Fortunately, the number of stories in which one or two parents are claimed
to have been commanded by a deity to kill their (supposedly) first, last
or even only child is small — one would not like a manipulating
or despotic divine being sive Supreme Being to have and take
such a chance too often.
And yet, in spite of their small number these stories are definitely not
all the same.
As a matter of fact, there are interesting differences between them, some
of them doubtless morally relevant.
A great many people will be familiar with at least one version of one of
these stories; if not with the story of Abraham's binding and
(near-)sacrifice of his son in Judaism or Christianity, then with the later
story of Ibrahim's near-sacrifice of his son in Islam.
By contrast, i expect only few people to have even heard of the Hindu story
of Kyai and Nyai Kusumo's attempted sacrifice of their son and only child.
While narratively speaking Ibrahim's action took place in the far west of
Asia, Kyai Kusumo's is set in the southeast of that continent;
in the eastern part of the Indonesian island of Java.
Some may equate (or confuse?) the story of Kusomo's near-sacrifice with the
Legend of Mount Bromo in which Seger and Anteng figure as parents, but
because its resemblance with the legend of Abraham's sacrificial
filicide or near-sacrifice is clearly greater i will treat the story of
the Kusumos as one in its own right here.
Since their near-sacrifice may have remained hidden in the heavy shade of
the Abrahamic and earlier Hindu tales, some special attention for the
Kusumos should broaden our view of the similarities and differences between
the related stories about a (purportedly) real or attempted filicide with a
The several versions of Kusumo's Sacrifice
The name of the active volcano Gunung Bromo or 'Mount Bromo' derives from
the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma.
(Of the three Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva / Rudra, Brahma is
the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer of the universe.)
As the ubiquitous crow flies, Mount Bromo is only about 60 kilometers from
Trowulan, which used to be the site of the capital of ancient Majapahit.
Majapahit is one of the largest and most powerful empires in the history
of Southeast Asia, stretching from present-day southern Thailand to the
western part of West Irian.
This Hinduist country, in which Buddhism and smaller religions were
tolerated, was established in the thirteenth century of the Christianist
Era, and taken over by the Demak Sultanate, a Javanese Muslim
state, in the sixteenth century.
Many years before that take-over Majapahit was already in decline, and it
is to this period, the fifteenth century, that the Legend of Mount
As in all religious stories history and mythology may be mixed up here, but
it is said that the princess Roro Anteng and her husband Jaka (or Joko?)
Seger established a separate principality in the eastern mountains of Java,
combined the second syllables of their two family names, and called it
For a long time the couple had no children and desperate for descendants
they prayed to 'the gods' (Brahma? Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva together? Some
minor gods?) at Mount Bromo.
Thereupon, no fewer than twenty-five children saw the light of day, enough
for the couple to become the ancestors of all Tenggerese.
But only the Sun rises for free, and even this is an illusion.
(It is the Earth which moves.)
The one or more gods down in the Bromo volcano finally demanded a reward:
the sacrifice of the couple's last child!
this child was only one out of twenty-five, its mother —praise be
upon her— showed herself an example to all humanity by
vehemently rejecting the divine request.
However, the common
across-the-board commination of a giant and lasting shower of fire and
brimstone on their precious selves and all their relatives and,
perhaps, unrelated friends forced the couple to obey the order, and the
unfortunate child was thrown into the crater.
Thus, the poor parents committed both filicide and pedocide (paedocide) in
spite of themselves.
It was not the 'official' (English-language) Legend of Mount Bromo as
outlined above which brought me in touch with Tenggerese literature,
religion and history; it was a story in a Dutch-language book, entitled (in
translation) "Indonesian Fairy Tales — fairy tales, legends and myths
from the Indonesian Archipelago", and published 15 years ago.
The story was called "Het offer van Koesomo" or "Kusomo's Sacrifice",
was immediately struck by the resemblance between this Hinduist
story and the Abrahamic story (or stories) of a sacrificial filicide.
I started searching for more information, especially more
information in languages other than Dutch.
(I visited Java and Bali once, but, apart from a few words, i do not have
any command of the Indonesian language, let alone of Tengger Javanese.)
