This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia
Just one hour before I arrived at the University of Indonesia's sprawling campus in the suburbs of Jakarta, it was raining. But that was before Aryo Hanindyojati trapped the heavens in a ceramic bowl. "There's nothing sacred about it, but still don't mess with it," he said of the bowl. "It's been programmed by my brain. When I put the bowl there, it's supposed to retain the water. If the water spills, then as up above, so down below. It's the sky in a bowl."
Up above, the sky was still heavy with dark storm clouds. Down below, the university was packed for the Jazz Goes to Campus music festival – the oldest of its kind in Indonesia. But in a country where the weather is almost always the same – hot with a chance of rain – a uniquely Indonesian profession has emerged to offer protection from the elements. Aryo is a pawang hujan (rain shaman) – a man who is hired to control the weather.
"There are many ways in which we can control our universe," he said. "For this job, I chose a half-full bowl of water, cigarettes and salt that I spread in a circle around the campus."
In Indonesia, shamans, sorcerers and healers are widely believed to possess supernatural powers. But few are as common as the pawang hujan. Rain shamans are in such heavy demand, especially during the rainy season, that they are a regular expense for anyone planning an outdoor event. When Bali recently held an international Interpol conference, it didn't rain for four straight days. And when it was time for National Police Chief Tito Karnavian to address the crowd of attendees, he knew who to thank for the clear skies.
"I hope you enjoy Bali's vibrant atmosphere—this place is a genuine paradise," Tito said to the attendees. "Our rain shaman's got everything handled for you."
Aryo didn't look the part of a mystic. I was expecting to meet some sort of new agey long-hair with a satchel full of magical crystals. Instead, I found a totally normal looking guy, in a black Cradle of Filth T-shirt. Aryo doesn't use mystical rituals to control the weather. Instead, he prefers some kind of mental powers that, according to his description, are similar to cloudbusting or other pseudo-scientific, metaphysical beliefs about the powers of concentration.
"It's purely mind power without a single mantra or prayer," Aryo said as he stared at the sky. "All I need to do is visualise that today will be bright and clear all day so the event runs smoothly."
Aryo also told me that he was 14-years-old, when he first tried to control the weather. He was at Jakarta's Sentul International Circuit race track and his friend was scheduled to compete in a big race. Aryo concentrated on the clouds and visualised clear skies. The rain never fell, and, soon enough, Aryo was carving out a decent living as a rain shaman. He has worked for corporate events, parties, and even the odd high school graduation. His rates vary from Rp 7 million (£413) per event, to the odd gift of a rare Batman figurine or a new PlayStation console.The Batman figures are especially coveted. When Aryo was a child he was sure Gotham City was a real place.
According to the rain shaman, anyone can learn to control the weather, as long as they can concentrate hard enough. He friend Audi Adrianto said he learned to "control the universe" in about an hour. "[Aryo] told me I had 'special' potential," Audi explained. "So I tried it after school, unintentionally." Audi wanted to see if these mind powers could work on more than the weather. So he focused his energy on something that's on the mind of most teenage boys: getting a date.
"I even tried it on girls," Audi said. "It's like controlling the clouds You just have to visualize that you'll talk to her. I did that many times."
"I think we are on our own—we decide our faith and where we fit in with the universe"—Aryo Hanindyojati
Aryo offered to teach me the mystical ways of the pawang hujan. But only when he's off-duty. "I don't want to risk jeopardising this event," he told me. "We have to break the barrier that subconsciously says 'You can't do that.' We all have the potential, but most people are doubtful. You can't be doubtful because then what you want will be put on hold."
We wandered out in the field to check on Aryo's salts. He placed salt at key locations encircling the concert grounds. The salt helped Aryo envision the boundaries of the space. Different pawang hujan use different tools and materials in their work. Some prefer to keep things mystical, utilising chicken heads and mystical prayers. Others, like Aryo, keep it simple. The important part, Aryo said, is learning how to communicate with nature.
"I think we are on our own – we decide our faith and where we fit in with the universe," Aryo said. "We can communicate [with the nature]. It has such massive amounts of energy. It's neutral, but we can manipulate it to cooperate."
We were way out on the periphery of the campus grounds looking back at the festival. Aryo stared at the dark sky then looked down at the shining stage. The crowd was singing along to the saccharine sounds of Indonesian jazz band Mocca. Singer Arina Ephipania Simangunsong casually sung "I remember/ When we were dancing in the rain/ In that December."
It could've easily been more than a memory. Dark clouds hung over the festival for most of the day. But, for whatever reason, the clouds refused to break.