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Fascination with the undead troubles Jakarta Police

Jakarta Post - December 3, 2011

Hans David Tampubolon, Jakarta – Police officers were forced to deploy to Central Jakarta on Friday in response to an unusual public order issue caused by a flock of superstitious enthusiasts.

Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Baharudin Djafar told The Jakarta Post that officers had been deployed to Roxy, Central Jakarta, because of a traffic jam caused by residents wanting to catch sight of a so-called zombie, traditionally known as pocong, that was allegedly hanging from the top of a tree.

Baharudin said on Friday that police were initially reluctant to respond to reports of the sightings, but had been forced to deploy when more people headed to the scene.

"We were trying to secure the residents and manage the traffic jam," he said. Baharudin also urged residents to use logic over superstition and not cause such incidents in the future.

The issue saw Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali call for residents to remain calm in the face of such supernatural rumors. "There is no way for such phenomena to be seen with the naked eye, especially during broad daylight," he said.

This is not the first time that unconfirmed supernatural rumors have caused a stir in Jakartan society and forced local authorities to shift their focus.

Fears connected to the supernatural have in the past also appeared to affect President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who once stated that his rivals used black magic against him during 2009 presidential election.

At that time the President said that he was so concerned about it that he, his wife and his driver continuously prayed on their way to take part in the final presidential debate.

Last year, the Jakarta administration filed a complaint to the Jakarta Police against youth organization United Islam Youth (Persis) for allegedly cutting down a 100-year-old banyan tree near Harmoni Central Busway station in Central Jakarta.

The group defended its action by saying that it was attempting to diminish a misleading belief about the tree being sacred.

Also last year, a meteorite that ripped through three houses in Duren Sawit, East Jakarta, attracted a lot of interest from residents, some of whom linked this natural phenomenon with supernatural effects. There were reports of people searching for fragments of the meteorite, which were then intended to be worn as amulets.

Scholars have said that a great social shift from the traditional to the modern had left people half traditional and half modern.

Under such conditions, scholars say, people tend to explain things in a way that gives them psychological comfort, such as linking natural phenomena with superstitious beliefs.