Over a thousand people, including national and local political figures, attended the funeral of an unusual medium in Java in November.
Mbah Marijan was Guardian of the Key at the volcanic Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s youngest volcano, and its biggest eruption ever was then in progress, disgorging over five billion cubic feet of rocks, sand, dust and gas.
As Guardian, Marijan who was 83, cared for the paths leading from the base to holy places near the summit. More importantly he was responsible for maintaining the relationship with the spirits of the mountain, especially Sunan Merapi, a powerful Muslim spirit.
The local vulcanologists in Indonesia had realised that Mount Merapi was about to erupt, and notified Marijan. But Marijan’s contacts in the spirit world did not tell him to leave, although he advised villagers to follow official advice and evacuate. Marijan was found burned to death in his home. Thirteen others with him died. He left a wife and five children.
Marijan was a prominent Muslim leader. But he was not totally otherworldly. As one local paper reported, “He had appeared in advertisements for a popular brand of sports drink together with nationally known athletes. The advertisements suggested a relationship between the athletes’ physical prowess and Mbah Marijan’s spiritual power.”
Marijan lived simply, supported mosques and even built a church for Christians. He became famous in 2006 when the volcano also erupted, and he had refused orders to evacuate. He escaped, though injured. He said he would not take orders from the Sultan, but only from his late father.
It is said that Marijan knew he would die in the eruption, but chose to remain on the mountain so that his prayer might save others. Indeed one story claims that hot gases entered his house but could not enter his room until he had finished praying. Many testimonials about him have been broadcast on Indonesian television. “Pilgrims will visit his grave. He was not corrupt like the politicians, but remained faithful in his duty!”
A local tradition predicts that on the Day of Judgment, a lava-flow will spread from Mount Merapi. This is not impossible. Indonesia has 75 per cent of the planet’s volcanoes and 90 per cent of its earthquakes.
The life of Marijan is a reminder that in other societies, mediums may have a significant cultural role. The Dalai Lama of Tibet, for example, benefits from the services of the State Oracle whom he has known since he was a child.