10 years after tsunami, Indonesian family reborn

Jamaliah (centre) walks with Raudhatul Jannah (right) and Arif Pratamain Meulaboh, Aceh province, in October.  

It all started with a dream that led to a chance meeting — a girl who had been swept away by the Indian Ocean tsunami a decade ago.

For three nights, the child’s uncle said she visited him in his sleep. When he told the girl’s mother, Jamaliah, it was hard to believe. The daughter was only four when a towering wave ripped her away with her seven-year-old brother, clinging to a board.

But the mother had always been convinced both children were still out there and that the family would be reunited.


It was just before 8 a.m. on Sunday, December 26, 2004. Jamaliah was hanging clothes on the line while her three kids were inside watching TV.

When the 9.1 magnitude quake hit, Jamaliah, her husband, Septi Rangkuti, and the children ran outside their house, which sat about 500 meters from the sea.

The family leaped onto their motorbike and made it as far as the market, but couldn’t outrun the wall of black water. Jamaliah and her eight-year-old son were pulled away by the wave, but somehow they managed to hang on to each other.

Rangkuti put his seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter on top of a large floating board. He held on as long as he could, but when the water sucked back to the sea, his fingers slipped and they were dragged off by the torrent.

Jamaliah and Rangkuti spent a month and a half searching for their son, Arif Pratama, and their daughter, Raudhatul Jannah. They had lost everything, and with a surviving son to look after, they decided to stay with relatives several hours away.

However, neither gave up hope they would one day find their lost children.


This summer, Jamaliah’s older brother, Zainuddin, called with stunning news about the girl. She, however, had little memory of life before the tsunami.

“I remember when we were on the board. I was there with my brother,” she said. “I was found by someone on the beach and taken to a house. That’s where we were split.”

In July, Jamaliah and Rangkuti travelled 100 km to meet the girl called Weniati. At first sight, the mother said it was hard to tell if she was really her child.

Since the tsunami, the girl had lived with three different relatives in one foster family and was now located in South Aceh. Jamaliah was permitted to take her back to Meulaboh, where they had lived when the tsunami hit, for three days. Much of the town had been destroyed and rebuilt, but a house that belonged to Jamaliah’s mother had survived. When the girl saw it, memories of eating sweet tropical fruit came back.

“She remembered the chicken coop and the rambutan tree,” Jamaliah said. “She remembered waiting for durian that her grandmother used to give her.”

This was all the sign she needed, and Jamaliah wanted to bring her home. The foster family was hesitant and asked for a DNA test. The parents agreed, but said they had no money to pay for it.

Sarwani, the foster grandmother who last cared for the girl, said she later agreed to let her go.

“It turned out that Weniati herself is confident that Jamaliah is her mother and Rangkuti is her father,” she said. In the meantime, Jamaliah was on national television with the girl she was calling her daughter. It caught the attention of Lana Bestir in West Sumatra, who had been feeding a homeless boy for years after he turned up at her Internet cafe.

When a photo of the young siblings taken before the tsunami flashed on the screen, she was shocked. It looked similar to the boy she knew as Ucok. She said she showed him a picture of Jamaliah from the Internet, without giving him any information about her.

“This is my mother. Yes, this is my mother, Liah!” Bestir recalled the boy saying. “I want to meet her.”


Jamaliah said some people question whether their story is true, but none of that matters to them. Even if a DNA test came back negative, she said it would never stop a mother’s love.

“It feels like a reborn family,” she said

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 2:27:06 AM |

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