Revealing Royalty: Indonesia's Sultan

Sumarsono demonstrates how he walks, kneels to the ground with his head bowed and makes no eye contact when in the presence of Sultan Hamengku Buwono, the leader of the special region of Yogyakarta, a province on the Indonesian island of Java.

For the past 27 years, 49-year-old Sumarsono has dedicated himself to serving the sultan and, at less than $1 a month in wages, considers it an honor.

"Three generations in my family have worked at the Kraton," he says, referring to the small city within a city.

Kraton is the Javanese term for royal palace, and Kraton Ngayogyokarto Hadiningrat, established in 1755, is the sultan's palace in Yogyakarta.

Built in line with Javanese beliefs in mysticism, spirituality and symbolism, the palace area is designed with intricate underground tunnels, for the royal family to get around conveniently, and large open spaces for ceremonies.

Sumarsono points out the lavish pavilion where Hamengku Buwono X was crowned after his father, Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX, died in 1988.

Chandeliers dangle from the canopy-shaped ceiling varnished with gold-colored plates. Pillars are wrapped with golden lotus and leaf ornaments, which symbolize goodness, according to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Calligraphy spells out "Allah" and "Muhammad" for Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

The 10th sultan now serves as head of the internal government of the Kraton as well as the third governor of Yogyakarta. He recently announced his bid to enter the 2009 Indonesian presidential race.

"In responding to the call of the motherland, I now declare that I will contest as a presidential candidate in 2009," the 62-year-old sultan announced from his palace to thunderous applause and shouts of "Hidup Sultan" or "long live the king," according to the Straits Times.

Riding on the coattails of his father, who was Indonesia's vice president from 1973?1978 under President Suharto, the sultan is widely revered throughout the region.

"Ninety-eight percent of Yogyakarta people think he's good," says Rono Slameta, one of the more than 10,000 people who live and work in the greater Kraton area. "The sultan sees the gap between the rich and poor."

The people say their ruler, despite his title and status, has not lost touch with them and the community. "He's humble," says Yatno, who like many here goes by one name. "When there are kampung (or village) football competitions, he visits sometimes and watches."

"We are as a common people [who] also blend with community," says his oldest daughter in her second language, English. Princess Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Pembayun, whose family did not inherit sizable wealth, was enrolled in a public school rather than being home-schooled like previous royal family children.

This generation of royals appears to have adapted to the modern world, running for public office and holding down jobs, while staying loyal to Javanese tradition.

They do still hold on to their past, says Princess Pembayun. "We have an obligation to perpetuate our cultures, outside or inside the Kraton. All basic rules, especially traditional ceremony, cannot be changed or replaced, even though we are in modern life and more practical."

Sumarsono shares some of the cherished traditions that are upheld throughout the Kraton.

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