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Indonesian prelate warns against use of 'black magic'

Archbishop Agus says the invulnerability ritual of the Dayak indigenous group is outdated and dangerous

Indonesian prelate warns against use of 'black magic'

Archbishop Agustinus Agus of Pontianak in West Kalimantan has called on members of the Dayak indigenous group to cease performing a ritual aimed at making them invulnerable to attack. (Photo: Pontianak Archdiocese)

An archbishop in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province has called on young male members of a Catholic indigenous group to ditch a ritual aimed at making them invulnerable to attack, saying the practice is a form of “black magic.”  

According to the Dayak people, the ritual has been practiced for many generations and is believed to ward off injuries that can be inflicted by sharp weapons.   

The ritual involves young males aged 15 or 16 going into a forest for four days where they meditate and undergo a ceremony to invoke the protection of tribal spirits.

However, Archbishop Agustinus Agus of Pontianak says the “obsolete” practice goes against Catholic teaching, distracts tribal people from more pressing social problems and can even promote violence.  

“I am not trying to pour scorn on the practice. I respect their culture. I understand the young want to respect their identity. But now we are facing ever-increasing social problems including poverty,” Archbishop Agus told UCA News on March 4.  

He said several priests have approached him to ask how to end this ritual as they do not want to be seen going against tribal culture, which is why he is speaking out.

Several Dayak leaders wanted to meet him to ask why he opposed the practice, he added. 

“I’ve told them it is because people are adhering to black magic, not to God, and that I don’t see how it is of any use for them,” he said 

He said many Dayak people misunderstand the spirit of their culture. Thinking they can make themselves invulnerable isn’t in line with Catholic spirituality and the character of Dayak people.

“I must speak because priests and even some tribal members are afraid of being accused of disrespecting Dayak culture. But this ritual isn’t relevant now because there is no war. We must concentrate on other fights against poverty and foolishness,” he said, adding: “For me, it just invites people to act violently. This is dangerous.”

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Yoris Maskendar, chairman of Catholic Youth in West Kalimantan, said his organization backs the archbishop’s call.

One way we can steer them away from this tradition is through involving young Dayaks in church life and youth organizations more, he said.

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