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This week in Jakarta: Sacrifice, rain charmers and prohibition

This week in Jakarta: Sacrifice, rain charmers and prohibition
Published 25 Sep 2015 

Various forces were at work in Jakarta this week as Muslims celebrated the holy day of sacrifice, President Jokowi ploughed ahead with the MRT tunnel project just as the rainy season was set to begin, and debate continued under the new trade minister over liquor laws and the possibility of prohibition in Indonesia.

Name and address tags of donators attached to butchered goat legs during Idul Adha. (Flickr/Danumurthl Mahendra.)

Herds of livestock appeared in neighbourhoods across the capital as Jakarta prepared for the Islamic holy day of Idul Adha on Thursday — and Wednesday and Tuesday — this week. Different religious organisations had calculated different dates for the holiday based on the movement of the moon, meaning that some communities sacrificed cattle and goats prior to the official public holiday on Thursday.

Idul Adha, known elsewhere in the Muslim world as Eid al-Adha, commemorates the day when the prophet Abraham is said to have been prepared to sacrifice one of his sons for God, only to have the boy swapped for a lamb at the last minute. In Indonesia, livestock are bought by individuals and donated to the mosques, where they are ritually sacrificed and their meat divided among poorer residents, who use it to make traditional dishes like goat satay and beef stew. The holiday is given a modern twist in urban areas like Jakarta, with advertising featuring the cartoon character Shaun the Sheep, or photoshopped images of sofas tied to the backs of livestock as the buyer's so-called vehicle to heaven. Australia supplies livestock for many Muslim-majority countries during the religious festival, but requires that the animals are not slaughtered outside of approved supply chains.

Meanwhile, Javanese syncretism played a part in the construction of the long-awaited mass rapid transit (MRT) system in Jakarta on Monday. President Jokowi presided over the launch of a gigantic new tunnel-boring machine, funded by Japanese loans, to begin underground work in the city centre. Laying the bait for cliche-ridden foreign observations, the president named the machine Antareja, after a character in the Javanese shadow puppet canon. Antareja, who is an original Javanese character not found in the Hindu Mahabharata epic, is said to have the power to pass through earth underground. [fold]

The underground work for the MRT has raised concerns about flooding, which occurs annually in the capital during the rainy season. But engineers have assured the public that rain will neither affect the construction process nor the finished tunnels. Nonetheless, rumours were circulating in Jakarta this week that Jokowi had employed a powerful pawang hujan, or rain charmer, to ensure that the machine launch wasn't hampered by a downpour.

The extended dry season in Jakarta has left residents thirsty, with Governor Ahok even looking to the polluted Ciliwung River as a potential source of water. In a less life-threatening way, beer drinkers in Jakarta have also gone thirsty in recent months as the previous trade minister, Rachmat Gobel, banned the sale of alcohol in convenience stores and other small-scale outlets in April. Convenience is clearly an important factor for beer-drinkers since the country's biggest brewer, PT Multi Bintang Indonesia, has suffered a 41.72% drop in profits since the ban was introduced. Thomas Lembong, who replaced Gobel as trade minister in a reshuffle in August, is now under pressure to relax regulations and foster a more business-friendly climate. The ministry announced this week that a guide would soon be issued giving regional administrations the power to decide on the most appropriate locations for alcohol to be sold.

The change is a good sign that the alcohol prohibition bill now being pushed by Islamic parties will not pass through the House of Representatives. Aside from lending an unwanted level of authenticity to Jakarta's many Prohibition-themed cocktail bars, the proposed bill would enforce jail sentences for the production, distribution or consumption of alcoholic beverages. 

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