Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, November 2001)


Balinese tourism is also a victim of the terrible events of September 11th. While Balinese mourn the tragedy, and the senseless loss of life half way around the world, they are also dealing with the repercussions in the Moslem world: Bali is, after all, the only Hindu island in the world's most populous Moslem archipelago. Over the last month Indonesian newspapers have been recklessly sensationalist: reporting bizarre rumours about some sort of Islamic junta, against the island's tourist population. These stories were given front page spreads. In late September six student fanatics in Solo Central Java captured the world media's attention by staging "sweepings", of, supposedly, U.S. tourist targets–though none were found in the short-lived disturbances.
Even our learned sister journal the Bali Advertiser, in its Greenspeak column, has taken a stand on sweeping. 'Expat Kat' says there are "so many Balinese sweeping, sweeping. So little understanding of what all that bare dirt means in terms of future fertility (I'll give you future fertility. Ed.)". (I MEAN WHO LETS THESE PEOPLE IN. Ed.)
"I've shown my pembantu (maid)" she continues, "how to recycle offerings by poking out the bottom and using the outside rim to frame seedlings; the raised edges hold a nice helping of compost". (HAVEN'T THESE PEOPLE HEARD OF NON-U HINDU??Ed.)

• • •

The truth remains that, for over 500 years, since the arrival of Islam in Sumatra and Java, Hindus, Christians and Moslems have lived together in relative harmony. As President Megawati pointed out in her recent speech in Washington: "Indonesia has a dream, similar to the American dream. Not the dream of a suburban home with two cars in the garage (many Balinese might disagree with this. Ed.) But the dream of a society of many peoples of diverse ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, living together in peace". Back home President Megawati threatened to jail anyone "sweeping" or inciting anti-American riots. "These people are our guests" she said. Most Balinese have said this too over the years, whenever small bands of fanatics on neighboring islands have thought it justifiable to target the tourist haven.
I firmly believe, after 30 years on the island, that the Balinese would protect tourists (still called tamu (guest), or turis in the local parlance) and might more easily be provoked into another sort of "sweeping" (of undesirables) if their livelihood is
threatened. As the Jakarta Post pointed out, 900,000 inhabitants of Bali's estimated population of 3,000,000 are now solely dependent on tourism. The damaging effects of the East Timor Crisis, the Asian monetary crisis, the Post-Soeharto-era power struggles and the WTC bombings devestating effects on world tourism were bad enough!: Bali doesn't need internal strife generated by fellow countrymen.

• • •

At the height of the paranoia one of my Javanese friends, alarmed by the growing fears of his state-side clients, replied to a particularly evangelical email: "Actually I'm a Muslim. I think "Jihad' is now being used as a way to protect certain parties' interests. They have wrongly interpreted it. For me, "jihad" is a way to protect yourself, religiously, when other people threaten you. Muslims are very loyal to their leaders. So, it is the Moslem leaders responsibility to interpreter the meaning of "jihad" proportionally. It is mentioned in our holy book (AL QUR'AN)"your religion is yours, my religion is mine. "Most of the Muslim leaders today are using their followers who really do not understand the points, to support their interests".

October 8, 2001: Pemapagan The big South Bali festival that celebrates the return of the gods from Sakenan (see the complete Stranger in Paradise 1979-81 for full story)
Oh Dear. If this weren't a diary I might have to rewrite the introduction the barbed wires are out again on Freedom Square in Jakarta, as things heat up in Afghanistan. Let us pray. I go to my favorite temple near Kuta for the Pemapagan festival which celebrates the return of the Gods from Pura Sakenan on Turtle Island. The courtyards are packed, the gamelan is firing on all cylinders and their is no talk of "sweeping", smart bombs up jelabah or ultimate justice. Just universal appeasement rituals, for peace and prosperity, with bulk offerings, the Balinese way ... called bakti yoga. During the trance rituals, which have recently been "hijacked" by a committee of bureaucrats and theologians, the priest of the local diety Ratu Agung, son of the God of Sakenan, flies into a furious trance and demands to go to Java. "The last bus left two hours ago" says some smart alleck keen to go back to CNN's coverage. Ratu Agung has never mentioned Java before.
The Balinese gods have been retaking ground 'lost' during islamification––up to 1.000.000 East and Central Javanese animists have opted for the Hindu faith over the past decade––but such developments are not usually on a trance medium's agenda. "Its all a fine mess" he screams, before lapsing into a cosmic coma. In the temple you could hear a pin drop, well, a jumbo pass, at least, as the snake oil vendours outside continue to holler. Little by little the devotees from the four villages start collecting their arca votive statues in preparation for the long march north. The gamelan cranks up again. All file out the towering temple gate, leaving the exhausted trance medium alone in the ceremonial pavilion with his family. After 30 years of shenannigans it seems that the devotees have had enough. The show must go on. The pedati chariot, consecrated just last year (see "The Great Kepaon Juggernaut", S in P October 2000), to appease Ratu Agung is waiting in the forecourt.
A baby water buffalo is tethered to his mother, Anggrek Ulan, on the chariot's yoke––Mz. Ulan is one of the holy buffalo pair who pull the pedati chariot. The buffalo calf is wearing a blue sari length bought from India by a mystery Javanese the day before. Back home, my security consultants are wearing brand new T-shirts too, presenst from Hollywood pacifists, with "PEACE" written in Arabic on the chest.
God bless appeasement rituals.

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