Roro Anteg and Joko Seguer are the Emperor’s daughter and a Brahmin who marry during the rise of Islam on Java. They move further and further east into the mountains where they can find room to worship, but they cannot seem to have children and so they grieve. Finally after many rituals, they climb the volcano Mount Bromo to meditate.
A voice promises them children, but insists that the youngest must be sacrificed to the volcano. They agree. Roro Anteg eventually bears twenty five children and the kingdom is rich with their laughter.
Of course they do not keep their promise to sacrifice the youngest. One day as the boy is walking on the mountain, Bromo, furious at the betrayal, licks him into the volcano, taking the promised child to himself. Rushing to the scene, Roro Anteg and Joko Seger and the other children hear the voice of their brother asking his family to live quietly together and remember him at this time each year by sacrificing to the volcano, who will assure their health and prosperity.
It is like Abraham and Isaac. Why do these father gods demand the lives of long-desired children?
The door it opened slowly
My father he came in
I was nine years old.
And he stood so far above me
And his blue eyes they were shining
And his voice was very cold.
He said I’ve had a vision
And you know I’m strong and holy
I must do what I’ve been told.
So we started up the mountain,
I was running, he was walking
And his axe was made of gold…..
I’ve always loved this Leonard Cohen song and I’m putting here the version by Judy Collins because she added a tiny sentence of her own that seems so feminine and harks me back to Roro Anteg who had 25 pregnancies, 25 births to endure and 25 children, every one of whom was precious.
You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children,
You must not do it anymore
And he ends fully torn between helping and killing. But Collins is torn between loving and killing and she adds,
And may I never learn to scorn
The body out of chaos born
The woman and the man
As deep as Cohen’s song is, she goes further still, reaching beyond Cohen’s cry against ‘one generation sacrificing another’, to the heart of disrespect for the sacrifice already made. I grew this body, I carried this body, I bore this body. Who are you to lap it up?
photo Robertus Pudyanto