Sun, 03 Sep 2000

True believers -- tales of being possessed

By Maria Kegel

JAKARTA (JP): "Rose" considers herself a typical young Canadian. She does not go to church and never believed in the supernatural. But two years after her scuba diving holiday in Manado, North Sulawesi, she is still trying to find a logical explanation for the events that followed.

It was her first time in Indonesia, and one night her scuba instructor asked her for a lock of hair.

She complied, thinking it was a sweet gesture, but when she confided in a local friend, she was shocked by her reaction.

"My friend said she didn't want to scare me, but I should get my hair back."

Rose scoffed at the suggestion her friend was making, and did not think about it again.

However, after she left Manado, she suffered insomnia for five nights. Upon her arrival in Hong Kong, she found she was unable to return to Canada. The next day she flew back to Manado and stayed two more weeks.

At home finally, she grew disinterested in life. She quit her well-paying job, dumped her boyfriend of five years and enrolled in a college program to become an English teacher.

Fifteen months later, she was living and working in Jakarta, and returned to Manado four more times for holidays.

One of her private students, a devoutly religious Arabian diplomat, told her he had performed numerous exorcisms. After looking into her eyes, he stated that she was possessed.

"He was dead serious, and he offered to get rid of whatever was inside. I just laughed at him, and avoided the subject altogether."

Some time later they were having a class over lunch in a busy restaurant. Without warning, her student reached across the table and grabbed her left arm with his hand. At the same instant he began rapidly speaking in Arabic in a low voice.

"This is no lie. I began to become strangely dizzy. Voices in the restaurant began echoing, buzzing, and I was having problems focusing, keeping my eyes open. I tried desperately to keep them open, but I felt I was falling backward down a long dark tunnel."

She said she struggled hard for what seemed to be several minutes to stay conscious, frightened by the embarrassment of fainting in a public place.

"He let go of my arm and stopped reciting, and I snapped back into reality. He didn't explain what he did, and I didn't ask. Instead we just carried on eating and chatting. By far, it was the strangest experience I have ever had and I still cannot explain what happened."


References to people possessed by supernatural forces have been mentioned since the days of the Bible. Hollywood has explored the theme in movies such as The Exorcist.

In Indonesia there are dukun (witch doctors) and orang pintar (shamans), with dukun more associated with black magic, while orang pintar heal the sick.

In strange manifestations which disturb people or places, an orang pintar is called upon, as in the case of one young woman, Uli.

After using a washroom in the back of the shop where she works, Uli felt frail and sick, and later complained of a severe headache.

Uli went home, and her mother saw that she was acting strangely. The young woman had crying fits, which were interspersed with screams and bursts of hysterical laughter.

"And she was so thirsty," her mother said. "During one screaming fit, Uli demanded a glass of water. She finished it and said she wanted more, stopping only after she drank eight glasses."

The family's confusion mounted after a doctor said he could find nothing wrong with Uli.

Her parents decided to consult the local orang pintar.

Ibu Dewi, the 60-year-old neighbor, said Uli's case was no ordinary ailment; after looking at her face, she determined that Uli was possessed by a stubborn spirit.

Before ridding her of the unwanted occupant, Dewi asked it "Where are you from?"

Uli's voice immediately changed to a lower pitch and she answered, "I am from the bathroom at the shop where Uli works".

"Why are you in Uli's body?" she demanded.

"Because I love her," it answered.

Dewi took Uli's hands and said a prayer. She then placed a glass of water in front of Uli, and told her to drink it all.

"Now you have to go," she said firmly addressing the spirit.

It was not the end of Uli's ordeal. A few weeks later Uli's condition returned and Dewi was called three more times to repeat the exorcism.

Although the other times were not as strong as the first possession, Dewi told Uli to keep clear of the corner bathroom at her workplace.

Uli's problem, Dewi said, was that she was weak, her body was rundown and she was often lost in daydreams, making her a prime candidate for possession.

"She could still become possessed again if she starts daydreaming again," she warned.


Psychologist and human resources consultant Sartono Mukadi has dealt with many cases of reported possession, but he believes there is usually a personal problem behind the claim.

"I have never seen a real case of possession. But on the other hand, who is to say. There may be some honest cases, but I've never seen one."

He said most cases involved single low-income female workers; he rarely treats men or the well-to-do. He cited some case examples, saying they were girls who were bearing the responsibility of supporting their families, or were not able to handle guilt in a particular situation, such as an illicit affair.

"Because she has no one to discuss her (affair) with, she copes by claiming to be possessed."

From his experience with these cases, he attributed at least part of the problem to the victim's personality.


"They are weak people, not trained to solve problems by rational discussion. They are introverted, closed and not too genuine a person," he said.

Sartono said therapy was simple: take the victims into a separate room and ignore them.

If you pay attention to their behavior, it gets worse, he said.

"However, if you say you don't believe it, she will be ashamed and stop her behavior. Sometimes she confesses to it, and makes an appointment for counseling.

"In the East, we are not trained to solve our problems with rational thinking, and this is a key factor (in alleged possessions). We use a defense mechanism as it is a way to avoid feeling guilty, and instead of rationalism, or recognizing the causes of the problem, we say it is from a mystical source."