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Indonesian Villagers Beat Each Other with Rattan Brooms in the Name of Brotherhood and Friendship

Every year, a week after the end of Ramadan, the Indonesian villages of Morella and Mamala hold Pukul Sapu, a unique ritual that has men from the two villages beating each other across their bare backs with rattan broomsticks.

There’s nothing like a good beating to strengthen the bond between members of a community, at according to the people of Morella and Mamala, two villages in the Maluku province of Indonesia. Seven days after the end of Ramadan, the local young men take part in Pukul Sapu, an ancient ritual that translates as “Beating Brooms”. A fitting name, considering it involves participants hitting each other with strips of rattan across their backs until they are all covered in bloody scars. Before the actual beating begins, the men gather to receive the prayers of the village elders which are supposed to provide protection from serious injury during the proceedings. Wearing only short pants and headbands, the brave men enter the arena and split into two groups, facing each other. They then take turns in hitting each other across the back and chest with hard rattan brooms, with the one taking the beating lifting his arms into the air to proudly display his bloody wounds. This is not a mock battle, and the traces left by each lash is more than enough proof, yet the participants take the beating without so much as a flinch or cry of pain.

Pukul-Sapu

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The Amazing Stone Jumpers of Nias Island

Hombo Batu or Stone Jumping is an ancient ritual of Nias Island, North Sumatra, with young men leaping over stone walls over two-meters tall. The tradition was born out of inter-tribal conflicts and was once potentially deadly as the walls were covered with spikes and sharpened bamboo sticks.

Centuries ago, Nias Island was divided into several regions ruled by landlords or warlords. It was not a hereditary position, nor was it gained by force, but rather through entertainment of the masses. Whoever threw more parties known as “owasa” gained the favor of local communities and became their leader. But organizing these festive events didn’t come cheap, and the island’s landlords would constantly fight each other and use the spoils of war as funding. To start a war, they needed able brave men who had to prove their worth at drafting challenges. Becoming a soldier was a big honor for the young men of Nias and earned them a higher social status in the community, but physical attributes and weapon mastery were not enough to convince their leaders. They also had to jump over a 2.3-meter-tall stone wall without touching it. To make things even harder for candidates, the top of the obstacle was covered with spikes and sharp bamboo sticks, and the jumps often resulted in serious injuries and even deaths. According to some sources, Hombo Batu was also a way of training soldiers to jump over walls during a siege and light the enemy’s camp ablaze with torches.

Stone-jumping

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In Indonesia Professional Hitchhikers Do Drivers a Favor

Usually, it’s the drivers who help out hitchhikers by offering them a ride, but in Indonesia’s capital city, it’s the other way around. Professional hitchhikers get paid to ride in complete strangers’ cars and help them reach their destination faster.

The world’s sixth largest metropolis, Jakarta has a population of over 30 million and around 20 million registered cars. Unfortunately, its infrastructure is far less advanced than that of other large cities like New York, Tokyo or Singapore, which means traffic is terrible. In order to ease jams, authorities have created “Three in One” zones which can only be accessed by vehicles carrying at least three passengers. The measure was successful to some extent, only it also spawned a whole new industry – professional hitchhiking. Every morning, poor Indonesians from the outskirts of Jakarta can be seen lining the sidewalks near entry points to Three in One zones, offering themselves to commuters in a hurry. They are known as jockeys, and unlike regular hitchhikers, they don’t raise their thumbs up to drivers, but their index finger to signal a jockey working solo, and the extra middle finger to signal a couple, usually a mother and a baby.

professional-hitchhikers

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Jembatan Akar – Indonesia’s Amazing Tree Root Bridge

For the last hundred years, the residents of two tiny Indonesian villages in West Sumatra have used a 30-meter-long bridge formed from the interconnected roots of two trees located on each side of a fast-flowing river, to reach each other and trade supplies. Today, the natural wonder known as “Jembatan Akar” has become a popular tourist attraction.

