Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, February 2011)

The barong from Seminyak arrives at Turtle Island during the 1970s

Turtle Island Festival in Crisis

For the past 30 years I have religiously followed the goings on at the Sakenan Temple festival which has been held twice a year on Serangan ‘Turtle’ Island since 1547.
During the 1970s this diary described the glorious pilgrimages — by ‘sampan’ at full moon, through mangrove forest alleyways.
In the 1980s I wrote of the appearance at the festival, out of the blue, of the incredible, dancing ‘people’s priestess’, Mangku Meme of Kedisan, and her rivalry with the palace priests and priestesses who run the big Saturday night trance-in.
I wrote of the outrageous ‘Mangku Torpedo’ who never failed to launch herself — like an Exocet 200 — into the dress circle of trancees.
In the 1990s, I risked life and limb to expose the rise of greedy developers who were to build an ugly bridge to the island, ruining forever, the festival’s special magic, but, ensuring a future for the island’s fishermen in the hospitality industry.
By the year 2000 the island’s festival was getting 500,000 devotees — way up from the original 5,000 — and enjoyed a new sparkling status as Bali’s answer to France’s Mount St. Michel.

Pura Dalem Sakenan as viewed from the famous red sand beach (now gone).
The gods from Kepaon village being conveyed through the rice fields, heading for Pura Sakenan in 1979.

Amongst the Balinese it had become a sort of spiritual tourist trap.
The island’s real estate era never started: due many thought to a hex put on the project by the temple’s priests.
It is notable that the army force’s chief — who put the weight of the military behind the developers  — died tragically in a helicopter crash shortly after the project opened; and that the father of another pivotal player was forced to ‘abdicate’ as president.
But the damage is done: reclamation and rezoning have spoiled the uniqueness of the island. The island’s main Buddhist Era temple, the Pura Susuhunan, is now in the middle of a golf course, and the temple festival at the main Pura Sakenan has lately been just a ‘bun fight’, where the ‘first families’ — the pengemong/palace families who traditionally run the three day event — have to crounch under the pagodas to avoid being crushed by the stampedes of pilgrims from afar.

•    •    •


Pura Dalem Sakenan from the Sea.

Arriving, 1979

Leaving, 1979

Kepaon gods head home

Mangku Meme arrives.

Mangku Torpedo goes off


After  Christmas last year I returned from Sydney to the shocking news that my adopted village gods had not gone to Sakenan this year— there can be no ‘festival’ without them, really — and that, subsequently,  the buffalo-borne chariot that greets them on their return had been left in its garage. The twenty or so celebratory ‘Pemagpagan’ festivals — which happen on the Monday after the weekend festival  — were also cancelled in villages from Kuta to Sanur. The Barong Medwi did not dance nor did the Seminyak Barong make a Sunday appearance on a painted prahu.
I posted the following on Facebook:
“Made Wijaya is back in Bali and tracking down the real story behind the South Bali gods boycotting Decembers Sakenan temple festival. This is the first time in the temples 500 year history”.  Is it “due to a serf uprising”?
Professor Adrian Vickers of the University of Sydney posted a comment:
“It’s the damned bridge”
Monika of Seminyak — once married to a Balinese prince — posted also:
“It’s the Devil’s own work.”
Others in the broad, global, Bali-o-phile diaspora sighed and cried.

Pura Sakenan in1910

I did more research and discovered that the present ‘rift’ dates back to before the previous ODALAN festival (March 2009). It appears that the prince of Puri Kesiman instructed the Kepaon royals to help get masons to open the newly built boundary wall (built by the Kesiman palace) to allow access for garbage trucks to collect temple offering refuse.
The masons were threatened with murder and had their tools stolen (the Balinese are sometimes subtle in conflict-resolution). Serangan village reps were called to Kesiman to be reprimanded and the ODALAN festival went ahead, with the addition of a GURU PIDUKA ceremony to apologize to the gods for the upsets.
Fast forward three months: A PARUMAN meeting is held at the Kesiman Palace, attended by the BENDESA SERANGAN and all the royals from the villages that traditionally ‘send’ their gods to the festival, plus representatives from the billboard-loving Mayor’s office (KODYA) and the police. The Kesiman Palace demands to know why the police have not arrested the thugs who harassed his masons; The BENDESA Serangan suggested that KODYA should run the festival, which deeply offends the gathered royals; their ancestors have run this festival  for the last 500 years — since before Serangan village even existed  (in fact, many of the temple’s gods are the deified ancestors of these Gusti families) so the Gustis called off the show (source: Bali Post 16 December 2010).

