YOGYAKARTA (JP): Those headed to two hamlets some 20 kilometers north of here can forget about enjoying a comfortable night's sleep on a soft kapok mattress.
At first West Kasuran in Margodadi village and East Kasuran in the village of Margomulya appear no different from other relatively well developed hamlets in the country.
Both in the district of Seyegan, Sleman regency, they have good infrastructure, including roads, electricity, schools, markets and small shops selling basic commodities.
But they do have a unique difference -- no kapok mattresses are found in the area due to an age-old taboo on their use. It is especially ironic because ""kasuran"" comes from kasur, the Javanese word for mattress.
Cotton mattresses are not a luxury item, and they can be found in most homes. Expense is not an issue for most Kasuran villagers, most of whom live in permanent or semipermanent homes.
According to Pudjinem, a grandmother and the owner of a small shop in East Kasuran, the taboo has been in effect since the village was founded. ""If anyone violates it, she or he will face disaster in life.""
The chief of East Kasuran, M. Noor Shidiq, said the taboo on the use of kapok mattresses in the hamlet has been around for a long time, although no one can say exactly when it started.
East Kasuran, whose population of 975 is mostly made up of farmers and manual laborers, has always adhered to the ""rule"", Shidiq said.
""No one here dares to violate it. They are afraid of the consequences,"" he said.
The consequences for those who use a kapok mattress include finding snakes in their bed, he said.
He recounted the story of a deputy at the religious affairs office who moved to East Kasuran in 1976, bringing with him a kapok mattress. Every Thursday night, which is sacred on the Javanese calendar, he would find a snake in his bed. Although he would drive it away, it would invariably return the following Thursday.
Locals eventually told him about the taboo. After he got rid of the mattress, the problem with the snakes stopped.
Another story involves Prawoto, a member of the police's Mobile Brigade in Jakarta who retired to the village in 1981. He scoffed at the taboo and brought with him four soft kapok mattress
""A month later, his wife suddenly got sick and was unable to walk,"" Noor said.
At first she did not believe her sickness was caused by the kapok mattresses. Yet, just before she got sick, she said she saw a big snake in her house. ""Then, all of a sudden, I got a very high fever,"" she recalled.
The fever lasted for 40 days. Doctors were unable to help, and eventually she went to a shaman outside of Yogyakarta. He told her that her illness was due to the kapok mattresses.
She was told to conduct a special purification ceremony involving the sacrifice of three white chickens. The chickens were cooked and wrapped in white cloth and then buried in front of her house.
""I was also told to no longer use the kapok mattress to sleep on,"" she said.
Her strange illness immediately cleared up after she performed the rite and did away with her mattress.
Noor traces the taboo back to the time when a husband and wife, Kyai Kasur and Nyai Kasur, lived in the village. They were separated under mysterious circumstances several years after they married, but each promised they would not use a kapok mattress until they were reunited.
After the separation, Nyai Kasuran lived in East Kasuran and was considered the founder of the hamlet. Kyai Kasur lived in West Kasuran and was considered the founder of that hamlet. Other villagers followed their lead and gave up kapok mattresses, but the two were never reunited, and so never had the chance to use kapok mattresses again.
Each was buried in their respective hamlets, and the graves still exist today.
The head of West Kasuran Wartilah has a different version of the story.
According to Wartilah, the taboo began when a wali (propagator of Islam) named Sunan Kalijaga visited the hamlets during his journey to preach about Islam.
When he wanted to rest in West Kasuran, Sunan Kalijaga asked Kyai Kasuran to prepare a kapok mattress for him.
""When he left, he told the people of Kasuran not to use kapok mattresses unless they had mastered as high a supernatural power as himself.""
He said that West Kasuran residents who dared to use a kapok mattress invariably came down with an illness, such as his sister, who got a tumor that disappeared when she threw out her kapok mattress.
Because of the taboo, the 447 villagers of West and East Kasuran use either sponge or traditional materials such as plaited coconut fiber for their mattress. ""Traditional mattresses made from plaited coconut fiber are very cheap. They cost only Rp 7,500 per square meter,"" Noor said.
Anthropologist Hari Poerwanto of Gadjah Mada University said there must be a practical reason for the taboo.
""Scientific research must be conducted to get to the bottom of the mystery,"" he said. (Bambang M.)