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Indonesia's Shadowy Mysticism

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In early 1942, when Japan seized the Dutch East Indies, a boy named Harri Widodo lost his leg and found his vision.

A Japanese artillery shell killed his family and injured him, leaving him with a realization: "I was the only one who lived, so I thought I was special." After a period of fasting and meditation, "suddenly I knew everything."

Today Mr. Widodo is a spiritual adviser and interpreter of this culture's mystical undercurrents. It is as if, he says, an inner, private television conveys information about the unseen world.

Last July Indonesia entered a dark period, Widodo says, of which this country's huge economic problems are but one manifestation. The only way to stop the turmoil, he adds, is for President Suharto to step down.

Indonesia, particularly the main island of Java, is described as a mystical place, a territory of sacred daggers and unseen forces. Mingled with the imported religions are beliefs that give many Indonesians an alternative way of comprehending reality.

Mr. Suharto, who has run this nation for 32 years, is a master of using Java's culture and mysticism to solidify power. Now this dynamic may be working against him.

Role of Mysticism In the Politics of Java

In addition to the complex economic and political problems facing this country, many Indonesians say, he is facing the erosion of his mystical mandate to rule.

For a king to claim divine authority is truly the original spin, but this political device still carries weight in Asia. Thailand's king is venerated as a god and even the communist leadership in Beijing benefits from the "mandate from Heaven" long claimed by Chinese emperors.

The importance of wahyu

Since at least the early 17th century, the kings of Java, the home of half of Indonesia's 200 million people and the source of its political culture, have cited wahyu, or divine light, as evidence of their right to rule. Suharto has never proclaimed that he is a Javanese king nor has he publicly basked in his wahyu, but many have attributed the qualities to him, at least until recently.

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