1980 photo of Mangku Intaran, the ‘keeper’ of Pura Dalem Sakenan (1950 to present day).

Mangku Meme of Kedisan dances the Pendet Nyem-Nyeman at Pura Sakenan

•    •    •

Just in case the stand off turns terminal I offer my readers this month a bevy of images of the Best of Sakenan, through the Ages.

31st December 2010: facebook has become the forum for fed-up foreigners
A retail honky in Ubud has complained on Facebook about the incessant fireworks ruining the island.”
I reply:
“What about the mob of turis domestik ‘sistas’, ten-deep, outside JOGGER on the Kuta-Airport drag; or the mountain of Zimmer frames outside Spartacus Gay Spa; or the yoga hags chained to the low carved PARAS SANGGINGAN wall outside Starbucks Ubud whose mass has spilled into the gutters blocking the drains; or the stench of Tom Ford perfume in the METIS carpark responsible for the respiratory collapse of a commercial truckload of Bali Aga beggar women??”
“The island has become one big tourist trap and cliché and art shop mall. Perhaps the Balinese mounted a fury of fireworks to match the monsoon’s meteorological mayhem: it is just a cry for attention, tinged with mayhem.”

21st December 2010:
Christopher Carlisle, one of the pioneers of cultural tourism in Bali, dies in L
ondon after a brief illness.

Tuan Chris, the terror of Bugis Street, the birth mother of Batujimbar and the father of the Bali Hyatt Sanur was a giant figure in Sanur in the pivotal, seminal sixties and seventies.
With his great friends Wija Waworuntu, Pak Riyasa and Donald Friend he kick started high-end cultural tourism with a Sanur hotel project called the Matahari Hotel; the project which brought his other great friend Australian Architect Peter Muller to the island.
The Matahari was never built but the friendships, and the group’s deep respect for Balinese culture survived. In the decades to come the realization of many dream homes (Batujimbar) and hotels (the Amandari, the Bali Hyatt) and the culture of ‘respect’ ran deep, thanks to these early tourism pioneers.

Chris came to Bali after long stints in the Royal Navy (which he left as Commodore) and the British High Commission in Jakarta, where he was assistant political attaché during the “Years of Living Dangerously”.
He had a deep understanding of Malay Culture and Balinese Art, which he loved. But he most loved being a crusty old sailor and it was appropriate that, after his stint in Bali, he went to work as project director on the renovation of Bugis Street, that old scallywags’ playground dear to every sailor’s heart. He also worked in Hong Kong, as manager of the flamboyant Dale Keller’s design office and in the same role, for interior designer Alan Gilbert.
In Singapore he and his second wife Katherine had a beautiful colonial bungalow crammed with Balinese antiques and old friends.

For some years he also worked on the Marina Bay hotel development, eventually being responsible for the completion of all aspects of the Pan Pacific hotel, working with world-known architects John Portman and Associates.
He returned to Bali in 1990 to work as project manager on the completion of the legendary Amandari hotel — with Peter and Carole Muller and Gabriella Teggia — and stayed on to consult on various projects and literary pursuits, including editing Donald Friend’s Diaries where his triumphs and traumas are well documented.
His contribution to my career as a writer and a design consultant are immense.

Chris suffered a serious stroke in 2005 but he managed to battle on with the incredible support of Katherine, but he was never quite the same. His love for war movies was really the only part of him — beyond his devotion to his family — that survived.
With Wija, Donald, Pak Riyasa and Chris now gone, the last chapter on Sanur’s Salad Days is all but closed.
Chris is survived by Kathrine and his children Julian and Melissa and a grandson Henri.
A small service was held at the cremation in London on 24th December 2010.

The Carlisle’s Sanur home in 1970 (painting by Donald Friend)
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