Defunct royal families are making a comeback in Indonesia

SUAIB SYAMSUDIN SJAH recalls how uneasy he felt as his extended family began to chant on the fateful day. They had gathered by a sacred spring on a beach on the island of Halmahera to discover who among them would become kolano (king) of the Lolodans, a local ethnic group. Mr Suaib was worried that he would be chosen. As they recited a holy mantra, the spirit of Mr Suaib’s great-grandfather, the last king of Loloda, possessed an elderly relative, who put on the dead king’s robes and picked up his sceptre. He approached each eligible descendant in turn, passing over them until he arrived at Mr Suaib, to whom he did indeed give his ancestor’s blessing. 

Mr Suaib has been kolano of Loloda for four years now. The crown “is a burden for me”, he says. The job comes with many responsibilities but few perks. The stipend from the provincial government is not so generous that he can quit his day job, as a policeman. He works in a city six hours by boat from his kingdom. But his subjects would rather a “weekend sultan” than none at all. When the kolano visits, “there’s a euphoria that you can feel among the people,” says Ronal Tuandali, chief of the local council of a village in the kingdom. 

At least Mr Suaib has peers with whom to commiserate. For...

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