In Indonesia, Controlling the Weather Is Just Another Job

I hung out with rain shaman Aryo Hanindyojati while he trapped the heavens in a bowl.

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Dec 15 2016, 4:10pm

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. Hanindyojati is a pawang hujan (rain shaman)—a man who 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," Karnavian said to the attendees. "Our rain shaman's got everything handled for you."

Hanindyojati 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. Hanindyojati 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," Hanindyojati said as he stared at the sky. "All I need to do is visualize that today will be bright and clear all day so the event runs smoothly."

Hanindyojati 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 racetrack, and his friend was scheduled to compete in a big race. Hanindyojati concentrated on the clouds and visualized clear skies. The rain never fell, and, soon enough, Hanindyojati 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 [$520] per event, to the odd gift of a rare Batman figurine or a new PlayStation console.The Batman figures are especially coveted. When Hanindyojati 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 he or she can concentrate hard enough. His friend Audi Adrianto said he learned to "control the universe" in about an hour. "[Hanindyojati] told me I had 'special' potential," Adrianto explained. "So I tried it after school, unintentionally." Adrianto 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," Adrianto 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

Hanindyojati offered to teach me the mystical ways of the pawang hujan. But only when he's off-duty. "I don't want to risk jeopardizing 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 Hanindyojati's salts. He placed salt at key locations encircling the concert grounds. The salt helped Hanindyojati envision the boundaries of the space. Different pawang hujan use different tools and materials in their work. Some prefer to keep things mystical, utilizing chicken heads and mystical prayers. Others, like Hanindyojati, keep it simple. The important part, Hanindyojati 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," Hanindyojati 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. Hanindyojati 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.

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