4.6. Disaster, Cultural Change and Power Relation: Case Study of Local Communities on the Slope of Mt. Merapi, Indonesia

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Muzayin Nazaruddin (Universitas Islam Indonesia)


This paper focuses the relationship between volcanic eruptions and cultural changes in the communities on Mount Merapi, Indonesia. The study is based on in-depth interviews and participatory observations in some specific sites on the slope of Mt. Merapi. Combining ecosemiotic and cultural semiotic approach, this study considers that ecosystems consist of sign systems, in which human sign systems are a part and perform vital roles in the changes of the ecosystem. The study concludes the recent cultural changes in the communities on Mount Merapi. From the 1980s to the 1990s, there was a significant change in the economic systems, namely the inclusion of market-oriented economy. While in the 2000s and 2010s, there was a fundamental change, namely the acceptance of scientific systems. This change is an important marker of the shift of nature – culture relations. A significant element of nature, namely the eruption, has been excluded from the local wisdom or semiosphere of local people, whereas various elements from external spaces have been included, such as government, scientific knowledge, money, mass media, modern technologies, and others. On the one hand such inclusions reduce the vulnerability of local people to the natural hazard from their environment, but on the other hand it opens the communities to possible new vulnerabilities like economic crises, political conflicts, governmental failures, and other vulnerabilities that come from the external spaces.

Keywords: volcanic eruption, cultural change, power relation, Mt. Merapi, local community, nature-culture relation, semiotic approach