Some Choose to Stay Near Java Volcano Indonesia's most active volcano, located in central Java, is producing clouds of ash and steam and may erupt soon. Yet thousands of people living at the base have not evacuated. They are unwilling to leave their livestock behind.
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Some Choose to Stay Near Java Volcano

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Some Choose to Stay Near Java Volcano

Some Choose to Stay Near Java Volcano

Some Choose to Stay Near Java Volcano

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Indonesia's most active volcano, located in central Java, is producing clouds of ash and steam and may erupt soon. Yet thousands of people living at the base have not evacuated. They are unwilling to leave their livestock behind.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Indonesia's Mount Merapi continues to show signs of an impending eruption, and the authorities are urging people in the area to flee to safer locations until the threat has passed. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:

Mount Merapi has been keeping its secrets and its intentions mostly to itself for the past few days, its summit shrouded in thick clouds and mist. The authorities say there's little doubt Merapi will erupt. Others aren't so sure.

(Soundbite of activity in house) The 75-year-old menthol-smoking mystic, Marijan, thinks so little of the government warning he is going ahead with a long-planned renovation of his modest home in Kimahrejo, high on the mountain's slope. Marijan is a juru kunci or a keyholder for Mt. Merapi, as was his father before him. His job is to make regular offerings to the mountain, acts of appeasement aimed at ensuring the safety of the fertile and heavily populated lands below.

A picture of the 1994 eruption that killed more than 60 people hangs on one wall. But Marijan insists the mountain isn't ready to blow again.

(Soundbite of man speaking foreign language)

The government says it's time to go, but neither God nor the mountain have indicated to me that this is so, Marijan says, so how can I tell the people they must leave?

His house is a busy place these days, a steady stream of visitors flocking to Marijan's door to take his picture and to ask his advice about Merapi's mood. Most of the villagers here, though, are staying put, putting their trust in Marijan, not in the government and its warnings.

(Soundbite of children yelling)

A few miles down the mountain, refugee centers have been set up to provide temporary shelter to the more prudent who normally live on or near the mountain. The bupati, or district administrator, says more people should be down here by now, and he is clearly annoyed with the mystic, Marijan. It's dangerous, the district chief says, for Marijan to tell his people to stay put.

Mr. IBNU SUBIYANTO (District Administrator, Indonesia): Yes. Very dangerous. First, everybody does not understand that lava can flow to this area. But I understand it is very dangerous.

SULLIVAN: The district administrator, Ibnu Subiyanto, says he understands the cultural pull Marijan enjoys. He only wishes the mystic would put it to better use.

(Soundbite of cattle mooing)

Turgo Village is 15 miles to the west on Merapi's western slope. About half the villagers here have chosen to evacuate; farmer Marto Utomo(ph) has not. His choice is based not on mysticism, but money. He is afraid of leaving his livestock behind.

Mr. MARTO UTOMO: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: If I leave this area, what will become of my animals? He asks. They might die, or someone might come and steal them. These animals are all I have. If the mountain erupts, he says, I'm sure I'll have enough time to escape.

Down the mountain in the provincial capital, YogYakarta, government Merapi watcher, Subandrio, says that time may be soon.

Mr. SUBANDRIO (Volcanologist, The Volcanological Technology Development and Research Agency): Today, Merapi activity is still increasing up in the lava dome. The rate of this growth is about 100,000 cubic meters per day.

SULLIVAN: So is it building toward an eruption?

Mr. SUBANDRIO: Yes.

SULLIVAN: Only a matter of time?

Mr. SUBANDRIO: Yes.

SULLIVAN: And when that time comes, government officials say, the mystic Marijan, and those in his village and others, will be forced to leave.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, YogYakarta.

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