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Indigenous Religion Groups Responding to the New Normal

  June 16th 2020

Photo by: Rio Lecatompessy (

On June 11, 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) held an online seminar named ‘Forum Kamisan Daring’ in cooperation with CRCS and other organizations such as Komnas Perempuan, Pusad Paramadina, LIPI, and Satunama. The topic of this online seminar was ‘Indigenous Religion Groups Responding to the New Normal’ in which there were three speakers from three different indigenous religions groups: Gress Raja Ki Kentongan, representing Paguyuban Kawruh Jiwa, Solo, Central Java; Djuwita Djatikusumah respresenting the Sunda Wiwitan community, Cigugur, West Java; and Wanri Lumwanraja representing Parmalim, North Sumatera. The online seminar was moderated by Anna Soetomo, a CRCS student, and all the presentations were responded to by Prof. Ahmad Najib Burhani, from LIPI.

Gress Raja Ki Kentongan from the Paguyuban Kawruh Jiwa explained that Kawruh Jiwa means the process of managing three aspects of life in order to achieve kabegjan/bejo or happiness and wholeness of life. Those three aspects of life are: jiwa/rasa/si karep or soul/sense which causes humans to have desire; pikir/cipta/si pengagas or mind which enables humans to think and have initiative; raga/si tukang weruh or body which enables humans to have curiosity. All of these aspects of life should be managed and processed by giving good nutrition, good food for body, good knowledge for mind, and good spirituality for the soul and a sense to achieve kabegjan or the happiness and wholeness of life.

The unbalance of these three aspects of life endangers human life, itself, and largely originates from uncontrolled desires. Therefore, Kawruh Jiwa proposed the concept of Nyawang Karep or judging the desires through six concepts and questions: (1) Sabutuhe or the need, do I really need it?; (2) sacukupe or sufficiency, do I have enough money or capital to get it?; (3) saperlune or necessity, what is my purpose to own it?; (4) sabenere or reality/validity, is it real and is the way I obtain it good?; (5) samestine or appropriateness; and the last, (6) sapenake, if all those five question can be answered well, then people will be in peace with their desires, if not, then it is not a good desire.

Therefore, the new normal from the perspective of adherents of Kawruh Jiwa is not a wholly new challenge. As they say, “langgeng bungah susah” (eternal happiness is difficult), there is a sense in which throughout live, there will be many changes, things which come and go, and humans should respond with calmness. The most important desire during the crisis of COVID-19 should be to save the lives of others. In this difficult time, the Paguyuban Kawruh Jiwa also give the advice ‘bejonipun tiang puniko yen saged sakeco sasrawungan kaliyan tiyang sanes tuwin wasis dating pangupojiwo’ (People will live happily if they can get along well with others and if they are good in making a prosperous living). In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, people should show their solidarity to others and manage their desires, after the sadness and difficulties, happiness will come. 

The second speaker was Wanri Lumwanraja, representing Parmalim from North Sumatera. Regarding the new normal suggestions of the government, Wanri argued that adherents of Parmalim agree with the conditions of and reasons for the new normal, such as decreasing the transmission rate of COVID-19 and the unavailability of a vaccine. Adherents of Parmalim also realize that in this uncertain situation people should adapt and anticipate the transmission of the virus to adjust to the new normal. However, in accordance with their belief that the government is a king or a ruler that must be obeyed, adherents of Parmalim emphasize that all religious activity should follow the health protocols recommended by the government. The worship activity also should be adjusted to the current conditions. Therefore, the worship activity of Parmalim should be conducted in a more personal manner. Spiritually, the body is used as place of worship, the heart and the blood are the offering which are given to God as a substitute of holy water and incense. However, adherents of Parmalim are also suggested to keep working and strive for prosperity, worshipping God while following government restrictions. Finally, this condition should be faced with hope and sincerity.

The third speaker was Djuwita Djatikusumah of the Sunda Wiwitan community from Cigugur, West Java. She adamantly stated that the so-called new normal of COVID-19 is not new in the sense that even life before COVID was not normal. People were busy satisfying their own desires and greed without concern for the damage to the environment. People have lost their identity in that they are called to practice welas asih, having compassion for nature, a sign of gratitude for the life God has given them. Djuwita Djatikusumah argued that this is the right time for humans to reflect on the mistakes they have made and begin to love and care for nature once again. She also argued that the genuine identity of Indonesia exists in the indigenous communities. For this reason, indigenous communities are more resilient in times of difficulty, even without government accommodations. 

Lastly, Prof. Ahmad Najib Burhani, in his response to the presenters, argued that indigenous religion communities are the antithesis of many larger religions which often display inappropriate attituded in the context of COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Najib mentioned that many clusters of COVID-19 transmission come from the religious activity of these larger religions which demonstrates their confrontational attitude. These attitudes are counterproductive and impede the goals of defeating COVID-19, such as continuing to hold communal religious services or holding a fatalistic attitude that God’s power is greater than the virus and people do not need to be afraid because life and death is determined by God. Therefore, Prof. Najib appreciated the indigenous groups’ attitudes which seek to obey the government restrictions and to demonstrate solidarity and welas asih within their community and towards others.