of Indonesia's 'unlucky' president takes quake blame & wth, the gods must be ANGRY vs. local wisdom which endures

You don't have to be one of those poor victims of the recent Padang earthquake to sympathise with any of them. But to read how quite a number of people are blaming the natural disaster to their President is just a bit too much. And there's even an article about how the gods must be angry.

Sure, let's sacrifice the Indonesian President to appease the furious gods & see how the natural order of peace & harmony reclaims its position, shall we?!

Wake up, you superstitious faithless-yet-claim-to-be-faithful hypocrites! The last thing anyone needs to do is to shift blame to anybody. So please just concentrate on helping the victims. Or if you can't do that, do keep your mouth shut!

The locals have a saying "alam takambang jadi guru" (the universe teaches unlimited wisdom). We all should learn from this tragedy & see how to emerge from it stronger & wiser.

While the rest of the world blames shifting tectonic plates for the Padang earthquake, some more superstitious Indonesians feel that explanation is not enough, and they are blaming President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has been branded an “unlucky” president.

Yudhoyono has long been burdened by murmurs and chatter that he carries with him the shadow of cosmic misfortune. A string of disasters both natural and man-made since his election in 2004, including the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 220,000 across Asia, has seen quips that SBY stands for “Selalu Bencana Ya,” roughly meaning “Always a Disaster”.

The latest catastrophe, believed to have killed well over 1,000 people, is viewed by many of the country’s 234 million as yet more proof that his stars are crossed.

“SBY, because of his birth date, will always attract disasters to this country, according to the Primbon [a Javanese almanac of mysticism],” said Permadi, a veteran politician from the opposition Gerindra party and a practising shaman.

“Just look at the numbers of his birth date — the ninth of the ninth, ’49 — that’s unlucky. The more he holds on to power, the more great disasters will happen,” he said. If he stays president, “a much bigger disaster will strike Jakarta for sure,” Permadi said. “If SBY had a big heart, he would step down.”

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, not everyone believes this theory — and many see SBY’s birthday as enviably lucky — but such talk of supernatural misfortune has deep resonance here, with Islam and Christianity rubbing shoulders with older traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and animism.

The criticism has been longstanding enough that Yudhoyono lectured local government heads in the quake-hit region of West Sumatra two years ago that they should blame the region’s volatile geology, and not him. “Magma doesn’t move because SBY has become president. It’s malicious to link it to me being president,” he was quoted as saying at the time.

One Jakarta daily suggested a link between the disaster and the extravagance of politicians in a Sunday editorial entitled “The Gods Must Be Angry.”

“Whether you subscribe to the theological or secular explanation, the 7.6-magnitude quake ... came on the eve of the multibillion-rupiah inauguration ball for newly elected members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Representative Council in Jakarta,” it said.

Political analyst Bima Arya Sugiarto said that while some, particularly opposition politicians, try to paint the president as a spiritual liability, there are benefits for him in Indonesians’ gaze beyond the physical world.

Criticism of the often slow aid response, and the poor planning that allowed shoddy buildings to spring up in the first place, has been muted by fatalism and a widespread belief that the disaster is God’s will, Sugiarto said.

“The mystical perspective or the religious perspective is more dominant than public criticism of government policies,” he said.

Several media outlets have carried accounts of divine symbols in the aftermath of the quake, including a ring-shaped sun surrounded by a rainbow and God’s name inscribed in Arabic calligraphy in the clouds.

In the devastated city of Padang, a common refrain has been that the quake is a test, or a punishment, from God.

“I think the quake happened because many of the youths in Padang commit sins, especially during Ramadan,” chicken-feed factory worker Yasrizat, 36, said near a mosque in the city. “They’ve been engaging in sinful activities by the beach. I think God is punishing us with this quake.”

From Jakarta Globe, "Superstitious Indonesians Aim Quake Blame At ‘Unlucky’ President".