I did manage to find a few Dutch-language variants of the story, yet only
one English-language variant by an author of similar descent again: Adèle
De Leeuw, a Dutch-American in whose Indonesian Legends and Folk
Tales i found another version of the story i was looking for.
(De Leeuw also wrote Legends and Folk Tales of Holland.)
It is accepted usage in Dutch to change the letter u in foreign
words and names into oe if that letter is (approximately) pronounced
as the vowel in book.
But even when allowing for this difference in spelling there still appear
three different names for the same male-female couple in the story.
To the child De Leeuw does not give a name at all, but in the other
versions of the story the child is a boy called "Madin", after his father,
who used to have this name in his youth.
In one of these versions Madin remains Madin, but elsewhere Madin's parents
are commanded to change his name into Tengger after the episode at
the crater when the intended sacrifice is halted.
(While this may 'explain' the origin of the name given to the Tenggerese
people, it does not make clear why Brahma would have chosen this name.)
One on-line version, not to be listed or mentioned here anymore, turned out
to be no more than a copy of the story in the Volksverhalen Almanak,
without referring to this source and with all kinds of fragments left out.
Here is a table with the various versions i found with their authors and
the names they use for the parents and for the child to be sacrificed:
|Author(s) and date
|Adèle De Leeuw,
|The Origin of the Bromo Feast
||Kyai & Nyai Kesuma (child unnamed)
|Corry van Straten, (?)
||De legende van de Bromo
||Kjai & Njai Koesoemo, Madin
|M. Prick van Wely, B. Oosterhout, 2003
||Het offer van Koesomo
||Kjai & Njai Koesomo, Madin /
|(?: Volksverhalen Almanak), (?)
||Het offer van Kusomo
||Kjai & Bok/Njai Kusomo, Madin /
The full title and 'subtitle' of the version in Volksverhalen Almanak is
Het offer van Kusomo — Een Javaanse sage over een man die zijn
zoon offert aan Brahma, which means Kusomo's Sacrifice — A
Javanese saga about a man who sacrifices his son to Brahma.
(Note the blatantly androcentrist view of what is a male-female
couple forced to kill their son!)
The titles which De Leeuw and Van Straten give to the story (The Origin
of the Bromo Feast and The Legend of the Bromo) do not relate to
its contents proper but rather to its function of 'disclosing' the origin
of the yearly celebrations by Hindus in the Tengger mountains.
De Leeuw uses the surname Kesuma for the parents, but in what i
gather to be the 'real', fifteenth-century Legend of Mount Bromo, as
related by Christine Knoll, for instance, that name is used for the
twenty-fifth child of Seger and Anteng.
That Kesuma (the child) was sacrificially put to death in the true sense of
the word and could never have become a Kyai or Nyai Kesuma later in life,
after which the narrative would only have started to repeat itself.
The surname Van Straten uses (in Dutch), Koesoemo, seems to be the
best representation for all four variants; so, i have decided to use that
In a modern Indonesian and in an English rendering it will be Kusumo.
Kusumo's Sacrifice in a nutshell
"Once there was an old couple, Kyai and Nyai Kusumo, who lived
in the eastern mountains of Java.
They had everything they could desire, except a child: many years of
praying to Brahma had not helped.
One evening a hungry and tired ragged old man knocked on their door, and
they gave him food and shelter; the next morning he had changed into a
handsome young man who turned out to have been sent by Brahma with the
message that within one year a son would be born to them.
The same person also told the Kusumos that he would be back as soon as
their son was old enough and let
them know what Brahma would then require of them in recompense.
He was sure that the couple would fulfil Brahma's every wish, upon which
they bowed their grey heads to the earth.
And, indeed, one year after this visit Kyai and Nyai Kusumo finally had a
beautiful boy child, whom they called 'Madin', after his father in his
"However, when Madin had grown sufficiently Brahma's messenger
came back and told the couple to climb up to the Bromo crater in order to
offer their son there to Brahma by throwing him into the fire.
Without a murmur the two old people were going to comply.
