nurturing design relationships


Preliminary Insights: Who is Ratu Pantai Selatan


In early February, Roosevita and I were invited to present our ongoing work on the ‘Who is Ratu Pantai Selatan?’ project at Kunci Cultural Studies Centre, Jogjakarta. Here I summarise our presentation and the subsequent discussion.

This project is based around the power of stories. Fundamentally we are interested to know how stories are used, evolved and adapted by large groups of people to understand and manage change and whether this can be leveraged to collaboratively design ways for communities to develop resilience to change as well as creating more inclusive approaches to development.

The Southern Coast of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, is going through some rapid changes including a huge growth of tourism, a new international airport development and sand mining. Ratu Pantai Selatan is the mythical guardian of the region and has provided guidance to communities living along the coast for generations. In this project, we are interested to know whether she remains a relevant guide to people today as they adapt to the current changes occurring in their communities.

In November 2016, we visited villages along the southern coast of Yogyakarta and filmed people’s responses to the question “do you have a story about Ratu Pantai Selatan?” Their responses fell into four categories; local guide, global outloook, sightings and retellings. We presented the first two; local guide, global outlook, as they best describe how the story of Ratu Pantai Selatan might still be relevant today.

Local Guide



With dangerous undercurrents and frequently 10ft waves it is unsurprising that the main relationship people have with Ratu Pantai Selatan relates to safety when at sea. This is particularly relevant for fishermen whose lives and livelihoods rely on the ocean.



The second most common relationship with Ratu Pantai Selatan relates to her ability to provide and take away fortune. Although some felt she was kind, other felt that she was more sinister and for everything requested something must be given in return.



Ratu Pantai Selatan is also considered to be a protector of the environment and helps to maintain civility between community members where bad behaviour would be punished by the queen - such as swearing or stealing etc.


Global Outlook



Most people engage with Ratu Pantai Selatan with reference to the relationship between Animism and Islam with the former being more useful to deal with local concerns (such as safety and environment) and Islam more useful to deal with global concerns. For almost everyone it was considered necessary to balance the two systems of faith and live in harmony. This is strengthened by an annual celebration to honour the Queen and the wedding of her children every Satu Suro.


The Sultan

The Sultan of Yogyakarta is considered to have a strong spiritual connection with Ratu Pantai Selatan, and continues to provide advice about the types of offerings she should be given to keep the sea and the coast safe. Room 23 in the Queen of the South Hotel remains free for meetings between the two and a cave leading underneath the cave to the Kraton is believed to still exist. 



And finally, there was an indication that the Queen is considered a strong symbol of the emancipation of women and that it is up to women to push that opinion forward. 


Over the next few months, with these basic categories, we will edit the footage into a short documentary to present back to the communities for further discussion about the role of Ratu Pantai Selatan today. During the presentation we wanted some feedback and ideas about these categories and how we might use them during further discussions.




Question. Past leaders of Yogyakarta and Indonesia had strong relationships with Ratu Pantai Selatan but not now – and even they deny the relationship. How will this affect the power of the story?

Answer. Hm, I suppose we’ll see. I think there might still be a strong link between local leaders and the myth, even if they are denying it to certain types of people. We will probably have to try to find out more about this through conversations with the Kraton and the community. In the end this will be important when we start to talk about the changes along the coast.

Question. How do you get people to use the story to change their behaviour about the environment?

Answer. Yes, it’s a good question. I think a well told and presented story helps to plant the seed of behaviour change. If we can develop an engaging story that aligns with the current narrative of Ratu Pantai Selatan that encourages a particular behaviour, and provide the right infrastructure – such as rubbish bins, waste management and reduced or disposable packaging – then we might be in with a chance.

Question. Stories are powerful. An artist in Indonesia created a myth about the wedding of a fairy who protected the water spring with another artist. They created a whole performance and the community followed along with it. The spring is now protected and looked after by the community.

Answer. Wow sounds interesting Read more here.

Question. Initially I didn’t understand why you would want to change the myth but that example is interesting because I believed it before. But still, you should be careful if you want to change the myth.

Answer. Yes, we don’t want to change the myth, although myths are always changing as context and values change. We want to explore how far we can expand the myth with the community to make send of what is happening now along the coast, and whether any of that can be used to build some resilience.

Question. Can you identify key concerns of people in terms of the changes that are happening along the coast now?

Answer. Not yet no, we have these categories which reflect the community’s concerns but they don’t immediately relate to the changes happening along the coast. I hope that we can relate the concerns from the myth with the developments – especially regarding safety, fortune and environment.

Question. Is she a figure of sexism?

Answer. I don’t see her as a figure of sexism. She is quite a powerful and strong female character who lots of people seem to be quite afraid of. She seems to have quite a complex character which will be interesting to use to present a very real woman with good and bad characteristics – just like all of us.

Question. Ratu Pantai Selatan is also related to my town – maybe you could look at that as well?

Answer. Sure, sounds interesting. (Note. Need to find the link for this)

Many thanks to Kunci Cultural Studies Centre for giving us an opportunity to present and many thanks to everyone who came along to listen and contribute.