Many children living in Dieng miraculously have dreadlocked hair, despite the fact that their parents have straight locks. Fatris MF and photographer Nicko Angra paid a visit to the source of this great mystery.
“We don’t ever cut their hair. In fact, even tidying it up is forbidden. It is a prohibited act,” explained Nurofik upon my arrival at Dieng in Central Java. Several of the children that I encountered in the little alleyways of Dieng were not the same as their peers. Their hair doesn’t grow as expected but instead sprouts in dreadlocks, a bit like Bob Marley’s. Why do some of the youngsters here have dreadlocks?
Nobody knows, however the parents of these children have straight hair. “These children are followed by the spirit of Mbah Tumenggung Kolodite. Why this is so, I don’t really know.” This is indeed what the parents of these dreadlocked youngsters believe. At certain times, when they cannot get what they want, these follicular miracles behave strangely and their hair stands up as if a high-voltage electrical current is being passed through it. To get proper answers to my questions, I go and see an old man by the name of Rusmanto. “Why did you come to see me while the people here do not like to do so?” Rusmanto asked coldly when I visited him in his house. People call him mbah, meaning “grandfather”. I explained to him the purpose of my visit: to glean information about Dieng and also about those unusual junior dreadlocks. Mbah Rusmanto finally smiled. “No one, let alone a young person like yourself, has ever wanted to visit me before to get this kind of information,” he said in a flat tone.
On the ninth day of my stay in Dieng, I got to accompany Mbah Rusmanto on one of his trips. We readied ourselves and then headed off to Semar Cave, not far from where he lives. In the calm of the rocky cave, the old man meditated and invited me to do the same. Not long after this, the old man stopped meditating and started telling me a story. According to legend, the Queen of the South Sea who reigns over the southern coast of Java, once commanded her three men to keep Wonosobo (the district in which Dieng is located) free from evil. The three gentlemen in question were called Kyai Malik, Kyai Karim and Mbah Tumenggung Kolodite.
After Mbah Tumenggung Kolodite died, the local children’s hair turned into dreadlocks. A few years ago, a little girl wanted to cut her dreadlocks. She also asked her father for two goats, however her father could only provide her with one. And that was that, until a year later when the girl, whose name was Anggun, got so sick that her life was in danger. Doctors failed to diagnose this illness and thus could offer her no cure. Locals thought that she would die, however a few days later she recovered and at the same time the dreadlocks on her head began to grow again. Dozens of other dreadlocked children have now had the same experience. I stroked Anggun’s dreadlocks. The little girl smiled sweetly and explained that she did not want to have dreadlocked hair. It had been two weeks since I’d arrived in Dieng and these unique children remained a mystery.