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Merapi multiple: Protection around Yogyakarta’s celebrity volcano through masks, dreams, and seismographs

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Gunung Merapi (Mountain of Fire) is the guardian of a cosmogonic-sacred landscape, and one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Its eruptions are well studied, however, the relationships among ritual, science, protection and grassroots disaster management arising after the 2006 and 2010 eruptions are mostly overlooked. This paper fills this gap in the literature, through qualitative research that explores local perceptions and places respiratory protection in a larger ecology of protective practices during, and after, volcanic crises. In a previous study, 99% of respondents in Yogyakarta used masks to protect from inhaling volcanic ash. In order to understand the respiratory protective practices developed, in the last decade, to cope with Merapi's eruptions, we need to engage with the emergence of the local volunteer-led grassroots monitoring systems. Although these networks were formalised by agencies, they were originally set-up in a bottom-up fashion to respond to pyroclastic flows and other life-threatening volcanic hazards. Our research found that they play a key role in the distribution of masks and respiratory health narratives, thus influencing the wide adoption of certain types of respiratory protection. Disaster management agencies, village heads, ritual experts and volunteers participating in these monitoring networks share spiritual signals (dreams) and scientific ones (seismic data, health narratives) and masks as part of their response to volcanic crises. Our findings about these Merapi networks challenge dominant assumptions in the Disaster Risk Reduction literature that tend to equate building resilience with the substitution of problematic ‘cultural beliefs' for ‘scientific facts’.




Schwartz-Marin, E., Merli, C., Rachmawati, L., Horwell, C., & Nugroho, F. (2020). Merapi multiple: Protection around Yogyakarta’s celebrity volcano through masks, dreams, and seismographs. History and Anthropology. Routledge.

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