Last Sunday our helpers son did public profession of faith in their church. They are members of the Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI). We had our service in our house again as our church building is still in the process of getting a new roof. When our service was done I hopped on my motorbike and zipped down to Ibu D’s church located just around the corner. I arrived just at the right time as they were about to ask the questions of the young people ready to profess their faith. So I was able to take some photos. I’m not sure of the significance of the white gloves, maybe they don’t know either. This church building is fairly new and was built slowly but surely by the church members. They worked very hard to complete it! I find the pulpit particularly interesting.
Suanggi is a belief that has been passed down for many, many years. A suanggi is a person who is in reality a witch or a demon even though he is also a human being. In most cultural groups a suanggi can be a man or a woman. I had a friend who works interior explain to me what suanggi is in the tribe where they work. Here is his explanation:
The short of it is that the suanggi magically kills and eats his/her victim and not much later the person dies. A person that is suspected of being a suanggi may then be accused, captured and killed. How this goes depends on the culture and the circumstances.
For the K tribe the suanggi is always a man (or at least that’s how it used to be, this seems to be changing). Their victims are healthy, adult persons. Not a baby or an old person, because their deaths are generally accepted as natural. However, after a suanggi is caught, in retrospect he may also be accused of being the cause of the deaths of infants and old people. The suanggi shoots his victim with a magical arrow in the jungle somewhere. Then he eats the insides of his victim, puts dirt, leaves and dead wood, etc, back into the body, restores the person and lets him go. The victim then goes home and dies within a few days.
Before he/she dies the family members ask the name of the suanggi and often the dying person mentions a name or otherwise the family members will hear a name in the sounds of the last breaths of the person, or they have other ways to determine who the suanggi is.
When the suanggi is determined the family members go and capture that person, tie him up and take him to a neighboring clan to have them kill and eat the suanggi. The suanggi is eaten to scare other suanggi’s off.
When other suanggi’s hear that one of their members has been eaten they may not quickly attack again. Suanggi’s that were family members were not eaten by their clan mates, but suanggi’s that were only distantly related relatives were eaten. So not all suanggi’s were eaten, this depended on the situation. Often the suanggi was not killed before he was suspected and accused several times and had already been warned not to kill people.
Because of the influence of missionaries and village forming, the suanggi are killed and eaten less often. The people have learned from the police forces and nowadays they often torture the accused suanggi and give them forced labor in order to get rid of the suanggi power that controls them. Of course this does not really work, because when another person dies, the formerly accused suanggi will be accused again.
Whether you turn into a suanggi is outside your control. Other suanggi’s choose you to become part of them and when they get you to eat their food, you will turn into a suanggi. Whether you will be the victim of a suanggi is also outside your control. It can happen to anyone. This means that all the time the people live in fear of becoming either a suanggi or the victim of a suanggi.
Imagine the freedom that the peace of Christ brings to these people, when they repent and believe.
I’ve spoken a number of times in the last month with Ibu D about suanggi. Her brother-in-law had been harassing her family for quite some time. A number of months ago he attacked her home with a machete and threatened her children. He later moved to the other side of the island. A few weeks ago he died there seemingly rather suddenly. According to Ibu D, he had had some heart issues in the past and had been told by the doctor that he really should stop drinking alcohol. He didn’t heed the doctors advice and was regularly inebriated and liked to beat his wife and children in that state. Ibu D insists that she and her family have only ever helped this relative and his family. I have no way of knowing if she is telling the truth but I have no reason to doubt her either. As his death appeared to be unexplainable, his family is accusing Ibu D’s family of using suanggi to kill him. So clearly, this tribe’s (coastal people) beliefs are a little different because he was on the other side of the island so there could not have been any food (with a spell cast over it) or a poisoned arrow or the like. Now the widow is also threatening to use suanggi to harm one of Ibu D’s children or her. They have also said that a message from the deceased man appeared in his hand phone stating that on the 27th of the month something bad would happen to her children. I’ve asked Ibu D if she believes in suanggi. She is emphatic that she doesn’t but said that she told her children they need to pray really hard and then nothing will happen. She said that maybe if people are weak, then something could happen. I reminded her that satan likes to use things like suanggi, but that he has been defeated and that Jesus is more powerful. Suanggi only has power over you if you believe in it. The logic of a Westerner is so totally different than that of a Papuan, that you can not even fathom how these things can be true, but they really believe it is! And as new technology comes here, the beliefs simply change slightly to incorporate them. I’m pretty sure that 25 years ago no one believed that a dead person could put a message onto a cell phone…
Please pray for Ibu D’s family and for a peaceful resolution to this ongoing problem in her extended family. When they brought the man’s body to his home village on the ocean, his family was waiting with weapons ready and inflicted injury on some of Ibu D’s children. This is serious business to them and they will not rest until they are satisfied that proper payment has been made.