After a video of the babi ngepet being beheaded went viral, stories of a mysterious shape-shifting boar demon stealing money and other valuables from villagers in West Java have swept Indonesian social media.
Superstitious beliefs are still prevalent in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where nearly 90% of the 270 million people follow Islam and regard pigs as unclean, making eating their meat haram (forbidden). In the viral video, a man later identified by the police as Adam Ibrahim can be seen telling a crowd of onlookers in Bedahan village how he and a group of others had captured the babi ngepet – but not before stripping naked because it “could only be seen by naked people,” according to the police.
He said the wild boar was a black magic user who had changed his or her appearance in order to steal from others, and he requested the person’s family come forward to answer for the beast’s “crimes.”When no one came after a week, Ibrahim severed the pig’s head and buried it separately from its body, both to prevent the two body parts from magically fusing together and because the pig was purportedly shrinking and would soon “vanish.”
Ibrahim was arrested for spreading lies a few days later, and he allegedly admitted to police that he had purchased the boar for 900,000 rupiah (S$82.60) plus delivery. The village chief, who said the pig was meant to be a scapegoat for the village’s recent misfortunes, may now face up to ten years in jail.
In Indonesian mythology, a babi ngepet is a person who has been physically transformed, but instead of a scratch, bite, or curse, the transformation is brought about by a black-magic ritual in which the subject willingly surrenders their humanity for a period of time in order to get rich fast.
Yono Usu, a 56-year-old from a village in East Java’s South Lamongan, remembered hearing about the practice when he was a boy in the 1970s.
“The person lies down somewhere, usually in a very dark place, and someone else holds a lamp with very little light so that no one can see it,” the traditional Javanese theatre artist told This Week In Asia. “With the help of a shaman, the person … becomes unconscious, then somehow – mystically – a wild boar will appear”.
Rather than the person being transformed, Yono believes the babi ngepet was summoned to serve as the person’s “representative” and steal on orders. The babi ngepet can only be seen by those people with special abilities.
“If the boar is beaten until it is lame, then the person who is laid down will also be lame,” Yono said. Killing the boar would likewise kill the person, he added.
Since belief in the mythical beast is so widespread “even today” on Indonesia’s Java island, Yono said it allows anyone interested in “taking advantage of the beliefs of the people who still believe in babi ngepet.”
Irwansyah, a religious studies lecturer at the State Islamic University of North Sumatra’s Faculty of Social Sciences, said such beliefs were contrary to Islam’s teachings, but that the babi ngepet being broadcast on Indonesian television demonstrated “the culture of a community that believes in mysticism.”
“Muhammadiyah is very strict in its teachings, which [say it] is not allowed to come to shamans or make friends with jinn (supernatural creatures),” he said, referring to one of the largest Islamic doctrines in Indonesia.
According to Istafan Najmi of the Leuser Conservation Forum, in other parts of the world, such as Aceh province – the only area in Indonesia to enforce Islamic rule – boars are seen as more of a pest than a potential supernatural being.
“In the forest, it is the tiger’s food. For the community it is a pest because it often damages people’s fields,” he said. “People here don’t believe in babi ngepet. [Boars] here are considered a pest animal. Usually, when seen, they are immediately kicked out.”
Source: South China Morning Post