Wed, May 17, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Local guardian in no hurry to leave Indonesian volcano

AFP , KINAHREJO, INDONESIA

Despite a looming eruption, life ambles on as usual at the highest hamlet on the southern slope of Mount Merapi for the volcano's ceremonial guardian.

Marijan, the guardian, is even following his regular routine of hiking towards the smouldering mountain's peak.

The steep mountain road ends in the hamlet of Kinahrejo, where women bent under heavy bundles of grass trudge down from higher up the volcano. Elderly men gossip under the trees as the occasional motorcycle putters through.

"Everyone is out cutting grass for their cattle," says Sugeng, a man in his 30s.

Danger zone

Kinahrejo lies at the highest point of the danger zone, where the highest alert was issued Saturday after heat clouds started to belch ominously from Merapi's crater.

The alert means these residents should have been whisked to safety.

Most people appear to have remained and to be going about their daily chores. Together with Pelemsari, another hamlet just to the south, 77 families or just over 250 people normally reside here.

"How else are people going to pay their electricity bills, the fares for their children to go to school, or the instalment on their motorcycle bought on credit?" asks Sugeng, from the veranda of Marijan's home.

Many of the women head to a shelter during the evenings but return during the day, while the men stay on to guard their prized possessions -- the dairy herd.

Marijan, appointed to the post of customary guardian by the highly respected Sultan Hamengkubuwono of Yogyakarta, has refused to budge -- in fact, he has gone higher up the slope towards the smoking peak from where red-hot lava has been searing trails down the volcano's flanks.

Meditation

"He went up the mountain this morning to meditate," says one of his daughters-in-law, Muniarsih, noting that he typically leaves just after dawn and returns in the afternoon.

The customary guardian is considered Merapi's safekeeper. He organizes annual ceremonies that see the royal palace make offerings to the volcano to placate the spirits of ancient Javanese mysticism.

Marijan has said he has not yet seen any sign that the mountain is about to unleash its fury, even though heat clouds rolled down the volcano's slopes on Monday to distances of 4km.

Another member of Marijan's family, who declined to give his name, said that the guardian frequently makes trips to Sri Manganti, a small platform just below Merapi's peak, on Thursday evenings.

Marijan is a man everyone listens to. His refusal to evacuate has been respected by authorities -- and has only encouraged others also to stay on.

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