Happy Halloween – I am glad Halloween is not celebrated in Indonesia

Categories: Life.

Happy Halloween

Well, not entirely true. I saw some Halloween decoration in some malls in Jakarta. And I am pretty sure there must be some private celebrations somewhere around the international community this evening.

After 15 years away and come back to Indonesia, I expected the ‘creepy’ tradition of Halloween would be more and more celebrated in the capital city Jakarta – like Valentine. I thought I would trace the Halloween mood as much as in the neighbouring country, Thailand. I remember when I lived in Bangkok, I was surprised to find how enthusiastic the Bangkokians to welcome Halloween tradition. The decoration was almost everywhere in commercial places like malls, shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars. In malls I saw a big variety of Halloween costumes and decoration for sale. I am not really sure, though, whether the Halloween things were only for the commercial purpose or the Thais were really into the celebration. I personally, as an Indonesian, cannot imagine that the Thais would celebrate Halloween. After all, Thais and Indonesians share one similar character – both are superstitious and believe in supernatural. Thais and Indonesians, in general, are very respectful of ‘spirits’ and we (the Indonesians) believe celebrating something like Halloween would ‘anger’ them.

Talking about ’spirits’, most Indonesians I know are afraid of ‘ghosts’ or at least believe that ‘spirits’ do exist. This is understandable because most of Indonesian are Moslem and a good Moslem should believe in the unseen world, including the ‘spirits’. Even before the arrival of Christianity and Islam most people in Indonesia were animism followers. Nowadays the ancient belief still has a strong influence in some parts of modern life. In my culture (Javanese) for example, rituals and offering ceremonies are still performed during special events – like a wedding, to respect and honour certain ’spirits’.

So, yeah, ‘spirits’ is a big deal in Indonesia. When I was little, my neighbour friend lost her father. I heard he just died without any symptom of sickness. In the morning he was fine and in the afternoon he collapsed and never woke up. My neighbour and her family lived in a house with a big backyard. An old Kapok tree grew in the corner of the yard. No one, literally no one, dared to be around the tree. The area around the tree was filthy and neglected. People in the neighbourhood believed the tree was guarded by a ‘spirit family’. Yep, they mate and produce offsprings! One day I asked my friend why her father died. Her mother told me that he stepped onto a ‘baby spirit’ by accident (how could it be not ‘accident’? It was an invisible baby!). Anyway, the ‘father spirit’ gone mad and knocked my neighbour’s dad down. He died. As simple as that.

Another weird story is about another neighbour, a normal woman. I can’t remember how old I was, must be around seven. This woman was occasionally possessed by a spirit who was believed to be an old lady and the first person who lived in our area hundreds year back. She died and buried in our area. Her cemetery is still there until now. Anyway, this ‘old lady spirit’ liked to give a visit to my neighbour and possessed her on certain evenings. Only evenings, not morning or afternoons. What interesting is, it was not random evenings, but always a night before the lottery numbers were announced. When possessed the neighbour would be in a trance, then chanted, laughed and screamed like a patient of the mental hospital. She would narrate a non-sense story, and the people who wanted to bet their money for the lottery would listen to her carefully, interpreted her story into a serial of numbers like some kind of codex, calculated it, and finally used it as the chosen numbers to bet (yeah, laugh with me). The woman then got paid before the audience left. Pretty weird way to earn money, huh? The commotion always attracted people around her house, including me. We watched her like a nowadays street magician. It was awesome and nobody ever thought there was something fishy about it. LOL.

The last story is just simply odd. No joke, it really happened. The weirdest thing ever happened in my life that until now I still wonder how the hell did that happen? It was during school holiday and I stayed at grandma’s house. A man who lived behind her house screamed so loud from a nightmare. It was only around 9 PM. His wife couldn’t wake him up and she asked help from my grandma. Together both women managed to wake him up. He then told the story about his nightmare, that a ‘troop of death’ marching from the South with open coffins and ready to collect dead bodies. On the next day, there was a far neighbour died during sleep. No investigation and no medical report. Then there was another story of similar nightmare which happened to another person and followed by another sudden death. This unlucky event happened continuously within weeks (or months, I don’t remember). More and more people were dead during sleep. I don’t recall there was an investigation about it. This happened in late 70’s, but people still believed it was a ‘death plague’! Some even instructed that everyone should sleep on the floor because the ‘death troops’ couldn’t bend forward to pick sleeping people. And people believed it. My grandma put the mattress on the floor, and for a couple nights I got excited because it was like camping. 

Judging those stories, even though happened in late 70’s, you can imagine how superstitious we could be. And I believe there are still many people in Indonesia who believe in supernatural. So, celebrating Halloween at dawn would be a very daring move. I just can’t imagine Indonesians would dress up in scary costumes. Do you know what ‘scary’ in our definition is? No, not like a good-looking man with pale skin in a fancy suit called a vampire. Not like a skeleton; we had seen in our school lab. What, a witch? Seriously? It’s just an ugly woman with stripy socks. Besides we don’t have witch or wizard, we have ‘dukun’ (shaman). And please take out the Darth Vader or any Star Wars characters out of the list. They are not scary, they are just unearthly. A monster? What monster? Indonesian children don’t believe there are any monsters inside the wardrobe.

What we think ‘scary’ is really, really scary like those in Asian horror films. Scary costumes for us would be like a freshly dead victim of a car accident, a rotten corpse in a filthy long dress with long black hair covers almost the entire white face, or the famous ‘Pocong’ (also known as wrapped ghost), which is basically a dead soul trapped in its white shroud. Since it can’t walk it jumps to move forward. 

Now if you dress up in the costumes as mentioned above, complete with the appropriate makeup, don’t expect much from Trick or Treat. You won’t get any candy. You will hear the religious verses read loudly to banish you from human world and back to your unseen world.