Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: We go now to Indonesia. A place that's ringed with active volcanoes. 130 of them in fact. The most active is Mount Merapi on the island of Java. The volcano has thousands of people living on its flanks. And that includes one man who's the official gatekeeper of the mountain. Correspondent Rebecca Henschke recently paid him a visit.

REBECCA HENSCHKE: There are no signs directing you to the home of the gatekeeper of the volcano. Mbah Marijan does not like publicity.

SPEAKING INDONESIAN

MBAH MARIJAN: My job is to stop lava from flowing down. Let the volcano breath, but not cough. That's my wish, but God is the only one who controls life. I am a simple man.

HENSCHKE: Marijan is short and wiry with a cheeky smile. He's dressed in a sarong and a traditional black cap. He points to a row of chairs and offers water and cookies that are laid out on low tables. It's obvious he receives many visitors. But he doesn't like talking about his work. Two opening questions he says, that's enough. Marijan is the third generation in his family to be trusted by the sultan of Yogyakarta. As the gatekeeper of Indonesia's most active volcano.

SPEAKING INDONESIAN

MARIJAN: I was my father's helper and he showed me how ceremonies needed to be run and to read the signs of the volcano by watching it closely. I was around 50 when my father died and a sultan's palace informed me that I was the next gatekeeper of Merapi.

HENSCHKE: Merapi is much more than just a mountain to the people of Central Java. It's seen as a representation of the sacred Mount Meru of Hindu mythology. And the home of more ancient Javanese spirits. And it's believed that Mbah Marijan enjoys an intimate spiritual relationship with Merapi. He's never left the slopes of the volcano.

SPEAKING INDONESIAN

MARIJAN: Why would I do that? What would be the use of going anywhere else? An uneducated person like me travelling? That would just be a headache. No point.

SPEAKING INDONESIAN

HENSCHKE: In 2006 this thick sulfur cloud billowed from the crater. The government told everyone to evacuate, but Marijan stayed put. He performed prayers and insisted there was nothing to worry about.

SPEAKING INDONESIAN

MARIJAN: The government usually gets it wrong. This community has two warning systems. One from the government and the second one is from the Gods. And the Gods have not given the right sign.

HENSCHKE: But others didn't fare as well. Three people were killed when scolding gas that spewed from the crater engulfed them. Still Mbah Marijan's decision to stay in the face of danger turned him into a celebrity in Indonesia. In the capital Jakarta his face is on public buses and giant billboards advertising an energy drink.

SPEAKING INDONESIAN

HENSCHKE: It's not something Marijan wants to talk about. He pushes the microphone away. It's something his children wanted him to do and they bought a new car with the money. A few doors down the mountain there is a mountaineering club. The students are preparing to climb the mountain. They don't just rely on the gatekeeper to protect them. They say they use science and their own common sense. Some of them like [PH] Weeweed Sutykonose serve as rescue workers. He's not always thrilled with Marijan.

SPEAKING INDONESIAN

WEEWEED SUTYKONOSE: He's a community leader, so we're not looking for conflict with him. We just him to discuss the dangers of Merapi with others. I don't care if he doesn't want to be evacuated. Maybe he can fly or disappear. But I have to think of the people who live next to him and how they can be saved.

HENSCHKE: Marijan is 87 now and there's talk of who's going to succeed him. His son has expressed an interest, but Marijan is reluctant to name a successor.

SPEAKING INDONESIAN

HENSCHKE: He says it's not for me to decide. It's something that will be decided by the powers above. For The World, this is Rebecca Henschke in Yogyakarta, Java.