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Volunteers play the role of ‘pocong’ to make people stay at home outside the gate of Kepuh village amid the spread of coronavirus in Indonesia. Photo: Reuters

Coronavirus: in Indonesia, ‘ghosts’ volunteer to keep people indoors

  • Typically wrapped in white shrouds with powdered faces and dark-rimmed eyes, ‘pocong’ represent the trapped souls of the dead in Indonesian folklore
  • In some areas, villagers are calling on the age-old superstition to scare people into stay inside
Kepuh village in Indonesia has been haunted by ghosts recently – mysterious white figures jumping out at unsuspecting passers-by, then gliding off under a full-moon sky.

The village on Java island has deployed a cast of “ghosts” to patrol the streets, hoping that age-old superstition will keep people indoors and safely away from the coronavirus.

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“We wanted to be different and create a deterrent effect because ‘pocong’ are spooky and scary,” said Anjar Pancaningtyas, head of a village youth group that coordinated with the police on the unconventional initiative to promote social distancing as the coronavirus spreads.

Known as pocong, the ghostly figures are typically wrapped in white shrouds with powdered faces and kohl-rimmed eyes. In Indonesian folklore they represent the trapped souls of the dead.

But when they first started appearing this month they had the opposite effect. Instead of keeping people in they brought them out to catch a glimpse of the apparitions.

The organisers have since changed tack, launching surprise pocong patrols, with village volunteers playing the part of the ghosts.

Indonesia’s capital gets tough on social distancing rules

President Joko Widodo has resisted a national lockdown to curb the coronavirus, instead urging people to practise social distancing and good hygiene.

But with the highest rate of coronavirus deaths in Asia after China, some communities, such as Kepuh village, have decided to take measures into their own hands, imposing the ghostly patrols, lockdowns and restricting movement in and out of their village.

A recovered coronavirus patient gestures to a medical worker before boarding an ambulance in Indonesia’s Banda Aceh. Photo: AFP

“Residents still lack awareness about how to curb the spread of Covid-19 disease,” said village head Priyadi, “They want to live like normal so it is very difficult for them to follow the instruction to stay at home.”

There are now 4,241 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Indonesia, and 373 deaths, with fears the numbers will rise significantly.

An Indonesian health official adjusts her face mask outside a quarantine facility on Monday. Photo: AFP

Researchers at the University of Indonesia estimate there could be 140,000 deaths and 1.5 million cases by May without tougher curbs on movement.

On a recent visit to Kepuh village, the supernatural strategy seemed to be working, with villagers running off in fright when the ghosts materialised.

“Since the pocong appeared, parents and children have not left their homes,” said resident Karno Supadmo, “And people will not gather or stay on the streets after evening prayers.”