According to locals the amazing tree root bridge was built in 1890, by Pakih Sohan, a Muslim teacher from Lubuak Glare, disappointed by the fact that students from Pulut-pulut couldn’t attend his classes on Islam and Quran recitations due to the Batang Bayang river that separated the two settlements. He planted two small Jawi-jawi – a type of  broad-leaf banyan tree – and started stringing their roots around a stem bridge made of bamboo. In just a few years time the two trees reached each other over the river, but the bridge wouldn’t be able to support the passing villagers’ weight for another two decades. It took approximately 26 years for Jembatan Akar to become the sturdy bridge it is today, and with each passing year, it becomes even stronger, as the banyan tree roots continue to grow.

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Breath of Fresh Air: Environmentally-Friendly Air Freshener Is Made from Cow Dung

Two Indonesian high school student have impressed judges at the national Science Project Olympiad with their ingenious air freshener made from from cow dung. Believe it or not, the organic product actually has a pleasant plant-like fragrance.

Dwi Nailul Izzah and Rintya Aprianti Miki managed to surpass 1,000 other participants at the Indonesian Science Project Olympiad (ISPO), held at the end of February, in Jakarta, and won gold medals for their original invention – an environmentally-friendly air-freshener made from cow manure. I know, that’s probably one of the last ingredients you’d expect to find in such a product, but according to the judges and everyone else who had the chance to sniff the girls’ air freshener, it has a surprisingly nice herbal fragrance. But it wasn’t just the smell that won Dwi and Rintya points. Their natural air freshener contains none of the chemicals found in similar commercially-available products, and it’s also more affordable. While a conventional 275-gram air freshener costs 39,000 Indonesian rupiah ($4), a 225-gram can of cow dung air freshener costs just $21,000 rupiah ($2). The two young inventors are getting ready to showcase their unique invention at the International Environment Project Olympiad (INEPO), in Istanbul, and are getting ready to file for a patent.

cow-dung-air-freshener

 

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Indonesian Tribe Believes Chiseled Teeth Make Women Beautiful

If tattooed black gums are considered a thing of beauty in West Africa, it’s chiseled, pointy-sharp teeth that’s the ‘in thing’ for some Indonesian tribes. I do wonder though, why it’s always the women who have to subject themselves to bizarre beauty rituals.

Well, we may not be able to answer that question any time soon, but we can tell you about Indonesian tooth-filing, a beauty regimen that involves the sawing of teeth until they achieve a sharp, narrow and pointed shape. Women in some Indonesian rural communities are considered extremely beautiful after they’ve undergone such a treatment. Mantawaian is one such village, where the wife of the village chief, Pilongi, had to go through with it a couple of years ago. She had managed to avoid the ritual when she was a young teenager, but as the wife of a powerful man in the village, she had to oblige him by becoming more beautiful.

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Style Oddities – Fake Braces Worn as Fashion Accessories

It’s at times like this that I simply don’t understand fashion trends. I mean, what would prompt otherwise normal teenagers to consider something as horrendous as braces to be a fashionable accessories? Don’t get me wrong, I think braces are an extremely useful dental tool and I used to wear them as well, but I always dreamt of the day I would be done with them forever. Kids in countries like Thailand, Indonesia and China, however, think very differently. For them, braces have become a huge teenage fashion statement.

As unfathomable as the trend sounds, there’s actually a reason behind it. Just as ‘plump’ people were thought to be attractive at one point – as a sign of prosperity – braces to the Asian kids are a sign of wealth, status and style. The reason: genuine orthodontic braces are quite expensive. A set of braces in Bangkok would set you back about $1,200. So all the kids want to wear what the rich kids are wearing. Braces are also popular among young celebrities and youth icons like Indonesian heartthrob Andika Kangen and Thai pop singer Earn the Star. Many Thai and Indonesian websites display pictures of Gwen Stefani sporting braces back in the 90s. Apparently, she had recently confessed that her braces were a ‘fashion choice’, and she’s since become an instant hit with Asian kids. The internet is littered with countless blogs and websites on fashion braces. I tried googling them and found that braces are available in an explosion of colors and varieties.

