Drinking the ‘remains’ of the Sultan while being a bad tourist

Today I was offered to drink the ‘remains’ of the Yogyakarta Sultan, which didn’t sound too attractive to begin with, nor too logical. First of all the man isn’t dead, second in my morbid mind, I would think you would eat the ‘remains’, not drink them. Fortunately it turned out to be one of those word vocabulary confusions. Pande – my lovely company to the palace of the Sultan – meant to say, that they offer in the palace kitchen the ‘left overs’ (as in food!) to those that pass by. In the end we only had a glass of water from the magical well – also from the Sultan – but we had a good laugh about it together and were allowed to make a wish while drinking the water.

This was towards the end of a day that had started at 4 am in the morning to catch the sunrise at the Borobudur, a visit to another temple complex and the Sultan’s Palace. The sunrise was unfortunately covered in clouds, but still both sites were absolutely wonderful and well worth the early rising. It’s also a pretty good example of how I often do crash-course-tourism as I call it myself. Whenever I get the chance to travel somewhere, I make sure I get to see more than just the hotel, conference and/or office whenever I have a few hours, or in this case about 24 hours of free time in Yogyakarta.

I’m not saying this is the most relaxing strategy, but I definitely enjoy every minute of it. I have to admit though that I’m never a ‘proper’ tourist. A tourist that just wonders around and looks in amazement about the surroundings to relax. I start asking questions and always end up finding something out that definitely diminishes the pretty picture. This time the destroyed houses and piles of ash and the enormous rocks along the way to the Borobudur were saddening – only two months ago the Merapi volcano had erupted again. There’s little any government can do about that. However, over 5000 people lost their homes and they were still waiting for some sort of new housing, while the Borobudur had been cleaned with over a 1000 people in a couple of weeks, so the tourist like me could come again…

Another fact goes back to the Sultan. Yogyakarta is officially a Kingdom, and does not have an elected governor, but a hereditary Sultan. There’s a public debate going on whether that should be changed and the Kingdom should become a regular province with elected governor. Perhaps it’s charming to think there’s still a Kingdom in Indonesia, but again the pretty picture falls apart when you hear that almost all the land in the Kingdom belongs to the Sultan and the average person can only rent land from this same Sultan. A rather medieval practice leading to an incredibly rich Sultanate family.

There’s no such thing as the Right to Land. You can probably imagine governments are very hesitant to say every individual has the entitlement to land. How do you realise that as a State? For Indigenous group’s claims have been made, but still the issue remains very difficult under International Human Rights Law. However looking at the above example you can wonder whether this claim should not be looked at more seriously, and certainly not only for indigenous groups. In a country where a majority of people still are dependent directly for their food from their own produce, it is intolerable to deny them, or provide such barriers, to access such fertile land (the curse of the volcano is it’s blessing at the same time, the ash is incredibly rich in minerals and nutrients). As Pande also pointed out in another conversation, the really poor people are those that you see begging in the cities at stations. At least in the villages the people have some sort of ability to produce food.

I now know what I’ll wish for the next time I’ll drink the Sultan’s magical water. I won’t wish for his ‘remains’, but definitely for transition to a ‘Kingdom’ that really tries to serve his people and doesn’t charge them with rent for land which should be theirs already.

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