Archive for the ‘alternative medicine’ Category

Kerokkan and Masuk Angin

September 1, 2010

I think this treatment is unique to Indonesia.  You can see in the clip, one guy is applying minyak gosok (rubbing oil) on his friend, then he uses (traditionally) an old coin to brush it in.  The brushing action causes the patient’s skin to go red.  The redness can last a few days but it’s not sore and the treatment doesn’t hurt. 

They usually do it in a pattern, similar to what you see here, and it’s typically done on a person’s back but it can extend to the neck, arms and legs.   Sometimes, when you’re in a mall, standing behind someone on the escalator, you might see kerokkan marks on the back of their neck.

Kerokkan can be used to treat many different illnesses and you might use a different oil for different sicknesses, although there are many oils which claim to cure almost everything.  The main thing which it is used for is masuk angin “entry of air into the body”, or chills.  It seems that Indonesians are quite suseptable to masuk angin, which is why they try never to shower after dusk and always close every window they see open, regardless of how crowded and hot the bus may be.  For some reason you can’t get a chill from having the air conditioning at sub zero temperatures.


Smoking Mango Trees and Spinning Stones

August 25, 2010

Two stories here.  Each one showing the craziness that can occur when someone discovers a new ‘paranormal’ (metaphysical) concept that  captures the public’s attention.

In the first part, someone in Tanggerang (West Jakarta) noticed that a kind of smoke rises from their mango trees every evening at dusk.  Personally, I don’t know if it’s normal for some trees to release moisture at a certain time of the day.  Maybe they release it all the time and it’s more noticable at dusk?  Maybe the temperature changes that happen at dusk cause the trees to lose moisture?  Whatever the reason, I’m sure there’s a plausable scientific reason for the phenomenon which I can grasp at to settle my pragmatic Western mind.  Not if you’re a resident of Tanggerang.  They think it’s uncanny that the smoke only rises when the imam starts the call to evening prayers, so there has to be a paranormal reason to it. 

Whatever the reason, scientific or metaphysical, I can’t see how it justifies people coming in their thousands to witness the spectacle.  But this sort of thing happens quite often in Indonesia.  I guess there isn’t much free entertainment appart from the shopping malls.  At the time of the clip it had been going on for 10 days.  I guess by now the circus has moved on to another place.

In the second part of the clip, a dukun (witch doctor) has a magic stone (batu ajaib) which he hires out for people to spin on.  Dwi says she had a spin with her baby and it cured his fever! 

The dukun says that he found the stone while walking in his fields.  He says he knew it was a magic stone because his eyes were drawn to it.

I’ll reserve judgement, but it looks like a fun game, spinning on a stone.

A Grandma at 19 Years Old

June 11, 2010

I was shocked by this video.  I knew that children can suffer from premature ageing (progenia) and they usually pass away by the time they reach teen age from heart disease and stroke.  It’s a rare condition but well known because of it’s horrific effects.  Somehow it seems more horrific to find that it can occur in people after they have reached puberty.  Maybe it’s because children don’t really understand the full pleasures of life, they may know they are missing out on years but they don’t appreciate what those years can be like.  When someone has had a taste of adult life and be at their peak of health and hope only to have it snatched away, well that’s very hard indeed.

At the age of 17, Ita had just got married.  She was pretty and full of energy.  She made her living selling women’s clothes door to door in her North Sumatran village (Sumut = Sumatra Utara).  Now she is 19 and her life has changed as you can see.  Her husband has left her.  She feels extreme pain in the joints and back of the neck and she suffers from fevers.  Her parents have spent all their savings on medication and treatments.  Worst of all, people mock her, calling her ‘nenek’ (granny).

The disease is called Werner’s Syndrome, which occurs after puberty.  People with this illness can live into their 40s and 50s.  I read that a discovery was published in the January 2010 issue of a medical journal where it was found that vitamin C could cure mice who had been given the disease.  It didn’t increase the lifespan of normal mice, but the ones with the disease were restored to full health.  I haven’t heard of it being trialled in humans, though it would be harmless for someone to try it.

Sadly, it’s too late for Ita.  She passed away in February from pneumonia.  As for her husband?  He remarried shortly after this clip was made, a short while before she died.

Ponari, the Littlest Witch Doctor

May 15, 2010

In a rural society where people have little access to trained doctors or even reliable health information, they depend on alternative forms of treatment.  In some cases the treatment can be beneficial and even better than what Western medicine can provide.  In other cases the only possibility for a cure is the faith of the patients themselves.

As I heard the story, Ponari, a little boy from a rural village, was struck by lightning.  When he recovered, he discovered a stone in his hand.  When he finished playing with the stone he tried to throw it away but it came back to him.  So he realised it was a magic stone (batu jimat).  Some of the villagers claim to have seen him performing cures with his magic stone (a mute child being able to speak, a villager’s weak arm restored to strength).  Soon, he was established as a ‘dukun tiban’ (shaman whose powers are confered by the spirit world).  Before long, the legend of Ponari and his batu jimat grew to the level you see in this video.

The treatment seems to be for the patient to take some water in which Ponari has dunked the stone.  From the clips I’ve seen, the boy doesn’t give much of a consultation, in fact he seems more interested in playing with his cell phone most of the time.  In the clip above, you can see the type of people who come to him to seek treatment – some are seemingly hopeless cases, most seem to be typical of the rural poor, simple people who are unable or unwilling to go to a qualified doctor who probably doesn’t speak their language, comes from a different culture and treats them dismissively. 

