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Physical-Social Distancing based on Spiritual Perspectives of “Penghayat Kepercayaan/Ancestral Religion”

  June 2nd 2020

Photo by: Jimmy Salazar (

On 21 May 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) held an online seminar in cooperation with CRCS and other organizations such as Komnas Perempuan, PUSAD Paramadina, LIPI, and Satunama. The seminar, entitled ‘Physical-Social Distancing based on Spiritual Perspectives of “Penghayat Kepercayaan/Ancestral Religion”’, involved four speakers from four different religious groups. The speakers included: Pramugi P. Wijoyo representing Sedulur Sikep, Blora; Sukirman representing Kaharingan, South Kalimantan; Umbu Remi representing Marapu, East Sumba; and Dwi Setiyani Utami representing Puanhayati, Central Java. Amanah Nurish, PhD, an alumna of ICRS who now teaches in the graduate program of Universitas Indonesia, moderated the session. Dr. Saraswati Dewi, lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Universitas Indonesia, responded to the discussion. 

The first presenter was Dwi Setiyani Utami adherent of Sapta Dharma and member of Puan Hayati, Central Java. In her presentation, she explaine that in Sapta Dharma, the main practice of spiritual life is sujud. Sujud is a contemplative practice in which every adherent of Sapta Dharma sits on a piece of 1m x 1m white fabric called kain mori. In this practice, adherents of Sapta Dharma practice a form of physical distancing in their ritual and worship. Through this ritual, adherents were accustomed to physical distancing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and government suggestions for distancing.  The goal of sujud is to contemplate and to find peace within the self and to acquire and refresh atom berjiwa (positive energy) therein increasing the immunity of the body. There is a belief that physical immunity and mental health are interconnected. In Sapta Dharma, there is also the concept of Racut, through which performing sujud and refreshing atom berjiwa adherents worship and unite with the Divine. Thus, people will experience holistic unification with nature and God or the Divine. This creates an awareness or sensitivity towards reality, including the coronavirus pandemic. This awareness empowers adherents to maintain positive attitudes and contributes to their solidarity with others in facing the pandemic. This practice also serves to decrease negative attitudes and behaviors, including habits of plastic and carbon pollution.

The second speaker, Umbu Remi, comes from the Marapu community in East Sumba. His presentation shared that marapu are the ancestors who bridge the relationship between humans and God. According to their beliefs, illness and disease are caused by factors such as: personal violations of cultural prohibitions, magic (mamuring) cast by others, natural disasters, or curses by the ancestors, themselves. Umbu Remi shared that, in Marapu, there are concepts of hidu katiu (“physical sickness”) and hidu hana (“psychological sickness”) both of which are interconnected and influence one another. However, for Marapu adherents, COVID-19 is a strange disease and difficult to understand. They believe that a disruption of the natural balance is the cause of the pandemic. Humans have caused great damage to nature, understood by the Marapu to be a mother figure. Mining, deforestation, and pollution are evidence of this destruction. As a result, the Sky/Heaven (a father figure) is angered and has responded by sending this disease through the air. The pandemic is a reminder for humans to maintain the natural balance. Umbu Remi also explained that the Marapu have a concept similar to physical/social distancing, known as Hamayang Padira, in which people keep themselves separated from bad things in order to be closer to the good. As such, for adherents of Marapu, it is important to pray to the ancestors, begging for forgiveness in order to be saved from this disease.

From the perspective of Kaharingan, shared by Sukirman from South Kalimantan, plagues are also considered creations of God. As a creature, plagues have a king, Raja Bala or “King of the Plagues.” The Kaharingan recognize 1400 different plagues, COVID-19 having been thrust upon humans with a purpose. The Kaharingan believe that COVID-19 is a reminder for humans that they have lived in ignorance in their relations to other humans, nature, and even God. The broken relationships between humans and nature and between humans and God is due to negative desires, greed, and exploitation of nature. Now is the time for humans to rethink the fragility of their lives, their civilization, and their technology. It is time for humanity to reflect upon and contemplate the mistakes it has made. 

Furthermore, the Kaharingan also believe that COVID-19 cannot be defeated by human knowledge and technology. The Kaharingan suggest that humans should live in peace with Raja Bala of COVID-19 and admit their arrogance. In Kaharingan, itself, they practice rituals aimed at seeking forgiveness and safety from plagues and other disasters, including: Sanggar Benua (for the unification of nature and for safety from disease, performed annually) and Ritual Bawanang (begging for forgiveness of humans and nature, conducted every six months).

The fourth speaker was Pramugi P. Wijoyo, an adherent of Sedulur Sikep, from Blora, Central Java. According to Pramugi P. Wijoyo, the Sedulur Sikep adherents practice physical and social distancing in their religious activity as it is centralized in the homes and among family units. During this pandemic, Sedular Sikep adherents suggest all people should take on three attitudes, nang, ning, and nung. Nang, from the word tenang, means “calm.” Ning (bening, “clear”) relates to the heart and mind and the need to be clean and clear from negative things. Lastly, nung (dumung) holds that humans should always pray with clarity, noting for whom they pray and specific pleas. Pramugi believes COVID-19 can be cured and the cure may be found in nature. 

Lastly, to reflect upon the discussions and conclude the seminar, Dr. Saraswati Dewi noted that it is interesting to see how indigenous religions understand and live in harmony with the pandemic because they are close to nature. Indigenous communities do not see the plague as an enemy which needs to be defeated. Instead, the pandemic is a reminder for humans of the mistakes they have made in relation to the environment, in their destruction of and greed toward nature. Even in the face of technological achievements and better healthcare, we remain fragile in the face of the smallest of creatures like this coronavirus. Dr. Saraswati spoke of the influence of social capital among indigenous religions’ belief, which supports living in harmony with nature to overcome the virus. This social capital is evident in local wisdom, traditional medicine, and solidarity in difficult times such as today.