An Interview with a Rain Shaman

Pawang - Photo by Ken Jenie & John Navid

by Mar Galo. Photo by Ken Jenie & John Navid

“Pawang hujan”, or “bomoh hujan” in Malaysian, is a person whose occupation is to prevent rain from coming down.  They are very  popular in Indonesia and Malaysia. Some call them rain guides or rain stoppers. I suppose “rain whisperer” could be another appropriate term for the job. Their service is often used for outdoor events, especially during the monsoon season.

I went to visit Pak Willy, a pawang hujan who has worked at many music festivals around Jakarta, to get more details on this profession. Many consider the work of a pawang hujan absurd,  yet using their services is as common as renting the sound system for a concert. Talking about the supernatural and the spiritual, I sat down with Pak Willy to discover more about what he does, hoping to shed some light on this mysterious occupation.

 

How did you get started in the pawang hujan profession?

I was having a hard time after the 1998 riots. I couldn’t find a job and couldn’t feed my kids. So I had to work for this mafia guy in Kalijodo. I didn’t really like it because, well, you know, he’s a mafia…Then one day,  my niece who worked for an event organizing company asked me if I wanted to try out as a pawang hujan. I had to be able to prevent rain successfully for 3 events in a row. I succeeded and I have been employed by the company ever since. It is a large event organizer for a cigarette company.

I’ve been doing this work for about 10 years.  The fee ranges from 350,000 Rupiah to 2-3 million Rupiah. When I work, I have to stay for the duration of the event, which can go for 4 hours to 10 hours. I have a contract with the event organizer company in which I get a flat rate. Otherwise, the fee would be negotiated beforehand.

My clients range from wedding organizers, event organizers, government officials, to production houses.  I usually get them [the clients] through referrals, so I have to perform well in order for me to get more jobs..

Of course, there will be times when I cannot prevent the rain from falling, but it would have rained a lot more if I didn’t do the procession. [He allowed me to read one of the contracts which stated that if the rain persists for more than 25 minutes, he will not be paid for his services on that day-ed]

What is the ritual and process like for each event?

We ask from the Almighty above for permission to conduct this ritual successfully. From there, it differs for every religion. As a Buddhist, I summon  the deities, including the Earth deity. I also summon the guardians of the event’s location and Prabu Siliwangi [a mythical Hindu King who turned into a tiger in order to avoid bloodshed with his family-ed] .

At the venue, I check for the wind’s directions. I use a compass board with different colored arrows. The north is painted in black which means that it is the direction that will be used to divert the rain. The rain usually heads towards the sea.

The red arrow symbolizes volcanoes. The yellow arrow represents earth.

I sometimes provide an offering of sweetened green tea, sweetened coffee, and black coffee. I also offer 3 kinds of fruits. I only use offerings when it seems like the rain is going to be heavy.

I burn incense that lasts for about 4 hours and an oil lamp that symbolizes lights so everything will go smoothly.

I also bring fake-paper money to burn as offerings. This is the Chinese part of the ritual.

If it’s a wedding, I will get some of the food from the banquet to add to the offerings.

I also have to fast. I can’t eat for the whole duration of the event. I once snuck in some food and the rain came pouring down.

I often do the ritual in a secluded spot because the offerings attract attention, you can sometimes find me behind a tree or a parked car.

Would you say that this skill that you have is a gift or it’s something that you have to practice on?

I’m learning from experience.

I meditate and chant a lot of mantras from Buddhist scriptures. That’s how I ‘recharge’ my energy.  I also fast almost every day in order to purify my body. I stay up recharging all night and sleep at dusk.

I can also ‘transfer’ my energy so I don’t have to be present at the event’s location. I usually fast for three days and then send offerings such as paper birds.

I was assigned to work on a few events in West Borneo by a client. They like my work so I ended up working events in West Borneo a few times. It was for a big concert with performers like Iwan Fals, Kotak, Nidji, and Wali.

Pawang - Photo by Ken Jenie & John Navid

Is the ritual related to religion?

It is. The rituals are different with each religion, but usually use offerings to respect our ancestors.

However, my customers are from different religions. They never have any problem with my religion as long as I can do my job. But I would be more cautious as to not use incense or objects that are too religious.

How frequently do you work?

I usually do about 2 events in a week. I get quite tired from doing this activity since I have to exert my energy and recharge for a few days. Sometimes I’m on a contract to do an event that goes on for many days such as a badminton tournament that lasts for more than 10 days. There is also an outdoor culinary festival that covers quite a large area and goes on for a few days.

What are your most interesting experiences while doing this?

About 5 years ago, in Sentul (a large motor racing circuit-ed), I was asked to help out at an international air balloon festival. I had to work with another rain guide who is also quite known. He’s a few years younger than me but I think his skills are not that great. I was struck by lightning because of him. He was too distracted. Instead of helping me prevent rain, he was busy with other unimportant rituals.

There was also this one time when Nidji was supposed to be playing at two events in one night. The first one was in Ancol and then Kalideres. I was in charge of the Kalideres event. It was raining really heavily about 1 kilometre away. In the area where the event is being held, it was drizzling. I can’t prevent the rain from not happening at all but at least, people can still walk around. I had to divert the rain to the sea. Apparently, I ‘transferred’ it to Ancol, where the first event took place [It is a coastal area – ed]. The event in Ancol had to be stopped because the stage collapsed from the rain.

It might be a coincidence but somehow I don’t think so.

So, do you mostly work by yourself?

Yes. I have two assistants that I can assign the work to if I can’t make it. But I always work alone even though the place is huge like the place in Sentul. It was for the hotel there. The area I had to cover was wide. That was the most area I have covered so far.

Pawang - Photo by Ken Jenie & John Navid

Do you have any advice for aspiring rain guides out there?

You have to be strong physically because you don’t get a lot of sleep. I sleep at dawn because I meditate and read scriptures. That is especially difficult when you have to do an event the next day. You practically get no sleep.

You have to be able to fast often and hold your carnal desires which I think it will be difficult for younger people.

There will be a lot of unpredictability since you’re dealing with the universe.

Only use your ‘talent’ for good deeds.

Be humble because we’re dealing with a greater power.

Since this is also a job, you have to keep a good relationship with your clients.

How long do you see yourself doing this?

I’m almost 70 years old. Physically I’m still quite fit to do a few rounds of National Stadium when working. Hopefully, I can pass my knowledge to one of my kids. My youngest son is still in high school but it seems like he can continue my work since he helps me a lot at home with my altar.

Mar GaloMar Galo writes for a living. She plays music, collects records, and watches lots of films in her spare time which she has plenty. She also writes for Viddsee Buzz Indonesia and contributes to W Music (Whiteboardjournal.com).