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8 Indonesian Superstitions Our Parents Drummed Into Our Heads & How They Actually Came About

Indonesian superstitions

Indonesia, like many other countries, has its own share of superstitions that we hear about so often that we pretty much never question the logic behind them.

From “don’t sit or stand at the doorway or you’ll be single forever” to “build a house facing north so that you’ll be rich”, we’ve compiled a list of 8 common Indonesian superstitions our parents drummed into our heads as we grew up, and how they came about.

1. No sitting or standing at the doorway

indonesian superstitions door
Image credit: TwiinSister

Especially widespread in Javanese and Sundanese culture, this superstition says that if you sit or stand at the doorway, you’ll have difficulties finding your other half.

The superstition originated from the old practice of women sitting together at a doorway while looking for lice in each other’s hair, with the logical explanation being that sitting or standing at the doorway would make it difficult for people who want to pass through the door.

2. No opening an umbrella indoors

indonesian superstitions umbrella
Image credit: Puspa Puspitasari

According to this superstition, opening an umbrella indoors will cause someone in the house to die soon, especially if the umbrella is black as black umbrellas are commonly associated with funerals. The superstition is said to have originated in ancient Egypt, where doing so was believed to invoke the wrath of the gods.

Logically speaking, there’s absolutely no need to open an umbrella indoors. Doing so would take up space in the room and cause inconvenience for people inside.

3. No cutting your fingernails at night

indonesian superstitions fingernails
Image credit: Eman Priok

This superstition says that cutting your fingernails at night will cause you or your parents to die soon, and is said to have originated in Japan where it is believed that doing so will summon evil spirits.

The logical explanation is that cutting your fingernails at night is risky because of the lack of light, which could cause you to end up hurting yourself.

4. Children should not play outside after maghrib

indonesian superstitions children
Image credit: Arwan Sutanto

This is one that every Indonesian grew up being told about: “Don’t play outside after maghrib, or you’ll be kidnapped by demons!” According to the superstition, kids should come home by maghrib, or the time for a daily Islamic prayer after sunset, or they’ll be snatched by children-loving demons.

The logical explanation is that kids shouldn’t be out and about when it gets dark because it’s less safe, especially on school days when they’re supposed to get enough sleep and study in the evening.

5. No sweeping the floor at night

indonesian superstitions sweeping
Image credit: Daniel von Appen

According to this superstition, sweeping the floor at night will negatively affect your fortune. It originated in the old days when electricity wasn’t a thing, making it difficult for people to clean up their houses at night due to low visibility.

Even with adequate lighting, sweeping the floor at night is still not recommended to this day as it gets difficult to determine which parts of the house need sweeping without natural light.

6. No whistling at night

indonesian superstitions whistle
Image credit: Amina Filkins

This superstition says that whistling at night could prompt evil spirits to appear, and has been passed down from generation to generation, especially among the Javanese.

Like many other night-related superstitions, this one originated in the old days when neighborhoods got really quiet at night, and making noises of any kind could disrupt the silence.

7. No sitting on a pillow

pillow and bolster
Image credit: Dinna Januari

This is one of the more bizarre ones on this list – according to this superstition, sitting on a pillow will cause a boil to grow on your butt.

One logical explanation behind the superstition is that dust and bacteria can accumulate on pillows when they are not cleaned regularly, making you more prone to acne, warts, and boils when your skin comes in contact with the pillows. Nothing that good regular washings won’t fix, of course. 

8. Build a house facing north

house in indonesia
Image credit: Sita Napadila

Influenced by the Chinese belief known as feng shui, many Indonesians believe that a house facing north will bring good fortune in many aspects of their lives. As illogical as this might sound, people are willing to spend extra money to ensure that the houses they are building are facing north.

Logically speaking, a house facing north will receive a healthy amount of natural light without getting too hot, as opposed to a house facing west or east which can get hot at certain times of the day.

Indonesian superstitions

While these Indonesian superstitions may seem harmless, it’s important to remember that we must not let them affect our lives negatively.

After all, the majority of these Indonesian superstitions originated from the days when modern technology and science were not yet developed, and as society progresses, superstitions often merely serve as nostalgic reminders of our childhood and upbringing.

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Cover image adapted from Arwan Sutanto and Dinna Januari

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