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Masuk Angin – The Wind That Infected an Entire Nation

After several years in Bali learning about the language and culture several of my friends like to joke that I’ve “gone native”. Everyone has a different definition of going native and whether it is a positive or negative thing but that’s all relative.

Sure, I eat rice with my hand (right hand only) most of the time. I also don’t bat an eye anymore as I hear someone talking about mystical events while they grip the latest model Blackberry. I have been here long enough to understand exactly why the Balinese and Indonesians do a lot of the things that they do. There is still one thing that I just can’t wrap my head around (or refuse to) and that is Masuk Angin.

 
If you are unfamiliar with the term, masuk angin translates loosely to “enter wind”. It is also the most common ailment that people come down with in Indonesia. Didn’t show up for work yesterday? “Sorry, masuk angin!” Don’t feel like getting out of bed today? Masuk angin rears it’s ugly head again. To understand the constant case of people catching masuk angin though you need to explore the thought process behind it.

People in Indonesia believe that when the wind is blowing and it gets inside of you, it has the power to make you sick. Actually, not so much that it has the power to make you sick but that it will definitely, positively make you sick every time. This leads to people taking extreme precautions to shield themselves from the wind to keep from getting sick. The symptoms of masuk angin include coughing, sneezing, sore muscles, fever and headaches. Basically all of the symptoms of a cold or light flu.

Scientifically I could start to get behind this line of thinking to an extent. When the wind blows, germs and bacteria get spread around making it easier for you to get sick from exposure to germs. Now here comes the kicker. Masuk angin is even easier to catch by sitting in front of a fan in a closed room.

This is where I stop being able to follow the logic. Theoretically that closed room will not have any more germs coming in or going out – they are already there. The fan blowing them around will not increase your chances of being infected by germs. Masuk angin is not about the spread of germs but from the belief that the wind itself will get inside of you and get you sick.

Have you ever sat around in a closed room that was hot even by Indonesian standards and wondered why no one wants to turn on a fan? The fear of masuk angin is one that almost all Indonesians believe in fully. If you get up and turn on the fan, you might notice people shifting away from the fan to avoid being grazed by the wind directly. There are even medicines out there like Tolak Angin (reject wind) that are sold just to prevent the symptoms of masuk angin. Always tasted like regular old cold medicine to me.

If this is your first time learning about the phenomenon that is masuk angin, ask one of your local friends about it. Don’t do it in a rude way or force them to defend their beliefs but the responses can be quite funny. The differences in beliefs between eastern and western culture are totally apparent when the topic of masuk angin comes up.

In the end I find masuk angin to be a funny topic and I mean no disrespect towards Indonesians or their beliefs whatsoever by sharing my views. My own grandmother believes in several causes for ailments and their remedies that I find quite funny as well. Generation can cause the same sort of difference in belief that culture can. And who am I to tell someone what to do or what not to do to keep up their health? I may not be afraid to let the wind into me, but I’m certainly not afraid to let the wind out of me either, if you know what I mean.

 

7 Responses to Masuk Angin – The Wind That Infected an Entire Nation

    • Yes, a lot like the Korean belief in fan death in my opinion. Just one else of those things that people believed in some time ago until it became a cultural belief.

  1. Nice article, reminds me of other weird beliefs I came over here like women eating Pineapple to avoid pregnancy or drug users that cut themselves to suck their own blood if they run out of drugs and want to get an additional kick…

    • Masuk angin is the most common and widespread belief but you’re right there are definitely a lot more. Some of my other favorites include drinking cold water makes you fat and that you shouldn’t cut your fingernails at night.

  2. this is funny but whoever wrote this totally has no idea what masuk angin is and the way it is written is way too exaggerated. masuk angin is very common in Indonesia and people don’t make a big deal out of it. and the phrase masuk angin is not supposed to be literally translated as “wind entering your body”. the word angin is meant to be translated as air (which in Indonesian also means gas). So masuk angin is when your stomach gets gassy.

    • I wrote this article and while I will admit to making a couple of slight exaggerations (such as people rushing way from a fan), I have to disagree with the rest of your comments. To say that people don’t make a big deal out of masuk angin I believe is incorrect. Or at the very least the large majority of the people I have met in Indonesia seem to think it is a big deal.

      Having a gassy stomach is certainly a symptom of masuk angin but it is for from being the only one. Angin does not quite translate to gas and masuk angin definitely covers a whole lot more than simply getting a bit gassy. The fact that many Indonesians can’t stand to be be directly in front of a far or for the wind to blow in their face suggests that the literal English translation (which is still a bit off) of enter wind is closer to the truth.

      All that being said, I still don’t believe in any of it and the only people who get masuk angin are those that believe it in. Look up masuk angin on the indonesian wikipedia page and see if any translations to other languages are offered.

    • Sorry mickeymouse, you have very little to no idea or experience with Indonesia at all if you honestly believe what you wrote. Raja Arak has it 100% correct with everything he has written – masuk angin indeed means enter wind (or wind enters) and has nothing to do with a gassy stomach, which more frequently gets termed as sakit maag, or simply maag. My Indonesian wife and her Indonesian friends, who live in Australia, still strongly believe in this nonsense even though they have lived away for many years. Definately a psychological disease rather than a tangible physical ailment.

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