Mt. Kemukus is a hilltop around one thousand feet high. It sits above a small artificial basin located three hours away from the city of Solo, “an islamic hotbed” in Central Java. Mt. Kemukus and the village that grew on it, lay there alone, like an island surrounded by rice paddies and empty lands that stretch further afield.
For roughly two centuries Kemukus has been famous both in Javanese and Islamic culture as the resting place of prince Pangeran Samudro and his step-mother Nyai Ontrowulan. Mt. Kemukus is the setting for an age old legend, that the two lovers were stoned to death, because of their sinful love affair. Nowadays, regardless of the scorn and distaste of the more puritans Muslims wahhabi wannabes of the region, the celebration of the prince is repeated every thirty-five days.
The legend has it, that prince Pangeran Samudro fell in love with his stepmother Nyai Ontrowulan and together decided to hide on the hill where they committed to have sex seven times in a year. However, they where found by a local army and were killed and buried before they could complete their seventh sexual intercourse. There should be one every 35 days to complete the ritual by the Javanese calendar cycle.
Pilgrims who come to visit the shrine travel remarkable distances from all over Java, often longer than 20 hours. Many come from the East of the island for instance, where syncretism between Islam and Javanese practices are very strong. Others are from cities above all suspect, but still truly love this legend and honestly believe that praying by the grave may bring wealth and successful business.
Once the boatmen leave the pilgrims by the dock the road from the pier suddenly splits three-ways offering a first glimpse of how small the place is. Any side road is either leading right, down to the water, left, up to the sanctuary, or straight on, spiraling around the hill and climbing it all the way to Prince Samudro's grave shrine.
A pilgrim's journey begins at with a cathartic shower at a sacred well where some impressive banyan trees have grown and their roots are now intertwined in the walls, seemingly meaning to drink the same water. By the well there is a small house where local shamans recite Koranic verses in the dim light of a few candles, and burning incense they bless the offerings the pilgrims have bought for Samudro. When the body is washed and the offerings are prepped, the pilgrimage continues climbing the central causeway uphill. There, once in the shrine the pilgrim prostrate on Samudro's tombstone and mumbles their prayers and wishes, here too, with Koranic verses.
The unofficial tradition (not at all mandatory) says that in order to have their dreams granted, a pilgrim should have sex with a stranger seven times in a year. This has of course attracted prostitutes from as far as East Java, who flock here either free lancing or in larger groups with their pimp.
In spite of the sex industry though, the richness of the cult is not diminished to one who looks at it without bigotry, on the contrary, it is a stupefying overlap of faiths and modernity.
As they eloquently mime with their hands here, Islam is in the mind, but Javanism is in the heart.
The positive attitude toward interested foreigners changed abruptly in November 2014, when the Australian broadcaster SBS's released a story named “the Sex Mountain” filmed by Patrick Abboud. The story speaks widely of the cult of Samudro but peaks with an interview with a naked prostitute, who oblivious of the camera, reveals a number of details including that a costumer had had unprotected sex with with her for seven times.
Unsurprisingly, shame and anger spread like wild fire and in the space of a few months radical hardliners have threatened to storm the place and managed to politically press the authorities to shut down the karaoke bars, hence putting Kemuks's economy on its knees.
Nowadays foreigners and press are no longer welcome. Mt.Kemukus has arguably become the one place in Indonesia where a stranger is not met at the cheerful yell of “ hello mister where do you come from?” Now they just ask: “ Dari mana Australia? Are you coming from Australia?