POST D – Indonesian Politics, Pornography and the Sex Mountain

Indonesia is a melting pot of political and religious values; its democratic government is corrupt and its people have amalgamated a bricolage branch of Islam. In terms of sex and pornography, there is an ironic contradiction between the Islamic-influenced law and how Indonesians behave.

Mardiyah prays for wealth and luck at Sex Mountain
Mardiyah prays for wealth and luck at Sex Mountain (Abboud, 2009)

Gunung Kemukus, or “Sex Mountain” is a holy site where pilgrims travel to have adulterous sex. It is a “very Javanese blend of religious ideals, with Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist influences” (Abboud, 2014, 3:01). Apparently wealth and luck is granted to those who travel to the mountain to sleep with strangers every thirty-five days, repeated seven times. Professor Keontjoro Soeparno remarks “it’s a strange thing. It’s a paradox. There’s a mosque built with people having sex all around it. They pray and say ‘amen’. Their prayers are Islamic. It’s hypocritical” (in Abboud, 2014, 7:21). For years, the Indonesian government turned a blind eye as they supposedly made a huge profit off prostitution on the mountain. But merely two weeks after an SBS documentary was published online, the Central Java Governor suddenly cracked down on the unlawful practices, as he stated “the outside world knows about this. Isn’t it a shame?” (Rohmah, 2014, para 6).

pausacker1_berita-kepada-kawan (1)
Protests again the anti-pornography law (Pausacker, 2008)

In recent years, the Indonesian government has enforced various measures to ban sex out of marriage. This may be due to an increase in HIV, which was initially contracted through drug use but is now mostly spread through sexual intercourse (Vaswami, 2009), but it is more likely to be from the growing Islamic presence. In 2008, the Indonesian government introduced a highly controversial Pornography Law. The law bans “displaying sensual parts”, “erotic dancing” and “pornographic actions” (Pausacker, 2008). These ambiguous terms are not defined in the act, and invite members of the public to help enforce the rules, giving legal license to Islamic vigilantes (Thompson, 2008, para 8). The punishments are harsh, for example “people kissing on the lips in public can receive prison sentences of one to five years” (Pausacker, 2008, para 3).

Wulan Mei Lina's controversial photography is not what you'd expect from Indonesia
Wulan Mei Lina’s controversial photography is not what you’d expect from Indonesia (Tienen, 2010)

The harsh laws have a prodigious impact on artists and cultural producers. Erotica photographer Wulan Mei Lina has stopped publicising her works, which are mostly nude portraits of bondage, S&M and female orgies. “The radical Muslims are controlling Indonesia. My government has a new law now–you cannot express yourself anymore” (Tienen, 2010, para 29). Indonesian Playboy editor Erwin Arnada was arrested for publishing indecent content just months after the magazine was founded. The magazine contained no nudity and was a lot tamer than competing Western magazines. There were substantial leftist revolts against the arrest, but also a massive complementary force of fundamentalists who stoned the windows of Playboy offices (BBC, 2006). These two parties illustrate the dichotomy in the current zeitgeist in Indonesia.

Pornography and unlawful sex are unavoidable consequences of an Indonesian society trapped between a fundamentalist Islamic code and the unrelenting influence of Western media. George Steiner (1998, p39) believes that sex is a necessary form of social interaction; “Intercourse and discourse, copula and copulation, are subclasses of the dominant fact of communication”.

References:

Abboud, P. 2014, Sex Mountain, television report, SBS One, viewed 19 April 2015 <http://www.sbs.com.au/news/dateline/story/sex-mountain&gt;

BBC News, 2006, ‘Indonesian Playboy editor on trial’, viewed 21 April 2015 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6216392.stm&gt;

Pausacker, H. 2008, ‘Hot Debates’, Inside Indonesia, viewed 20 April 2015 <http://www.insideindonesia.org/hot-debates&gt;

Rohmah, A. 2014, ‘Central Java Governor bans ancient sex ritual on Mt. Kemukus’, The Jakarta Post, Semerang, viewed 19 April 2015 <http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/11/26/central-java-governor-bans-ancient-sex-ritual-mt-kemukus.html&gt;

Steiner, G. 1998, After Babel: aspects of language and translation, third edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Thompson, G. 2008, ‘Indonesia passes tough new anti-porn laws’, ABC news, viewed 20 April 2015 <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2008-10-31/indonesia-passes-tough-new-anti-porn-laws/188804&gt;

Tienen, J.V. 2010, Erotic Photography in Indonesia, Vice, viewed 20 April 2015 <http://www.vice.com/en_au/read/sexy-indonesian-photography&gt;

Vaswani, K. 2009, ‘Indonesia HIV-aids ‘spreading through sex’, BBC news, Jakarta, viewed 21 April 2015 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8388154.stm&gt;

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3 thoughts on “POST D – Indonesian Politics, Pornography and the Sex Mountain

  1. I am curious as to whether the law has had any effect what so ever to the rising rates of HIV. It seems like imposing impractically harsh regulations around sex and expressions of intimacy would just backfire and cause a revolt.

  2. What an interesting post! The pilgrimage to Sex Mountain is strangest cultural tradition I have ever heard of! I wonder how many people truly believe this ritual will bring them wealth and good fortune and how many use this tradition as an excuse to cheat on their partner with a stranger.

  3. That quote “very Javanese blend of religious ideals, with Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist influences” is so interesting, and seems to summarise the bulk of what I understand about Indonesia (which isn’t a lot at the moment). It will be really interesting to witness those warring influences when we go to Java, maybe its different in Yogya compared to Jakarta.

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