Watch our Coconuts TV on ‘coughing’ Mount Bromo
Mount Bromo is on the verge of a huge eruption after weeks of coughing volcanic ash 3,000 meters into the sky – but locals say they won’t leave until their Hindu priest tell them to.
Located in the Tengger massif in East Java, the Bromo volcano began erupting in early December with satellite imagery recording plumes of ash rising to an altitude of three kilometers and drifting as far as 65 kilometers.
The Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Disaster Hazard Mitigation (CVGHM) maintains a high alert status of three out of a maximum four and continues to enforce a two-kilometer exclusion zone around Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.
Reports suggest airports in the vicinity are likely to be affected if eruptions continue, with Surabaya’s Juanda Airport III, a main tourism hub, likely to be affected over the holiday period.
But for the local Tengger tribe who live in surrounding hillside villages, they won’t leave until their Hindu priest Manku tells them to.
One National Park Guard named Suyano, who has worked in the shadow of Bromo for 25 years said, “Manku told us the Bromo gods will cough for six months, they will then erupt very big.”
The volcanic debris that Bromo is “coughing” is currently landing safely in the Sea Of Sand, the vast ashen plain that forms a desert around the massif. And as of today, the CVGHM say it is safe for visitors as long as they remain outside the “no-go zone”.
The Tenggerese people, who number about 90,000 in 30 hillside villages, worship Mount Bromo and believe they can communicate with the mountain gods through Manku.
“Manku predicted Bromo would begin to cough like it is now a few months ago. He’s always right,” Suyano said.
Suyano told Coconuts he feels connected to Bromo and the mountain gods that live in the crater.
The spiritual connection the Tenggerese have with Bromo dates back to a 15th century legend about the founders of the tribe, a husband and wife who could not conceive and sought help from the mountain gods. The gods granted them 24 children but demanded the 25th child, named Kesuma, must be thrown into the volcano crater as a human sacrifice. The demand was met and Tengger community flourished.
Today, the Tenggerese honor the mountain gods at the annual Yadnya Kasada Ceremony, throwing animal sacrifices into the crater for the gods to feast on.
Suyano, who mans a small outpost on the opposite side of the valley from the volcano, looks high up at the ashen cloud blanketing the sky and says, “This is a special place for me. I’ve been watching the volcano my whole life. It’s magical.”
“The spirits speak to me. I can hear them. I know when they are upset. And right now, they are working very hard to speak to us.”
“I’ve seen many eruptions here. And people should know that a volcano erupting is the spirits telling us they are not happy.”
“The spirits are speaking to all of us here. And we must listen,” he added.
There has been a dip in Western visitors since the most recent eruptions, according to Rari, a receptionist at the Cemera Indah Hotel, which sits high on an opposing mountain, about two-kilometers away from Bromo.
“People shouldn’t be scared though. If it does erupt then we will evacuate to nearby villages. Tourists can still come here.”
Rari, who has worked at the hotel for 19 years, said the worst eruption he saw was in 2010.
“That was when huge rocks and sand balls came crashing through the roof here and of many of the houses. We all had to evacuate. I hope it doesn’t happen again. But it’s okay. I’m not scared.”
“The people here have lived with the volcano their whole life. It’s part of us,” he said.
Despite being on high alert you can still travel to Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. If you are a photographer then it’s worth the trek. Some would argue Mount Bromo is more majestic in it’s current state of eruption. While you can’t gain access to the Sea of Sand or Bromo crater, you can take night hikes to catch sunrise atop of opposing peaks. Stay in the tiny hillside village of Cemara Lewang. There are homestays available and one budget hotel, called Cemara Indah Hotel. There are no luxury abodes here. Getting there: Fly to Surabaya. Pre-arrange a private tour guide or mini-bus for three-hour drive to the Bromo region. Supri Ijen on Facebook is one reliable tour guide you can contact. Check airport news alerts for flight cancellations.
Photos by Eszter Papp & Fraser Morton