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Enslaved by the Cult

Exploitation of young boys in Java’s ancient tradition

In Indonesia, East Java's traditional dance known as Reog Ponorogo, is a colorful spectacle in which masked dancers in elaborate and colourful costumes weave tales of mystical creatures. It appears to be an old and quaint custom drawing crowds of revelers, but it hides a dark and disturbing secret of abusive relationships between grown men and young boys.

The main organizer behind Reog Ponorogo is the Warok, an ancient and revered figure believed to have spiritual powers. But his supernatural abilities will be lost forever should the Warok become involved with a woman. To safeguard their powers Waroks employ servant boys who learn to keep house, dance and anything else that's demanded of them.

The boys, called Gemblaks, are expected to accompany their masters everywhere and show unquestioning obedience, including providing sexual favours. Sometimes the boys serve several Waroks, moving from one to another every few days.

The practice of renting young boys has become less common but persists on the Muslim-majority island of Java. Waroks argue that only children who express a willingness to become a Gemblak are recruited though poorer families may agree to give up their children for two years in exchange for an ox or rice field.

RTD meets former Gemblaks and current Waroks who share their stories and maintain that the practice is merely an age-old tradition.

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