Sex Mountain in Indonesia attracts thousands of Muslim pilgrims, who believe having sex with strangers at this holy site will bring them wealth and good fortune.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - 21:30
Channel: 
SBS

For a country and religion where sex out of wedlock is taboo, the idea of a mountaintop sex ritual for Muslims in Indonesia may seem unlikely.
 
Patrick Abboud films on Gunung Kemukus, otherwise known as Sex Mountain, where thousands make a regular pilgrimage to have sex with strangers.
 
Based on legend dating back to the 16th century, they believe seven visits and prayers to the adulterous prince Samudro will bring wealth and luck.
 
“Please grant me great financial good fortune… please give me lots of money to pay my debts,” regular visitor Mardiyah prays at the temple.
 
“If I get lots of money, I’ll go to Mecca, that’s my ambition,” she tells Patrick.
 
Many of the pilgrims are married - adulterous sex is condoned at the holy site according to the custom.  If they can't find someone to sleep with, some pay prostitutes. Rooms by the hour are for hire at this Islamic holy site.
 
“I don’t tell my wife. There’s no way she’ll find out,” one pilgrim tells Patrick on camera.
 
You won’t see this ritual anywhere else in Indonesia or the rest of the Muslim world.
 
It’s a very Javanese blend of religious ideals – with Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist influences.
 
Sex Mountain brings in thousands of dollars and even has the backing of the local government, but it’s too much of a contradiction for some.
 
“The Islamic religion forbids it, but they don’t want to know that,” says Sex Mountain expert Professor Keontjoro Soeparno. “They’re more interested in profit, they leave religion behind.”
 
With sexually transmitted infections on the rise too, are pilgrims really leaving with just the happiness they’d hoped for?

See Patrick's story above. 

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Married men, cheating housewives, government officials and prostitutes revelling in a mass ritual of adultery and sex.

This is what happens on Gunung Kemukus in Indonesia, otherwise known as Sex Mountain.

“I come here to seek good fortune,” regular visitor Mardiyah tells me as I follow her journey for Dateline.  

She is one of thousands of pilgrims who journey to this mysterious hilltop in Java to perform this ancient ritual. Most consider themselves devout Muslims.

There are several versions of the tale behind it that date back to the 16th century, but legend has it a young Indonesian Prince Pangeran Samodro had an affair with his stepmother.

They ran away and hid on Gunung Kemukus. One day, while mid coitus, they were caught, killed and buried atop the mountain in what is now an Islamic shrine where this sex ritual takes place.

The story goes - pilgrims must also copulate on the mountain every 35 days for seven consecutive times and blessings and wealth should come their way.

But for the magic to work and the money to flow, it’s believed their sex partner for the ritual should not be their spouse.

I also meet Gepeng, who like many others has travelled hundreds of kilometres from across the archipelago to get to sex mountain. He tells me, “You go there to look for a different partner, not the one you have at home. Historically that's how it works.”

Another man travelling with him explains, “I don’t tell my wife. There’s no way my wife will find out.”

Pilgrims first pray and make offerings at the grave. Then they must wash themselves at sacred springs nearby. Once that’s done, it’s time to have sex.

You won’t see this ritual anywhere else in Indonesia or the rest of the Muslim world. It’s a very Javanese blend of religious ideals – with Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist influences.

“It’s a strange thing. A paradox: there’s a mosque, shrine - but outside – there’s a place for having illicit sex,” says Professor Keontjoro Soeparno, a social psychologist from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. He's been studying the ritual for more than 30 years.
 
"The fact is - it's hypocritical,” he tells me.

And it is impossible to ignore that the ritual is riddled with contradictions.

Islam says a big no to adultery so the 'out of wedlock' sex clearly goes against the mainstream law of the religion.

Karaoke bars and ‘sex shacks’ line the hillside – some privately owned, others built and funded by the local government.

But they’re loathe to publicly admit there is any sex going on at Gunung Kemukus.

"Pilgrims should come here with pure hearts and clean bodies,” says the gatekeeper employed to look after the mountain shrine. "We’ve never said the sex is a condition of the pilgrimage. It’s what they want to do."

And with more men than women coming here for the ritual - it’s grown to become prime territory for commercial sex workers. Professor Keontjoro estimates about half of the women who show up now are prostitutes.

“The government facilitated the rise of prostitution. The Islamic religion forbids all this, but the government would rather not know about that. Because they’re more interested in profit – they leave their religion behind," he says.

Some say if you pay for sex the ritual doesn't work. The reality is the local government makes a sizeable profit from sex mountain. They charge the stalls to set up shop and the pilgrims pay a toll to enter the site.

With up to 8,000 pilgrims arriving on the busiest nights and an entry fee of around 5000 rupiah, or 50 cents, a time – that’s big business in Indonesia.

So it’s not surprising officials and religious leaders turn a blind eye.


 
The question remains though – how do we know this ancient tradition actually works.
 
