Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, November 2004)


I recently had a long conversation with a Balinese chum during which he contributed only one word; the conversation was about the present state of Bali’s Barong dances. I was euphorically banging on about the marvellous visitation by the mighty Barong of Munggu to the home temple of the Barong of Sidakarya, near Sanur, which I had witnessed the night before. “The Balinese are amazing,” I volunteered. “You know, rather than imposing island-wide guidelines for the introduction of a younger generation of dancers, one temple just decides to radically ‘change the guard’, as it were, and, suddenly, seven-year-old demon-dancers are an island-wide craze!”
My friend gave me a knowing nod.
I continued.
 “It’s much more effective to let a culture rejuvenate….”
“Naturally,” he added.
Now the Balinese rarely blow their own trumpets about the clever way their culture works, but every so often one gets an insight into the workings of the world’s most tenacious, seductive and glamorous culture. Where Balinese culture is concerned, for instance, change should be natural. The progressions of the many cycles ­ the life cycle of a dancer, for instance, or the placating of evil, after the Kuta bomb ­ should also be natural, not fudged or enforced. Change should be smooth and seemingly effortless.
Whatever! There are certainly a lot of pre-teen trance-dancers around at the moment. Children are now the stars at the full moon festivals: it’s like a renaissance within the community.
Why this sudden surge?
It’s as if all this fake festival-running ­ that the international community force the Balinese to do, to fulfil the western media’s need for a Bali on its back ­ has allowed the Balinese to sneak real things ‘under the radar’.
Tragically, most local tourist radars, i.e. the expatriate rags, are ignorant of local Bali: all their efforts seem directed towards restyling Bali as an Asian Ibiza, or Mykonos.
And why not? The Balinese can bump, grind, shuffle real estate, boogie, bodgie, fiesta and siesta with the best of them, but don’t forget……all that glisters (and frumps) is not gold.
The pure gold is at the heart of the real
Magical, harmonious, village
Let it be.
Now read on:

10th September 2004: Coronation Day for Pakubuwono XIII, Surakarta’s Susuhunan Palace, Central Java
The Stranger has long been a card-carrying, badge-wearing, fund-raising fan of the Royal House of Pakubuwono ­ Indonesia’s undisputed ultimate Keraton (palace). The rival House of Hamengkubuwono, in neighbouring Yogyakarta, has more regional influence, political clout and original furniture than its saucy sibling but no-one can rival the Pakubuwono family’s court ritual, court intrigue and, particularly, the magnificent Bedoyo Ketawang dance held once a year in the palace on the anniversary of the Sunan’s coronation.
Last month in this column I wrote of the intense rivalry between two of the late Sunan’s sons. This rivalry has now led to a royal stand off: after today, the day of the official coronation, there will be two Sunans ­  that is a pair of Pakubuwono XIII ­ until further notice.