In this next clip, you can see the kind of crowd the ‘little dukun of Jombang’ was able to pull:

If you have ever thought of joining a pilgrimage, that is pretty much what to expect when you get close to the object of the trip.  Thousands of people were coming to this East Java village every day.  An industry soon developed to service these pilgrims.  The inhabitants of Jombang were making money in all sorts of ways, from charging parking fees (5,000rp, when 2,000 is the normal fee in Jakarta or Surabaya) to selling books about Ponari, not to mention the fee for a ‘consultation’. 

In fact, this second clip is more about a rival child dukun tiban, Dewi, than Ponari.  It seems the Gods were very generous in giving out batu jimats because Dewi set up shop soon after Ponari started drawing crowds.  She is also in the district of Jombang, about 20 kilometres from Ponari, but her service is superior – instead of waiting in line for Ponari to put his stone in the water, you can just buy some pre-blessed water from Dewi’s father.  The guy being interviewed says he went to Ponari’s but turned away when he saw the huge queues, the Dewi service was far more efficient.  At the end of the clip you can see Dewi’s father supervising operations as he fingers his prayer beads.  Such a devout man!

I was told that Ponari’s father began to have misgivings about the whole thing  when it got to this level, but by then it was too late to stop.  How can you just turn away thousands of people, many of whom had travelled long distances?  The entire village was making a fortune directly or indirectly from the Ponari cult.  In fact, some observers called on the authorities and the ulama (local muslim authority) to warn people about putting their faith in this boy and to make basic health services more accessible for them.  In the end, as so often in Indonesia, the problem solved itself.

Ponari was already showing signs of boredom and his father was becoming anxious when a crowd got out of control and some people were trampled to death.  This incident caused the local government to put a stop to it while better crowd control measures were put in place.  It wasn’t long before they put Ponari back to work again.  But by then things had changed.  The time out served as a circuit breaker.  Ponari had become so self-absorbed with all the attention he continued to behave badly towards his patients and they didnt come back.  The curative power of his stone had also faded.  They rationalise this by saying that a power conferred in the way of this batu jimat only lasts 40 days.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve heard anything of Ponari.  I suppose he still has a few customers.  Hopefully his attitude has changed since his ‘glory days’.  It might take a lifetime for him to live down what he did.  His family would have made a fortune from him, but I wonder if it will be enough to justify a childhood experience like he had.

In the first pic which follows, where he’s wearing a dark coloured shirt, that was taken before he became really famous.  He’s shy, but taking an interest in what’s going on around him.  The other pics were taken at the height of his fame:

Even Indonesian children can be naughty depending on the circumstances.

Healthy Mud Pie: Ampo

May 13, 2010

Every few months, I notice a story in the press about the practice of some villagers in East Java who make a food from natural clay.  This is called ‘ampo’.  It is said to be beneficial for stomach upsets and for pregnant women.  Those who take it say that it gives a cooling feeling in their stomach.  The theory is that because different clays have varying amounts of trace elements and minerals, some can have a curative effect for particular ailments. 

In fact, clays are eaten in other cultures as well.  I have read reports of it being eaten in Africa and there were many reports and pictures of clay biscuits being made in Haiti during the earthquake crisis.  Of course, mud baths are a well known treatment in the spas of Europe and in Japan and China.

Here is a lady sampling the finished product:

Pijat That Makes Guys Horny

May 2, 2010

This is something I’ve never seen before.  I suspect its a recent innovation since I associate cupping with East Asian massage, but not with the Indonesian style (correct me if I’m wrong).  What’s novel here, however, is instead of little cups, the practitioner uses horns.  I wonder if horns have some sort of mystic symbolism as it reminds me of the European peasant practice of burying a horn filled with manure in the field on the night of the solstace, or whenever, to make the ground fertile.  Regardless of the iconography, it certainly makes for a strong visual image as it draws a big crowd.

Having long hair is a symbol of an artistic temperament, so the first young man getting the full treatment might be an accomplice of the practitioner.  He draws the crowd and his example emboldens others to try it for themselves.

Other than the cupping, I don’t see much pijat happening in this clip, although the Japanese often combine massage with cupping.  Naturally ‘tanduk’ means horn, in case you were wondering.

Jakarta Street Food: Jamu

April 4, 2010

I’ve featured a jamu lady before, but in this clip the lady shows where she keeps her money, at 2:30.  It’s tied into one end of her selimut (a piece of cloth normally used for carrying babies).  The selimut is itself wrapped securely around her like a snake.

Most of the Javanese ladies who sell jamu wear the traditional kebaya (a close fitting shirt) and sarong (a single sheet of cloth wrapped around the waist to make a skirt).  This lady is also wearing traditional-looking clothes, but it’s not a kebaya and the pattern on the sarong is unusual to me.  Can anyone tell me from her clothes or her language which culture she’s from?  I would guess she’s Sundanese, since she’s in Jakarta.

Bee sting therapy

February 20, 2010

Due to the shortage and cost of qualified medical practitioners, there is a huge demand for medical services. The gap is filled by a vast range of ‘alternative medicine’ and traditional practitioners. It seems to me the bee treatment could work along the same lines as accupuncture, or maybe the poison in the sting has a curative effect? I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks painful. At least the ‘needle’ would be germ free… wouldn’t it?[