Whenever a devastating disaster on the scale of Wednesday's massive earthquake in West Sumatra happens, people across the country wonder what the nation has done to deserve such a calamity.

Priests and clerics tell us it is divine punishment and that God is trying to tell us something. Scientists tell us the quake was really the result of shifts in the Earth's tectonic plates. Whether you subscribe to the theological or secular explanation, the 7.6-magnitude quake that killed more than 1,100 people by Friday morning's official count came on the eve of a multibillion-rupiah inauguration ball for the newly elected members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Representative Council (DPD) in Jakarta, just a few hundred kilometers southeast from West Sumatra.

Questions had been raised prior to the Oct. 1 inauguration about the propriety of such extravagance when the economy was not exactly doing well. Elected politicians and the General Elections Commission (KPU) insisted the sum was money well spent to celebrate the success Indonesia has made in organizing peaceful and democratic elections this year.

Wednesday's earthquake, however, turned the inauguration mood into a mourning one. Many of the newly sworn-in politicians, heeding the rising public outcry, were quick to announce they were donating their first month's salary to victims of the West Sumatra disaster. Let's hope President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will also show sensitivity during his own inauguration on Oct. 20 to kick off his second five-year term.

The quake is a sober reminder that Indonesia is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. Straddling the Equator and linking two major oceans, Indonesia is at the same time blessed with abundant natural resources. No one can complain that Mother Nature has been unkind to us.

It is left to us to learn how to manage these conditions that we take as a given. The fact that Indonesia still has one of the largest concentrations of poor people in the world indicates there is something wrong in the way the country is being run, in the way it deals with the threats of devastating natural disasters, and in the way it manages its natural resources and redistributes the wealth arising thereof.

The House's extravagance reflects the behavior of many people, particularly the elite. They are very good at flaunting their wealth, irrespective of whether they are entitled to it or not in the first place. Many of today's state and private functions and ceremonies are excessive by the standards of wealthier Western nations.

Could this be because, for many people, this wealth comes just as easily as they spend it, rather than something that comes from hard work?

The fight against corruption, the platform that saw Yudhoyono elected the first time found in 2004 and again in 2009, seems to be slackening of late under a concerted drive to undermine the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

Questions are now being raised about Yudhoyono's commitment to the antigraft campaign. He allowed the National Police to pursue criminal investigations against two KPK deputy chairmen on the basis of what clearly looks like feeble evidence. And then he suspended the two deputies even while the police were changing their charges. He has since appointed a five-person team to select three names to fill in the vacuum at the KPK. So not only did he allow the drive to undermine the KPK's independence, but in some respects, he is also seen as very much part of the conspiracy to destroy the KPK.

This is rather unfortunate, for the President has just returned from a very successful tour of the United States, where he rubbed shoulders with other global leaders at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, and received standing ovations in speeches he gave before businesspeople in Boston and scholars at Harvard University. Indonesia's image abroad has been enhanced by the fact it has successfully gone through the democratic processes of electing its leaders, that it has managed to deal with the threat of terrorism and radical Islam quite well, and that its economy has been holding on when the rest of the world is struggling to cope with the global downturn.

Perhaps the accolades (be sure to read the special report on Indonesia in the Sept. 12 issue of The Economist) have buoyed our leaders so much that they have forgotten that the serious work still awaits us back at home.

There is the question of eradicating poverty, of creating jobs for the tens of millions unemployed or underemployed, and the task of improving our education system and ensuring people have access to inexpensive healthcare. And now there is the massive reconstruction work for people displaced by the recent earthquakes, in West Java last month and in West Sumatra this week.

There is really hardly time for Indonesia to bask in the glow of its successes, no matter what other nations are telling us. It is also totally inappropriate for the nation to be flaunting its wealth when more than half its population festers in poverty. And there is no room for the government to slacken its campaign to eradicate corruption.

Whether or not the West Sumatra quake is a message that the gods are angry, the high number of casualties and massive devastation should humble this nation into seriously changing its ways and becoming more serious for once about building this nation. Only then can we safely say that those who perished in last week's quake did not die unnecessarily.

