Witch-Hunt and Conspiracy: The ‘Ninja Case’ in East Java

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By Nicholas Herriman 

Witch-Hunt and Conspiracy brings unique insight and prize-winning analysis to an extraordinary story – that of a witch-hunt and ‘ninja’ craze that swept a region of Java, Indonesia, in 1998. When neighbours, family members and friends believed that one among them was a sorcerer, this suspicion would sometimes culminate in the death of the suspect. In 1998, these sporadic killings turned into an outbreak of violence. Muslim organisations attributed the escalation of these killings to political conspirators, alleging that squads of ‘ninjas’ were responsible. A paramilitary group (Banser NU) began preparing and training for an onslaught of further violence, while anxious residents throughout East Java established road-side guards. Dozens of suspected ninjas were caught and some were tortured and killed.

Using first-hand accounts, Herriman provides these events with a detailed context and history and analyses their development in terms of the interplay of national institutions and local culture and dynamics. This book represents the culmination of his researching of witch-hunts for more than a decade.

"The 1998-9 sorcerer and ninja killings in Java were remarkable modern witchcraft episodes. Nicholas Herriman’s study is based on fieldwork in Banyuwangi – the epicentre of the killings – in 2000-2 and is the most valuable account of this blood-letting based on local understandings. It critiques more theoretically florid interpretations, arguing that the violence is best understood in terms of local social dynamics when the state seemed ineffective at grass-roots level. This book is a welcome contribution to the study of Indonesian social history and to our understanding of witchcraft episodes in general." 
M.C. Ricklefs, Professor Emeritus, Australian National University

"A fascinating book on ninjas and sorcerers in East Java, from rising young scholar Nick Herrimann. Lots of rich, detailed local research in Banyuwangi, full of insights, and Herriman provides a most useful analysis of the workings of local societies under great stress."
David Reeve, University of New South Wales


Nicholas Herriman is senior lecturer in Anthropology at La Trobe University. His podcasts on iTunes, including the Audible Anthropologist and Witch-hunts and Persecution, have tens of thousands of listeners. He has written a number of significant and award-winning publications on East Java, including his PhD dissertation—the Australian Anthropological Society’s “Best Thesis” in 2008.

Publication Year: 2016
208 pages, 229mm x 152mm
ISBN: 978-981-4722-33-9, Paperback
2 maps, 7 b/w images

NUS Press