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Indonesian Villages Use Piles of Sand Instead of Mattresses

The residents of three small fishing villages in the Batang region of Indonesia prefer to sleep on piles of sand than on modern mattresses. This ancient tradition that’s still practiced today for its supposed health benefits.

Taking a nap on a sandy beach is pretty relaxing, but can you imagine going to sleep on a pile of sand every night? For the people of Batang-Batang, there’s really no comparing mattresses to their amazing sand beaches. As the only thing they have in abundance, sand plays a crucial role in the life of these coastal communities. It’s everywhere around their homes, cooling their feet on hot summer days, and keeping them warm during the night, and it even enters their houses as comfortable beds. Even the richest of residents prefer sleeping on sand than on mattresses, and even if some own conventional beds, they are mostly for decorative purposes. The villagers, most of them fishermen, believe the sand brought in from nearby beaches has medicinal properties that can help with a variety of conditions, from rheumatism to itches, although there’s no scientific proof of this. However, it’s a known fact that the sand in the area is highly adaptive to air temperature. When the air is hot, the sand offers a nice cooling retreat, and on cold nights, it keeps the villagers warm.

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Strange Wedding Tradition Forbids Newlyweds to Use the Bathroom for Three Days and Nights

Weddings in the Indonesian Tidong community have traditions that are truly unique. Perhaps the most adorable of their customs is the one where the groom isn’t allowed to see the bride’s face until he sings her several love songs. The curtain separating the couple is raised only after the musical requirement is met, and then they can see each other on a dais. But then again, not all the Tidong wedding rituals are this sweet. The bride isn’t allowed to leave the confines of her home during the engagement period, and a groom who arrives late to the wedding needs to pay a fine (usually jewelry). But the weirdest of them all is this – the bride and the groom aren’t allowed to use the bathroom for three days after the wedding.

It sounds a lot like the newlywed couple are being punished for an unknown reason. How else would you explain being prohibited from leaving the house, clearing bowels or urinating for three whole days? For those of us who couldn’t go even a couple of hours without using the restroom, this sure does seem like a torturous way to be welcomed into married life. But the custom is very normal and natural for the people of the Tidong tribe, who now inhabit the city of Sandakan, in Sabah, Malaysia. They believe that not practicing the three-day and night ritual would bring terrible luck to the couple – a broken marriage, infidelity, or death of their children at a young age. So the couple is watched over by several people, and allowed only minimal amounts of food and drink. After the three days are up, they are bathed and then permitted to return to normal life.

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The Creepy Walking Dead of Tana Toraja

If you thought that zombies were only a figment of the imagination of storytellers, well, prepare to have your mind blown. If the rituals of the villagers of Toraja, Indonesia, are to be believed, almost every person who dies can turn into a zombie. Apparently, certain people of the village had and still have the ability to make dead people walk. And I don’t mean that metaphorically.

Reading about the funeral rituals of Toraja, I’ve come to realize that there are two separate theories on how the ‘walking dead’ evolved. According to one, in the ancient past, it was believed that a dead man must be buried in his village of origin, and not at the place of his death. Since villages then were far apart and extremely isolated, it was difficult for family members to carry the corpse through long distances. The help of people who could make the dead walk was sought, and the dead man would be able to walk back to the village where he was born. Kind of like a mobile service for the dead, I suppose. So in those days, it was not uncommon to find a stiff, expressionless corpse, walking straight ahead. And it is said that if anyone addressed the corpse directly, it would simply collapse, unable to continue the journey. Imagine the horror! Read More »

Tribe Practices Finger Cutting as a Means of Grieving

In some cultures amputation is a form of mourning. This was especially true of the Dani tribe from Papua, Indonesia. The members of this tribe cut off their fingers as a way of displaying their grief at funeral ceremonies. Along with amputation, they also smeared their faces with ashes and clay, as an expression of sorrow.

