Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, November 1999)


Invited not to attend the recent Puri Gianyar palace mega event (I have shamelessly worn my heart on my sleeve for the rival Pemecutan (Denpasar) royal family since they invented "Men in Black" cremations in 1988 (see last month’s Stranger)) I go instead to a wedding in a village which is boycotting the royal creamtion. Later the same week I attend Puri Gianyar loyalist Warwick Purser’s 60th birthday party cum think tank in Central Java:

16th September 1999: My star carpenter Dewa Jaro, the jolly dwarf, is finally wed, in a quiet but earnest ceremony.
I have often written about the wonderful Dewas of Ketewel — a clan of carvers and carpenters who have built most of present day Sanur. Ketewel village, on the coast east of Denpasar, has two of Bali’s most beautiful temples, the Pura Jagat Nata and the 11th century Peyogaan Agung, home to the celestial angel masks, the Ratu Dedari. A millennium of hard work and clean living have bred a clan of handsome men and women who rarely marry outside the limits of their 10,000 strong town.
Over the two last decades, the decidedly democratic villagers have ‘fallen out’ with their liege lord, the grand, but much decorated Raja Gianyar, H.R.H. Ida Anak Agung Gede Agung, known in Balinese circles as the Dewa Manggis. In a week when Balinese hearts’ fluttered to see "Royal" on the Australian Airforce transport planes (to then sink when the Oakley-clad warriors strode out like Sigourney Weaver’s best in "Aliens") the ex-diplomat’s "cremation of the century" fizzled somewhat due to the throne’s having grown removed from the people. Indeed, since the family moved to Jakarta in the early 1970s things have not been the same. The breaking news on the huge event supported this view: "The princess royal’s family wore pant suits" gossiped one outraged courtier; "it should’ve been five years ago" said another, not registering the irony. The Belgian ambassador was harassed outside the palace gates (presumably by a protocol-deficient non-Balinese pent up over recent events in East Timor) which was the only "anti-foreigner" incident reported on the Island of the Gods during a month of heated rhetoric in the nation’s capitol. Le tout Jakarta attended the ceremonies while le tout Bali watched CNN.
Rumor has it that the royal family had to pay their subjects to carry the funeral bier — a first in a culture where the Kssatrya princes are greatly respected for their pivotal role in the ceremonial community.
At a smart dinner party for elegant Gianyar palace groupies and friends of the deceased the night before the event, I tried to explain that, these days, Balinese lese majeste is earned through devotion to the people, in attending a thousand courtiers’ tooth filings and body-washings, and in maintaining temples.
It seems that the peoples’ devotion can no longer be considered a divine right.A few days after the cremation a friend told me of a note he had received from the Gianyar crown prince, apologizing for not being able to attend a function. It was elegantly written in beautiful English he explained, and exhibited the deft diplomatic touch of a young man who is head of one of Jakarta’s oldest and biggest multinational concerns and soon to take a seat in Indonesia’s senate. There was something 19th century about the prose, he said, and I wondered if a "common touch" might not be called for, like another proud royal family we all love and respect.
God speed the good "Anak Agung", during his long and productive life, great ambassador for Bali and for Indonesia. And may the new Dewa Manggis be blessed in the senate with his father’s wisdom.

Madem Ramelan wife of Indonesia's Minister of Industry and Commerce

Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X (centre) and Minister of Tourism,Marzuki Usman (left) with Warwick Purser pounding rice in Tembi Village, Bantul, jogyakarta.

Warwick Purser with Jakarta hearthrobs Katon Bagaskara (KLA Project) with his wife Ira Wibowo.

28 September 1999, Yogyakarta: "Tuan Lurik" does it again, with the Sultan, sixty Security guards and Sensational Style
Warwick and Lisa Purser first came to Bali on their honeymoon in 1972. They stayed at a small all-cottages hotel, owned by Indonesian entrapreneur Wija Waworuntu, called the Tanjung Sari, on the beach, in Sanur. They fell in love with the hotel and stayed on as managers for two years — Bali’s first boutique hotel was born.
Today Warwick runs Indonesia’s most successful handicrafts and homewares export business from a spectacularly beautiful base, spread over two villages ( the base, not Warwick), south of the Sultan’s palace. He has, over the past 25 years, founded South East Asia’s biggest travel company (PACTO), been Minister of Tourism in Vanuatu, run a legendary restaurant in Port Douglas, Queensland, and a handicraft empire from a Boxer Rebellion town- house in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He is the original comeback kid, Lord Keeper of understated elegance and champion of traditional Asian crafts.
As a sign of respect for his immense contribution Madame Ramelan, wife of Indonesia’s Minister for Industry and Commerce, was guest of honour at the three day birthday bash. A collection of Jakartan characters — political columnist Ong Hok Kam, society lawyer Nano Makarim, Megawati’s couturier Asmoro Damais and Indonesian hearthrobs Ira Wibowo and Katon Bagaskara (Jakarta’s answer to Tom and Nicole) — gathered to celebrate the genial Tuan’s big six oh.
Over a superb Javanese meal, and fired by a tad too much wine, there was much talk of General Wiranto’s sex appeal (half of Jakarta has the hots it seems), the Sultan’s visit, the day before, to Warwick’s company, P.T. Out of Asia (the village’s first, so the good Tuan’s stocks have soared) and, of course, the spectacle of the Gianyar cremation.
From within the cozy confines of Warwick’s caramel courtyard ‘summer palace’ we watched a one man drag show by brilliant Bandung based choreographer Didiek "Nini Towok" (see photo opposite, top) and then were moved to a coconut grove nearby for a mesmerizing trance dance, the "Kuda Lumping" (prancing ponies) from Muntilan village (near Borobudur).
As ladies fanned their flushed cheeks fifty of Java’s finest, with rings on their fingers and bells on their toes, performed an amazing ritual. The performance started gayly — a chorus dance of warriors, monkey kings, pirates and princes did high kicks in the classical Javanese tradition. After an hour the performance took on a more sinister tone — the tortured posturings of ‘tripped out’ ninjas, possessed by the ancient animal spirits of the Javanese netherworld, signalad that the pre-Hindu and pre-Islamic culture still thrives.
It was an hypnotic performance, sprinkled with spell-binding moments. At one point the music developed an hysterical beat and a snake-hipped superman, long of limb, proud of posture, glistering with sweat, froze in a defiant pose as wild men wove up and down the dark dusty arena.
Amidst the merry mayhem a dozen matrons swooned.
Long live Tuan Lurik the ultimate party planner.

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