Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, December 2014)


Barong Berutuk file around Terunyan village’s ancient Pura Mancering Jagad during the final weekend of the 21 day temple festival.

Bali’s Wild Side

Bali has long enjoyed the reputation of being the world’s most gorgeous culture, but there is a dark side behind the glittering veneer.
Early 16th century Portuguese apothecary Tomé Pires wrote just one line on Bali in his famous travel diaries: that the island was a den of thieves and robbers.
Perhaps he just stopped at the North Coast port town of Singaraja during its hey-day as a pirates’ haven and Chinese entrepôt.
17th century records from Batavia’s (Jakarta’s) town hall record that 25% of the population were ‘Balinese slaves’ (probably fighting men of the mercenary type). These fighting slaves were noted for their ferocity.
In the early 1960s, during the communist insurrection, no place in Indonesia was as violent as Bali. 300,000 souls were slaughtered.
Expats today fill cyberspace (Fb) with shock and horror stories about mob rule in the villages when a snatch thief is apprehended and often beaten to death.
For many this contrasts with Bali’s image as an island peopled with pliant spa attendants and languid dancers.

Kiwi-Kintamani beauty Trishna Newson (left) was the model for this priestess effigy which welcomed
devotees to the temple in Terunyan.

But the scary side of paradise — the tense trance rituals and ‘demon-worship’ — is a major component of the island’s true character.
Nowhere is it more evident than in the very ‘brutal’ village of Terunyan on the eastern shore of Lake Batur, where bodies are left out to rot on bamboo platforms in the graveyard, and where villagers regularly stone vehicles of tourists because they haven’t availed themselves of the expensive ferry service to the remote settlement.

[ See Video Barong Berutuk: http://youtu.be/v5gD1jje5hU ]

Once every few years the village brings out the 14 ancient and very spooky Barong Berutuk masks, the guardians of the village’s main deity Da Tonya. Over a weekend of ritual these masks are worn by furry freak brothers — dressed only in dried banana leaf moo-moo — who menace spectators with long whips.
During the festivals climax the atmosphere is electric! At one point the mob of monsters are ushered from one temple to the next, along village lanes lined with pecalang guards. At their destination the dancers form two lines while offerings are strapped to their heads. The ancient selonding gamelan then hums into action and the barong dancers sped off in every direction like hyenas in a gladiator pit.

•    •    •

Meanwhile, an hour or so down the road, the 11th century Pura Gunung Lebah temple in Ubud is having a festival as pretty and polite as the Pasadena rose parade.
Bali is nothing if not an island of extraordinary contrasts.

25 October 2014: To Puri Kaleran Pusaka, Peliatan for a tooth-filing and the climax of the soul purification rites for the ex-Deputy Mayor of Gianyar
The petite, heavenly decorated multi-courtyard pusaka palace of Peliatan is one of the prettiest in the land — populated with star dancers and male peacocks.

This morning the three sons of the biggest star of all, A.A. Gede Bagus Mandera Erawan (Gung Bagus) and his perfectly demure Japanese wife (Jero Hadi/Keiko Mandera) are having their teeth filed and le tout Ubud are here in their sartorial splendor.

The oldish legongs are all glad-wrapped in fashionable canary yellow brocade chemise — with ample transparent panels — teamed with embroidered green and red skirt cloths.

Images from Tooth-filing and Ngasti ceremonies at Puri Kaleran Pusaka, Peliatan, Ubud,
28 October 2014

[ See video Ngasti & Mepandes Ceremonies at Puri Kaleran Pusaka, Peliatan, Ubud: http://youtu.be/6tttzijQaZQ ]

The celebrants are quite dressed down compared to the invitees — one visiting princeling has diamonds dripping from every finger and bells on his toes (see photo previous page).
Amongst the royal aunties serving tea are Gusti Ayu Raya (75), the island’s most famous senior Oleg dancer, and Oka Kartini, mother of Dayu Sri of Warisan fame.
Keiko Mandera, the boys’ Japanese mum, is a picture of grace and devotion holding each of her sons’ hands as he undergoes canine-depletion (see photo opposite page). She shows that special brand of Balinese theatrical distress traditionally displayed during this ritual. Ibu Keiko is a perfect royal mum.
The legendary palace’s Semar Pegulingan Tirta Sari plays in the front courtyard as an albino water buffalo is paraded, along with the island’s sauciest long-waisted grandmothers, each bearing a spirit effigy.

•    •    •

Images from Pelebon ceremony at Puri Kaleran Pusaka, Peliatan, Ubud,
21 October 2014

One week ago the palace had put on a riotous cremation for the deceased uncle, the climax of which being A.A. Oka Dalem and friends dancing a rare Topeng Pamungkah Lawang warrior dance in front of the coffin (see photo above).
This family sure knows how to put on a show, and not just at Versailles or the White House.
Peliatan’s numerous palaces — Puri Agung, Puri Kaleran, Puri Kelodan — rival Ubud in the magnificence of their cremation processions and funeral biers.  Both villages have extraordinary gamelan and marching band (beleganjur) ensembles and bevies of beauties to choose from, to fashion long lines of long waists.

Last week’s procession was particularly beautiful: the moment the giant black bull sarcophagus and the funeral bier (bade) turned up the ramp into the large cremation grow) was breathtaking.
Hundreds of tourists were dripping from the trees or attempting to scramble up the priest’s pavilion. It was my job to push them back with a barge pole, Tokyo subway style.


Legendary dancer A.A. Oka Dalem (right) and troupe perform the rare Topeng Pamungkah Lawang in  front
of his uncle’s funeral bier in the Ubud cremation ground, 26 September 2014

[ See Video Pelebon Puri Peliatan: http://youtu.be/omgucV23yZ0 ]

10 November 2014: An expat wannabe posts spurious accusations on Facebook against Sanur’s reputation as a family-friendly township
A deranged Dutchman (too many mussels) says on Facebok that he has read that Sanur is ridded with prostitution. I reply that there has been a Navy barracks in Semawang (South Sanur) since the 1960s and this has attracted a ghetto of ‘libido-relief workers’, but Sanur-Intaran is, basically, a deeply conservative community, run by various Brahman houses, with a healthy international outlook. Over the past two years a colourful mix of road-side bars of the ‘Hooters’ variety have sprung up on the Belanjong-Semawang Road (East Danau Poso) where expat seniors re-enact time-honoured mating-rituals in full view of passing schoolchildren. It’s a shame that such activities cannot be confined to red-light districts in Legian and Seminyak as these kerb-side displays of affection give rise to a warped perception of expat culture as a whole.
Spell-bound grand-dads can now be seen walking toward said water-holes at sunset like sex-starved, singlet-clad zombies.
Otherwise, Sanur is wholesome.



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