Azkya & Zila
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ᝰ THE STORY
It was during my trip to the highlands of Dieng, in Central Java, that I had this curious encounter with two young sisters, Azkya, five (left), and Zila, six (right).
Those two sisters have a unique and special story because they belong to the gimbal children, who have naturally dreadlocked hair; you can glimpse at them on Zila's head.
This style is widely known as “Rastafarian”, and more commonly associated with Jamaica, but here it is not a choice—rather, it is an accepted natural phenomenon for some of the Javanese children of the Dieng plateau, like Azkya and Zila, their mother tells me.
“Not all the kids in this village can grow dreadlock hair. But for those who can, like my daughters, it means they were somehow chosen by their ancestors to accept such hair as gifts,” she says.
“After they were born, Azkya and Zila had normal hair, just like other children’s,” their mother recalls. “The dreadlocks only started to appear when they were about two years old. First, they had a strange high fever for about a month, which can't be explained but remains typical with these children. The sickness does not respond to medical treatment but abates naturally once the hair starts to become matted and turns into dreadlocks,” she explains.
After the children have grown dreadlocks, there is a ceremony called Ruwatan Gimbal where they have their hair shaved off. When the children no longer want their gimbal hair, they usually ask for gifts from their parents a week before the ceremony. “It is hard to believe but children can ask anything they want! If my daughters were to ask for 200 golden necklaces, then it is our responsibility as parents to meet that request. If not, we may threaten the health of our own children who could become vulnerable to deadly spirits and diseases,” the mother tells me. “People do not always believe how expensive the Ruwatan Gimbal can be!”
Sometimes, this causes trouble for parents, particularly if they are barely making ends meet, but following this important ritual is also a test of the parent's belief in the local mythology. All steps must be respected in order to perform the ceremony correctly, so if the parents fail to meet their child’s request, the ceremony cannot be carried out fully and the dreadlocked hair cannot be cut.
After the hairs are cut, they must be purified and then taken to a sacred lake where they are submerged as a symbol of returning them to the ancestors, so that the children always stay safe and prosperous.
Meeting Azkya and Zila made me question my beliefs about reality again. It made me understand that life is actually a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. This myth showed me that things do not always follow a plan, they happen according to our own timeline, and we should have faith in their outcome if we want them to be accomplished as we want them to be.
📍Dieng, Central Java 🗓 2018