Indonesia Expat

Top 10 Indonesian Urban Myths & Mistruths

  1. Communism is the biggest threat to Indonesia

The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was indeed a force to be reckoned with in the 1960s. But as soon as Suharto received power from Sukarno in March 1966, he banned PKI. About one million of its members, supporters and suspected sympathisers were killed. Many others were jailed without trial. Since then, Indonesia’s most leftist party has been the miniscule People’s Democratic Party (PRD), which displays pictures of Che Guevara and is opposed to capitalism. But it’s definitely not a communist party, let alone a popular party. In the 1999 general election, PRD won a paltry 0.07 percent of the vote, failing to qualify for future elections. Wake up Indonesia. There are no secret local armies of communists or “liberals” trying to destroy the country. Rampant corruption, deforestation and the political exploitation of religion are among the nation’s biggest problems. Fear-mongering opponents of President Joko Widodo have resurrected the communist bogeyman in the hope it will bring them to power and justify authoritarianism.


  1. The penalty for masturbation in Indonesia is decapitation

This piece of nonsense has appeared in online lists of “The World’s Strangest Laws” for over a decade. It has also been republished online since 2007 by newspapers such as Australia’s The Daily Telegraph, where editors were either too stupid or too lazy to check facts. There is no Indonesian legislation specifically banning masturbation. The closest is Article 281 of Indonesia’s antiquated Criminal Code, which mandates a maximum penalty of two years and 8 months or a maximum fine of Rp3,000 for any person who “with deliberate intent publicly offends against decency”. Article 6 of the 2008 Pornography Law carries a maximum penalty of ten years in jail or a fine of Rp5 billion for anyone who publicly exhibits or depicts nudity or other pornographic content. Another online list of bizarre (fake) Indonesian laws claims: “No woman is allowed to be taller than her husband – if necessary she must chop off a section of her legs.”


  1. A ginger tourist was raped by an orangutan

World News Daily Report, a website that publishes fake news for laughs, in April 2017 ran an article that claimed a red-haired Irish tourist was savagely raped by an orangutan in Borneo. It started like this: “An ecologist’s dream to watch orangutans in their natural habitat quickly turned into his worst nightmare after being savagely attacked and raped by a 400-pound orangutan in the jungle of Borneo. Zack O’Reilly, a young 26-year-old from Ireland, who is presently studying biology at Dublin City University and has been a Greenpeace activist for the past three years, had always dreamed of seeing orangutans in their natural habitat and was a strong advocate against the palm oil industry, which is a great threat to the endangered species.” Numerous websites were fooled by the fake story, including Indonesia’s leading online news portal, Sadly, one story that’s not an urban myth was about an orangutan named Pony being shaved and used in a Central Kalimantan brothel frequented by oil palm plantation workers. She was rescued from the brothel in 2003.


  1. Plastic rice from China is sold in Indonesia

This food-scare crock emerged in Indonesia in May 2015, after video footage of a plastics factory in China was uploaded to YouTube with a title claiming it showed the production of fake rice. The clip was re-uploaded by Indonesian netizens and went viral. Some Indonesian newspapers, TV stations and online media outlets claimed China really was making fake rice. In the midst of this alarm, a rice porridge vendor in Bekasi, West Java, declared she had unwittingly purchased and served plastic rice. Newspapers announced that a girl in Medan, North Sumatra, had fallen sick after eating plastic rice. State-owned certification company Sucofindo claimed plastic was found in a sample of the rice from Bekasi. More stringent tests of the same sample revealed there was no plastic. More than a year after the hoax was debunked, cretinous reporters were still bleating about “rice contaminated with plastic grains across the archipelago”.


  1. Bali’s bag colours denote tourists’ bargaining skills

The claim is that shopkeepers in Bali will give foreign tourists black plastic bags if they have good bargaining skills and striped or red plastic bags if they are easy targets – all for the sake of alerting other shopkeepers. This absurd piece of hogwash was published as fact in May 2018 by British tabloid the Daily Mail’s Australian website. “What does the colour of your Bali shopping bag say about you? Street merchants use different plastic to show if you’re a cheapskate or an easy mark,” claimed the headline. The ensuing article’s sole source was a tourist named Kristian Troy, who had tested the theory at two shops. The Daily Mail claims to be one of the world’s most trusted news brands and claims its Australian version has a strong focus on editorial integrity. Despite that, it was too stupid to understand that a plastic bag’s colour denotes its durability, size, price and supplier. It also failed to mention that using plastic bags in a country polluted by trash is dumb.


