This story excerpt was translated from bahasa Indonesia. To read the original story in full, visit Harian Kompas. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.
The scent of flowers and the chanting of the shaman invoke the ivory bird god. In the middle of a dense forest, the Orang Rimba baby bathing ritual was held in early July. The first wash of river water marks the bond of the human child to nature.
Yellow flowers (Saraca asoca) are held up at the end of the bollards leading to the footbridge by the river. The delicate scent of the "sacred plant" is believed to bring in the gods. Apart from the bird gods who will drive away evil spirits, there are also tiger gods and mergo gods to ward off disease.
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"Disease goes downstream, the gods guard upstream," is how the shaman prayed.
In the midst of chanting the mantra, the baby's grandmother continues to dance. Her hands flapped like eagles, accompanied by the sound of drumming, keeping the rhythm to keep the gods present.