Dukun, the master of black magic
One aspect of the Indonesian culture that you’re not likely to get to see is the practice of ‘black magic’ or witchcraft. When you talk to regular Indonesian people they might tell you they believe in black magic, although they don’t practice it. Generally Indonesians do not like discussing black magic, especially their own experience with it, but its all around.
Today black magic, together with white magic such as fortune telling, love magic, healing massage and countless other forms, continues to play a dominant role within Javanese cosmology. Many local people believe in it wholeheartedly. All disasters, be they personal or communal, are attributed to black magic. Unusual or sudden death, crop failure, death of livestock, and marriage problems are all caused by a local dukun santet. Elsewhere in Indonesia, people will often consult a dukun to learn about the source of a relative’s illness.
Dukuns probably have more of a hold in Java than in Bali. Most Javanese are Muslim, so they are not supposed to dabble in other supernatural practices. When personal family crisis arrives, people will often consult a dukun, behind closed doors. In Bali the daily offerings placed at intersections and doorways to keep evil spirits at bay, are part of Balinese life. Apedanda (high priest) will have special powers himself to ritually cleanse and offer blessings. Banyuwangi in East Java is a place associated with the practice of black magic.
Banyuwangi has long been known as one of the most powerful centers of black magic in Indonesia, along with Banten in West Java and the island of Lombok. Banyuwangi’s fertile land has bred a farming culture with close links to the spiritual world. As a buffer zone between the islands of Java and Bali, Banyuwangi also has a long history of violent struggle which in the past often met with failure. This combination of fertility and failure led to an obsession with sorcery among the peoples of Banyuwangi.
According to one history, black magic practiced today in Banyuwangi is a blend of animistic belief and Islamic mysticism which arose out of inter-religious conflict during the Mataram court from the 16th century onwards. Another account tracks the origins of Banyuwangi’s black magic to Tulung Agung, a region in the west of East Java.
Black magic in Banyuwangi takes on two major forms. The first is sihir, black magic used to kill another person. This generally comes in the form of busung, where the victim’s stomach will grow grotesquely in size. It is believed various items such as knives, nails, broken glass, even small frying pans or animals can be found inside the stomach. Busung victims rarely escape death.
The second type of black magic in Banyuwangi is rapuh, sorcery designed to make the victim suffer throughout their lifetime. Symptoms include sudden blindness or deafness, paralysis or uncontrollable shaking and trembling.
Dukun santet are feared, and feelings of revenge often occurs in villagers. However, revenge killings of dukun santet were rare. Banyuwangi villagers have long kept black magic in check at the local village level. A code of ethics among Banyuwangi dukun santet forbids them from using their magic against people in the same village. If this occurs the accused dukun must undertake an oath of innocence in the local mosque. A dukun found guilty by fellow villagers was usually exiled from the village and perhaps his home and possessions torched.
Dukun are indistinguishable from everyday people. Some are reverent teachers of Islam, some are comical, and some are gentle parental figures. All are strong characters and inspire respect in their own ways. Dukun believe that their spiritual powers are a gift from God. If those powers are abused through personal gain or nethical intent, they will be lost or weakened.
A person’s ability to become a dukun is generally passed down from their dukun ancestors. However, some form of preparation, at least initially, is necessary for dukun to receive their spiritual power. This usually consists of long periods of meditation and fasting for days or even months. Once the dukun has received this spiritual power, he or she needs to learn the skills and knowledge of dukun practice. Some dukun learn these skills from another dukun or from books on ilmu Jawa that are readily available in bookshops. Others say their skills were taught to them by spirits whom they continue to consult for advice on the diagnosis and treatment of their clients.
As the dukun practice is based on altruism, payment for their services is minimal. It is only a token of thanks, discreetly given to the dukun in a handshake at the end of the consultation. Payment can be in the form of money, tobacco, or consumables used during the consultation such as flowers, herbs and incense. It usually is between the value of A$2 and A$5. As such, dukun live modestly and are neither rich nor poor but have enough with which to survive. A well-off dukun is often suspected of fakery.
The dukun of Java have the wondrous ability to help people in all areas of their lives including the mind, body and soul through ancient practices. This intriguing and important aspect of Javanese culture provides hope, solace, healing and a sense of meaning for people in these uncertain and irrational times. It is no wonder the dukun trade is flourishing.