Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

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

Pemecutan Royal Family stud-prince parks palace big car at the Mertasari Kite Festival, 7th August 2007.


Facebook Protocol for Balinese Royalty

Kris dancer at the Jero Lanang Tanjung ‘Barongfest’ at Pura Dalem Kepala Kepaon, 8th July 2011.

“In Ubud even the ducks are royal” goes an old Balinese saying.
In recent months, there has been an outbreak of ‘republican’ sentiment in Bali. The essentially feudal culture,  with the triwangsa aristocracy lording it over the land, is under threat from fringe Facebook factions. The factions are lead by arty, Trotskyite rebels from outer Ubud, over- zealous elected officials (keen to usurp the royals’ role as temple custodians), and by the pressures of modernization. The temples of Sakenan and Uluwatu narrowly escaped ‘nationalization’ recently, for example.
The fact that many of Bali’s royal families have failed to maintain their stature as bastions of society and as defenders of the faith is contributing to their gradual demise.
Many of today’s mega-palaces (Puri Agung) are virtually empty.
“Lording over the land” has its perks, but it also comes with a huge amount of responsibility.
Sadly many royal ceremonies today have become like Pawai Pembangunan (municipal parades) and not the rousing, gutty self-feudaled spectacles of yesteryears.
The fun and fashion-loving Balinese Royals, in their enforced retirement from active service, have therefore hit Facebook like a force majeure. While the normally-shy English-speaking Hindu intellectuals have annexed the Facebook discussion ‘rooms’ to vent their anger against corruption and cultural prostitution and nepotism, the  Balinese royals use  Facebook as a picnic ground cum mutual admiration society.
The tattooed, black-shirted urban youth — angry in fashion choices only — use Facebook with greater inventiveness, to trade D.J. tips and outlandish tales of ribald sex (camouflaged in low Balinese metaphor and Jakartan slang). The ‘royal’ groups, on the other hand, just trade banalities and cream cake recipes and post photos of expensive cars and watches.
Palace Pillow-talk I call it.
“Has Turah (Ratu Ngurah) had his Milo before bedtime?” sort of thing or “Is her royal highness still using skin-whitener?”
It is always super polite, to the point of being polished petite bourgeois, and super exclusive.
As Bali’s only expat conservative monarchist writer I take comfort in the fact that most of the ‘republicans’ don’t do Facebook, or there would be a cultural revolution

• • •

Typical Balinese family on way to temple festival at Turtle Island on Kuningan, 16th July 2011.

To get over my anxiety I go to Pura Luhur Uluwatu where the Jero Kuta Denpasar family are still royal custodians, and still run the four day festival with great élan.
One thinks that the nearby Pecatu villagers  — former peanut farmers who seem to be getting more regal with every passing year   — would not do such fantastic processions were the royals not at  the temple to greet them.
The same could be said of the dalang puppet-masters and mask-dancers and gamelan troupes who perform at the temple every year.
Would they be as enthusiastic if a member of the local village council met them, rather than a prince of the realm.
A prince whose deified ancestors once ‘communed’ with the spirit of Pura Luhur.
“Bali would be more beautiful without the royals” one Balinese blogger posted recently.
“Really?” I replied.  “And who would be fashioning the gilt spirit effigies at the major cremations? Danni Minogue?”
“Who would bury the precious metals in the state temple shrines, to bring them to life? The fire brigade?”
Imagine Bali without Ubud royal cremations, palace weddings and whip tattoos on Denpasar’s stud-princes!
It’s time, perhaps, for the Balinese royals to pull up their socks and earn their keep — and not just sell off the temples’ rice fields and pander to fawners and sycophants like me.
I therefore here ask my readers to vote with their hearts; cuddle a Balinese royal today; make them feel loved and wanted.


2nd July 2011: To gorgeously royalist Solo for a King-worship of a special kind
My great, late guru Go Tik Swan was born Chinese but died Penembahan Hardjonagoro a Solo prince. Over his long and fruitful life he was rewarded by his dear friend the monarch, Pakububuwono XII, with various responsibilities  — such as creating a palace museum — and with titles (the last being an elevation to the nobility, so that his tomb can be considered a ‘kramat’).


The author with the Warnos.
Kanjeng Warno’s daughters.

Kanjeng Warno’s daughter-in-law, Fatima

Kanjeng Warno & Mas Bas

Tonight, in his exquisite Javanese courtyard home — a museum of ancient statuary and noble pavilions — a royal from Solo palace is leading the Muslim prayers that commemorate the 1000th day since his death.
After the melodic prayer session the eight children of Hardjonagoro’s adopted son, Kanjeng Warno, file into the main courtyard carrying bird cages. They line up and invite Go family members to release the eight white doves.
There is not a dry eye in the palace.

7th August 2011: Mertasari Beach park turns  into a ‘colliseum’ for competing kite gangs.
“Bigger than Ben Hur” opined one of the suburbs bike-bound Ozzie grey nomads who haunt Mertasari.
Indeed, this morning’s procession and pageantry rival ancient Rome in verve and spectacle. Under wildly colored kites riding high in the sky, wave after wave of flag-waving, gamelan-pounding youth groups stream down the normally somnolent Tanjung Esplanade.
Mbak Yuni’s Warung Pojok Plus, the only food stall on the route, is filled up with male peacocks and Denpasar ‘homies’, the likes of which have never been seen before

Taman Lintang Kidul, Mertasari, 5th-7th August 2011

It’s as if the outrageous humour and riotous behaviour which once accompanied the Ogoh-Ogoh demon  effigies — on their parades the night before NYEPI (the Day of Silence) — has now been channeled into the kite festivals.
The Balinese lads and lassies have today deserted the tidy outfits — which have lately become a feature of the Pawai Pembangunan (municipal parades) — for a sultry gangster-mol-meets-sarung-kebaya look (the girls) and the bohemian-farmer-dope-fiend look (the boys).
Lots of expats and tourists join in the fun too — carrying kites and generally participating.

For once the whacky beach-wear of the foreigners seems appropriate!
The kite gangs names — such as ShangHong, Geng One-Unity and Bistek Bad — have a ring of anarchy about them.
The show rages for two days; until, eventually, the last posses of tattered kite remnants and tin pot gamelan struggle back up Jalan Tanjung and along the by-pass Ngurah Rai on their way home.
The kite festival highlights the Balinese talent for team play, their love of theatre, their perfect co-ordination and their ribald sense of street theatre.
Hooray! Horas! Hura-Hura!


Jean-Francois Fichot

Born in  Bourg En Bresse, France,  7 April 1948
Died in Cuba,  30 June 2011

One of Bali’s most talented and beloved expats died in a car crush in Cuba last month.

Jean-Francois Fichot has lived in Bali for the last 30 years. His talents were many. He was a jeweller extraordinaire, male peacock, brilliant garden artist, wardrobe mistress to the Goan Hippy Elite (1968--1972), Petitenget Beach Pioneer and journeyman (1984--2000), indecipherable conversationalist and Sean Connery lighting double; a permanent court fixture at Made's Warung in the 1970s, at Linda Garland's in the 1980s, at Batujimbar in the 1990s, Carole Muller’s beard and global jeweller to the stars. Jean-Francois was a warm and tender human being (once described by Stephen Little as "like an old, beloved dressing gown on the back of a door")and a wonderful dancer. His departure from the musical leaves a hole in the Ubud decorative arts and haute bohemian scenes

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