- November 22, 2021
If you go to the southern beaches of Java, DO NOT wear anything green. Nyi Roro Kidul, The Goddess of the Southern Sea, is the only one who has the ultimate right to wear green - disobey and you will be swallowed by the ocean. Kidul is a jealous deity, fashioning herself into anything as green as the Southern Ocean. The folklore goes as far back as the Hindu Kingdoms of the 1600s, where every ceremony related to the sea - be it fishing or harvest - was always a celebration of her color green, yet, one was never to appear in green.
The ‘un-mythical’ (i.e. scientific) explanation, if you haven’t guessed it yet, is the fact that the Indonesian ocean tends to be green given the climate.1 Coupled with the phenomenon of rip currents sucking people into the ocean in a stealthy way, wearing green close to the sea is a bad idea for reasons of visibility.
Yet, folklore still influences today’s society. Hotels along the Southern Java coast often spare one room to furnish with antiques and decorations, green wallpaper and incense, ala Kingdom ceremonial traditions. And still, no locals sport the color green, no matter how tempting it is to break custom.
The local shamans are the ones who are very adamant about this belief system. 2 Any instance of bad luck is often tied to a disrespectful way of wearing green. It is this ‘scare tactic’, curated by the shamans that reinstates both the belief and also their own position in the village.
It is then interesting to relate how myth can engender a contested access to land based upon something as trivial as the color green. After the science was presented, locals understood better the epistemology of the myth; yet, they still embrace the tradition and beliefs. There then exists a hybrid belief system in contemporary society as locals can’t throw away both the engrained local system passed down for hundreds of years or the logic of reason that is undeniable. To reject culture means to deny one’s identity, yet to reject science leads to an ignorance of reality.
Istimewa Documentation. Patung Nyi Roro Kidul di Pantai Nusa Dua, Bali. January 1st, 2021, Bali.