Bitter Feud Over Indonesia’s First Female Sultan

Sameera Ehteram
Sultan Hamengku Buwono X of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, has decided to walk the un-trodden path and created quite a controversy in doing so.

Indonesia's last powerful sultan is creating quite a stir as his time as ruler winds down.

Yogyakarta is a city and the capital of Yogyakarta Special Region in Java, Indonesia. For centuries, it has been ruled by the Mataram Kingdom, Majapahit Empire and Mataram Sultanate, until 1945, when it became a republic.

Female rulers were not unheard of in the old empires. But the idea of a woman in charge had been unheard of in recent history — until now.

The current ruler, Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, wants his daughter, Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Pembayun, to succeed him. He has given her the title “Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Mangkubumi” (the one who holds the Earth).

She was also entrusted with the task of “attempting to bring safety, happiness and prosperity to the world,” another indication she would succeed her father.

It seems that his rare wish has disturbed a hornet’s nest.

Many of his relatives refused to attend his 70th birthday celebrations recently, miffed by his desire to make his eldest daughter the sultanate’s first female monarch after he leaves the throne.

Sultan Hamengku Buwono

Sultan Hamengku Buwono X serves as both royal leader and governor of the city and its surrounding areas. He is Indonesia’s last sultan with any real political power. He is all for reforms as well. He has tried to bring the monarchy into the modern age by eliminating polygamy. He refused to try for a male heir outside of marriage, though the practice isn't unheard of in his country. His own father had four main concubines that bore him many children.

The sultan has no sons, so his decision to make the eldest of his five daughters the female monarch of Yogyakarta is only logical.

However, for the locals, it is outrageous.

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It has sparked a furious row with his family, who say he is breaking rules laid down to govern the sultanate, amid speculation that his brothers were jockeying to fill his position.

“A female sultan is impossibility,” says the sultan’s cousin, Kanjeng Raden Tumenggung Jatiningrat.

“One symbol in this palace is a rooster — so if we have a queen should we change it to a hen?” he adds.

The cousin also feels that a female ruler could not oversee rituals in the mosque or other ceremonies that have traditionally been led by men.

“About 90 percent of the family don’t respect him anymore,” raged his half-brother Gusti Bendoro Pangeran Haryo Prabukusumo.

However, the sultan is adamant.

“The Yogyakarta palace doesn’t have a hereditary tradition that can’t be changed, and all ruling sultans can introduce changes,” he told local media.

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