The crashing of yet another meteorite on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island has reverberated through social media and put an alien space rock in the spotlight once again, but this time for its “magical” healing power rather than its purported monetary value.
Local residents in the area where the meteorite fell last week in Lampung, the southernmost province of Sumatra, apparently found the still-hot stone, placed it in a tub of water, then took bottles of the water home to drink or pour over their bodies as a disease preventive or curative.
A video of the rock soaking in water was posted on Facebook and other social media sites, garnering tens of thousands of views, while local and national media outlets also picked up on the story.
“They believe that the stone is a magical stone, and that the water can bring blessings and good luck and is magically useful for maintaining health,” said Roni Pamungkas, a 23-year-old local resident who encountered his neighbours absconding into the night with their exotic elixir.
Edi Kurniawan, the head Astomulyo village, where the 2.2kg rock landed, said that most of local residents considered the meteorite sacred because it fell on an auspicious night under local animist belief, and came in answer to the prayers of a homeowner who had long battled kidney disease.
“A person [in Astomulyo] who is considered to have spiritual abilities suggested putting the stone in the water so that the water could be used for healing,” he told This Week in Asia .
“The stone glowed like an incandescent ball when it was found,” Edi said, adding that the meteorite was finally placed in a tub of water after it could be handled safely. Eventually, he said, such a large crowd had gathered that local police were called in to break it up, in line with coronavirus -prevention measures.
After hearing of the incident through social media and the news stories, a research team from the Astronomical Observatory of the Sumatra Institute of Technology (ITERA) went to the house of the local resident, Munjilah, who possessed the rock, taking samples and confirming that it was, indeed, a meteorite.
ITERA researchers Robiatul Muztaba and Danni Gathot Harbowo, both experts in geological engineering, said the rock contained several metallic elements – one known as “stony-iron” – and was black on one side, due to friction it encountered on its passage through the atmosphere.
But, Robiatul said, there was no truth to the belief that the meteorite held curative powers, and in fact could be “dangerous” to the human body because it potentially contained radioactive elements.
The stone is now considered to be the joint property of all of the villagers in Astomulyo, who can sell it if they choose, Edi said.
The last time a meteorite landed in Sumatra, in August, the person who found it – a coffin maker named Josua Hutagalung – sold it to a rock collector in the United States through a broker in Bali for 214 million rupiah (S$20,400).
But after multiple media outlets reported that the rock was worth substantially more than the 33-year-old was paid for, perhaps as much as US$1.7 million (S$2,3 million), Josua went into hiding because of the extreme media attention he received before eventually returning home.
While it is still unclear what price was ultimately paid for the meteorite, it is now listed on the website of the Meteoritical Society, a US-based non-profit research organisation, as “Kolang” after the name of the district in which it fell.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.