But just before sacrificing their son, they implored Brahma to take their
own lives too, giving serious reasons for not being able to live on
anymore, once their son and only child was dead.
Upon hearing their well-founded request Brahma told them that He had merely
wanted to ascertain their willingness to obey Him, and that now that they
had given Him proof, they could return to their home, provided they would
call their son "Tengger" henceforth.
Back home they took the fattest goat and the fairest grain in their
possession and offered these at the rim of the crater instead.
Every year the Kusumos brought such an offering to Mount Bromo again,
and it later became a tradition among Hindus in the whole
The versions of Abraham's or Ibrahim's Sacrifice
It is relatively easy to compare two stories which exist without variants,
but in the course of history the several versions of the story of
Abraham's or Ibrahim's 'sacrifice', usually a near-sacrifice, differ
considerably more from one another than the few probably (almost)
contemporary variants of Kusumo's Sacrifice i have listed above.
For an interesting outline of the development of the narrative of Abraham's
'sacrifice' from early Jewish times see, for example, Zeeshan Hasan's
The History of Abraham, first published in 2006 ChrE .
As Hasan points out, the consensus among modern Biblical scholars is that
the Hebrew Bible is composed of at least three different sources: an E
source referring to God by the name of Elohim, and the R or RJE source of a
certain Redactor who edits the E source together with another J one in
which God is called "Yahweh" or "Jehovah".
The (most repeated and therefore) best known version of Abraham's
Sacrifice is the one in which Abraham's son is replaced at the very
last moment by a merciful god with a (nonhuman) animal, which is the RJE
Hasan argues that in the pure E story, Abraham did sacrifice his
It is only 'on second thought' that this idea was later abanboned by an
editor of the text in favor of a more compassionate, that is, a little
bit less hard-hearted, conception of the Abrahamic deity.
No doubt, the idea that it was God / Allah who commanded Abraham /
Ibrahim to sacrifice his son is part of the mainstream Abrahamic narrative; Judaist,
Christianist, Sunnite and Shiite.
In all versions Abraham / Ibrahim had a vision or dreamed,
before he got up early in the morning, that God / Allah ordered him to
slaughter his son, but this in itself does not prove that God / Allah
did order him to slaughter his son, not even in the context of a
story which is a product of the supernaturalist imagination.
Quite appropriately, it has been claimed that it nowhere states explicitly
in the Koran (Quran) that Ibrahim's dream was really a divine command; that
there need not have been such a command to sacrifice the life of an
innocent human being.
On the contrary: in this interpretation it is precisely Allah who prevents
such a homicide from taking place in the case of Ibrahim's son; and in this
interpretation there is no god ordering such a child murder only to make
sure that He is unblinkingly obeyed under all conditions or profoundly
feared under all circumstances.
Thus the divine protagonist is made to act as an other-regarding Savior
rather than as a self-centered Manipulator or, worse, Despot .
This reading of the Koran makes a tremendous moral difference and some
apologetic exegeses of the Bible also try to take this track.
Obviously, i am not in a position to judge whether the
it-was-only-in-a-dream reading of this part of the Koran is honest and
And then, there is the further complication that in the case of any
contradiction in that work a passage added later overrules an earlier
The question of an innocent child (an infant, minor or adolescent)
'actually' being killed and the question of the deity you believe in
'actually' having ordered this killing are to do with two of the weightiest
differences between the one sacrifice-your-son-for-a-god story and the
But at least one more weighty difference is possible.
We encounter it in the Koranic version, where Ibrahim discusses the dream
in which he is urged to sacrifice his son with his son, which is
remarkable, if not unique!
Ibrahim's son, who is not bound to the altar (as in the Bible), does not
shrink away from his father's account of what is to be done to him.
"Oh, my father," he says, "do that which you are commanded. God willing,
you will find me of the steadfast" .
Thus, it is not only the father but also the son who knowingly submits.
It goes without saying that whether he submitted freely will depend
on what would happen if he did not agree to the arrangement.
If the command was not merely dreamed-up but 'real', one may assume that
he would have been slaughtered anyhow.
