Ancient oral traditions and mastery of natural hazards

2021-07-02

Merapi volcano in Central Java, Indonesia, is one of the most hazardous volcanoes in Southeast Asia, yet humans have inhabited the area around Merapi since ancient times. 

As a consequence, a rich but complex volcano-related folklore has developed. 
CNDS fellows Valentin Troll (Uppsala University), Frances Deegan (Uppsala University) and their colleague Nadhirah Seraphine (Uppsala University) have researched the role of local legends in rationalizing the dynamic interaction between the volcano and the frequent regional earthquakes through the rich oral traditions and ceremonies in the districts around Merapi.

Culture, religion and associated ceremonies are often used to communicate past societal experiences with respect to dangers and risk, including the threats from natural disasters. This type of ‘disaster sub-culture’ is well developed around Merapi volcano in Central Java, Indonesia, and has at times led to friction between official civil protection authorities and local communities. For instance, evacuation plans are not always readily accepted by some of the local population on Merapi's slopes due to sometimes opposing religious and cultural beliefs. Indeed, societies and individuals can hold multiple convictions simultaneously, and the cultural perception of a hazard greatly influences preparedness and the capacity to respond appropriately in times of crisis. In this context, ancient oral traditions often inform about successful mastery of natural hazards and associated difficult situations by previous communities.

Read the full article on Wiley Online Library.

Last modified: 2021-07-29