Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 5 August 2013 • Blog
I finally got to see my first official witchdoctor at the Yadnya Kasada ceremony! YAY! Well, OK. Shaman should be the more appropriate word for it but I’ve always found ‘witchdoctor’ more exotic. Come on! It’s a witch and a doctor at the same time! Cauldron and stethoscope! LOL.
Anyways… I did finally meet a real shaman. Actually they were some of the most powerful shamans of the Tengger land, who had gathered at the Luhur Poten temple to burn some incense and cast prayers. It was a celebratory event of Yadnya Kasada, where new shamans were inaugurated and offerings were thrown into the crater. I was there to see it all. *magician hands
I purposely revisited Bromo after about 3 years, just for the sake of Yadnya Kasada. I’m a big fan of traditional festivals, which are filled culture and illogical customs. I learn a lot from them (makes you question my intelligence, right? LOL). The Yadnya Kasada is an annual festival held by the Tenggerese people, inhabitants of the Bromo Mountain vicinity. Each year based on their lunar sort-of calendar, they inaugurate a few new worthy shamans. With that, villagers assemble offerings of goods into something called an ‘ongol-ongol’, have a few high shamans bless it, and then chuck ‘em into the Bromo crater along with their prayers. Aside to the inauguration, they pray that the gods bless them with another good year.
This tradition is said to have started from an old folk story. Roro Anteng and Jaka Seger (names of which the word Tengger is derived from) were queen and king of the remaining Majapahit kingdom that fled up Bromo due to Islamic invasion. Although happily reigning, they failed to conceive a baby. Thus, they asked the Bromo gods to bless them with children. It was approved with a catch. In exchange, they had to sacrifice their youngest born. The royals agreed and were blessed with not 10, not 20, but 25 CHILDREN! Eat that, Jon and Kate! Now, how could you sacrifice your 25th child? Beats the hell out of the royals, ‘cause they opted to wimp out on their promise. The Bromo gods were furious, of course, and decided to #mountainflip (yes, I’m twitter talkin’) causing an eruption. In between all the drama and chaos, the gods succeeded in snatching Kesuma, the youngest. Upon his taking, vaguely the kingdom heard Kesuma requested that sacrifices must be done each year to keep the gods happy. Hence, the people have been throwing a supermarket load of goods in the crater ever since. And the mountain has been, more or less, on the bright side.
The main ceremony goes on for about 4 days and nights. I was there on the last night, which was to be the big finale. By 1 a.m., our group had reached the Luhur Poten temple to see people in deep prayer, people collecting their offerings, senior shamans standing by, and highest shamans in white just zen above their stove incense. Kids were also there, happy like it was Christmas. The locals, amazingly just in thin layers of clothes compared to my buff jackets, came up to the main temple and prayed in turns. Because the ceremony is a Hindu practice, they pray much like the Balinese do. There are a lot of traditional ceremonies in Indonesia, but if was different to see one in the cold air at the wee hours. After a night of prayer, they carried their offerings up to the crater and happily fed the Bromo gods. The throwing continued all morning to the afternoon.
So what is the good of throwing produce down a crater? I’m sure the acid eating bacteria in the crater wouldn’t have preferred it to the sulfur (I heard you cough “geek”. I did!). It’s kinda the same puzzling act as the Balinese making the offering platters every day that they put on the streets to then be kicked around and stepped on. Useless. However, I can only assume it’s about the notion of giving. It’s probably a practice of giving, letting go of what you have for a bigger purpose. With life mostly about gaining, we sometimes drift off of giving. This might be just an ice-breaker. Maybe.
Just think about it, wouldn’t it be the same as throwing a penny at the Trevi Fountain in Rome? Granted the value is very much different, but it’s the hope that drives these silly simple things. One hopes to come back to Rome, as is said to happen once you throw in a coin. In the case of Yadnya Kasada, people hope for another good year. The more they give, the more the Gods will give back in return. If it still boggles you how weird that sounds, well, there really is no way to explain the tiny ounce of happiness it gives you when throwing that coin, even if it was just for the fun of it. (I’ve never been there but I’ve thrown a few coins in fountains before. Same-same but different, yes?)
But as primordially (*cough) intriguing as this ceremony seemed, it was only part of the reason I dragged my butt up back to Bromo. In these previous years a new tradition had latched on the Yadnya Kasada ceremony. I came back to see the offering catchers. Less fortunate people of the area had seized the opportunity of this event by climbing into the crater and catch the offerings thrown by the Tenggerese people. Usually, these people are new comers to the Tengger villages to make a living. They usually work as helpers of the Tenggerese fields. Yep! There are people that walk down the crater slope towards the acid-melting-death-trap of a crater and catch random flying eggplants, chicken, money, etc. These snatchers can then live off of their earnings and survive another good day. Now doesn’t that take dumpster diving to a whole new dimension?
What’s even more amusing was some really enjoyed themselves, like farmers happily harvesting rice from the field. They chuckled at failed attempts, they cheered on colleagues that were reaching for the catch, and they gossiped in between catches. It’s a day of blessing for them. And yet, they can trip and plunge into the their death in acid. It’s so satirical to see what people would do for a good living; this is Indonesia’s side. Ironically, there were actually more tourists watching this ceremony than Tenggerese people throwing offerings; as I was. It’s a mixed emotion moment for me. By the end of the day, the give and take notion was overwhelming.
From a conversation with a Tenggerese, I’ve learned that they have no problem with these offering snatchers or for the tourists that seem to overcrowd the place. For the Tenggerese, they’ll do what they have to. They gave, no matter what. As for me, it was a reminder for me to have a more giving notion in my life. I’ll never know how my ‘offerings’ can affect others, mystical beings or not. And that climbing down a crater is RELATIVELY dangerous, since you can even do it while gossiping and goofing around. LOL.
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