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The Storm that Darkened the Entire World:
Did a Tsunami Strike Java and Sumatra During Ancient Times? (cont.)
By Dr. Caesar Voûte and Mark Long

Central Java's Book Of Ancient Kings

In Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World, David Keys draws our attention to Java's Book of Ancient Kings (Pustaka Raja Purwa), which appears in two distinct versions ? one compiled in 1869 and a second that dates from the mid- to late-1880's. Both documents describe a volcanic eruption on Java that was centered on Mount Batuwara near modern-day Pulosari. The horrendous tsunami that followed in its wake reportedly devastated an area that had ranged from Java's Mount Kamula (Mount Gede) to Mount Rajabasa in southwest Sumatra.

Until recently, many scholars viewed Java's Book of Ancient Kings as nothing more than a veiled attempt on the part of a 19th century Javanese intellectual to remold the island's history in opposition to Dutch colonial rule. Moreover, some early western historians even thought that the writings of Ranggawarsita III ? the complier of both text versions ? had been influenced by the mammoth Krakatoa eruption that took place in 1883. In light of last year's devastating tsunami, however, these purported records from the archipelago's distant past are now demanding a careful reexamination.

"A great glaring fire which reached to the sky came out of the mountain," states one version of the text. "There was a furious shaking of the earth, total darkness, thunder and lightning. Then came forth a furious gale together with torrential rain and a deadly storm darkened the entire world," says the other account. In addition, the younger of the two documents tells us that "not only did this heavy rain not extinguish the eruption of fire, but it made it worse."

The volcanic eruption described in the text appears to have unleashed boiling tidal waves of steam, sulfur, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide, which subsequently spread outward in all directions. The volcano subsequently collapsed and sank into the earth with a tremendous roar.

Sunda Strait
Fig. 2: Sunda Strait

The explosion was so massive that it also caused large areas of land to sink below sea level. Afterwards, "when the waters subsided it could be seen that the island of Java had been split in two, thus creating the island of Sumatra."

This last report is not as far-fetched as it might seem at first glance. According to the British consul in Batavia Alexander Cameron, the explosive eruption of Krakatoa that occurred in 1883 had triggered the tsunami that submerged Poeloe Teemposa as well as other small islands in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. Moreover, a reef subsequently formed in "the channel usually taken by steamers" between Krakatoa and the Sibesie Islands. Cameron also believed that the entire southeast coast of Sumatra "must have suffered severely from the effects of the sudden influx of the sea, and thousands of natives inhabiting the villages on the coast must have almost certainly perished."

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