We’re on the road again—out of Yogya, through Jakarta and onto Sulawesi.
Here are some photos that we haven’t had the chance to share yet.
Despite being one of the world’s fastest growing automobile markets and its third largest motorbike market as of 2009, Indonesians seem to love their bicycles.
Here is a link to a flickr set of some Jogja cyclists we met.
Word of the day: Pit Dhuwur. It’s Javanese for tall bike. The crew of tall bike riders and builders downtown said the word originated during the Dutch occupation with visiting European circus crews.
Heading south out of Jogja, we saw this masked musician at a traffic light. His gamelan notes keeping tempo with the countdown to green light on the LED sign above. Two ladies accompany his performance, lithely dancing in the crosswalk before revving motorbikes, minibuses and kids on bicycles squinting through the sharp sunlight. Seconds before the switch to green, the dancers collect coins from their impromptu audience as the musician plays on.
We gave our first public speech in Bahasa Indonesia inside of a mosque at an Islamic school. The topic: motivations for learning Bahasa Ingris (English).
The audience was a hundred seventh graders. Melati especially enthralled the ladies in attendance, recounting how she only started to study English at age ten and is today a journalist. After the talk, she was consulted by members of the audience on her favorite boy bands (see picture).
The actual sound of preparing food mountains.
The celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday in Yogyakarta closes with a procession of food mountains through the city’s streets. But just three days beforehand, an elaborate public ceremony signals the beginning of the mountain building.
Female palace chefs shuffle into a cement shed outside the palace. Each has on a batik sarong and an intense knife secured in front of them by a belt. The youngest princess is also in attendance. But the pounding of a tree-length wooden mortar called Gejog Lesong really takes the cake.
Once, this was used to mix together ingredients to shape the core of the parading rice mountains. Today, a salty rice cone is offloaded from a blue mini Toyota truck instead. But the pounding continues symbolically and as a call to the neighborhood: Hey, come and check this out!
After a prayer, the cooks pull out pots filled with yellow paste, kinyit, and apply it on the base of the delivered core, which has been upturned and centered on a dias. As the palace cooks apply the paste, the crowd goes nuts. Kinyit is said to ward off evil and all those watching want a dab of leftover paste to apply on their skin or bag up for later. Hands are jammed through the shed’s surrounding grate. And the cooks trade off. Some apply the kinyit to the base of the mountain while others walk the periphery, touching outstretched hands in blessing.
All along, men in maroon robes continues to pound the empty lesong, the rhythmic thumps matching the frenzy of the crowd, providing a bass for their fervor.
We were excited that our stay in Yogyakarta coincided with Sekaten, a week-long festival in Yogyakarta commemorating the birth of the Prophet Muhammed. Sekaten, a ritual dating back to the 15th century, begins under a pavilion in the Kraton, the Sultan’s Palace, where two gamelan orchestras perform. Preceding the opening gongs and chimes, the abdi dalam, palace courtiers, perform blessings for Jogja residents and villagers who have come here from surrounding communities to ask for prosperity and good fortune in the coming year. These people, such as the two ladies below, present small donations wrapped in leaves to the holy men who pass it over the fire and offer it in front of the gamelan.
The abdi dalam sit in their white shirts and batik hats around the gamelan.
A male relative of the Sultan enters the area and begins throwing rupiah coins to the crowd. People scramble to catch them and some hold upturned umbrellas to better their chances as these coins are thought to bring good luck.
The gamelan continues and two small kids, feeling the intricate rhythms, move their bodies in an improvisational dance. We meet a Frenchman doing research on Javanese rituals such as this and join him on a mat in the courtyard of the Masjid Agung (grand mosque) for nasi gurih, a special festival food of rice cooked in coconut milk and served with nuts, beans, tempeh, and other accompaniments. With our new friend, we venture over to the carnival (replete with Ferris wheel and lots of fried food hawkers), and wait with a crowd of people, including this father and son, at the gate of the palace.
The palace gates open and lines of abdi dalam in batik sarongs march out to the sounds of flutes and drums playing a whimsical marching tune. A trumpet bellows something between a call to arms and the start of a horse race.
