Anne Paule Art Gallery

Encounter with an Indonesian Shaman (1994)

Payano (his name is changed to protect his identity) lived in a very poor neighborhood in the outskirts of Jakarta, where, as was common in this city, houses were grouped together in narrow alleys. In Payano's neighborhood, the narrow walkways were bordered on both sides by open gutters full of smelly slimy liquid that attracted swarms of flies. His house stood out as being newer and better than his neighbors'. His door was left open for people and flies to come and go.

When we arrived, people were sitting around talking. The man who brought me translated everything for me. We sat in Payano's dowstairs area for five hours waiting for him. It was his day off and he wasn't going to do any work until after evening prayers.

We told him that I would like to learn about his work and he asked me if I was willing to become a Moslem because his work is centered on the strength of his faith in Allah. He seemed to understand when I told him that I didn't think that I could do that. He said he could see that I came to him with good intentions which was rare and that a lot of so-called Moslems came to him with bad or selfish intentions which led him to believe that being a Moslem wasn't necessarily being good. He would do a session with me so that I could experience his work.

After prayer time, Payano came down to sit with us again. Later, he motioned for a woman who had been there for as long as we had to come upstairs. After a little while, she came down and went into the mandi room ( the bathroom-a room with a water filled cement tub and a floor drain). She went back upstairs all wet. I looked at my friend and said:" I won't have to take a mandi, will I?" He didn't think so though he said he often had. We went up the narrow ladder-like steps to the second floor where people were sitting on a tile floor playing with a baby, talking and laughing. It smelled of incense. Someone stood up and I was offered his spot on the floor to come closer to everyone. Eventually, Payano sent my friend and I to his small work room with his assistant.

The assistant sat on a couple of thin dirty cushions and we sat on the floor behind him. In front of him was a heavy iron container with coal burning in it. It was like a big incense burner. There was a glass of water with a lot of rose petals floating in it next to the burner. The altar behind that had three miniature beds behind a number of kris(a Javanese dagger with a wavy blade) standing on their points. The man asked me my name and wrote it in his book. He then began to pray and chant mantras, putting things on the coals to make sudden smoke appear, putting the glass of water over the smoke three times. This combination of activities was mesmerizing. He then turned around and spoke to my friend who turned to me and said:" He wants you to take a mandi with the rose water and oil in the water bucket and you've got to pour it over your head at least three times." They both looked at me in a way that would never accept refusal, so I consented and asked for a towel. I was given a recently used one as it was wet. My friend informed me that I had to say a prayer before I started pouring the water over myself.

The mandi turned out to be refreshing and the rose water left a wonderful fragrance on my wet hair. I went back upstairs, feeling a little conspicuous. Payano ushered us back into the small room and went in himself this time. He said he would be doing something to help protect me from negative things. He also mentioned five things he would do for me. There was more chanting and more instant smoke. He then picked up a kris (the sword), unsheathed it, and planted it on its point. He picked up another glass with water and floating rose petals, put a little oil in it, ran it through the smoke at three different intervals, picked up his kris, put it through the smoke, dipped the point in the water and eventually turned around and said :" minum!" which means "drink!". As I was sipping (thinking about the cleanliness of it), my friend urged me to drink it down.

I felt the effects of this experience for at least three days. It was real medicine. These medicine people are the healers of their neighborhoods and are mostly frequented by those who can't afford regular doctors or those who don't trust them. This would include a huge majority in Indonesia. Payano is a real healer. He gave me an experience I will never forget. I would like to add that he did not ask for any money.