Albinos, dwarves and royalty: the magic of Java

Last month was the 15th anniversary of the coronation of the Sultan of Yogyakarta; here’s a belated tribute. I covered the coronation for Reuters in Indonesia, accompanied by the fabulous photographer Enny Nuraheni. Here are some of her pictures, rescued from the trash.

The dwarves, albinos and albino dwarves that the Sultan keeps at court are supposed to concentrate mystical power around his person. He’s not all mystical though; he is a businessman who once had presidential ambitions and has battled with Jakarta to hold on to the hereditary governorship of the special administrative region of Yogyakarta. He won that battle in 2012, and is now the only non-elected head of a province in the country. When these photos were taken in an earlier, less democratic age, his popularity was unquestionable. I happened to be in town in 2012 when parliament passed the new law allowing the Sultan of Yogyakarta to assume the administrative post of Governor without elections. I met some people who objected to the abrogation of their democratic rights, but even they said they would have voted for him, given the chance.

2 Comments on "Albinos, dwarves and royalty: the magic of Java"

  1. Great photos and commentary…I wanna go! American expat in Taiwan…

  2. Wonderful images.

    I was based in Yogya for several months in 2010 as Merapi blew its top. It was a strange time to be in the city: the rains started early and with a considerable vengeance that year, and then the ash started to fall. Occasionally the clouds lifted in the early morning, and when they did you could see the smoking wreck of the mountain from the bathroom window in my kost up near kampus UGM. When we heard that Mbah Maridjan had died up on the mountain I did start to wonder if the world was going to end.

    In the same period SBY aroused considerable ire in Yogya by suggesting that there should be elections for the role of governor there. Courtiers in full regalia blockaded Malioboro in protest, but they were not the only ones to be outraged. I remember in particular chatting to a coffee shop manager whose business was opposite the kampus gates. He was young, smart and cool but he was outraged.
    “But you could just vote for the sultan, couldn’t you?” I suggested.
    The sheer outrageousness of the suggestion rendered him partially inarticulate. “We don’t WANT to have to vote for him!” He eventually spluttered.
    His really did seem to represent the majority view. A curious case of people fighting to defend their own disenfranchisement.

    I am hugely excited about your new book, Elizabeth, and really can’t wait to read it.

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