JAKARTA – In the early hours of February 13, Imam Safii was still sleeping at his home in Jember regency, East Java, when he received an urgent call.
The caller informed him that a number of persons had been washed away by tidal waves at nearby Payangan beach. As a result, his help as a volunteer with the local search and rescue organization was rapidly required.
He arrived on the scene to find two people lifeless on the beach, while a man attempted to conduct cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on one of them.
“But the man stated they’d been in the water for an hour, so it seemed unlikely they were still alive,” Mr Safii told CNA.
By daybreak, it was clear that not only two persons had perished, but a total of 11 people had been killed as they were swept away by tidal waves.
They were part of a group meditating and executing a ritual in the darkness, together with 13 other survivors.
Their leader survived, and authorities later discovered that they were members of the Padepokan Tunggal Jati Nusantara spiritual group.
According to local media, the ritual was lead by a man who claimed to be a clairvoyant. Both Islamic religious recitations and Javanese chants and mantras were used in the ritual.
According to Jember police head Hery Purnomo, each follower questioned had a different motive for joining the organization and performing the ceremony.
They did so, however, primarily in the hope of becoming wealthy, being healed of a sickness, or resolving family issues.
The sad episode highlights the existence of groups that believe in and engage in various sorts of spiritual activities. Some rituals were combined with religious and syncretic beliefs in magic and psychic abilities.
Aside from the Feb. 13 incident, a similar catastrophe took the lives of three people in 2018 at a separate beach in Jember.
Earlier this year, in Probolinggo, East Java, a guy who claimed to have the miraculous ability to double money was arrested for murder and fraud.
Taat Pribadi, who went by the royal name Dimas Kanjeng, startled the nation when it was revealed that he had slain two of his followers who were attempting to expose him as a phony. Those that were killed claimed that the man lacked the power to multiply money.
In the same year, the public became aware of Gatot Brajamusti, a former actor turned spiritual leader who was condemned to prison for illegal weapon possession, child rape, and drug abuse.
Experts have warned the public to be extra cautious when it comes to believing in and joining these groups, particularly those that require cash remuneration.