Spiritual caretaker of Indonesian volcano dies


Spiritual caretaker of Indonesian volcano dies

Slamet Riyadi

MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia — He was the keeper of Mount Merapi – an 83-year-old man entrusted to watch over the volcano’s spirits, believing it could be appeased by tossing offerings of rice, chickens and flowers into the gaping crater.

And when the eruption came, Maridjan was among those who died, along with dozens of villagers who believed him, not seismologists or government officials, about the danger.

As Merapi began spewing 1,800-degree gases and thousands of panicked people streamed down the mountain’s slopes, Maridjan refused to budge from his home deep in the evacuation zone, just four miles from the crater.

His rigid body was found Wednesday, prostrate in the Islamic prayer position and caked in heavy white soot. Nearby was an Indonesian Red Cross volunteer who had been trying to persuade him to leave.

“I never thought he was going to leave us in such a way,” said Prabukusumo, whose brother, the sultan in the nearby court city of Yogyakarta, is now tasked with choosing Maridjan’s successor.

“He’s lived through so many, much bigger eruptions. I’m still in shock.”

On Thursday, politicians, soap opera stars and singers were among hundreds of people who flocked to Maridjan’s funeral on the fertile slopes of the mountain entrusted to his care by a late king. Televisions crews and reporters jostled for position with family and friends, who reached to touch the white silk-covered coffin as it was carried to the grave.

Mourners knelt to pray as the body, wrapped in a simple white cloth, was lowered into the ground. Led by his weeping wife, they tossed pink and white flower petals, then covered it with soil and piled cut orchids on the mound.

One of the world’s most active volcanos, Merapi is located on the so-called “Ring of Fire,” a series of fault lines prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.

When he was 50, Maridjan was named “key holder” of the mountain, inheriting the position from his father.

For 33 years, the diminutive man with an impish smile led ceremonies meant to hold back Merapi’s lava flows and quiet the spirits he and other villagers believe live over the mountain that rises from the heart of the Indonesian island of Java.

The mystical practice persists in Indonesia, even though most of the country’s 237 million people – like Maridjan himself – are Muslims. Islam is a relatively new arrival to the country and coexists with older traditions that have their roots in animist, Hindu or Buddhist beliefs.

Maridjan was believed by many to have the ability to speak directly to the volcano, and fellow villagers considered him a hero, trusting his word over local authorities when it came to determining danger levels – with deadly consequences on Tuesday.

“Maridjan was very conscientious in performing his duties. But because he was a role model, many other victims died when the explosion happened because they still stayed in the village,” said his brother, Wignyo Suprapto.

“They thought that everything would be safe because Maridjan did not leave.”

He enjoyed a kind of celebrity and just days before the deadly explosion, Maridjan joked with camera crews following him from his mosque in the village of Kinahrejo to his thatched-roof home. Walking barefoot on a dirt road, he teasingly covered his face with his hands.

He was said to have predicted his end, telling a friend who urged him to evacuate: “My time to die in this place has almost come.”

But far from serving as a cautionary tale, Maridjan’s death has made many villagers only yearn for his quick replacement.

“I’m more afraid than ever,” said Prapto Wiyono, a 60-year-old farmer who was among thousands of people crammed in emergency shelters. “Who’s going to tell us now what’s going on with Merapi?”


Associated Press reporters Andi Jatmiko and Elisabeth Oktofani contributed to this report from Mount Merapi.

Piece of Mind: When Money Talks, Unity Takes a Walk

The Jakarta Globe

When I was in elementary school in the mid-1990s, my teachers went out of their way to emphasize the national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which translates as “Unity in Diversity.”

The motto — taken from a famous Javanese poem penned during the Majapahit kingdom in the 14th century — pertains to the fact that Indonesia is an archipelago that is rich with different cultures, tribes, religions and languages.

The motto is intended to draw on the country’s diversity as a unifying strength instead of allowing it to become divisive.

It’s a nice idea, but one that seems to be showing more and more cracks these days.

The most blatant recent examples pertain to religion and sexual orientation.

But there are other, more subtle examples that have increasingly come to my attention, mostly having to do with status and money.

Take the artists’ enclave of Ubud.

With its starring role in the best-selling book “Eat Pray Love” and the film adaptation starring Julia Roberts, it seems like everyone has been talking about Bali and how perfect it is as a tourist destination.

I lived there, among the lush rice fields of Ubud, for more than a year.

And while I love the beauty and culture of the place, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that while it was welcoming to foreigners from all over the world, this same welcome doesn’t always seem to be as warmly extended to fellow Indonesians.

As a Javanese woman dating a Western man, I sometimes felt that I was discriminated against in terms of race and gender while living there.

When I went to a restaurant or shop with my fiance, he was greeted with a warm smile and friendly words.

I, on the other hand, was largely ignored.

I found myself asking if there was something wrong with me.

Was it because my fiance was a Western man and people assumed that he had more money than me?

Or was it maybe because of the stereotype that Indonesian women who date Western men are morally compromised and are just out to squeeze some money from the man’s pockets?

If I only felt this way once or twice about the way I was treated, I could probably just brush it off.

But it happened again and again, almost anywhere we went.

I also saw it happen to other Indonesian women, even men, and it never failed to test my patience.

I eventually decided to channel my anger in a creative manner by blogging about my experiences.

I ended up getting a lot of responses and comments from readers who had experienced the same thing.

There were also some people who were surprised that this would happen, given that there are so many Indonesian tourists who visit Bali.

I have two theories about why this happens.

The first is that Bali has become spoiled by tourism money.

It seems to me as if a lot of people there have forgotten basic manners in their quest to take a bite out of the tourism pie.

My second theory is that some Balinese may simply not feel kind towards other Indonesians.

This feeling may have increased since the 2002 terrorist bombings, from which the island is still recovering today.

But it’s not just Bali. I have found that things like this happen in other parts of the country as well.

Before I moved to Jakarta, I called the owner of an apartment in Central Jakarta and tried to rent his place.

He was friendly and organized as he went over the details with me.

I agreed to all the rules and was ready to pay.

Then, oddly enough, he asked if the apartment was for me or a foreigner.

I told him it would be for me, a young Indonesian woman.

I never heard back from him until my Western friend contacted him and he responded immediately with a rental agreement.

It is quite sad that this sort of thing happens in Indonesia, especially when we are taught Bhinneka Tunggal Ika growing up.

It seems that our motto of equality and tolerance is not always reality.

Tourists from Jakarta who visit Bali may be quoted higher room rates than others.

Foreigners are usually given more friendly treatment in tourist shops and restaurants there.

They also get easy access to apartments in Jakarta.

Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is a great idea, it’s just one that doesn’t always translate into real life — especially when the equality and unity in question stem from one’s wallet.

Elisabeth Oktofani is a freelance writer.