Bezoars, Fossils, and the Ilmu Spiritualists of Tribal Indonesia

Many of the Divine Net Galleries offerings have some common threads.  While some of the overall collection has come from Tibet, most of the pearl artifacts have been recovered from the jungles of the Indonesian archipelago.  From a scientific perspective, they are largely considered either bezoars or fossils; environmental conditions within Indonesia are ideal for the preservation or creation of these natural treasures.  Further, they have been revered and held (in some cases for centuries), passed on as heirlooms within a little-known Indonesian spiritual order which adds subtle power to the objects as they are passed down by each successive generation.
A bezoar is a wildlife by-product, usually formed in an animal’s abdominal tract, due to unusual dietary or digestive conditions.  The term “bezoar” is largely a medical term, wherein such stones are often removed from animals or humans; the creation of Conch Pearls are a good example of this phenomenon.  Bezoars are exposed to acid through the stomach (i.e. Hydrochloric Acid of pH 1) while an organism is living, although when it dies, the same bezoar will be exposed to butyric acid (found in the late stages of flesh decomposition).  Stomach bezoars, made largely of silica, can even form in humans from extended ingestion of certain antacids.Bezoars got off to a shaky start when first introduced to the West as a potential medical treatment.  Many legends surrounded bezoars, and they were first introduced on the basis of these tales to an audience wishing to be alleviated from ailments which they were purported to improve.  An early court case in England found a bezoar merchant as defendant, the plaintiff being a man that did not benefit by the object as was claimed by the defendant.  The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and this case later become extremely important in the formation of laws about how remedies may be sold.  In retrospect, it has been largely considered that this case foreclosed the availability of useful medications for the public by many years, even though the details of the case itself and type of warranty performance has been lost.The most commonly known bezoar today, as a classical medical remedy, is the Chinese cure using Ox Bezoar.  Silicon dioxide, the basis for many bezoars, is not only an inorganic chemical, but is also the basis for fossils. A fossil is an object that was once part of a living organism, but after the organism died, a special process went into play that preserved part of its body by replacing the organic chemicals in its flesh and bone with minerals.

There are many secret lives of Silicon dioxide (SIO2), the ubiquitous planetary substance otherwise known as sand. We use it on a daily basis in many ways, but probably think about it rarely. Silicon dioxide, or silica, is the primary component of not only glass, but semiconductors, microprocessors, solar (photovoltaic) cells, and fiber optic cable.

Of course, many natural minerals are formed from SiO 2 .  All variety of rocks may be comprised of Silicon Dioxide in almost their entirety.  Such natural formations by themselves have many special properties, such as the quartz crystal, known for its vibrational properties.  Watches are often kept in time by electrically stimulating a quartz crystal, while its use as a radio tuner can go from the simple (just add a razor blade, coiled wire, antenna, and headset) to the digitally precise.
Barring Silicon Dioxide within remains of animals dearly departed, many living species or their organs are comprised of organic glass.  Diatoms, the primary staple of Whales, are comprised of tiny silica skeletons, while Glass Corals and Glass Sponges possess the same properties in aggregate form.  Bamboo also contains about 4% silica within its joints, using it as a kind of cement, which is common in members of the grass family.
siaIndonesia, the land of archipelago, not only has prime conditions for unusual fossil formations, but with 224 million people is the world’s fourth most populous nation and considered the capital of world Islam. Islam came to Indonesia in the 15th century, following predominance of a particular variant of Hinduism shaped by tribal religion. However, before Islam, and arguably even Hinduism, the religious practice of Indonesia was primarily a natural spiritualist practice known as Ilmu.

While Indonesia is predominately Muslim (although Bali is primarily Hindu), Ilmu has a strong influence in Indonesia to this day though in a minority of 1% or less. Ilmu is defined in a number of ways, though all have similar connotations- knowledge, mysticism and wisdom are common translations. Some present Ilmu as a path with adherents, others as abilities gained through knowledge and discipline; similar in many ways to the Hindu concept of siddhis. Popular acccounts of Ilmu vary in context; some may be of an adherent of Islam who encounters Ilmu through a djinni. Another may be told in a manner that leaves little doubt as to the Hindu spiritual practice he employs. Although the two spiritual paths have great differences, Ilmu is a deep cultural root system throughout Indonesia which make its concepts an historical middle-ground within a greater and diverse local heritage.

In some areas of Indonesia and throughout the greater region, the word “Ilmu” or notions of tribal shamanism may conjure images of black magic and sorcery; with mixed emotions of suspicion, fear and awe . In other areas it is the primary way to protect and save a country in times of difficulty. Knowledge and abilities gained from Ilmu can confer different benefits or blessings, such as invulnerability, to a person or place. Different ilmus (used in the context of “ilmu” being an ability) have benefits for different types of situations, always designed to avoid or protect from harm. A primary attribute of Ilmu is philosophically in keeping with the Hindu concept of Ahimsa, or non-violence, as an opponent may be stopped without being killed. However, mysticism and Ilmu are seen in other sectors as a means to manipulate others, fearing practioners with suspicion.  The local tradition describes this as a common prejudice amongst the uneducated, where it is opined that Ilmu or its spiritual leaders or practices are fraudulent.

In Bali, the primary locale of Indonesian Hinduisum, Hinduism has been largely untouched as a spiritual practice, but notably lacks the traditional Hindu emphasis on cycles of rebirth and reincarnation; instead concerned with myriad local and ancestral spirits. Hence, communication with spirits is a deeply engrained part of not only Ilmu, but local Hinduism, Islam, and other belief systems in Indonesia; communication with all manner of spiritual beings is a part of the spiritual and cultural heritage of the region. Knowledge of Ilmu may come from ancestors, and is considered more valuable than any other type of family heirloom, however family heirlooms, objects of Ilmu such as the pearls, are also quite important. Cynthia Chou, in a paper for the IIAS Asian Studies Series, states “Inalienable possessions are family treasures, or heirlooms. They have ‘inherent supernatural powers’ and foremost among them is magical knowledge, or Ilmu.” People in awe of and with respect for Ilmu seek out shamans to get assistance for their families or cities. The turbulence of present times in Indonesia has many people looking more and more to “the old ways” to aid with things that more modern political and technical thought cannot.

Though the country is largely Muslim, Indonesia has had a resurgence of Hindu belief in the last 40 years. In 1962 Hinduism officially became the 5th state recognized national religion. In 1978, a number of Hindu temples were completed giving more solidity to the movement toward a return to Hinduism in Indonesia. 1978 also marked the 500 year anniversary of an incident in the Majapahit Kingdom where a Hindu adviser, Sabdapalon, an assistant to his Islamic king, promised to return, after 500 years, and at a time of widespread political corruption and natural disasters. Concurrently, many of the Islamic faith take Sabdapalon’s promise to return to mean a new golden age for Islam as Sabdapalon was presented with an incomplete form of the faith. Both groups seems to look forward now to a new spiritual awakening and purity in Indonesia, as the 500 years are now at hand. We look forward to these developments, and appreciate the balance that Ilmu brings between Islamic and Hindu philosophies which find common ground in the heritage of Indone.

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