05 November 2010


Before I came to Tana Toraja, I was warned by an Indonesian friend that there is a lot of black magic here. That friend gave me his father's magical ring to serve as protection. I was also given strict instructions not to wear it into the restroom because apparently that removes the magic.

What I've learned about magic in Indonesia thus far:

  • Young people can become possessed by spirits. This most often happens if there is emptiness in their heart, which creates a vacuum the spirit can fill. When someone is possessed their skin and lips turn pale and they may faint or start screaming. One of the high school teachers is skilled at removing spirits from students by saying magic words and touching their forehead with a special type of cloth. 
  • Not everyone has magical powers. Those who do usually live in the wilderness--away from modern technologies. Magic is inherited. However, if one wishes to maintain their magical abilities they must live a life of seemingly arbitrary restrictions. Thus far I know they cannot drink alcohol or walk under laundry lines. These people cannot be affected by swords or bullets. 
  • Those without the gift can still sometimes perform acts of magic. For example, when he was young, one of my co-teachers was able to use magic to make a girl fall in love with him. Apparently he obtained the necessary magic words from one of his friends who had the power. This teacher told me that the girl fell so madly in love with him that it became a nuisance. He did what he had to in order to reverse the spell. He said the magic words backwards. The words weren't Indonesian or any other language my co-teacher had ever heard. 
  • In the past magic was used to make dead people walk. This would be done if a body needed to be relocated. It would only work if the deceased person avoided being seen by walking deep in the forest at night. Today, this isn't done because modern transportation undermined its utility. 
  • Magic is still currently used to prevent rain at funerals. 
I've been told that you can only be affected by magic if you believe in it. The stronger your faith the stronger its power. I don't believe in magic per se but I do believe that faith in anything can be very powerful. 

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