May 30, 2006

Java’s Merapi still no-go zone but “keeper” unfazed

By Lewa Pardomuan

MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesia's restive
Mount Merapi remained a no-go zone on Tuesday after last
weekend's deadly earthquake nearby, but the volcano was quieter
and its revered "keeper" insisted no major eruption was

Saturday's quake -- which killed more than 5,000 people and
left more than 130,000 homeless in and around the ancient city
of Yogyakarta -- initially heightened activity at Merapi.

On Tuesday the erratic volcano was calmer than the previous
day, spewing less toxic gas, but authorities still put it on
top alert status and told residents of the immediate area they
should stay away.

"Today's activities are relatively lower compared to
yesterday. The maximum range of the hot ashes today is 3 km (2
miles)," said the Merapi section head at Yogyakarta's volcanic
research center, Subandrio.

Merapi, which claimed more than 60 lives in 1994 and 1,300
in an 1930 eruption, has rumbled for weeks and sporadically
emitted hot lava and toxic gases, sparking fears it may erupt

Overlooking the heavily visited Borobudur Buddhist temple
complex, it stands about 50 km (31 miles) from the epicenter of
Saturday's quake.

Dust fell in villages on the slopes of the mountain, but
many villagers have abandoned shelters and returned to their
homes. Eighty-year-old Maridjan, the spiritual keeper of the
mountain, has refused to leave the volcano and believes the
mysterious mountain will not erupt.

"Life will be very peaceful here," the chain-smoker
Maridjan told Reuters at his home in Kinahrejo village, just
about six km (four miles) from Merapi's peak.

"It's not unusual for Merapi to spew hot gases and dust. I
won't go to a refuge center because I follow the (late)
Sultan's order. I have a duty here," said Maridjan, who wears a
brown-colored batik shirt and a checkered sarong.

Maridjan was assigned by the previous ruler of Yogyakarta,
the late Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, as keeper of the mountain to
look after the safety of the villagers living on its slopes.
The Javanese are mainly Muslim, but many people living near
Merapi consider it sacred.

Maridjan has become a sort of celebrity since Merapi's
activities pick up. Dozens of people from various parts of Java
pay him a visit almost daily to ask for advice or simply to
have a chat with the cheery old man.

Yogyakarta has abounded with rumors that Maridjan had
warned about Saturday's catastrophe.

Maridjan, aware of the rumors, denied this. In front his
house, a makeshift placard says in Javanese: "Do not believe in
those issues."

When asked whether he had foreseen another natural
disaster, he said: "I don't know. Let's hope nothing else will
happen. Only God can foresee something."

Indeed, life goes on for many villagers living near Merapi.
The nearby resort town of Kaliurang has been reopened recently
but most hotels are still empty.

"I've spent three weeks at the evacuation center and I was
bored. So decided to go home," said Mrs Sumopawiro, who runs a
food kiosk.

"I will run away when there's an eruption," said the
85-year woman. "Whatever happens will happen," she said,

Saturday's earthquake was the latest misfortune to hit
Indonesia after Islamic militant bombings, bird flu outbreaks
and the massive 2004 quake and tsunami.