After banners warn sea offering ritual could cause tsunami, assailants force traditional Javanese ceremony to be cancelled

A sedekah laut ceremony in Pantai Kukup. Screenshot: Jogja Archive / Youtube
A sedekah laut ceremony in Pantai Kukup. Screenshot: Jogja Archive / Youtube

Since 1875, fishermen in the Javanese regencies of Bantul and Cilacap have carried out the tradition of sedekah laut, a spiritual ceremony based on ancient Javanistic beliefs, meant to show thankfulness to the ocean and to ensure the safety of the area’s fishermen in the coming year.

In recent decades the ceremonies have become popular tourist attractions as well, but this year the sedekah laut ceremony in Bantul was cancelled after a group of unidentified assailants demanded the event be shut down and caused havoc at the ceremony’s preparation site.

The event was meant to take place on Saturday at Bantul’s Pantai Baru but witnesses say that the night before, a group of about 50 masked men went to the beach and started destroying tables and chairs set up for the ceremony.

“Those who came suddenly damaged the guest tables and chairs around the beach. They covered up their faces and there were those who yelled [Allahuakbar] last night. After they broke things then they left,” one local resident, Tuwuh, told Detik.

Although the police tracked down and detained nine men suspected of being involved in the ransacking of the ceremonial site, they said yesterday that all nine would soon be released due to a lack of incriminating evidence.

The sedekah laut ceremony in nearby Cilacap did take place on Friday, but in the week before banners denouncing the event, carrying messages like “Jangan Larung Sesaji Karena Bisa Tsunami” (Don’t do offerings because it can cause a tsunami) and “Make a Tourism Program that Doesn’t Incur God’s Wrath” caused controversy in the area.

Those banners had been put up by the Cilicap branch of the hardline Muslim People’s Forum (FUI), who eventually agreed to take down the banners following severe criticism by locals.

The mention of a tsunami in the banners is no doubt a reference to the recent tsunami and earthquake that devastated Central Sulawesi on September 28, with the implication being that the sedekah laut ceremony is a form of shirik (in Islam, actions that support idolatry or polytheism) that could make God angry and thus cause natural disasters.

Although we cannot yet be sure that the sedekah laut ceremony in Bantul was attacked for the same reason, it seems likely given that this is the first year the ceremonies have been met with such resistance.

In addition to numerous anecdotal reports we’ve heard about Muslim preachers blaming the disaster in Central Sulawesi on human immorality, there is actually a conspiracy theory that it was caused by the existence of a monument that resembled the shape of an eye — which is a sign of Dajjal, the Islamic Anti-Christ — in the nearby regency of Mamuju in West Sulawesi (the monument was even destroyed by the local government on Oct. 11 due to fear caused by the conspiracy theory).

The theory says that the people of Mamuju were going to carry out a sacrificial ritual for the sea gods on the day of the disaster. Some, such as preacher Zulkifli M Ali in the video below (which has over 2 million views) claim that it was that blasphemous idolatry that led to the disasters which, back in the real world, caused over 2,000 people to be killed and over 5,000 feared to be missing.


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