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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2006, 21:07 GMT 22:07 UK
Merapi mystic defies Java volcano alert
By Elinor Shields
BBC News

Marijan, the "gatekeeper" of Indonesia's Mount Merapi
Marijan was made mountain gatekeeper by a nearby ruler
Thousands may have been told to leave the perilous slopes of Java's smouldering Mount Merapi - but one man is standing firm.

Thick, sulphurous clouds have been billowing from the crater of one of Indonesia's most active volcanoes in recent weeks, but the mountain's mystic says he has yet to see a sign of an imminent eruption.

Seventy-nine-year old Marijan is the "gatekeeper" of the volcano - appointed by the nearby ruler to mediate with the spirits of the mountain.

And his views are key to whether some villagers also remain on the slopes of the dangerous volcano.

They expect him to be warned in a vision when the site is due to erupt, in a region where Islam sits side by side with ancient mystical beliefs.

"I'm not afraid because it's my duty," he told one journalist.

"I'm like a soldier - they are never scared."

Mountain rituals

The tiny, twinkly-eyed mystic is a symbol to villagers, who believe spirits live in the volcano's crater.

Merapi has had 68 historic eruptions since 1548
In 1994 a gas cloud burned 60 people to death
About 1,300 died when it erupted in 1930
Most violent eruption in recent history was in 1872
Major eruption in 1006 covered all of central Java with ash

He was assigned by the sultan of the city of Yogyakarta to keep an eye on the revered mountain.

He earns less than $1 a month in the role, in which he also oversees annual rituals to appease the volcano's spirits.

And while the pressure within the mountain has been building, its guardian is keeping his cool.

His village lies four miles from Merapi's peak, within the mandatory evacuation area enforced on Saturday after scientists warned of an imminent eruption.

But Marijan is said to have been sticking to his regular routine of hiking towards the smouldering mountain's peak.

"Most important is to pray," he told Reuters news agency earlier this week.

"Don't forget to pray. Pray for the safety and pray for Merapi to calm down."

Why stay?

His refusal to leave has prompted others to stay.

I don't know about tomorrow, all I can say is everything is all right today

Some of those still on the fertile slopes say they are waiting for specific signs - such as clouds in the shape of a sheep's fleece - to show them an eruption is imminent.

But others have more earthly reasons for defying the sometimes violent splutterings of the volcano.

Some farmers have chosen to stay and defend their homes and livestock.

They say they cannot leave their crops and animals, otherwise they will have no income and cannot support their families, so they are waiting until the government offers financial help.

The government has put millions of dollars aside to cover the emergency, but ministers have not made clear whether villagers will be entitled to compensation for lost crops and livestock.

Spirits v science

Scientists cannot say when or if the volcano will blow - but monitors remain on high alert.

For those in charge of evacuation efforts, Marijan's stance has reportedly been met with anger.


"He is a revered figure here," the local district chief told Reuters.

"If he goes down [the mountain], then many villagers would follow him."

But Marijan remains philosophical.

"I'd be a fool to try to predict when Merapi might erupt," he told the BBC's Rachel Harvey a few weeks ago.

"I don't know about tomorrow, all I can say is everything is all right today."

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