In the Koran the name of the son Ibrahim attempted to kill is not
mentioned, a vagueness which in itself may be read as implying that it was
In the beginning of Islam this did indeed give rise to a dispute over his
The present-day mainstream view is that it was Is(h)mail (Ishmael), child
of Hajar or 'Haj(i)ra(h)' (Hagar) and her eighty-six-year-old husband
Ibrahim, whose second wife she may have become.
In the Bible the name of the son Abraham attempted to, or did, kill is
mentioned: it is Isaac, altho he is called "your only one", which is wrong,
or "your only one(,) whom you love", which might be right.
This Isaac is the child of the ninety-year-old Sarah and her ten years
older half-brother Abraham.
Since Ishmail was Ibrahim's first son, it is only in the Koranic version
that Ibrahim was prepared to kill his only son; in the Biblical
story Abraham already had a son (loved or not loved), albeit out of
(That son, Ishmael, and his mother, the handmaid Hagar, were thrown
overboard at Sarah's instigation and at God's command.)
Kusumo's and Abraham's / Ibrahim's Sacrifice
Father or parents?
The story of Kyai and Nyai Kusomo having to sacrifice their son is called
"Kusomo's Sacrifice" (Het offer van Koesoemo) by their authors, and
above i have left this title as it is to refer to the story.
Yet, it is a title at a steep slant, for the sacrifice is not just (Kyai)
Kusumo's, the sacrifice is the Kusumos'!
Madin's two parents play an almost completely equal role in the event; only
his actual killing would be done by his father, who is the strongest.
Nowhere does the father have a dream or something and then decide all on
his own, while 'forgetting' to consult the boy's mother (Kyai's wife), to
slaughter their conjugal child.
From beginning to end the Kusomos are a couple hearing from Brahma's
messenger that they will have a son, hearing from the same person that they
will lose their son, and hearing from Brahma Himself that they may keep
their son together.
In this respect the story of the Kusomos' intended sacrifice and also the
fifteenth-century Legend of Mount Bromo are diametrically opposed to the
story of Abraham's or Ibrahim's intended sacrifice.
In all the versions of the latter story, no woman, wife or handmaid, has
any say whatsoever in the matter of her own child that is on the verge of
being killed because of what her husband or master believes.
Divine manipulation or
Commanding you not to lie and not to steal is one thing, commanding you to
kill your child in order to demonstrate your unconditional obedience is,
we now know, two other things.
It may mean that you will kill your child and lose it forever; it may also
mean that your child will be replaced with something not dear to you at the
very last moment.
(This latter thing can, of course, only be done once, or a very limited
number of times, because after the word spreads that a child offered for
sacrifice will not really be killed, the willingness to sacrifice stops
being a proof of obedience.)
Kusumo's child is not killed in the end, nor is Abraham's or Ibrahim's
child, except in the original Elohim version of Abraham's Sacrifice.
So, in almost none of these stories is the Supreme Being of the creed in
question portrayed as an absolute Despot.
However, a Manipulator this deity usually is, as it abuses the parents' or
the father's ignorance of what it secretly has in mind for their child.
"I only wanted to find out if you were willing to follow me," Brahma tells
the Kusumos, who could never have made the mistake of only dreaming that
Brahma had ordered them to sacrifice Madin.
Within the narrative context the Kusumos did not dream anything, and
therefore Brahma's behavior in the story is outright manipulation.
It is only in Ibrahim's story, if interpreted in an alternative way, that
the Supreme Being may not have been intent upon a most cruel show of
obedience, but may, quite unlike that, have interfered to save an innocent
life whose loss He would not have been responsible for to start with.
That, of course, requires that one is able and allowed to accept that
Ibrahim was led astray by his own dream.
What about the child?
In the Biblical Abraham's Sacrifice Isaac is not in any way properly
forewarned of what is going to happen or it must be his binding which is
supposed to count as such.
There just is no verbal communication between Abraham and Isaac at all, not
before, not during and not after the (attempt at) sacrifice takes place,
that is, not a word about this traumatic event.
