Tue, May 30, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Indonesia earthquake: Merapi villagers see divine anger behind catastrophe


Villagers living on the slopes of Indonesia's rumbling Mount Merapi were not surprised when the deadly earthquake struck Java at the weekend -- they saw it as a message from above.

One man, Suryoto, blamed the quake as well as the recent rumblings of the Merapi volcano on fast-paced modern lifestyles, saying the spirits were warning residents to lead more simple lives.

"I think it is because people are no longer living sedately," said the man, in his 50s. "People are becoming too preoccupied with worldly things."

Many here believe there is a mystical link between Merapi and the so-called Southern Sea, or the Indian Ocean, off the southern coast of Java, which was hardest hit by Saturday's earthquake that killed nearly 5,000 people.

That belief was reinforced when Merapi -- which has threatened to erupt for weeks, forcing the evacuation of some 20,000 residents -- suddenly began to belch huge heat clouds of toxic gas and ash as the ground shook.

Yesterday, the volcano showed increased activity, spewing heat clouds and the occasional river of lava.

"We can only surmise that we are being warned," said Wignyo, a 47-year-old farmer from the village of Kaliadem on the southern side of the volcano.

"We are used to earthquakes. It only surprised us for a brief moment," Wignyo explained as he took a break from cutting grass to feed his cattle.

According to traditional Ja-vanese beliefs, both Merapi and the Indian Ocean are home to spirits that have protected Yogyakarta, the main city in the region, and the surrounding area for centuries.

The Southern Sea is seen as home to the Queen of the South who agreed to protect the royal house in Yogyakarta back in the 17th century.

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