Black magic in Indonesia

This file photo shows Indonesian faith healer Ki Raksa Manggala (R), who operates from a dark basement in Jakarta, treating a believer for various ailments. Cult-like groups have long existed across the vast Indonesian archipelago, where belief in local spirits and black magic are often fused with the dominant religion of Islam. (AFP Photo)

Police in Tangerang, a city in the province of Banten, in Indonesia recently arrested a man suspected of raping his own teenage daughter repeatedly over the past year. According to the police, the 39-year-old suspect from Onyam village in Tangerang regency, divorced his wife two years ago. Meanwhile, their daughter, who is now 16, had been living with him ever since.

A year after the divorce, the man allegedly began having sex with his daughter, who still goes to high school. How did the father convince his daughter to have sex with him? Based on the police’s interrogation of the suspect, the father allegedly told her that she had to have sex with him in order to dispel evil forces residing within her.

“The suspect’s modus operandi was that he would say he was able to ward off black magic contained in the victim’s body by getting intimate with her,” South Tangerang Police Chief Ferdy Iriawan told reporters, adding that he often told her to drink water which had been mixed with his semen.

The daughter agreed to her father’s wishes as she was scared of the consequences of the supposed black magic. Now, she is seven months pregnant and it is believed that her own father could be the biological father of her child.

Recently, the girl’s mother called her out on changes in her behaviour. That’s when the teenager eventually confessed to her mother about what she had been going through over the past year. The mother then reported her ex-husband to the police.

Indonesia, a country with the largest Muslim population in the world, has a significant percentage of citizens who believe in black magic. While Islam, as a religion, frowns upon superstition as a whole and practices involving witchcraft, both the Quran and hadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad) do make reference to witchcraft and the evil eye, as well as to supernatural beings known in Arabic as jinn (the origin of the English word genie).

To gauge how widespread belief in these supernatural forces is, the Pew Research Centre conducted a survey asking Muslims from several different countries separate questions about witchcraft, jinn and the evil eye (defined in the survey as the belief that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen). As far as witchcraft goes, 69 percent of Indonesians were found to believe in its existence, far beyond Malaysia’s 49 percent and Thailand’s 17 percent.

Superstition among Muslims in Southeast Asia
Source: Pew Research Centre

Witch hunts

Belief in black magic is so strong in Indonesia that it has even led to the deaths of those accused of dealing in such sorcery.  

La Trobe University anthropologist Nicholas Herriman wrote in his 2016 book, “Witch-hunt and Conspiracy” that the killings of sorcerers, as well as the subsequent ninja killings of 1998 in Indonesia, far eclipsed the number of victims in the Salem witch trials. The “ninjas” he writes of were the infamous black-masked assassins who killed suspected sorcerers in 1998. These assassins were then murdered by villagers.

"In the [East Javan] district of Banyuwangi alone, around 100 sorcerers were killed and many more suffered [in 1998]," Herriman writes, adding that in the following year, up to 150 more sorcerers were killed in West Java.

According to an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald in 2017, sporadic killings of suspected dukun santet (black magic shamans) continue to this day. The article noted that on 10 January, a religious teacher accused of being a dukun santet was reportedly attacked and killed by seven men in Sukabumi, West Java. 

“Reports such as these are not uncommon,” the article reported. 

To say that belief in black magic is confined to Indonesia would be unfair. Reports have also surfaced of Cambodians and their belief in the dark arts. People have the right to believe in what they want to but – and this is regardless of where that belief is coming from - it is also important to note that there are dangers that could arise from such beliefs. In the case of Indonesia, it hasn’t just resulted in the alleged long-time rape of a daughter by her own father, it has also resulted in the extrajudicial killings of those accused of witchcraft.

As for the accused father, he was charged with sexual abuse of a minor, which is a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison in Indonesia. However, since the perpetrator and victim have a biological connection, his prison term may be increased by up to a third of his eventual sentence.

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