Gembel or dreadlock hair is natural phenomenon in Wonosobo, Central Java, Indonesia, and usually experienced by children living on the slope of Mt Sindoro, Mt Sumbing and Dieng Plateau area. This phenomenon called gembel because the hair resembles to tramps hair that never shower their hairs, though in this case this gembel/ dreadlock hair grows naturally. Gembel is not a hereditary phenomenon, but it can be experienced by any child.
Gembel hair usually to start out growing when children are 1 or 2 years old, where the symptoms are initiated by fever for few days. Afterwards their hairs start to be tangled to each other and fused. There are many kind of gembel, sometimes partially, or can be the entire hair, can be small like paddy, can be big lump, depends on the hair characteristic curly or straight hair. Parents will not comb this part of hair or cut it. If the gembel lump released accidently, they will keep it until the purification ritual held.
Local people believe that gembel children are the descendant of Ki Kolodete, one of the founder of Wonosobo. The myth said that Ki Kolodete had dreadlock hair, before he went moksa in Dieng and still reigns in Dieng area. Beside this version, there are other version of the myth around the gembel children. Other version is that Ki Kolodete vowed that he would not cut or wash his hair before his village reached prosperity. Or that gembel is the hair of Kurawa that live in gods realm and then hereditary grows to children, in the human realm. Or there is myth that tells that gembel children are the sweetheart of Nyi Roro Kidul, The Queen of the Southern Ocean of Java. Another one is that Gembel Children are the apple of supernatural entity that reigns over Dieng.
In short, Gembel children are very distinctive and special ones. No wonder that their parents treat them exquisitely, as parents also believe that gembel children will bring them more fortune. Gembel children should remain happy, unless there will be misfortune happened, particularly to fulfill children’s request on the day of the purification /cutting ritual. If parents do not hold ritual ceremony, children can be ill, or dead, and the parents will have misfortune. To fulfill the request is a must-do in the ritual of cutting, if not, even though the gembel is cut, it will grow gembel again.
The ritual started by showering the gembel child that is led by a dukun. The water for this ritual is taken from sacred place, for Dieng case, the water taken from Sumur Cave. There are equipments should be provided for the ritual, such as goat’s head, cooked chicken (javanese=ingkung), tumpeng, roses, traditional cookies, sweet and white rice porridge, fruits, water with flowers, ring, umbrella.
On cutting ritual the children are deemed to be under spiritually risky condition, so during the ritual the children are protected with umbrella. And then the kids will circle the offering and eat any offering that they like, as symbol of hope that the kids can earn for their living. A ring is put to the gembel hair lump, and cut it, and put the hairs in a white cloth to be floated to Lake or River. After the ritual the children will have their hairs grow normally.
This ritual is a mix of Islam, hindu and old javanese belief. The prayer is Islam prayer, but the equipment is a la javanese Hindu. Wonosobo culture is apart of Javanese culture that is open to other culture by embracing other beliefs, or known as syncretism.
Various types of gembel hair:
-Gembel Pari : This kind of gembel called as pari or rice paddy as it looks like rice paddy with small lump, usually grows on children with straight hair.
-Gembel Jata : Hair is in big shape of tangled hairs, but they don’t merge as one lump. Usually grows on children with thick straight hair.
-Gembel Wedhus /Debleng : A big lump of tangled hairs, grows on wavy or curly hair kids.
Types of Gembel hair according to the location:
-Gembel Gombak : gembel which is located at the rear of head.
-Gembel Pethak : gembel which is located at the side of head
-Gembel Kuncung : Gembel which grows on the top of head.
Gembel Hair Cutting Ritual Exclusive Photos