Nurturing The Life Force: Purifying or augmenting something known to many Indonesian peoples as semangat – the life forces or vital principles thought to inhabit and animate not only humans but plants, animals, sacred objects and also entire villages, kingdoms, islands or nations.
These forces are negative as well as positive, bringing bad as well as good consequences, and it is generally believed that by boosting their own life – giving semangat, men are able to achieve and maintain a fragile balance between them.
The semangat of human beings is thought to be concentrated in the head, and in the past, many Indonesian peoples (like the Toraja of Sulawesi, the Dayak of Kalimantan and the Dani of Irian Jaya), sought to promote their own semangat at the expense of an adversary through headhunting raids. Skull tropies were once regarded as powrful talismans that would enhance the prosperty of a community, promote the fertility of its fields, and ward off sickness, war or ill fortune.
The hair of the head is likewise considered to contain large concentrations of semangat. A ceremonial first haircutting often serves to initiate an infant into human society, while the exchange of sippits of hair or the ceremonial knotting of the hair of a bride and groom together is an integral part of many Indonesian marriage rites. Almost universally in traditional Indonesia, hair clippings are disposed of carefully (as are nail trimmings) lest they fall unknowingly into the hands of a enemy sorceror, and human hair curiously features in the costumes of many supernatural characters – such as the huge Rangda and Barong dance masks of Bali.
Power of Blood: Blood, too, is thought to be infused with semangat, which can be especially easily transmitted or conferred. On many islands, the pillars of a new house are annointed with the sacrificial blood of anials to render them strong and durable. Among the Makassarese of Sulawesi, royal weapons and other regalia (pusaka) were once bathed regularly in blood to keep them spiritually :charged”. And it used to be widely reported that victors in battle in many parts of the archipelago drank the blood or gall of their slain enemies, or smeared these fluids over themselves, to augment their own semangat with that of the fallen. Still today on many silands, ritual battles are enacted (such as the caci whip duels of Flores, the Pasola cavalry wars of Sumba, and the the Perang Pandan (pandanus wars) of Tenganan, Bali), the chief goal of which seems to be to draw human blood to be used for talismanic purposes.
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