The Koranic Ibrahim's Sacrifice distinguishes itself at least in one
important respect from the Bible in that the father does discuss the matter
with his son Ishmail (or else Ishaaq), who does, freely or not, surrender
to his father's and/or Allah's wish.
Not only is this important narrative feature not found in the Bible, it is
not found in any of the variants of Kusumo's Sacrifice either.
Nonetheless, apart from this one aspect, the child is from a narrative
point of view still treated in diverse ways in these variants.
In De Leeuw's story of the origin of the Bromo Feast the child to be killed
has no name and no particular age at the time of its intended sacrifice,
nor is it spoken to on the way to the crater in the mountains.
Also the child himself —as in all narratives of this type it is a
boy— does not ask or say anything before or during the intended
sacrifice; it is only when the ordeal is over and the boy returns
to the site with more palatable offerings that he speaks to 'Mighty
In Van Straten's story Madin, that is, the son, is ten years old at the
time of what would be both a filicide and a pedocide, but he speaks
nowhere in the whole story, not to his parents, not to Brahma.
In Indonesian Fairy Tales (Indonesische Sprookjes) and the Almanac
of Folk Tales (Volksverhalen Almanak), Madin is also ten years old,
but now does use his voice on the way to the site of the sacrifice already.
This certainly makes the narrative more dramatic and it shows what the
heinous abuse of power by a parent and the demonical manipulation by a
deity may mean to a child: "Papa, where are we going, and what are we gonna
do? ... ... But we don't have fruits and flowers with us, like the other
people. What are we gonna sacrifice?" .
Are Kusumo's and Abraham's Sacrifice related?
Obviously, Kusumo's Sacrifice is very closely related to the Legend
of Mount Bromo — Van Straten even gives the story the (Dutch) title
De legende van de Bromo.
And obviously, the Legend of Mount Bromo is a Hindu story dating back to
pre-Islamic times in Indonesia.
So, it would not be too farfetched to suggest a connection of the Legend
with Hinduist literature on the Indian subcontinent.
For such a connection to exist some characteristic elements in the Legend
of the Bromo and/or Kusumo's Sacrifice ought to occur in ancient
Indian mythology, literature or daily rituals and practices as well.
The first thing which comes to mind, then, is human sacrifices, and more in
particular child sacrifices.
There is indeed a remarkable epic of ancient India which tells the story of
the childless (!) King Harischandra who asks the god (!) Varuna to provide
him with a son .
Varuna is willing to grant him a son, provided Harischandra will later
sacrifice his son to him!
When Rohita, the son, is full-grown he himself buys the son of a poor
Brahmin to be bound to the stake instead.
(Note that it is typical of a Hindu sacrifice that the victim is killed by
However, also this story turns out to be one about a near-sacrifice,
because Rohita's substitute manages to free himself by piously reciting a
couple of mantras.
Who is Varuna?
He is a Vedic deity who is said to have had demonic violent tendencies.
(Nevertheless, in one Hindu text Varuna is the father of Brahma.)
There may be parallels with Ahura Mazda, the Creator and sole god of
Zoroastrianism, the ancient Iranian religion which once spread across
Central and West Asia.
Thus, our journey away from the Tengger mountains has taken us to the
area in West Asia which is the cradle of the Abrahamic religions.
I have not proved anything here; not even tried to.
But i have wanted to show that intimate mythological connections between
the Jewish sources of the Abrahamic religions and the sources of
Zoroastrianism and Hinduism need not surprise us at all: religious myths
may just have trodden the same path as Hindu-Arabic numerals.
We had better turn now to the connections about which we know much more.
The genealogy of the versions of Abraham's Sacrifice carries no
great mystery anymore, so long as one does not try to go further back than
the times of the Jewish sources.
Given these Jewish sources, the family history from Judaism to Christianism
to Mohammedanism is pretty straightforward: one family member left an old
thing out, another added a new thing.
The most remarkable old thing left out is probably the actual killing of
Isaac in the authentic Elohim variant of the sacrifice; the most remarkable
new thing added is, in my eyes, that the Koran speaks at least of some kind
of attempt to let the son take part in the decision process.