Does sex with a stranger really boost your bank account?
 
Mardiyah genuinely believes it does, attributing sex mountain and its spiritual powers to her recent success.
 
“Praise be to God, after coming here, even though I have a few debts, my business is making a bit of a profit. Even though it’s small, I still give thanks that I’ve received blessings from here,” she says to me.
 
I don’t know how willing I am to believe in the legacy of Prince Samodro and his stepmother lover, but I can understand the attachment to the myth.

Transcript

When reporter Patrick Abboud told us there is a mountain in Indonesia where thousands of pilgrims gather several times a year for ritual sex sessions, we weren't sure what to think. We sent him with his camera to find out more and after his trek to Java's Mount Kemukus, this is what he came back with. 

REPORTER: Patrick Abboud 

Married men...  

GEPENG (Translation):  Sometimes I use a condom. 

Cheating housewives... Government officials and prostitutes...  

PROSTITUTE (Translation):  I need money and they need me. 

Most consider themselves devout Muslims, revelling in a mass ritual of adultery and sex. Welcome to Gunung Kemukus - otherwise known as Sex Mountain. Mardiyah runs a humble market stall in a Javanese coastal town. She rarely leaves her village, but she's travelled hours to be here today at Sex Mountain.  

MARDIYAH (Translation):  I come here to seek good fortune. 

She's one of thousands of Indonesian pilgrims who travel to Central Java every month or so. They believe the magical powers of this mountain will make them rich. Mardiyah's husband passed away five years ago and she has struggled since financially. She's hoping divine intervention will help.  

MARDIYAH (Translation):  If I have good fortune, praise God, I will pay all my debts. 

We're going with her to make sense of this mysterious custom. On face value, it would seem to be an ancient tradition riddled with contradictions. Mardiyah's calling a man she's hooked up with on previous trips to see if he's here again. Tonight is her lucky night.  

PARMAN (Translation):  Hello? 

MARDIYAH (Translation):  I’ll see you at the usual place in front of the grave. 

Parman agrees to meet Mardiyah at the shrine on top of the mountain later, the shrine where this religious sex ritual began. Back in the 16th century, Javanese legend has it Prince Samudro had an affair with his stepmother. They ran away and hid here on this mountain, Gunung Kemukus. But one day while mid-coitis they were caught and killed. They were buried here and the story goes you must have sex on the mountain every 35 days, repeat that process seven times, and blessings and wealth should come your way.  

You won't see this ritual anywhere else in Indonesia, or the rest of the Muslim world. It's a very Javanese blend of religious ideals, with Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist influences. Many of these pilgrims come from poor villages. Like Gepeng. He's a timber yard labourer and lives 300km from the mountain. He's married and has two children. There's a communal feast in his village today. Gepeng and his mates are eating up big before their long journey ahead to Sex Mountain.  

GEPENG (Translation):  If you are there, you look for a different partner, not the one you have at home. Historically, that is how it is. 

The men lie to their wives, telling them they will be away working for the weekend.  

MAN (Translation):  I don’t tell my wife, there is no way she will find out. 

This woman is keeping her husband busy at home all weekend, warning if he was ever to cheat...  

WOMAN (Translation):  I would punch him like this! I would not let him if I knew. 

It's hard to know whether these men are in it for the religion, the supposed riches, or simply the raunch.  

MAN (Translation): I just go there for the karaoke, not the ritual. 

GEPENG (Translation):  We believe in God, it’s for our business, so that…so our lives become more comfortable. 

The men set off on scooters to seek their fortune. They arrive at sunset when the mountain comes alive. Excitement builds, flirting begins. There's karaoke and entertainment. Aphrodisiacs for sale. Sex shacks line the hillside.  

YULI (Translation):  Can you see me? Mister, show some mercy! 

But before the fun, there are a couple of important steps that must be completed. First - prayers and offerings are made at the grave. Rather than praying to Allah, today Mardiyah is praying to the adulterous Prince Samudro.  

MARDIYAH (Translation):  Please grant me great financial good fortune, O Samudro, please help your servant to have good fortune. Please give me lots of money to pay my debts. 

Then pilgrims must wash themselves at sacred springs. Once that is done, it's time for sex. Mardiyah disappears to find Parman. Yuli owns this makeshift motel that doubles as a sex shack and karaoke lounge. She rents out the rooms during ritual times and it's a thriving business.  

YULI (Translation):  Praise God, it’s going well and getting better. 

She attributes her success to the fact she completed the ritual years ago.  

YULI (Translation): I’m a Muslim, God himself gives us the opportunity. Our sins or wrongs, no matter how bad, can be remedied. 

There's hundreds of little backrooms in the mountain for rent. In this space here, there's 20 rooms, ten on either side. They're all occupied at the moment apart from the one that I'm rested up against and the one opposite me. There's women with hijabs walking in, Muslim men with head pieces walking in and out.  