The abdi dalam, many of them elderly, march past in different styles of uniform: red pointy hats with gold trim, poufy white feathers sticking out of black hats and accented by rainbow sashes. Another dons a black top hat. A row of younger abdi dalam solemnly carry bronze oil lamps. Even the very youngest of the abdi dalam, at only three years old and marching with his grandfather, carries himself with an air of grace.
And then come the gamelan. This whole procession is to accompany the gamelan as it is carried from the sultan’s palace into pavilions in the courtyard of the Masjid Agung—near where we had just eaten dinner. Men shoulder large bamboo poles onto which the gamelan chimes, gongs, and drums are strapped and hanging.
The gamelan are well-protected: abdi dalam wielding lances flank the procession of gamelan, and finely ornamented umbrellas hover overtop them.
Through the carnival and into the Sultan Agung, the procession lands at two white pavilions where the gamelan are deposited and the teal-shirted gamelan players take their seats. Once the large gongs receive their last adjustments, the two gamelan, now separated by over 100 meters, strike up again.
Here the gamelan are played for seven days and seven nights leading up to the final Garebeg Sekaten ritual in which rice mountains make the same journey.
We made the forty-minute motorbike ride up to Baleranti, once the highest village on Mt. Merapi, guided by folks from Kotak Hitam, a Yogyakarta-based documentary film collective. The local 1,300 foot volcano erupted in 2010, attracting international attention as black smoke from its cone billowed across the skies. Ash from the eruption snowed down as far away as Borobudur. Still today, near the top a sign warns: Watch out! Volcanic material is cool but there is hot ash.”
Today, scars from the eruption are still visible. From paddy fields 5 kms away, we see a long river of rock wind its way down the mountain’s south slope.
The rock river yawns wide into a dusty half-kilometer-long construction zone at the mountain’s base. In the middle stands a 20-foot boulder, said to have rolled down from the top. Now, the rock acts as a road divider. A spray painted arrow on its surface directs trucks. Those loaded with volcanic rocks and sand washed down by erosion barrel towards town. Many empty truck beds head uphill to get more raw materials, tough names emblazoned on their front windows. “Yakuza” proclaims one. “ South Storm” another. On the back of one, someone has scrawled “Sebates mimpi” (this is only a dream).
Destruction did not encompass all of Merapi after the eruption though. As we head up the narrow road uphill, we find demolished towns standing kilometers away from other ones that still stand untouched. But even in these towns that the most recent lava flow missed, the ground is loose and uneven. Grassy fields rise and fall in cliffs and ditches.
We pass a half-buried Javanese house. Its stained glass skylight and the carved wooden curlicues of its roof beams sit just a couple meters above ground.
The smell of manure mixes with diesel fumes further uphill in an unaffected town. On a sheet pinned to the side of a house proclaims guided lava tours.
In Baleranti, little is left. A warung selling bananas and foods sits in front of a long, cleared plateau. Once 40 some families lived here. Now, on one end of this “town,” steps still outline the shape of a traditional Javanese amphitheater. The village used to hold meetings and process their harvest here. On the other end of town, two rock walls signal the foundation of village head’s house. Two steps down, the land opens into a tree farm. Our friends explain that much of the town now lives in rows of thatched bamboo houses further down the mountain. But they plan to return and rebuild. For the moment though, it’s just inhabited by their trees.
Five minutes walk from our house is the Alun-alun selatan-a small walled ring road with a field in the middle. By day, neighboring elementary schools use it as a sports field but by night, the place turns into a man-powered carousel. Teenagers and families rent lit-up golf carts and tandem bicycles to cruise round and round the field, bumping to the sounds of Lady Gaga.
On the outer perimeter, push-cart hawkers serve ronde (a gingery hot liquid with peanuts and other accompaniments), chicken satay, and boiled corn. Inside the ring road, people laugh at their girlfriends or boyfriends wandering around blindfolded in (often unsuccessful) attempts to split the two banyan trees that protrude from the grassy landscape. Good luck comes to those who can pass between the giant banyans (without peeking).