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Some Indonesians try to ward off COVID-19 with talismans, rituals, Asia News

Villagers in Wajak Kidul hamlet, which is located some 10 kilometers from Tulungagung regency, East Java, have placed homemade masks around their homes as they believe the objects can protect them from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The villagers call the masks, which are made of coconut palm fronds and have a human likeness drawn on them, tetek melek. They put them above the doors and windows of their homes, hoping that the deadly disease will stay away.

“Every time we turn on the television, we watch news about the coronavirus. Everyone here talks about the virus every day,” said Supani, a 80-year-old farmer in Wajak Kidul.

The outbreak, he added, reminded him of several pandemics that hit the hamlet decades ago, when he was a boy. One of the pandemics was a skin disease known locally as pageblug.

“During pageblug, my grandfather told villagers to make tetek melek masks and place them around the house,” he said.

On Wednesday after working in his rice field, Supani took some dried coconut fronds that had fallen to the ground and cut them into three pieces of about a meter each.

Using liquid whitewash, or kapur, he coated the fronds before drawing human faces on them with charcoal.

“When we start drawing that human face we must be spiritually clean,” he said.

Supani’s method was soon followed by other residents in his neighborhood. Now, dozens of houses in Wajak Kidul are decorated with tetek melek.

Wajak Kidul villagers have reason to worry about their safety.

In February, a migrant worker who had recently arrived to her home village of Tulungagung from Taiwan, began to experience symptoms consistent with COVID-19. She died several days after being admitted to Iskak General Hospital but the authorities declared her negative for the coronavirus.

Nevertheless, there are at least four suspected COVID-19 patients in Iskak General Hospital at the moment.

Hundreds of others in Tulungagung and its neighbouring regencies have been put under surveillance for COVID-19.


East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa declared a state of emergency in COVID-19 outbreak mitigation following the spread of the virus in 34 of the province’s 39 regencies and cities.

In West Kalimantan, some Dayak communities have conducted traditional rituals to ward off the coronavirus.

A Dayak Kanayatn resident, Kusnadi Isim, told The Jakarta Post that the tolak bala ritual to drive evil spirits away was usually held in sacred places called panyugu or pantak.

“The ritual includes washing away sesajen [offerings] that are put on a small boat,” Kusnadi said, adding that people had been prohibited to leave their homes sometime after the ritual.

At least 1,421 West Kalimantan residents had been put under surveillance as of Monday. Twenty one people are in isolation at referral hospitals as patients under surveillance (PDP). Two have been confirmed positive for COVID-19 and one of the PDP died on Saturday. 

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

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