Tengger Indians are an ethnic group of about 30,000 people who live in eastern Java. The special fact about them is that they belong neither to Indonesia nor India. Centuries ago, they migrated to Indonesia from the eastern parts of South America—crossing the Pacific in wooden rafts. Their “India” tag is a spiritual one. In the Majapahit period—late 13th century—traders from south and east Indian kingdoms, particularly Tanjore and Bengal, used to monopolise trade with Java. They were frequent visitors to the island and Hinduism was transported through them to Java and Bali.

With the others, the animist Tenggers also became Hindu. But when Islam swept across Indonesia through the influence of Arab traders in the 16th century, Tengger Indians refused to cross over. Probably their animist philosophy related to Hindu cosmology and symbolism more spontaneously. They preferred to remain Hindus even at the risk of turning into a shockingly small minority, pushed into a barren valley of smoke and ash, dotted with erupting volcanoes. Tengger Indians are living proof that India has no monopoly on Hinduism, whatever the claim of its rulers. 

Exiled in a dead valley, Tengger Indians marked its deadly landmarks as living Hindu Gods. Being worshipers of the Indian Trinity—Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva—they named one volcano Brahma. With time this living volcano came to be known as “Bromo”. They also wove their fables around this dead valley. They believe Rona Anteng and Jaka Seger—the first Tengger couple—prayed to the God symbolised by this fuming Bromo for a child. Brahma consented but laid out a condition—their youngest child had to be sacrificed into the roaring depth of Bromo. This, Rona Anteng and Jaka Seger eventually did. 

Tengger Indians now live more or less evenly distributed in three minor towns on the periphery of this valley of volcanic ash, now known as Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. There are five volcanoes in the Tengger caldera, Mt. Widodengan, Mt. Kursi, Mt. Batok, Mt. Watangan, apart from Bromo.

Every year for a month they push up to the summit and sacrifice something into its depth—not a kid any more but fruits, chocolates, a hen, even a sheep. The Yadna Kasada festival brilliantly combines Latin American animism and Hindu symbolism. This is another reason to believe a dead land can be made lyrical through cross-cultural exchanges. 

The children of Bromo 0
During Yadna Kasada, their main festival, Tengger Indians push up to the 2,330-metre summit of Mount Bromo to offer prayers to Brahma, or the Lord of Creation. This ritual is connected to their folklore which says that the first Tengger couples—Rona Anteng and Jaka Seger—sacrificed their youngest child into the fuming depths of Bromo.
The children of Bromo 1
For a month many devotees stay on the dangerous inner slopes of the crater of Bromo. They collect offerings thrown into the depths to appease a fuming Brahma.
The children of Bromo 2
 A Tengger Indian is devoted to his horse. Horseman riding on a sea of sand—called ‘Segera Wadi’—under a low cloud ceiling is an icon of the land around Bromo.
The children of Bromo 3
Segera Wadi—or the Sea of Sand—as seen from the summit of Bromo. Not a blade of grass grows here. Four hundred years ago Tengger Indians were exiled to this barren land when they refused to give up their faith. 
The children of Bromo 4
Tengger Indians have Latin American features, particularly Peruvian. They have remained a largely endogamous community.
The children of Bromo 5
About 100,000 tourists visit Mount Bromo every year, and tourism is the main (if not the only) source of income for Tengger Indians. They conduct jeep safaris for tourists from nearby towns like Surabaya or Probolingo, and provide horses to ride to the summit. Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park Authority also slaps a hefty charge on tourists. 
The children of Bromo 6
Mostly mounted and moving slowly among volcanoes, the Tengger Indians appear to live a life from an another time.
The children of Bromo 7
Pilgrims coming down from the summit search for a suitable place to refresh before the long trek back. The area is so big and barren that it always looks desolate.
The children of Bromo 8
After prayer at a small shrine, the devotees distribute food made as an offering to God. I got a few cigarettes and a smoked chicken leg.
The children of Bromo 9
A tray of offerings at a Tengger shrine. The Tengger Indians also purify the atmosphere with camphor smoke.
The children of Bromo 10
Football on the sea of sand.