Indonesia's Shadowy Mysticism
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The president is a skilled "supernaturalist" in his own right, he adds, but is clinging to power even though he knows he should leave office. Indonesia's troubles - among them a collapsed economy, two years of drought and forest fires, and the occasional earthquake and plane crash - are said to be signs of disordered universe in which the gods are unhappy with the earthly ruler, one whose wahyu has waned.Skip to next paragraph
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Wahyu is one of the many elements of Javanese culture that underlie the religious life of the island's modern-day inhabitants.
It is common for Javanese to see certain mountains, talismans, and puppet performances as sacred, even though the vast majority describe themselves as Muslims and pray to Allah.
Javanese mysticism, says Mr. Stange, offers a means for believers to strive for a sense of union with the divine. Many Javanese venerate objects, places, and ancestral spirits, but Stange says believers see a single entity "beyond all the forms."
This mystical tradition may predate Java's many infusers of foreign religion - including Hindu traders from India, Muslim merchants from the Middle East, and Buddhist and Christian missionaries - but it has certainly absorbed elements from them. Javanese shadow puppetry generally tells tales from Hindu epics, but their interpretation is considered full of mystical meaning. And Javanese mystics, Stange adds, have very deeply assimilated Islam's strong emphasis on monotheism.
A good example is Hadisukismo, a seer who lives in a village in central Java, near the cultural capital of Yogyakarta. He credits "Dragon King," his kris or sacred dagger, with spiritual power that has brought success to him and his children, one of whom is a district official.
And where Widodo says an inner television imparts spiritual information, Mr. Hadisukismo reports that some rocks in his garden serve as a "telephone" that allows periodic communication with "Allah." He has made the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and uses a stamp obtained there when he signs documents.
His assessment of Suharto's wahyu, however, runs counter to what seems to be the prevailing view. "It's still strong," he says, explaining that Indonesia's leader bathes in water from a sacred lake to stay spiritually fit.
Questioning Suharto's beliefs
Some observers, however, question whether Suharto's rituals are indeed matters of faith. "Suharto doesn't believe in that," says one Jakarta lawyer and opposition leader who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He does it to get attention."
The lawyer argues that Suharto has shrewdly performed his duties as a Muslim for political gain and suggests that signing a letter of intent with the International Monetary Fund was more of a ritual performance than a true commitment to reform.
At the same time, accounts circulate about steps Suharto has taken to shore up his mystical strength.
Aristides Katoppo is a journalist and author from the island of Sulawesi who manifests a certain skepticism for Javanese mysticism. Asked how much it really matters, he smiles and raises his eyebrows. "In a way, quite a bit," he says.
Of puppeteers and politics
By way of explanation, he tells a long story about Suharto asking an associate to arrange for the performance of a ceremony and shadow puppet play that would reattach the nail or pin that is said to secure the island of Java to the earth. "I was told the president's seer had told him the anchor of Java had come unstuck," Mr. Katoppo says.
The associate dutifully commissioned the ritual and the puppet performance, known as a wayang, but the depth of his loyalty was ambiguous. It seems the wayang was open to interpretation - and Katoppo suggests one meaning was to underscore the popular frustration in Indonesia.
Since the ritual was performed a year ago, things in this country have only worsened and the level of frustration has risen. "I'm a rationalist," Katoppo says. "But those are facts."