  1. Children are being kidnapped by beggars for their organs

In 2017, Indonesian social media was rife with stories about people abducting children and harvesting their organs. Some posts were accompanied by disturbing images and videos of dismembered bodies. The warnings, repeated by the mainstream media, claimed the kidnappers included truck drivers, street vendors, pregnant women, insane people and beggars. Consequently, several innocent people suspected of preying on children were attacked by hysterical mobs. At least one man was beaten to death. Some needy Indonesians have offered to sell a kidney online or to organ traffickers, but police have not documented any cases of children being kidnapped for their organs.


  1. White skin is more beautiful than dark skin

Enter any Indonesian supermarket or pharmacy and you’ll find loads of skin whitening products, for women and men, priced to suit all budgets. The cosmetics companies behind these products are simply perpetuating and profiting from the racist notion that white skin is more desirable than dark skin. In many societies throughout history, white skin denoted a person of a high social status and/or wealth. This was because rich people could stay indoors, whereas poorer people had to work outdoors as farmers or fishermen, exposing themselves to sunburn. Television advertisements for skin whitening products in Indonesia have included one that shows a woman feeling ugly and ignored by her handsome boss unless she starts using the product, then her boss invites her to dinner. Naturally dark skin is not something to be ashamed of, but companies make billions of dollars by pushing the disgustingly racist lie that white skin is better.


  1. Noisy motorbikes and cars are cool

The phenomenon of rev-heads – people driving motorcycles or cars with modified exhaust pipes (or mufflers) to make them noisier – is not unique to Indonesia. Nevertheless, Indonesia has more than its fair share of noisy motorcyclists. Why? Because some boys, young men and older men who should know better, think a really loud motorbike symbolises masculine coolness. They’re wrong. It actually indicates the person is an insecure attention-seeker, so stupid they can only get attention by disturbing the peace. There is even a theory that men with excessively noisy vehicles are compensating for physical inadequacy. When a young man roars down the street on his deafening bike, people do not think, “Wow, that guy is so cool!” Instead, they think, “Oh, the poor man has a small brain and a matching reproductive organ.” It’s a bit silly to advertise your inadequacies so publicly and so noisily. Police efforts to crack down on these ignoramuses can be fatal. On December 30, 2018, a Mobile Brigade Police officer reprimanded a noisy motorcyclist in South Sumatra. An argument ensured and the officer struck the man with his pistol. The man and his seven friends then stabbed and beat the officer to death.


  1. Homosexuality is a disease

In recent years, some Indonesian political parties and religious leaders have been calling on the government to criminalise lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activities. Vigilante groups have taken the law into their own hands, raiding gay bars and even private houses where lesbians reside. There has also been a moral panic that HIV/AIDS is only a gay disease, and that gays are paedophiles. Efforts to promote safe sex (condom use) are equated with promoting promiscuity and LGBT. The Indonesian Ulemas Council, the nation’s top Islamic authority, in March 2015 issued a fatwa declaring that homosexuality is a curable disease. It also said same-sex acts should be heavily punished, by penalties ranging from caning to death. The Health Ministry in 2018 included homosexuality in a medical guide of mental disorders. The fact is that homosexuality has long been part of Indonesian culture and was tolerated for centuries, before bigots started preaching hate speech. Homosexuality is not a disease. It just means being attracted to people of the same sex.  Private sexual relations between consenting adults should not be the business of the state.


  1. Gerwani tortured and mutilated generals

Gerwani (the Indonesian Women’s Movement) was founded in Central Java in 1950. It promoted women’s labour rights and became affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). In the early hours of October 1, 1965, a group of Indonesian soldiers killed six army generals (and a captain mistaken for a general) in what was later labelled a “failed coup” and blamed on PKI. The bodies of the generals were dumped in a disused well at Lubang Buaya (literally “crocodile pit”) in East Jakarta. The Army asserted that Gerwani members performed sadistic mutilations on the generals, before and after the killings. The women were supposedly dancing naked, cut off penises and ate them, and gouged out eyeballs. Autopsies found no evidence of such torture. Instead, some Gerwani members were tortured into making false confessions. It served the propaganda of Suharto, as he moved to take power from Sukarno and crush PKI.

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