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A Dukun preparing traditional medicine. Dutch Colonial Period. 1910-1940.
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A dukun is an Indonesian-Malay term for shaman. In Malaysia, they are often referred to as bomoh, but dukun or pawing/pawang also used in various languages.[1] Their societal role is that of a traditional healer, spirit medium, custom and tradition experts and on occasion sorcerers and masters of black magic.

The dukun is the very epitome of the kejawen or kebatinan belief system indigenous to Java. Beneath the thin superficial practice of Islam, very strong and ancient beliefs of animism, ancestor worship and shamanism run through the people of the Nusantara. While modern medicine along with revivalist Islam and Christianity have undermined the dukun's prominence, they remain highly respected and somewhat feared figures in Indon-Malay society, even in the most orthodox Islamic areas. In the pre-colonial past, dukun were exempt from paying taxes, as with Hindu priests and Buddhist monks.

Many highly prominent and highly educated Indonesians, Malaysians and Singaporeans, even those with Western doctorate and masters levels degrees will still consult dukun or soothsayers. Indonesians who are known to have employed dukun include former President Sukarno, former president Suharto, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sultan Hamengkubuwana IX and Sultan Hamengkubuwana X and many more.[citation needed]

Dukun are most common on the island of Java, though the island of Madura is especially feared for being very powerful practitioners of dark magic, and Bali is well regarded for its dukun. The Dayak people of Kalimantan are also feared for their use of dukun when head-hunting. In Sabah, the Kadayan community are renowned for their dukun who are said to look waif-like with red eyes.

In common practice, a dukun is consulted when a person perceives they have an issue that has a supernatural or paranormal association. If a dukun is not known to the individual, their family or friends, word of mouth often creates a situation where the dukun will appear as if summoned, most especially in the case of possessions.

Becoming a dukun

The dukun's knowledge is passed down orally, but the specific customs differ from one community to another. Initiates may voluntarily decide to learn the dukun's craft, or the position might be inherited. Proto-Malay dukun often serve the dual role of both shaman and village chief, known as a tok batin. Dukun who inherited their knowledge from their parent or grandparent is held in higher esteem than one who served as another dukun's disciple. Typically the initiation ritual involves meditation at a mountain, waterfall, cemetery or some other location away from people. In some communities, such as the Kadayan of Sabah, dukun are also required to learn silat before they can be initiated. The purpose is both for the purpose of self-defence and for the spiritual training.

Range of roles

A dukun (left) during the Bambu Gila (Mad Bamboo) ceremony in Liang Village, Ambon, Maluku.

Dukun have a number of titles and ascribed abilities - the dukun roles below are sometimes taken up by dukuns with specific titles and roles, rather than any one dukun utilizing all of the roles below.

Medicinal and curative

The dukun's primary role is that of a healer. They may use herbalism, incantations (jampi), chants (mantra), animal parts, inanimate objects, spiritual communication or guidance, prayers, offerings, the keris or any combination to effect their curatives.


Dukun are believed to be able to communicate directly with malevolent and benevolent spirits. Spirits are said not to resist the dukun in their removal from their 'host', as they are enthralled that a living being can communicate with them.

Divination and soothsaying

Dukun are most famous for prophetic visions. This is often the result of consulting spirits relating to one’s deceased family who often provide insight into what is likely to happen.

Charms and blessings

Dukun will occasionally bless an individual or a business, to keep away termites or spirits or demons, or over a piece of land to ensure a good harvest.

Spiritual communications

Dukun are alleged to see normally invisible spirits and communicate as easily as though the spirit were physically present. Many spirits are supposed to speak archaic Javanese or Sundanese and the Dukun may be able to speak these languages during momentary spiritual possessions, despite not having prior knowledge of these languages.


Dukuns are generally benevolent shamans. On occasion, some practitioners of black or dark magicks may be employed to cast revenge hexes and incantations often for trivial matters.

Some known incantations include:

Djengges: where a half circle of food offerings, including opium and incense and weapons in the form of nails, glass and needles. The dukun then chants a spell and actually asks spirits to embed the items in the victim’s stomach.

Gendam : A dukun will incant the target's name so that a spell is thrown, where the target cannot rest until they are cured by another dukun. This ritual involves the dukun chanting the name of the person he wants to summon.

Naruga: The dukun implants an emotional suggestion in the victim. It may be benevolent such as a love spell, or malevolent- causing the target to murder someone else.

Santet: The dukun causes the target to have chronic diarrhea.

Sirep: The dukun causes people to fall under a deep, unshakable slumber.

Tenung: This ritual involves creating a half circle of food offerings, including opium and incense, while chanting for the destruction of the victim. The target suffers headaches, vomiting and illness until remedied by another dukun.

Susuk: The dukun implants a metal needle in the patient body (mostly woman). This needle must be chanted first. The dukun will use a spirit to implants the needle without wound. This needle will make the patient to be more sexually attractive in the eyes of men.

See also


  1. Graham Harvey; Robert J. Wallis (5 February 2007). Historical Dictionary of Shamanism. Scarecrow Press. pp. 129–. ISBN 978-0-8108-6459-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • The Religion of Java. Clifford Geertz. University of Chicago Press 1976. ISBN 0-226-28510-3
  • Understanding Witchcraft and Sorcery in Southeast Asia. C. W. Watson, R. F. Ellen.University of Hawaii Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8248-1515-7
  • Modern Trends in Islamic Theological Discourse in 20th Century Indonesia. Fauzan Saleh. BRILL, 2001. ISBN 90-04-11251-0
  • Islam: Essays on Scripture, Thought, and Society : a Festschrift in Honour. By Peter G. Riddell, Tony Street, Anthony Hearle Johns Contributor Peter G Riddell, Ph.D., Peter G. Riddell. BRILL, 1997. ISBN 90-04-09818-6