email a friend iconprinter friendly iconLiving With Volcanoes
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Not everyone has been lifted by the rising tide of tourism. Seven hundred people in the village of Trunyan squeeze into a mountain stronghold near Mount Batur. Their ramshackle houses cling to a sliver of land along a lake in a vast caldera. The villagers fish in dugout canoes and grow crops on the steep shoulders of the caldera. The village's creation myth explains its isolation, telling how a wandering Javanese nobleman fell in love with a goddess who lived in a giant banyan tree. She agreed to marry him, but only if he covered his tracks so nobody else could follow him from Java.

While tourism has brought breakneck development to the rest of Bali, Trunyan's cherished isolation now spells economic marginalization. Elders watch helplessly as a younger generation traces the same path to Bali's towns and cities as Batur's rock and sand. "There are no jobs here, no opportunities," admits Made Tusan, a teacher at Trunyan's only school.

As if economic malaise weren't enough, a recent catastrophe added to the litany of woes. A giant banyan tree that had shaded the village for centuries crashed to the ground during a storm, flattening the village temple, though miraculously sparing the holy statue of Dewa Ratu Gede Pancering Jagat, the local deity.

A village elder, I Ketut Jaksa, blames the disaster on Balinese politicians and businessmen. He "won't name names," he says guardedly, but he insists they angered the volcano deity by praying to advance their careers while ignoring Trunyan's growing disrepair. Others blame the new road, which recently connected the village to the rest of Bali, destroying its isolation and leaving it open to spiritual contamination.

IN INDONESIA, it's a given that human folly can trigger natural disasters. Eruptions, earthquakes, even a toppling banyan tree, have long been regarded as cosmic votes of no-confidence in a ruler—a fact of which the country's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is painfully aware.

Two months after the president's inauguration in October 2004, an earthquake and tsunami struck Aceh Province on Sumatra, claiming 170,000 lives. A quake hit Sumatra three months later, killing perhaps 1,000. Then Mount Talang erupted, forcing thousands of villagers to flee their homes. A chain text message flashed across cell phones, imploring Yudhoyono to perform a ritual to stop the calamities. "Mr. President," it read, "please sacrifice 1,000 goats." Yudhoyono—a former general with a doctorate in agricultural economics—publicly refused. "Even if I sacrificed a thousand goats," he announced, "disasters in Indonesia will not end."

They didn't. There were more eruptions—a statistical certainty in the volcano-studded country. One catastrophe followed another: a quake, a tsunami, floods, forest fires, landslides, dengue fever, avian influenza, and a mud eruption. Trains derailed, ferries sank, and after three major plane crashes—one at Yogyakarta airport—an editorial in the Jakarta Post advised air travelers to pray.
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