Indonesia’s rain-averting shamans back in business after pandemic hiatus

By Heru Asprihanto and Adi Kurniawan

BEKASI, Indonesia (Reuters) – Seated cross-legged amid a fog of incense and platters of fragrant offerings, dishes of red chillies, garlic bulbs and frangipani petals, Indonesian shaman Ki Joko Sapu-Jagat prepares at home the night before his first day back on the job.

After a months-long interruption, Indonesia’s rain shamans who conduct ceremonies to keep rain away, are back in business, with large-scale events now permitted under eased coronavirus restrictions.

While many might be sceptical, several Indonesians believe in the ability of these “pawang hujan”, or “rain-diviners”, to control the weather.

In a nation that experiences sudden monsoon downpours for months each year, these rain shamans are often hired to keep weddings, concerts, and even government events rain-free.

“In principle we work without changing nature. Instead we fortify the area where the event is,” said Ki Joko, 57, staring up at a patch of ominous gray clouds, as he explained how he creates an invisible barrier of protection to move clouds to other places.

Ki Joko’s first day back on the job involved an outdoor wedding in Bekasi, West Java, attended by 400 people, on a day when the weather forecast predicted storms and a 75% chance of rain.

Surveying the venue’s leafy perimeter, Ki Joko, in a Javanese shirt and batik bandana, stopped at a quiet corner and planted precious heirlooms, including a handful of small bronzed krises, or daggers, into the earth around a plate of fresh flowers.

Ki Joko comes from an ancestral line of Balinese rain shamans, and has been a “pawang hujan” for decades, picking up the craft from his mother in his late teens.

“Their work is between 70-100% successful,” noted venue manager Yata. “There are situations where the conditions are extreme and they can’t prevent it, so finally it rains. But their presence is very helpful for outdoor events like this.”

Despite the grey skies looming over the nuptials, no rain was shed during the ceremony, Reuters observed.

“Whatever your weather-related problem, leave it to me,” said the slight, bespectacled shaman.

(Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Karishma Singh)

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