Scientists say that we have entered the Anthropocene, the era in which the influence of humankind on the many disasters on our earth is decisive. But ancient societies already understood disasters as a very complex and subtle interaction between the mood of man and the movement of nature. This is what we are reminded of by the Javanese tale Babad Ngalor-Ngidul, the title of which comes from a word we no longer understand: ngalor-ngidul. Composed of two Javanese words– lor for north and kidul for south plus the prefix ng that marks a back and forth movement–, ngalor-ngidul must have originally meant “from north to south and from south to north, in an endless burst of reciprocity and interdependence,” but now only means to talk nonsense. In the tale, the fates of the two villages, one in the south near the sea and one in the north near the volcano, are bound together as the former, destroyed by an earthquake, rebuilds itself, body and soul, while the latter becomes mentally corrupted before being devastated by a volcanic eruption. The tale is told in restore among the survivors the clarity of the “eye of the heart” that allowed the guardian of the volcano to “read” the mother-mountain and it reminds us that we must learn again to listen to the water of the ocean and to the sand of the volcano, the last speakers of a “primal” language that has existed since long before humankind.
Elizabeth D. Inandiak is a writer, translator and community activist. Since the age of nineteen, she has traveled the world as a reporter for various French magazines and radio broadcasters. In 1989, she settled in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She has translated and recreated into French, Indonesian and English the great epic of Java: The Book of Centhini, published in Indonesian by Gramedia (Centhini – Kekasih yang Tersembunyi). Her new book Babad Ngalor Ngidul, (Gramedia) is a tale about the earthquake and the volcanic eruption in Yogyakarta. She is currently working on a book about Muara Jambi together with the young villagers of the site.