But how did the variants of Kusumo's Sacrifice come into being?
While they are clearly close to the Legend of Mount Bromo in which Anteng
and Seger figure as the ancestors of the Tenggerese, they equally clearly
distance themselves from that legend.
First of all, Madin in Kusumo's Sacrifice is not sacrificed
in the end, whereas Kesuma in the Legend is.
This may be due to the fact that Madin's parents never protested against
the command, whereas Kesuma's mother, and perhaps father too, initially
refused to comply with it.
Another major difference between the two Tenggerese stories is that Madin
is an only child: he does not even have a half-sib or a stepsib, let alone
an elder one.
Kesuma, on the other hand, has twenty-four sibs: the total of twenty-five
children in this child's family was probably meant to be a demographic
weapon against the usurpers or successors of the Majapahit Kingdom in the
central and eastern part of Java.
Furthermore, Madin's parents are portrayed as monotheists with Brahma as
their sole god or Supreme Being, whereas Kesuma's parents pray to 'the
gods' (in spite of the volcano being called after Brahma only).
Note that on top of this Brahma has a son who acts as messenger to the
In the Legend it is the gods who consent to the childless parents' request,
who threaten with revenge and whose anger will later have to be appeased in
a yearly ceremony.
Everything that distinguishes Kusumo's Sacrifice from the Legend
bears the characteristics of Abraham's Sacrifice, and it makes one
wonder to what extent Kusumo's Sacrifice is still an unadulterate
It may just be a Javanese Hindu story restrained in a Dutch Christianist
With Java under ages of commercial dominance and colonial rule by the
Netherlands this is quite possible.
1 The Legend of the Bromo –
A fiery folk tale, words by Christine Knoll; retrieved 18 March 2018,
from langaraprm.com/[ ]2012/[ ]community/[ ]mount-bromo/
2 In Indonesian Legends and Folk
Tales, pp. 26-29, Twenty-six tales from the folklore of such islands as
Sumatra, Java, and the Celebes, telling of the origins of many of
their people's beliefs and names for local geography, told by Adèle
De Leeuw, Thomas Nelson & Sons, New York, 1961, 160 pages
3 De legende van de Bromo –
Een Hindoelegende uit Indonesië, by Corry van Straten; retrieved
18 March 2018, from
www.troostvoortranen.nl/[ ]?InfoTypeSysName=contentitem[ ]&PkValue=2508
4 In Indonesische Sprookjes
— sprookjes, sagen en mythen uit de Indonesische Archipel,
pp. 109-113, M. Prick van Wely en B. Oosterhout, ©2003,
Uitgeverij Elmar, Rijswijk, 268 pages
5 Het offer van Kusomo —
Een Javaanse sage over een man die zijn zoon offert aan Brahma;
retrieved 22 March 2018, from
www.beleven.org/[ ]verhaal/[ ]het_offer_van_kusomo
6 In De Leeuw the messenger of
Brahma will return 'when this son is full-grown' (p.27); and did
return 'when the boy had reached young manhood' (p.28).
In the three other variants of Kusumo's Sacrifice studied
by me Madin is said to be 10 years old at the time of the intended
7 It can also be found at
8 I found this interpretation at
en.wikipedia.org/[ ]wiki/[ ]Abraham_in_Islam under Sacrifice
9 Koran/Quran 37:102
10 In the Almanac of Folk Tales:
"Vader, waar gaan we heen, en wat gaan we doen?" vroeg hij.
"Maar we hebben geen vruchten bij ons en geen bloemen. Waar is de
In Indonesian Fairy Tales, p. 112: "Waar gaan we heen,
vader?" vroeg hij.
"Wat gaan we dan offeren? Wij hebben geen vruchten en bloemen bij
ons, zoals de andere mensen."
11 See, for example,
en.wikipedia.org/[ ]wiki/[ ]Purushamedha under Performance in
Hindu epics; for some information about the gods Varuna and
Ahura Mazda see
en.wikipedia.org/[ ]wiki/Varuna and /Ahura_Mazda; all three retrieved
11 April 2018