Published in the Sunday Jakarta Post, 11 June 2006

Mangku Meme holding a picture of Bung Karno (the country's Proklamator)


Mountain mystic oustide Pura Batur temple, Kintamani 

There is something about the mountain people of Indonesia – the Batak Karo, the Badui, the Tenggerese and the Lake Batur Balinese. They are descendents of the first tribes of proto-Malays who come hopping down the Malay Peninsula from present-day Yunan, South China and eventually the Sunda archipelago; these early tribes must have jumped from mountain lake to mountain lake with their pigs and dogs and wet rice cultivation. Over hundreds of years, they displaced the ancient Indonesians who were forced eastwards we are told, to Flores, Timor and Alor where they remain to this day.
The mountain folk of Bali have more ‘purely’ Mongoloid features – like dollar signs visible on their eyeballs? (Ed.) – than their coastal cousins – whose have more ‘hybrid’ features due to contact with Yemeni, Indian and ancient Malay traders, fishermen, merchants and priests.
Features aside, the mountain Balinese – particularly in the lake-side villages of Songan, Terunyan and Kedisan – are as “rough as nuts” (as Margaret Mead politely put it) but unified with a mysticism which presents as an intensely spirit-worshipping culture. They also possess a strong sense of tribal identity, not really found in the low-land areas. They are strong, wilful, temperamental, but profound. They are the keepers of the ancient flames and guardians of the ancient deities – the gods of the mountains and all the important lakes.
Last Sunday I headed for the hills to make offerings at Pura Batur, Kintamani, a high temple perched on the caldera that overlooks Lake Batur and its attendant volcano, Mt. Batur. The god of Pura Batur is the ‘patron saint’ of agriculture, horticulture and landscapers. Like most Balinese offices, our office also worships Dewi Saraswati, as goddess of the arts and education, and thus designers. Our holiday is both Saraswati Day (huge in Bali) and Tumpek Landep, the birthday for keris and knives and thus lawn mowers.
It sounds complicated: it’s not. Everything just comes around in 210 day cycles and then you die. That’s the way the Balinese think of it. All you have to do is stay awake. And dress up. And be sincere when the occasion calls for it. In between: it’s tourism (lackey-duty), chatting-up Japanese chicks, (the cops and terrorists have scared the Australians away it seems) and McDee, as often as one can.
But this is a generalisation.
Specifically, the mountain Balinese also have their strong local culture and their gruff rogue-ishness.
As I was saying ………..
I was heading off to Pura Batur, up the hill, straight up from Sanur, but got side-tracked at Sayan, where I have a small cottage (pesantren pemedek bulé). I discovered that Sayan’s mother temple, the Pura Penataran had had its odalan temple festival the night before so – as I was dressed for the occasion with incense to burn – I did a divine detour.
In the beautiful Pura Penataran temple I discovered my cook and my land lord and his son, who never comes to work as relief driver but has very good legs.
I had forgotten that when they are not breaking my china or ambushing me with dental bills – they are extraordinary artists and trance-mediums. They can invoke the higher gods and make the elixir of life even. The temple was decorated with precision and skill. They have even affected the bouquet of tedung (temple umbrellas pinched at their base) invented by the sculptor Ida Bagus Nyana, the nearby Pura Taman Pulé, in Mas.

Sayan Temple
The Rangda and The Barong Macan, or Tiger Barong stands guard in its pavilion 'garage' at the Pura Penataran temple, Sayan 

All the village’s Barongs – Pig and Tiger varieties, and very spooky Rangda witch masks – were aligned on high altars in the ravishing ceremonial pavilion.
I prayed with young ‘De’Doot, the son of my old buddy painter, Wayan Suji. ‘De’Doot’ has a dreamy disposition, like his dad, and sits with grace on a pavilion base nursing an offering: he is like the young Princess Elizabeth in a formal portrait by Cecil Beaton.

• • •

my former cook and my land lord

Young 'De 'Doot with offering at Pura Penataran temple, Sayan  


Denpasar Chinese couple praying at the Taoist shrine at Pura Batur

From Sayan we sped due north up the hill to the Kintamani via the still picturesque villages of Katung and Banua.
The temple was empty save for a sweet Denpasar-Chinese couple praying at the recently restored Taoist shrine.
They burned two hundred thousand dollars in paper money and 28 miniature paper Zen villas with swimming pools in the living room, and 37 miniature paper pan technicians full of cotton interlock tanktops.
We all then prayed together – the Australian, the two Chinese, the Jakarta Moslem and the Balinese – to the spirit of the crater lake.
On leaving the temple, I bumped into my old buddy the dwarf mystic who sells lucky charms to dumb tourists. He has sprouted three new rings and a kiwi necklace symbolizing the All-blacks victory over Wales at the last ‘Super Sunday.’
I enquired after my dear friend Mangku Meme – star of this column since it inception in 1979 – who invokes the spirit of Bung Karno, the country’s Proklamator, In her KLINIK MISTIK on the lake’s edge at Kedisan. “She danced at the tenth full moon festival last month,” he volunteered, cheerily.
Mangku Meme is 90 years old if she is a day. The idea of his mind-boggling.
Mountain folk last longer than us.

• • •

Mountain mystics with his ring bedecked hand

That night I went back to my village to visit the ailing prince of Kepaon, I Gusti Lanang Oka.
It seems I made a mistake in my last column: the name for a princely vassal is moncol, not mongol.
Tonight I learned from the sweet prince that there are 32 moncol in South Bali “all descended from the 32 children from the 500 wives (you do the math) of Cokorda Sakti,” the founding father of the royal house of Pemecutan, a Majahpahit era clans.
Each has a palace, a petrol station, a blonde Californian daughter in-law studying the Legong, and a major temple to run. For example: Jero Kuta Palace runs Uluwatu temple, which had its glittering 5 day festival last week too!
We talked of the origins of Kampung Islam Kepaon whose inhabitants are descendents of the retainers of a moslem Madurese prince who was gifted a Hindu Pemecutan princess in the 18 th century – a present for helping the Pemecutan’s put down insurgencies (the South Bali travel warning issued by Canberra).
We talked of the family of four banci (transsexual) brothers who had a warung we used to frequent in front of the Kampung Islam Kepaon mosque, the island’s first. One, Haji Ali, had been murdered the night before, by rent boys.
“They found a condom in his bottom and all his gold was gone,” my prince said in the droll way most Balinese deliver scandalaceous news.
Poor Haji Ali: Bali’s first out Moslem transsexual, he was always kind and gentle. What’s the matter with the world!

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