Candra Malik & Dessy Sagita
Yogyakarta. His body was bent in prayer, shrouded in gray ash from the mountain he had dedicated his life to guarding.
Search and rescue workers found Mbah Maridjan’s body early on Wednesday morning, inside his home in the decimated remains of Kinahrejo village, on the slope of the mountain where he said he would die.
The fabric of his batik shirt and sarong was fused to his skin by the 1,000-degree Celsius heat clouds that blasted through his home. Around him lay the bodies of those who had tried to save him.
He is survived by his wife, Ponirah, 73, and five children.
Broto Seno, commander of Yogyakarta’s search and rescue team, said the 83-year-old spiritual gatekeeper of Mount Merapi died almost instantly. “There were no signs of pain. His body was prostrated rigidly, not like he suffered from the fire,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the Yogyakarta Palace, Gusti Prabukusumo, the brother of Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, said they had a premonition of his fate.
“We knew long ago that Mbah Maridjan would be taken by Merapi. Now he’s gone, we have to choose a new gatekeeper soon,” he said.
The successor, he added, could either be a descendant of the previous gatekeeper or one of his surviving assistants.
Mbah Maridjan himself was the son of a Merapi gatekeeper. He replaced his father in 1982, when he was 50. Locals believe that the gatekeeper, usually an elderly person, has the power to speak to the spirits of the volcano.
In a recent interview, Mbah Maridjan said he was appointed by the sultan to “mediate with the spirits of the mountain.”
“My job is to stop lava from flowing down. Let the volcano breathe, but not cough,” he said.
He was known for his dedication and loyalty to the sultan, as well as stubbornness.
During an eruption in 2006, he also refused to leave his village despite the sultan’s orders, saying it was his traditional and spiritual duty to stay.
“If I evacuate when asked I would not be honoring my duty,” he told police, according to an Agence France-Presse reporter there at the time. But he suffered for it.
“I survived, but was burned and the building collapsed on me. I was in the hospital for five months. I had a lot of operations and now my hands, which were seriously burned, look like this,” he said, holding up fingers almost melted together.
In the days leading to Tuesday, the same steadfast stubbornness was witnessed by many who tried to convince him to evacuate.
A close friend and fellow paranormal, Wangsafyudin, also known as Ki Demang, said he visited Mbah Maridjan on Friday, asking him to leave.
“He said he couldn’t because he had a responsibility, and that because ‘my time to die in this place has almost come, I can’t leave,’ ” he said.
In the final minutes before Merapi erupted on Tuesday afternoon, 13 people were still in his home trying to convince him to evacuate.
They were all found dead with him.
Among them were Yuniawan Nugroho, 42, head of news portal Vivanews’s political desk, and Tutur Priyatno, 36, a volunteer for the Yogyakarta branch of the Indonesian Red Cross.
Candra Malik & Dessy Sagita