It isn’t very surprising to learn that women were mostly subjected to this gruesome ritual. The religious beliefs of the tribe prompted this sort of ritual. If the deceased person was considered to be powerful, it was believed that their spirits would contain equal power too. In order to appease and drive away these spirits, several shocking practices were followed. Girls who were related to the dead had the upper parts of their fingers cut off. Before being cut, the fingers would be tied with a string for over 30 minutes. After the amputation, the finger tips were allowed to dry, before they were burned and the ashes buried in a special area. Read More »

In Indonesia Football Is Played with a Ball of Fire

Sepak Bola Api, or The Fireball Game, is a unique game Indonesians play to welcome the month of Ramadan. It’s a lot like football only they have to kick a flaming fireball.

It seems regular football is pretty boring. At least that’s the feeling I get after discovering similar games like Footdoubleball, Cycle Ball or Burton-on-the-Water. The latest addition to the list of games that makes football look easy is an Indonesian tradition that had people kick a flaming football in celebration of Ramadan. It’s called Sepak Bola Api and is usually celebrated in the Yogyakarta, Bogor, Tasikmalaya, and Papua regions of the Southeastern Asia archipelago. Just like in the regular game of football, two teams of 11 eleven players kick a ball and try to shoot it in the opposing goal. But that’s easier said than done when playing barefoot and kicking a flaming ball.

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Indonesia’s Laughing Cock Craze Is No Laughing Matter

Roosters being sold for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars might sound like a joke to you, but in many parts of Indonesia it’s very serious business.

They look like ordinary cocks, but it’s only when they start crowing that people realize just how special they really are. Instead of the normal “cock-a-doodle-do”, these birds make a sound similar to human laughter, which earned them the name “laughing cocks“. Trained and raised to make this special sounds, laughing cocks are source of pride for their owners, who feed them only the best foods, and pamper them with large, ornate cages. This breed of chicken originated in South Sulawesi, where it was known as ayam raja (king chicken), because only Burgis kings were allowed to breed them.

Nowadays, anyone who can afford is allowed to breed laughing cocks, and while they are very valuable, they’re also extremely sensitive. They have to be fed properly and their big cages have to be cleaned twice a day, because these birds tend to become ill very easily. But the high maintenance cost is easily covered by the profit of selling laughing cocks or winning regional laughing contests. A day old chick sells for Rp 100,000 ($12), while a 3-month old bird goes for Rp 300,000 ($36) to Rp 500,000 ($59). But it’s the mature laughing roosters that bring the most profit, as the price of a 9-month bird ranges between Rp 3 million ($354) and Rp 5 million ($590).

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Father Sculpts Giant Clay Head of His Daughter

Indonesian artist Eddi Prabandono has created a giant clay sculpture modeled after the head of his 5-year-old daughter, Luz.

Tourists walking through Taman Budaya Yogyakarta, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, will be surprised to see a 4 meter by 4 meter child’s head made of clay, in a 2,5 meters-deep hole in the ground. It’s not exactly the kind of sight you normally see in Indonesia, but it’s definitely breathtaking to look at. Part of the “Luz Series” envisioned by Indonesian artist Eddi Prabandono, the giant head in question is actually modeled after the head of his daughter, Luz.

Although he had the help of 15 workers, Eddi also needed to rent an excavator to make the hole for his giant clay sculpture, but the 47-year-old artist is just happy he received the support of local authorities who allowed him to dig a hole right in Taman Budaya Yogyakarta. Luz’s giant head is made of 25 tons of special clay and was created for the 2011 edition of Jog Art, and artistic exhibition featuring 241 artworks by over 150 artists.

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Dangerous Railway Therapy Practiced in Indonesia

While it might look like they are protesting against something or staging a gruesome mass suicide, the people of Rawa Buaya are actually looking to cure their illnesses by laying on the train tracks.

In western countries, most people think high levels of electric energy cause cancer, but to the inhabitants of Rawa Buaya, in Indonesia’s West Java, electricity is the ultimate cure. From young children to old folk, they all lie on train tracks passing through their settlement, hoping the electric energy from them will cure their various sicknesses. Not even the potentially lethal trains passing on opposite tracks don’t seem to be scaring these Indonesians away.

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