The Sultanate of Yogyakarta is a powerful political and spiritual royal family in Java.
So powerful, it’s the only place in Indonesia where it’s residents don’t elect their leader. This privilege was given to the Yogyakarta Sultanate due to the role it played in fighting for Indonesian independence against the Dutch colonial rulers.
While they are Muslim, the royal court’s rituals are steeped in mysticism – as part of their Hindu, Buddhist, and animist history.
Their rule goes back 500 years. But now they’ve got a new prospect to contend with:
A female Sultana of Yogyakarta.
According to Wedono Bimo Guritno, a member of Yogyakarta’s Royal Court:
“From generation to generation the sultan who reigns over Yogyakarta seems to adapt himself to the changing of times.”
“In the past, it was not difficult to choose a prince, because, in the past, the sultan had more than one wife”
“But you know it’s always been women that hold the real power in Javanese households.”
The 72-year-old Sultan, Hamengkubuwono X, recently changed his own title so that it is gender neutral.
He has also given his eldest daughter the new name of “Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Mangkubumi.”
It means “The One Who Holds the Earth.”
These moves were seen as an indication that she was being lined up to take over the throne after the current Sultan.
According to the princess:
“As in all families, as the eldest, I have more responsibility than my sisters. But what the future holds, that decision is in the hands of my father.”
“I have been raised not to dream about those things, or hold wishes beyond living a happy life now.”
“There have been Queens in Aceh and in other Islam kingdoms, that’s all I need to say.”
The princess and her younger sister, Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hayu, studied overseas and have come back to lead in various male-dominated positions within the court.
Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hayu said:
“I am very lucky to have parents that never said that is not a women’s job.”
“It doesn’t sit well with some people but when the Sultan says so, you kind of have to go along with it.”
“That’s the importance of a man saying that it’s not the time for women to stay back anymore.”
Though some aren’t happy with the perceived corruption of ancient traditions. The Sultan’s brothers and sisters have ostracised themselves from the Royal Court. One of them, GBPH Prabukusumo, laughs:
“We are an Islamic royal family and the title is for a man. What would we call her, the ‘sultante?’ It’s impossible.”
People are also worried about what the Queen of the South Sea, Loro Kidul, and Sapu Jagat, God of Merapi, will make of having a queen on the throne.
Agus Suwanto, a palace tour guide, postulates:
“What will happen if there are two queens? How can they be together? I am not sure that can happen.”
The ancient animist lore, combined with Islamic conservativism, is about as tough a glass ceiling as a would be female heir could possibly face. But so loved and powerful is the royal family, that public opinion is likely to go with what the Sultan says.
As for his wife, Queen Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hemas, she is seen as the leader of the revolt against the male heir tradition. And she seems very prudent on the matter:
“When my daughters were 15 years I told them they had to leave the palace, to get educated in the world, to bring back what they learned.”
“There will always be conflict and power struggles at times of change.”
In times of change, perhaps a female heir to the Yogyakarta throne is exactly the matriarchal guidance required.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.