Indonesia Expat
Scams in the City

Would You Believe a Talking Fetus?

A North Jakarta grandfather hit the headlines this month over his nonsensical claim that he can lay eggs. That’s nothing compared to the scam perpetrated decades earlier by an Indonesian woman who claimed to be pregnant with a fetus that could recite Islamic verses. Using a concealed miniature tape player, she fooled government officials and even a vice president.

President Joko Widodo’s proposed “mental revolution” to transform the mindset of the Indonesian people aims to tackle corruption, intolerance and violence. There has been no word on whether it should also combat backward superstitions and mysticism.

Indonesian television networks censor kissing and cleavage, but they can broadcast programs that present ghosts and other supernatural hogwash as genuine. Superstition is harmful when it costs people their money and/or health.

It is embarrassing that the media and even senior officials can be duped by charlatans. Any Top Ten List of Indonesian Scams must include an Acehnese lady named Cut Zahara Fona. Although she never completed elementary school, she made a fortune in the 1970s by pretending to be pregnant with a “magic baby” capable of predicting the future and quoting Islamic scriptures.

The media lapped up her story. People queued up and paid to listen to her fictitious fetus, hoping to receive its blessings. Among those fooled was then-Vice President Adam Malik, who was photographed with his ear to her stomach.

For over a year, Cut Zahara pretended to be pregnant. People happily overlooked this physical impossibility. The religious affairs minister explained that a precedent had been set by an ancient Islamic scholar who spent three years in the womb prior to birth. Buya Hamka, the founder of the Indonesian Ulemas Association (MUI), declared: “If God wills it, anything can happen.” Other experts compared Cut Zahara to the Virgin Mary, saying both had been touched by God.

One voice of sanity spoke up against the stupidity. That was Dr. Herman Susilo, head of the Jakarta Health Department. He pointed out that a fetus cannot speak audibly, let alone recite the al-Qu’ran, from the womb. He went into hiding after receiving death threats from Islamic zealots, who felt he was insulting the “holy baby”.

Some reports mention that Cut Zahara and her husband met with President Suharto and First Lady Ibu Tien at Jakarta’s old Kemayoran Airport, but there is no proof that such a meeting took place.

The magic baby’s lucrative career was cut short during a visit to the South Kalimantan capital of Banjarmasin. The provincial police chief, Brigadier General Abdul Hamid Swasono, set a trap, saying that he, his wife and a policewoman wanted to listen to the baby. The policewoman examined Cut Zahara’s batik garments and discovered the hidden dictaphone – at that time a new product in Indonesia.

Cut Zahara was jailed, then escaped and then caught again. Swasono was given early retirement and killed by poisoning at age 52. Some said he was murdered for embarrassing the duped officials.

Another contender for Indonesia’s greatest scammer is Ponari, a boy from Balongsari village in East Java. In late 2008, when nine years old, he claimed to have been struck by lightning and found a magic stone with healing properties. By early 2009, he was attracting thousands of visitors daily, each paying Rp.5,000 to have him dunk his stone in cups or buckets of water. Four people were killed in crowd crushes and countless others died because the “healing” was a sham.

The media has in recent weeks given considerable coverage to Engkong Naim alias Sinin (62), the grandfather from North Jakarta who pretends he can lay eggs from his anus. He claims that since 1998, he has been laying a clutch of eggs once every three months, and daily during the Javanese lunar month of Suro.

Neighbours are charging curious people to look at Sinin and his collection of eggs, which appear to be white chicken eggs. A blurry video uploaded to YouTube shows Sinin lying on his stomach, while three men gently massage his back. One man then pulls down Sinin’s trousers to reveal an egg-like bulge at the back of his red underpants.

North Jakarta Health Office head Bambang Suheri tried to put a stop to the nonsense by having Sinin and some of the eggs examined. Neighbours refused to hand over any eggs and said the “mystery” must not be solved.

Bambang eventually secured two eggs and had Sinin admitted to Koja General Hospital from November 7-10 for observation and tests by a team of doctors, obstetricians and psychiatrists. After undergoing a rectal examination, x-rays and a general check-up, Sinin was declared to be in fine physical and mental health.

Bambang said he suspected the entire thing is a hoax designed to profit from gullible members of the public. Police could file charges if there is evidence of wilful trickery, he added.



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