1000’s See Gatekeeper Laid to Rest

Sleman, Yogyakarta. Dignitaries and common folk alike paid their last respects on Thursday to Mbah Maridjan, the revered spiritual gatekeeper of Mount Merapi, as he and 31 other people killed when the volcano began erupting on Tuesday were buried.

Maridjan, 83, whose birth name was Mas Penewu Surakso Hargo, was found dead at his home in Kinahrejo village on the slope of the volcano along with 13 other people who had tried to persuade him to come down.

They were believed to have died instantly in a 1,000-degree Celsius pyroclastic flow, a fast-moving wall of superheated gas and ash.

In a funeral procession attended by thousands, Maridjan was buried in the Srunen family cemetery in Glagaharjo village, five kilometers from Kinahrejo in Yogyakarta’s Sleman district.

He was buried next to his father, the previous gatekeeper of the “Mountain of Fire.”

His widow, Ponirah, 73, said she and her five children had come to terms with his death as a consequence of his high calling.

“I sincerely accept the fact that he has been taken by God, and so do all of my children,” she said. “Let him rest in peace.”

Among the mourners were Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie, Sleman district head Sri Purnomo and Gusti Prabukusumo, the brother of Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono X. In his eulogy for Maridjan, Prabukusumo called him “a very special servant.”

“He faithfully performed his duties of guarding Mount Merapi and leading the traditional ceremonies and other rituals near the crater until the end of his life, and he chose to be the last man standing on the mountain,” he said.

Once Maridjan’s body was lowered into the grave, scores of mourners scrambled to shovel earth over the body.

Most of those in attendance had followed the funeral procession from Sleman’s Sardjito Hospital, where Maridjan’s body had been kept, to the mosque at the Islamic University of Indonesia, where a prayer was said.

“Maridjan is the most respected person here,” said Ani Wijayanti, a 47-year-old resident.

“He was like a boat captain who would never surrender even if he had to pay with his life. He didn’t want to compromise his principles even as thousands of people fled to safety.”

Other mourners included Catholic nuns who had known Maridjan. Sister Pauline, from the Maria Assumpta Church in Kaliurang on the slope of Merapi, said she was deeply saddened by his passing.

“We were once neighbors and we were quite close,” she said. “He was a good man.”

Sister Laurensia, another nun, said: “Everybody who knew him will be saddened by this loss. He really loved Merapi and dedicated his whole life to taking care of the mountain.”

Also on Thursday, the Sleman administration held a mass funeral for 20 of the 32 people killed in the eruption, at the Sidorejo public cemetery in Umbulharjo village. The rest of those who died were buried the same day, but in private ceremonies also paid for by the administration.

All victims hailed from the villages of Kinahrejo, Palemsari and Ngrakah.

Like Maridjan, most of the victims died of burns or suffocation as searing ash and clouds of heated gas spewed out of the crater around 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Many were found huddled together in their homes.

“They found my mother’s body inside her house while my sister was lying on the ground outside,” 45-year-old Dali Sri said.

Sardjito Hospital, where the victims’ bodies were brought prior to burial, said it had been difficult identifying them because of the extent of their burns, making fingerprinting impossible.

“And none of them had any dental records,” hospital spokesman Trisno Heru Nugroho said.

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