This article documents and analyzes the ways people in Yogyakarta and in the villages of Bantul reacted to an earthquake that had claimed around 6,000 victims and left more than one million people homeless on May 27, 2006. Based on eight weeks of anthropological fieldwork conducted after the disaster, the author focuses on both social responses and cultural interpretations of the event. The former include the application of and limits to the traditional system of mutual help (gotong royong) as well as the government's approach and the instrumentalization of aid. The latter - cultural interpretations and related ritual activities - are of special interest as the affected area had been seen as protected by a mythical relationship between the Sultan and the local guardian spirits of both the Indian Ocean and the volcano Merapi. Therefore the crucial question was: should the earthquake be regarded as a sign that the spirits are angry with the Sultan or the people - and if so, why? - or was it a message from Allah? The many answers to that question reveal what people perceive as problematic in their society: above all, the tensions and interactions between what they see as tradition and modernity with all associated representations.