THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Donny Tahir, Julius Perdana and Edi Santoso (from left to right) are among long time members of BETA-UFO, the largest UFO hobbyist community in the country (JP/Adisti Sukma Sawitri).
Superstitious types who collect amulets might consider themselves worlds apart from science-fiction nerds who believe in unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. But at least both agree Nyi Roro Kidul, a powerful female genie believed to rule the northern coast of Java, exists.
While most of the amulet collectors travel to the northern coast seeking her charms, the female genie is also a sizzling chat topic, triggering a long discussion at the Yahoo group mailing list BETA-UFO, a UFO hobbyists' community.
Only BETA-UFO calls her a "beautiful alien", instead of a genie.
"In ancient times, Nyi Roro Kidul rode a golden wagon. This is similar to a long-bearded Nordic alien that traveled on a stag-drawn cart from the North Pole to give gifts to children around the world. At that time the wagon and carts were sophisticated enough. Now they (the aliens) fly with UFOs," said the group's moderator Nur Agustinus in one of the discussion threads in January.
Aliens and UFOs might be considered as part of the meeting between science and irrationality that has grown in the United States. In Indonesia, however, UFO and alien fan clubs have blossomed with the rising use of the Internet in the past few years.
Communities of UFO hobbyists all across the country join mailing lists and exchange pictures and information on the internet. Some blog to share thoughts with anyone who happens to drop by their site.
The BETA-UFO community, which was founded by Nur Agustinus in 1997, is the largest of these forums with a total of 750 members on its Yahoo group's mailing list. The mailing list members are scattered throughout all regions of the country.
The community only holds one or two actual meetings every year as they use the Internet to share updates on UFO phenomenons. There are always dozens of replies for every topic posted on the mailing list.
In its portal, www.betaufo.org, the community scrupulously records supposed UFO sightings in Indonesia and other countries -- from the most controversial reports about the Roswell case in New Mexico, United States, in 1947 to the most recent sightings of UFOs on the sky above Mega Kuningan, Central Jakarta.
The reports of extraterrestrial beings added to the mailing list and the portal are combined with newspaper clippings on abductions and sighting of "extra-dimensional" beings like genies or haunting spirits.
"We list every report from almost everybody. Nobody mocks their sightings, no matter how absurd they are," said Donny Tahir, the community's public relations officer.
Repeat reports about extra-dimensional beings and aliens are inevitable in the group's archives, he said.
Donny admitted that not all the reports were true and sometimes people only wanted to fool around, but the community's leaders always let readers decide whether or not to believe a report.
UFOs and aliens are nothing new to Indonesia. The first reported sighting was from Alor island, East Nusatenggara, in 1959. Local police reported six mysterious "non-human beings" on the island.
The central government set up the National Space and Aviation Agency in 1962, with a mission to receive reports about extraterrestrial beings in the country. The first chief of the organization, R.J. Salatun, was also one of the first pioneers of UFO believers in the country.
Another hobbyist, Michael Gumelar, who also runs the blog www.ufo-ic.blogspot.com and a mailing list for UFO discussions, said it was normal for debunkers, those who did not believe in UFOs, to raise their eyebrows over their activities.
But he said not all UFO believers or hobbyists based their beliefs on fantasies or movies. He claimed his discussion forum put more weight on scientific and technological aspects of UFOs and aliens.
"We're through all those 'are-UFOs-for-real' discussions. We talk about more advanced topics like the possibilities of the spaceships' technology; whether they use ion-powered crafts so they can fly fast without making any noise," he said.
Michael said his mailing list had 63 members, including scientists who could talk seriously about the phenomenon.
Astronomer Ferry Simatupang said although the possible existence of UFOs always raised the curiosity of many people, including scientists, there had not been any scientific research on the phenomenon in Indonesia.
Ferry, who is a member of the BETA-UFO mailing list, said he is "open-minded" about the existence of these objects but refuses to research the phenomenon seriously.
"These kinds of studies are like soap bubbles; they may end up as nothing. Professional scientists who live from their work are mostly reluctant to conduct such research for a living," he said.
Ferry said given the general lack of research funding in the country, he chose to play it safe by picking other research topics where more tangible results were possible.