Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, June 2014)



I Lolot (Dewa Gagah) posing in front of his favorite witch mask before the mass trance-in at the Kuta Palace House shrine.

Kuta’s Trancemaster Superstars

I have recently been introduced to a group of sweetie-macho trancemasters in Kuta. By day they are all parking attendants, security guards or surf shop owners but at night, when the barong and rangda come out, they turn into extras from Michael Jackson’s Thriller! They have Facebook pages that seem devoted to serious ceremonial activities — the spooky Calonarang witch battles being the most popular — until you look down to the friends section and its all buxom blondes in swimwear. This is Kuta after all.
Celebrity photographer Linggar Saputra Wayan of the Kuta Photographers Club introduced me to the Tuban-Kuta ceremonial scene. With Saputra I have devoted much of the last two months to the trancees' ceremonial activities in the Kuta palace, Puri Satria Dalem Kaleran, which sits hard on the Kuta Market, and the Pura Dalem Tunon temple which sits quietly beachside between the Dynasty and Bintang Ramada hotels.

(left) Photographer Linggar Saputra Wayan, Kuta’s celebrity photographer.

We have documented, first, the huge trance ceremonies surrounding the releasing of the barong and rangda masks from their headdresses (see last month's stranger column on strangerinparadise.com for a full report) and , lately, the return of said masks to their headdresses — with their new coifs — and all the spooky ceremonies surrounding these pivotal events.

Photo by Linggar Saputra Wayan

Over the course of these two months, Saputra and I have taken thousands of photographs and made six half hour videos. I have started photo-bombing his most important ‘moments’ (most Balinese photographers are momentologists i.e. they wait in the wings until the fat lady sings) and he has started ad-libbing over my video-cam narrations.
Together we have followed the emergence from the pack of one junior trance master, I. Lolot (see photograph top of Lolot in full Terminator mode), and documented his metamorphosis into a trance sergeant major.
In the process Lolot has grown gold chains, blond tips, and has added a staggering array of scary tattoos for the climactic moments when he rips off his shirt and gives one of his boy band of junior trancees a kiss of life or a claw to the face to snap him out of it. He has gone from being fag to the senior priests, chief sandalwood burner and other-worldly sound effects wizard to being commandant of the tripped-out teenagers. Watch the video links below to see him in action


Photo by Linggar Saputra Wayan

 Melaspas / Pasupati Barong Singa Ceremonies: http://youtu.be/7Q2e7dfGPbA


Photo by Linggar Saputra Wayan

Ceremonies at Pura Dalem Tunon, Kuta. Pasupati Rituals: http://youtu.be/mhJrYjt2Pzg


On the 16th May, Sugian Bali on the Balinese calendar, the final acts of the two months of ceremonies were held. At midnight the proceedings moved to the Kuta graveyard for the Ngerehang rituals — which involve the witch spirits being ‘harvested’. One of Lolot’s colleagues flew into wild trance, ripped off his shirt and ran to the Juwet tree next door, spewing ectoplasm, but forgetting that next door is now a function lawn for a smart hotel and that a wedding reception was in full swing. Saputra’s photo of trance-master Aji Agus Salim emerging is worth one million words.


Trance-master Aji Agus Salim leaves the wedding reception next to the graveyard. Photo: Linggar Saputra Wayan.

All of the ceremonies were exquisitely organized by the Kuta palace — a palace  descended from the Gelgel (Klungkung) Dalem Sri Kepakisan dynasty— right down to the distribution of matching chequered skirt cloths (saput) for all the 300 men taking part in the ceremonies.
Only once did one of the senior priests have to beat Lolot and his gang of ghouls into place with some slaps to the back (see video) — when they threatened to disrupt delicate barong placating rites during the night session at the temple.
Everything went like clockwork, as if they’d been rehearsing for months; excepting the trances of course, which never ceased to amaze with their ingenuity. One minute Lolot was wrapped around the senior priest for 20 minutes, shuddering and wimping, an hour later he’d be hurling himself at the barong’s beard. The most tender trance moment came when two of the pepatih (trancees) knelt at the feet of the parked barong during a 15 minute ritual — like goal keepers to the netherworld (see photo below).
Two young Brits stumbled across the ceremonies — they were looking for a short-cut to the main road — and stayed to watch from the temple’s main entrance for about a minute. And four Germans were apprehended in the temple’s forecourt: they thought it was the ‘Oktoberfest in April’ the hotel Dynasty had organized. Otherwise it was tourist-free event despite being sandwiched between two of Kuta’s biggest hotels.

19 May 2014: Kuta-Canggu expats have organized a meeting to discuss violence against women a at community hall in Seminyak. Members from local banjars, the police and the military are there
The statistics are scary: almost every day a woman is dragged from her bike and either robbed, raped or slashed. The Facebook page Bali Crime Reports has nearly 20,000 members.
The new urban expatria is bursting at the seams and has attracted packs of criminals, as urban sprawl tends too.
Expats have no real rights or official lobby (beyond, say, the Hotels and Restaurants Association and the various consulates) so it will be interesting to see how the authorities take this.
The expat community, now quite large (about 30,000 permanent and 50,000 other temporaries), is fed up with the rise in street crime.



VALE
MARK SHAND 1952 - 2014

For years the most dashing Englishman — married to London deb of the year Clio Goldsmith in 1990 — Mark Shand made his mark in Bali in the 1980s as co-owner, with Hon. Harry Fane, of the Garuda Park estate on the beach at the end of the Batu Belig Road. There was a sign at the front gate that read, 'If you are a friend of a friend.....go away'. The boys, as they were known, were the epitome of upper class englishness. Aloof and often naked they were fearless adventurers: diving at night to spear sharks off Lembongan, hunting wild boar illegally in Chinese sugar baron estates in East Java, sailing to Komodo in a native outriggers where they famously met up with the cruise vessel chartered by Mick Jagger and refused to go aboard) and trekking into the jungles of West Irian to find the tribesmen who had eaten Michael Rockerfeller. (Shand's book of this adventure, 'Skullduggery', described how they had produced a letter from the British High Commisioner in Jakarta (a close friend of Shand’s uncle) which saved their lives). In Bali they only befriended local Balinese: in particular legendary Sanur-based Nusa Lembongan-born boatsman Made Monoh and beefcake Seminyak lothario Wayan Ledang. Their estate, designed by Linda Garland, was looked over by ancient Madurese retainers called The Mins. They coined the term "the Barlows" (as in: can't join you tonight, we are having dinner with the Barlows). 
During his Bali years a bevy of London beauties accompanied Shand to Garuda Park: Marie Helvin, Bianca Jagger, Tahitian Diane and Brazilian artist Sylvia Martien. 


Mark Shand, Nyoman & Hon. Harry Fane

After marrying Goldsmith the Shands were regulars on the August party scene at Batujimbar. Over the past two decades Shand was involved in The Elephant Family charity which did much to help elephants and their mahouts in India. His two books on his adventures, co-written with Gita Mehta, won many awards. Shand was also the first of the great blonde mahoots. 
He is survived by his daughter Ayesha, and his sisters Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Anabel Elliot.


Made Monoh, captain

The voyage of the Gin Pahit from Bali to Flores and back, 1989

(Photos courtesy of Hon. Harry Fane)


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