions will be issued for such dereliction of duty, he promises. Once he is done, he barks an order and the guards disperse gloomily.

I tell the DC quietly that A is offering a substantial reward for the return of the jewellery, particularly the rings and his face brightens. He promises me they will do what they can to find them and after another chat amongst themselves, they all get into and onto their various vehicles and roar off into the night.

It’s been a week now and we haven’t heard a word from the police.

However, from all this comes an encounter with Javanese mysticism which I'll talk about in my next post.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Night Out

We finally went out on our own last night after what had seemed like one get together after another with friends and so on over the past couple of months. Thinking we might be having more than a drink or two, I asked our ever faithful driver to stay back and transport us to the restaurant and onto wherever later. S, a friendly fellow, agreed and around 7pm we set off.

Usually I sit beside him up front, in fact, only once before have I sat in the middle back. However, this was supposed to be a romantic night with C so I clambered into the back and settled in cautiously. What an experience!

It rattles back there. By god does it rattle. Had no idea. I turned to C and asked with some horror if this was what it was always like.

“Oh yes,” she says smugly, “I thought you knew. It is a bit bumpy in the back.”

Bumpy?! Bloody hell, it was shake, rattle and roll back there. Up front you just don’t get the same thing.

So, anyway, we set off, holding hands and chatting quietly when S, a chap who delights in getting involved, offered up the latest news.

“Pak,” he says, “there was an accident!”

“An accident? Where?’ I answer, thinking, oh lovely, romantic evening, and S starts with a horror story.

“A wall fell on two workers, one dead, one with a broken arm!” He turns to look at me with wide eyes and I glance at the cars and motorbikes weaving around us and close my eyes in silent prayer.

“Aduh!” I say, “How did this happen?”, hoping he will take an interest in one motorbike that seems to have kamikaze intentions around our front right fender.

“The owner of the house thought his garden wall was looking a bit wobbly and got two workers in to fix it, but it fell on them instead.” Shakes his head, momentarily lost in thought at such idiocy, though I’m not sure if it was the owner or the poor workmen who were the subject of such thoughts.

“Kasihan keluarganya!” I said (poor families- of the injured and dead).

“Oh yes,” he says, “terrible isn’t it? But not just that…”

I’m forced to answer “What else happened to day?”

“Another accident!” He says triumphantly.

“Another one? Where?”

By this time C is smiling a little, relaxing in the fact that its not her that has to answer all that seems to interest S.

And so as the car wends it way through the traffic I am handed, courtesy of S, the latest bad news including a bad driver he knows who is ripping off his boss, President Bush and his impending visit to Bogor (Not good for business according to S,) the mud flood in East Java, and so on. We arrive at the restaurant and thankfully get out of the car, bones still somewhat rattled after that last stretch of bad road.

“Have a lovely evening, pak!” He calls with a cheerful grin and wave.

I nod weakly. With all that doom and gloom weighing heavily on our minds, we bravely enter the restaurant.


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