Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, November 2013)



Made Cangker’s son chucks a narsis YKS on the ceremonial platform at his tooth-filing.

In the Shadow of the APEC Billboards

Yesterday, at the tooth-filing of a Balinese friend’s children, one of the participants — a teenage boy with a barbed wire tattoo around his neck — chucked a major crossed arm ‘narsis’ (homeboy gesture, see photo above) on the ceremonial bed (taban). His Denis Rodman-esque genuflection occurred during the proceedings, just after rinsing his mouth with turmeric water. Now, admittedly, this Balinese-Sunda boy and his sister had been raised in Bandung, West Java by a slightly unusual mother, but this was a watershed moment in Balinese ceremonial etiquette because manusa yadnya ceremonies (rites de passage) are always undertaken with polite intent. The ‘narsis’ gesture was taken from ‘Yuk Keep Smile‘, a popular show on national television.


The columnist and famed sculptor Made Cangker at his house temple’s big Ngenteg Linggih ceremony.

•         •        •

During APEC I was asked to lunch by a Nusa Dua hotel manager. I was instructed to wait outside the ‘tourism zone’ ‘where the Traggia supermarket used to be’, and told that I would be met by a staff car with an APEC sticker. ‘Are all tourists being subjected to the same Draconian protocol?’, I wondered. As if shutting the airport for five whole days wasn't doing enough damage.
At the moment one can't see the sky for the billboards.
Recently planted Dutch Pensioner Style municipal gardens are dying for lack of sun. The Bali Peace Park people are doing a brisk trade in 'Beyond Bali Education kits'.
Meanwhile, the national press has been reporting what a fabulous thing APEC is for Bali’s tourism.
APEC did help Bali’s image after the adverse publicity surrounding the Miss World pageant. All the APEC events did go off swimmingly, thanks to Nusa Dua’s supreme conferencing facilities, Balinese professionalism, and the island’s willingness to endure untold inconveniences.
But the new toll-road (a huge success) was not built for APEC, as the national press reported: it was built to alleviate the gridlock traffic jams that are a part of South Bali’s new urban tourism character.
The airport’s completion date was timed to match the opening of APEC: and what an Herculean feat to actually make that deadline! Those of us travelling during the month of airport changeovers became endurance travellers ready to expect the unexpected.
The government deserves hearty congratulations for finishing two mammoth public works projects — the over-bay toll-road and the airport — in 18 months.

•         •        •

On a trip to West Bali last month I observed colossal infrastructure improvement projects underway along the Java-Bali road: the government seems determined to bring Bali’s main roads into line with Jakarta and Surabaya standards.
Meanwhile many adat communities — either village or temple-based — have grown miniature militias (pecalang) to assist with the smooth stopping of traffic and the smooth running of ceremonial events and processions, which quite often contribute to a general breakdown in established transport networks [traffic flow?]. This infuriates many retailers and villa-owners in the expat and sexpat community who just don’t understand that adat (ceremonial duties) is the glue that binds all Balinese activity together.
To put it mildly: everything that is not adat-related isjust filling in time between adat chores. Fashion, food, construction, facelifts, rice-cycles, and animal husbandry are all powered by adat ceremonies.
Telling the Balinese to join ‘Occupy Adat’ is like telling Italians to stop eating pasta, or an Australian to put on a shirt.

9 October 2013; My tits blown off.
It’s 10 pm, and I’m just in from one of those Night of Nights that Bali often turns on. This time it was a trance spectacular at Banjar Buni in Kuta. Oh, what a night!

Images from the Sanghyang Jaran Fire Dance, Banjar Buni, Kuta

hey'd closed the road, which is a brave thing to do when the 'Occupy Adat' super-bules are starting to run blockades, and a big mean tourist told them to shut off the gamelan as he wanted to sleep. It was 7 pm. The atmosphere was palpably electric. The quite large banjar buni community hall courtyard, which must be the biggest in Kuta (290 family heads, each with three stud-muffin sons, surfie gods dying to fly into trance). They should rename the Banjar Buni Sanghang Jaran (which had been asleep for 20-odd years, until a mask threw itself off a wall at the last odalan) 'Sunin the Stubble'. I mean, I have never seen so many extras from Gladiator with ectoplasm pouring out of their mouths. 
The Kecak chanting that accompanied the fire dance was so first-rate it sent shivers up the spine of all the old-timers (me) gathered to welcome in the new era.

