Skeptics Organize in Indonesia
May 6, 2013
Indonesia has a population of over 248,000,000 people composing about 300 ethnic groups living on 17,508 islands speaking 350 different languages. So it is no surprise if Indonesians believe numerous different things.
Every day in Indonesia you will hear or see psychics, paranormalists, parapsychologists, and pseudoscientists spreading, scaring, and scamming the nation with irrational beliefs and pseudoscience through the media. You will be able to see them planting thoughts into peoples’ heads so that they can offer solutions and take people's money.
There are countless Indonesian paranormal TV shows and they all have very good ratings. For example, at midnight every night there is a show where they have a participant sit and wait alone in the dark with an infrared camera in an empty house believed by the locals to be haunted. You will often see strange phenomena such as moving objects, ghostly figures, and also unexplainable sounds or noises. If the participant can just sit there for four hours without fainting, falling asleep, or giving up, the participant is rewarded with Rp. 1,500,000 (or about $130). The problem is, of course, that those haunted houses are gimmicked. I usually watch the show with my friend, a successful magic shop owner, and he is able to tell what type of magic gimmicks or technologies they were using to create a haunted house illusion.
One night I was watching a live talk show and the guests were a parapsychologist, a ghost photographer, and a paranormalist. Surprisingly, they had a little debate because they disagreed with each other's explanations about the paranormal and how it works. That event put a little smile on my face. It proved that their work is not as scientific as they claim it to be.
I told many people to send me any reports of any unexplained, paranormal, or occult events. I have received dozens of interesting reports. Some of them were from victims of a rapist paranormal being, known as "Kolor Ijo"(Kolor Ijo means Green Underwear). According to victims, Kolor Ijo looked just like an adult man wearing just green underwear. They said Kolor Ijo raped them while they were asleep. Victims reported that they woke up in the middle of the night then realized there was a weird looking man silently raping them and they could not move a single muscle or scream for help. Of course, it could have been a real rapist, but all the reports sounded too familiar to me. It reminded me of the famous "alien abductions" in America or the "incubus" in Europe. If "sleep paralysis" was the real suspect in this case, then it is obviously harmful to plant the thought that a paranormal being called Kolor Ijo actually exists.
When it comes to irrational beliefs, even the bad guys fall into it. Some thieves believe that if they enter a house without wearing a single piece of clothing they will be invisible. That is one thing that I wish all thieves believed. And if you have never seen a naked thief before, feel free to visit Indonesia. I have seen numbers of naked thieves caught in action. Believe me, you would rather see a ghost than a naked stranger walking around your house.
One of Indonesians’ favorite food is noodles. But there is a problem with some of the noodles. Some noodle-makers were caught putting dirty used underwear in the soup. They believe that with dirty underwear and a little bit of prayer, they could make the soup taste better and could attract more customers. Those are examples of how disgusting irrational beliefs can be in Indonesia.
Talking about bad guys, there is a popular street hustle where the hustler confidently robs a victim without the victim realizing that they were being robbed. It is known here as "Gendam." Most people believe the hustlers use either black magic or hypnosis. I have seen the mentalist Derren Brown do the same thing in one of his specials, and I am confident in saying that it is neither black magic nor hypnosis. It is pure misdirection.
Now, it is time for me to introduce to you a wonderful land called "Tana Toraja." Tana Toraja is a regency of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Since 1984, Tana Toraja has been named as the second most popular tourist destination after Bali by the Ministry of Tourism, Indonesia. Since then, hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors have visited this regency. In addition, numerous Western anthropologists have come to Tana Toraja to study the indigenous culture and people of Toraja. I have never been to Tana Toraja, but there is something about that place that bothers me. Specifically, their unique funeral rituals. In Toraja society, the funeral ritual is a very elaborate and expensive event. The richer and more powerful the individual, the more expensive the funeral. The ceremony is often held weeks, months, or years after the death so that the deceased's family can raise the significant funds needed to cover funeral expenses. Torajans believe that death is not a sudden, abrupt event, but a gradual process toward the land of souls. The soul of the deceased is thought to linger around the village until the funeral ceremony is completed, after which it begins its journey to the land of souls. There are three methods of burial: the coffin may be laid in a cave or in a carved stone grave, or hung on a cliff. It contains any possessions that the deceased will need in the afterlife. The wealthy are often buried in a stone grave carved out of a rocky cliff. The grave is usually expensive and takes a few months to complete. In some areas, a stone cave may be found that is large enough to accommodate a whole family. A wood-carved effigy, called “Tau Tau,” is usually placed in the cave looking out over the land. The coffin of a baby or child may be hung from ropes on a cliff face or from a tree. This hanging grave usually lasts for years, until the ropes rot and the coffin falls to the ground. In the ritual called “Ma'Nene,” the bodies of the deceased are exhumed to be washed, groomed, and dressed in new clothes. The mummies are then walked around the village. As you may have guessed, the last burial method is what bothers me. I have met some people that were born and raised in Tana Toraja and asked them about the Ma'Nene ritual, because I have never witnessed the ritual myself and was very curious. They said, the walking corpse is true and Torajans have been doing it for hundreds of years—some even say thousands of years. But I'm still skeptical. Maybe it is time for me to visit that place myself, but I need to make sure that it is not just a myth or folklore before I decide to go for it.
I believe education, or at least a little critical thinking, is a good way to avoid irrational beliefs and scams. It is probably one of many things professional skeptics would say to anybody. But all the information available out there is written and spoken in English. Since not all Indonesians speak or understand English, that is one possible reason why they never get the education they need about skepticism or critical thinking. Irrational belief and pseudoscience can be physically, mentally, and financially harmful. That is why I created a movement, which I call “Indonesian Scientific Skeptics.” The people inside the movement can simply be called "Indo-Skeptics." The main goal is to prepare future generations to defend themselves from nonsense. I have a lot of plans ahead, and one of them is to provide understandable scientific sources for Indonesians, where they could learn more about science and avoid pseudoscience. But first of all, I need their attention. Because they are probably more skeptical about the movement, since the term “skeptic” sounds negative to some people, and pseudoscientists looked more convincing because most of them wear lab coats and sell “too good to be true” products or services. The movement I started does not have many supporters yet, but I have a good feeling that it will be a breakthrough someday. One thing I have been doing for a while to get people's attention, which is turning superstitions and belief into art and entertainment by mixing magic, hypnosis, and showmanship—basically, what skeptics like James Randi or Derren Brown usually do. I am writing a book now about the importance of critical thinking and skepticism for Indonesians and I also give lectures to local magicians about the same topic and the belief issues that we are facing in this country. I always get positive feedback and support from the listeners.
There is a lot more I would love to share with you, which I will do in other articles sometime in the future. Next time I will include witchcraft, ghosts, popular Indonesian myths, alternative medicines and therapies, and a lot more. What you have just read is just a warm up and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you!