From Jakarta Post, "The week in review: The gods must be angry".

The earthquake in West Sumatra, especially in Padang, the capital city, and towns and villages along the west Sumatran coast and in the inhabited parallel mountainous parts of the region, is another unavoidable natural disaster in Indonesia, following the recent earthquake in West Java.

These are reminders as to how dangerous the regions in the Ring of Fire can be, and therefore how Indonesia has to learn lessons and become better prepared, and as soon as possible, to handle upcoming natural disasters.

West Sumatra, which the local population calls Minangkabaunese, is one of the critical points in the Ring of Fire in the Indian Ocean. The explosion of the Singgalang Mountain, at the end of 18th century, for example, caused the deaths of thousands of people, so that Padang Panjang, Bukittinggi, and the villages around the mountain became haunted by large numbers of vultures.

The residents of the province are accustomed to natural disasters, especially those who live on the slippery slopes of the very mountainous region, at the base of four or five active volcanoes, on the banks of rivers, lakes and the sea, or on the floor of the valleys.

Before this latest quake, the region had suffered from recent floods and landslides. The biggest recent disaster was of course when the coal mining tunnels exploded and were devastated in Sawahlunto, when 181 people lost their lives, in the middle of 2009.

Generally speaking, if you stay in the West Sumatra region for a year, you will experience earthquakes several times. People who live around Mt. Marapi one of active volcanoes there, in the towns and villages surrounding the mountain, regularly experience small explosions shaking the earth and producing massively volcanic plumes. The area can also be hit by tsunamis.

If you travel from Padang to Padang Panjang, it is common that you face long traffic jams. Some parts of the roads are easily subject to breaks and fractures because of landslides, *quakes or instability, especially in the highlands.

Padang itself, an old city built centuries ago, is situated along very narrow stretch of coast between the hills and the sea, so transportation access to other regions consists of winding and hilly roads. Because of the limited flat land, the main part of the city, which is close to the edge of the sea, is only around 0-2 meters above sea level with frequent flooding submerging the area. This happens almost every year.

What makes the people keep living there, if we talk more spiritually, is that they believe that wherever they live, it is still tanah tuan Allah, the earth of God.

They believe that even if they can escape from a galodo (landslide) by moving to a supposedly safer area, that death may still come to them all.

These dangerous natural conditions are taken by the people as unavoidable challenges. They say in one of their aphorisms that kalo takuik dilamun ombak, jan barumah di tapi pantai, (if you are scared of being submerged by huge waves, don't live on the coast).

But the people are certainly not so passive that they accept their destinies in such a fatalistic way. They have their own local wisdom to help avoid or at least to minimize the impacts of disasters.

Take a look at the construction designs of the traditional houses or buildings for example. Most of them are made of wood and are constructed as flexible buildings, so that if an earthquake or flood takes place, the damage will be minimal.

But now, of course, as modernization changes haluan kapal (the direction of the ship), as the Minangkabauneses say, disasters seem to take more victims than before. And now we have seen how the victims of the Sept. 30, earthquake were mostly trapped in allegedly modern but weaker buildings.

And there are many other kinds of local folklore, know-how or wisdom which have helped the people in the area to live more safely and peacefully for a long, long time.

Now, as the earthquake has partly destroyed the region, besides material help and donations, it is a must to help local people to keep their living local wisdom alive and to revive dead or dying traditions, because these have carried the values the people lean on in times of hardship and disaster, and have helped them to survive successfully despite past disasters.

These traditional wisdoms are important to know. Let's help to bring them back to help them to be able to tagak di ateh kaki surang (to rely on their own efforts to sustain their lives) and convince them that the philosophy alam takambang jadi guru (the universe teaches unlimited wisdom) should be maintained, so that the latest disaster becomes one more lesson in preparing for a better and more constructive future with new knowledge and consciousness.

From Jakarta Post, "Earthquake and local wisdom".


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