PROFESSOR KOENTJORO SOEPARNO, GAJAH MADA UNIVERSITY (Translation): It is a strange thing, it’s a paradox. There is a mosque but around it is a place for having illicit sex.  They pray and say “Amen”, the prayers are Islamic. 

Professor Koentjoro has been studying Sex Mountain for more than 30 years.  

PROFESSOR KOENTJORO SOEPARNO (Translation): It is hypocritical. 

Government authorities are loath to admit - there is sex going on here. The gatekeeper employed to oversee the mountain ritual is adamant the sex is not compulsory.  

GATEKEEPER (Translation):  I have never said that it is a condition of the pilgrimage, it is what they want to do. Pilgrims should come here with pure hearts and clean bodies. 

If they can't find a sex buddy, they will happily pay for one.  

PROFESSOR KOENTJORO SOEPARNO (Translation): I think the idea this is a place of prostitution needs to be got rid of, if they want to improve it and make it more about the ritual behaviour, that is okay. But don’t make it a place for legalised prostitution. 

With more men than women coming here, it's grown to become prime territory for commercial sex workers.  

PROFESSOR KOENTJORO SOEPARNO (Translation): The government facilitated the prostitution there. 

Behind that red curtain are rooms and girls for hire. I'm wearing a hidden camera. Within minutes I'm propositioned.  

MAN:  You want this? 

REPORTER:  Sure. 

MAN: Okay? 

REPORTER:  Yes, do we go in the room? Do I have to pay her first?  How much do I give her? 

Moments later I'm invited out back by the girl in yellow. I have to pay her the equivalent of around 30 Australian dollars. We enter a cubicle. She takes her clothes off. I explain I don't want to have sex. She agrees to just talk.  

REPORTER: How many men have you had today?  

PROSTITUTE (Translation):  Today I think is seven. 

REPORTER:  Seven today, oh, it's many.  

PROSTITUTE (Translation):  I have a family and my husband is not here, I have a household to support so I need the money. 

REPORTER: Do you think it's wrong that Islamic men come to have sex with you?  

PROSTITUTE (Translation):  What is clear is that they have a need. I need money and they need me. 

REPORTER: When the men come, do they use condoms? You don't worry that you maybe get sick? 

PROSTITUTE (Translation):  Well, yes I am worried. Yes, I am scared. 

PROFESSOR KOENTJORO SOEPARNO (Translation): The Islamic religion forbids it but they don’t want to know that because they are more interested in profit – they leave religion behind. 

The reality is the local government makes a huge profit from Sex Mountain. They charge the stalls to set up shop and the pilgrims pay a toll to enter the site. At around 5,000 rupia or 50 cents a pop for entry, with up to 10,000 pilgrims coming every 35 days, that's big business in Indonesia. So it's not surprising officials and religious leaders turn a blind eye. At sunrise you'd be forgiven for thinking nothing happened here. The shrine is closed and the sex shacks are empty, but the working girls are still here.  

WOMAN (Translation):  This is an agreement to have an HIV test. Information on HIV, the benefits of an HIV test. 

This community health clinic at the entrance to the mountain is open once a week.  

DR YUSINARTO (Translation):  Most of the sex workers here have contracted sexually transmitted diseases. 

Dr Yusinarto has been coming to treat patients for years. He says the religious ritual here is a major contributor to the hike in sexually-transmitted diseases. 

DR YUSINARTO (Translation):  With HIV/AIDS, we are finding a lot of cases, there is definitely an upward trend. They haven’t acknowledged it, but what is the best way to say this? They know about it. 

PROFESSOR KOENTJORO SOEPARNO (Translation): The government could ban it, but people would still come. The government can’t stop them, even if for example, Islamic extremists went there, I don’t think they could stop it because the locals would gang up on them. 

Mardiyah has been in touch to tell me she and Parman have slept together. She admits she'd like to see him away from the mountain as well, but he's married and his wife isn't happy about their ritual arrangement.  

MARDIYAH (Translation):  He is still married and that is a problem for me, sometimes his wife gets angry. 

PROFESSOR KOENTJORO SOEPARNO (Translation):  What happens sometimes is that the woman falls in love with this man and they have an affair, which takes place elsewhere. 

It's hard to ignore the glaring contradictions at play here, but these pilgrims place their trust firmly in the custom. Like Mardiyah, most are convinced Sex Mountain has changed their life for the better.  

MARDIYAH (Translation):  Praise be to God, after seven visits, even though I have a few debts, I am paying them off. Whatever I sell makes a profit, even if it is a small one – even though it’s not much, I am grateful to God and to this place.

Reporter/Camera
PATRICK ABBOUD

Fixer/Translations
REBECCA HENSCHKE

Second Camera
BUDHI SANTOSO

Producer
MEGGIE PALMER

Editor
DAVID POTTS

Graphics
MICHAEL BROWN

Translations
MELANIE MORRISON

Translations/Subtitles
ROBYN FALLICK

18th November 2014