What a revival. In the first minute I just ditched my house-guests and headed for the burning bed of coco-husk embers to record scene after scene of marvellous, unique, authentic, completely mataksu tinggi ritual after ritual after ritual, until Lele came out to dance Dalem as a baris - leading the banjar's temple's head deity and lady porter by a thick rope of white string - while simultaneously dancing a very spirited trippy pas de deux with his father, a temple priest, carrying a brazier of burning saddlewood [sandalwood?] chips. The pair parried and feigned, enveloped by the smoke and flames, until the gamelan started pounding out a fierce finale, and the two imploded into a frenzy of kris dances.
Bravo Banjar Buni! Viva Lost Kuta!

See video: http://youtu.be/bXV13aZ0E8I

13 October 2013: To Kalibalang Village Tabanan to collect a bride: Once a decade I get an official ceremonial role in my adopted Balinese family: I get to ferry brides back to our home in Kepaon in my big flash car.
I never brought a big flash car — I can’t even drive, so what would twelve cylinders mean to me? — my office bought it for me at a fire sale, and it’s kind of stuck.

(see video: http://youtu.be/j5Ubc5Nx3cc )

Anyway, I love my strassen-panzer, as I get right-of-way almost anywhere, even at the governor’s car-park. I put a plastic crest on the front grill, and parking police think I’m the Danish ambassador.
Today, at the delightful, spacious Geria Kalibalang Brahman compound, I get to dress up and play up (see the video with me in yellow veil singing in the princes’ pavilion window) — and then star as escort-uncle, in the scene where the two lovebirds in gold crowns drive into the sunset (see photo this page)

14 October 2013: A young co-worker’s cremation in Geluntung, Tabanan, next to Kalibalang: Dewa Made Swaha Mertha died two days ago, leaving a widow and two toddlers.


Dewa Made Swaha Mertha

I had seen the widow, distraught and sobbing, all at Prima Medika hospital two days ago: today she thanks me for coming, and tells me that the young boys, 5 and 7 years old, are still too ‘afraid’ to attend their father’s cremation.
I have come straight on from this morning’s brahman wedding — changing in the car into a less festive outfit — and arrive to find the body burned and the bones being gathered.

I have known this family for over 30 years — many have worked with me, as artisans and master-gardeners, since 1979. I greet Dewa’s father warmly as I enter the cremation ground: he seems amazingly relaxed for a man who has just lost his son. His wife, Dewa’s mother, is busy carrying offerings. The widow, by her side continuously, looks windswept but beautiful.
Over the afternoon I witness many beautiful post-burning ceremonies. Nearly everyone here, including the high priest, is family, either from Ketewel or Geluntung; this lends a festive family reunion atmosphere to the proceedings, which wind up with a pray-in to the soul of the deceased in the form of a puspa.
 

At 5 pm, we all move from the cremation ground to Bajra Village, which is on the nearest river, to spread the ashes.  
I find myself riverside with a group of Ketewel village aunties. In the centre of the group is the mother of the deceased holding dear Dewa's spirit effigy as she sings a haunting Kidung hymn. The deceased’s children hover nearby.


Dewa Kribo Kren at the Geluntung cremation

(see video: http://youtu.be/xWvUMGFB3jI)

In the river below, male cousins frolic amongst river boulders as the various burnt body parts are scattered (Recreation meets Reincarnation). Scanning my camera across the river, I spot a rock where a trio of stud-muffins in hipster sashes and show-off headscarves has settled. The lead hottie sees the focus of my lens and reclines into a full ‘Narsis Yuk Keep Smile’ (Kewpie Doll crossed-arm-double-peace-gesture with pike (see photo below) as his mates gently wrap themselves around each other. Talk about playing to the gallery.
Mum keeps singing as Dewa’s two boys splash about in the river shallows.



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