Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Bali Echo Magazine, September 1996)

A young Trishna - photo by Pierre Poretti


This month the Stranger celebrates the next generation. Read on, for the news of the breast feed-ins now de rigeur at Bule Aga functions. And a most poignant trance at my adopted ancestoral home, the Griya Kepaon. 

June 30, 1996: Padang Galak. 21 st birthday party for New Age Bali’s pride and enjoy, Trishna Aryani.
When writing the first bout of these columns seventeen years ago the Sunday Bali Post’s former editor, New Zealand wonder-woman Sarita, Kintamani’s answer to Florence Nightingale, would help me with editing and typing. She lived with her own two children, Trishna and Kadek, and Balinese husband Armawa, a medical student who hailed from one of the first families of the crater rim at Batur. They were and ideal ‘new Balinese’ family, crowded into a small cottage, down a lance, in bustling inner-city Kesiman.
I stayed close to Sarita and her Balinese family during the 80s helping her build her house in the hinterlands of Sanur, watching her two children grow and applauding the arrival of baby Komang, an ‘astroboy’ born before Armawa succumbed to this wanderlust. I often visited Penelokan (I had chip-stealing priveleges in Sarita’s mother-in law’s kitchen at the “Lakeview”), the children grew up, we grew apart, but saw each other often enough not to be too shocked by any major changes in definition. Sarita spoke perfect Balinese and indeed was the perfect Balinese mother, tending to her flocks’ ceremonial as well as practical needs. The children went to Indonesian, never did high fives and continued to be gracious and polite to their elders.
With Trishna coming age and her blossoming into a poised young women, with one foot in architecture school in New Zealand and one eye on her prince in Kesiman, the Stranger would like to extend best wishes for the future and remind her never to forget incredible Mum.
To Sarita, the Stranger awards the Bintang Pertiwi Bule Aga (Biti Buga) for putting her family first, despite severe hardships, and for putting their ‘Balineseness’ ahead of all other considerations. The awards ceremony was attended by tribal elders―the commonwealth pacific mix pairs that seem to make up the mix at expatriate affairs these days. A twenty one Nyo-nyo salute was held as the very next generation gnawed and kneaded. As Sarita passed the salsa her ex-husband and his mother held a rite de passage for Armawa’s latest issue, another beautiful daughter, from another beautiful wife, in the ceremonial pavilion.
We all joined in to waft the offerings and get a sprinkle of the elixir of life that moves everything from one generation to next.

Merajan Griya Kepaon, the family house temple, selikur Galungan (21 days till Balinese ‘Christmas’), 3 July 1996.
New is holy in Bali: generations are celebrated for humans, in the form of elaborate puberty rites and cremation rituals, as well as for temples. Family shrines or clan temples have ‘birthday’ like human―called tatoyan or odalan (in case of big ceremonies)―and Karya reconsecration rites are held rites are held once the roofing thatch wears thin and the shrines are deemed due a rebuild. This ‘generational shift’ was celebrated at my adopted Balinese home, which much ceremony, over the last month. Today, 21 days to Galungan, when house shrines across the land are traditionally decked out in their Sunday best’ and given spiritual ‘spring clan’, the whole village and the very extended family are out in force to concentrate the recently rebuilt shrines. To my distress, but to every one else’s enjoy, the once romantic, weathered, red-brick temple court is now cram-packed with the latest architecture trends from Denpasar catalogue.
A pedanda high priest from Sidemen presides over the rites, the fifth pedanda in so many days, and a TOPENG SIDAKARYA or ceremonial mask dance is in progress in the house forecourt. In the main court a shadow-less, shadow-puppet show, called Wayang Lemah (or Wayang Sadmala) is playing to a packed courtyard from it’s ‘stage’ on the floor of the ceremonial pavilion. There is a cacophony of sound: a multi-ring ‘circus’ atmosphere reigns: tray of offerings, coffee and cigarettes criss-cross the courts. Touchingly, all the aunts, ex-wives and errant offspring are present: disinheritance is never an option in Balinese ceremonial community: the more the merrier, and the merrier the better. Recent accusations of witchcraft, loans gone sour and sibling rivalry (always rife in a courtyard home) are all forgotten. It is a great day. Leading my generation is my elder sister Dayu Made, now a grandmother many times over, who sits with her aunt, a high priestess (for this is a Brahman get together), singing from a song book of Hindu hymns. Gus Rai, her half brother, has just arrived from Makassar where he manages a bank: is children, raised outside Bali, are agog at the excess of family, noise and bright spangley things.

Dayu Made, supported by family members, as she files into a trance

We all pray. To the gods that rule all-Bali and the guardian ancestor spirits who watch, tirelessly, over this diligent clan, pus one die-hard groupie. The last prayer bell is still intoning when the mask-dancer and his chequered entourage burst into the house temple. The dancer’s head is covered with a white cloth, symbolizing the mask affinity with the much-feared Rangda, queen of witches.
Suddenly Dayu Made sweeps aside her needle point bag and hymn book and flies, wild eyed, into a spread-eagled trance. Her mother and cousins rush her to her aid and, facing the kemulan shrine, the tripartite shrine to past, present and future generations, the spirit possessing her in gently ‘sent back up’ and Dayu Made returns to the bosom of her family. It is an extremely moving incident and serves to tie stronger bonds between all those who have witnessed it.

The courtyard breaths a huge, communal, sigh of relief when the last bell is silenced: the two surviving great grandfathers in the compound can relax, comfortable in the knowledge that, for their generation at least, the tradition continues.

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