Indonesian cannibal seeks love, forgiveness, care
Mon, Jul 20, 2009

by Arlina Arshad

PURBALINGGA, INDONESIA - Indonesian cannibal Sumanto loves meat so much he dug up an old woman's body for a cheap and 'tasty' meal.

'She was delicious,' he told AFP from his room at a Muslim mental rehabilitation centre in rural Central Java.

'I love meat... all types of meat as long as it's cooked. But I don't eat people anymore. Now I eat spinach,' he added.

In many countries, the 37-year-old farmer from Palumutan village would be receiving specialised psychiatric care in a secure facility.

Not in Indonesia. Here, he spent five years behind bars in a regular prison for theft (of the body) and causing distress to the community, and was released straight back into his remote village with no follow-up care.

His neighbours were horrified and rejected him, so he was taken in by the nearby centre for religious guidance, one of many privately-run community services which fill the yawning gap for mental health care in Indonesia.

'Nobody wanted him. Villagers called him 'The Cannibal' and were absolutely terrified of him,' centre director Supono Mustajab said.

Indonesian Medical Association former chairman Kartono Mohammad said there were no government institutions for the criminally insane in Indonesia despite appeals from mental health experts.

'At this point the health minister (Siti Fadilah Supari) doesn't care. She's not interested... It's a very, very low priority,' he said.

'I'm very concerned. In some other countries, people like Sumanto would have been placed in an asylum, not in prison. What if he has a relapse' That will be a social problem. He needs counselling and medication,' he added.

Back at the religious centre in Purbalingga, which is next to Sumanto's home village of Palumutan, staff said Sumanto was violent and depressed after his release from prison in 2006.

'Prison life was not good for him. He wouldn't eat or drink and he was bad-tempered. We had to guard his room night and day so he wouldn't disturb others,' Mustajab said.

Like other 'stressed minds and broken hearts' at the centre, he was taught to recite the Koran and encouraged to play sport, farm and fish to relieve stress.

'Now he's better. Tenants pay to stay here but I fork out my own money to support poor ones like Sumanto. They're human beings too,' Mustajab said.

A short drive away through the Javanese rice paddies, residents of Palumutan still swap blood-curdling tales about the cannibal's fang-like teeth, forked tongue and diet of cats, cockroaches and lizards.

His next-door neighbour, 43-year-old Ngadiah, said she would never forget the stench of death and the sight of a bowl of whitish-yellow human flesh drenched in soy sauce.

'Sumanto' That corpse-eater. He was a bad-tempered man who often stole our rice and chickens,' she said.

'There'll be chaos if he ever comes back. I don't want him to kill me and have me for dinner.'

Sumanto's family was ostracised and forced to move to the outskirts of the village. His father, 65-year-old farmer Nuryadikarta, said he missed his son but could never take him back.

'No matter how bad he is, he's my son and I'm willing to take him back. But the neighbours despise him and they'll kick him out of the village, so what am I to do?' he asked.

Mustajab said Sumanto was ready to go home but the centre's caretaker, Ahmad Sugimin, thought otherwise.

In a single sitting, Sumanto can polish off two big plates of rice, 60 sticks of mutton satay, 16 fist-sized chunks of beef and eight pieces of chicken, he said.

'How could he afford such lavish food if he went back to doing odd jobs? I worry he may revert to eating corpses,' Sugimin said.

Sumanto denies this. Pointing to a pile of empty water bottles on his bed, he said he could survive on 'water, vitamins and minerals' alone.

'Meat is definitely nicer than vegetables, but if there's no meat I can make do with grass. It's healthy and I could braise or stir-fry it to make it taste good,' he said.

These days, the bachelor said he craved love and freedom more than meat. 'I'm sad. People said so many bad things about me. I will strive to get the villagers to open their hearts and accept me again,' he said.

'What is love? How can I describe it when I've never experienced it, never tasted it?'

Psychiatrist Prianto Djatmiko said Sumanto needed professional counseling and medication.

'Ill people don't know they're ill. He should be professionally assessed. What he needed was therapy, not jail, as his mental condition could worsen,' he said.

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