This is to all our Indonesian readers. My book about life in Indonesia (hilarious, as one fan mail said) is now available across the country and almost in every bookshop. So don’t hesitate to buy and read it. Waiting for your feedback!
On one of our first days on Bali we were spotting the sunset and suddenly found ourselves in a cemetery. I took a look at the modest tomb stones and was thinking how weird it was. I had heard before that on Bali the dead are burnt and the ashes are thrown into the sea – who are the people under ground? Some Muslims? Not very likely somebody else but a native Balinese would decorate his grandfather’s grave with a swastika.
When we were later visiting the greatest and oldest temple on Bali (Mother Temple, two photos above) there was a post cremation ceremony being held. This meant that the ashes had already been thrown into the sea and the relatives had come to the temple for the holy water. This is sprayed on them for purification after all possible sacrifices to the gods have been done. Then I heard that the burning ritual cannot be carried out right after death, it’s usual to wait for about five years. That’s what the cemeteries are for.
The purification ceremony that follows the cremation ceremony, Mother Temple
The reasons for the years long wait are mainly financial – namely, a cremation veremony costs at least 50-100 million rupees (about 5000-10 000 euros!). From where should a poor Balianese get money like that?!
Sure. That’s why the cremation ceremonies are often carried out collectively – they wait for years to have more dead people in the village and the needed 3-4 millions per a dead person is found, somehow. What is more, death is a serious business here and of course a decent person prepares for it. Just like they talk about collecting coffin money in our culture, here they collect for the cremation ceremony.
But what happens if you still don’t have the money? If the body is already buried why should it be dealt with years after, and for such an amount of money? The reason is that otherwise the soul doesn’t become free and a Balinese cannot regenerate, he’ll stay stuck somewhere between being and not being.
In my head there are pictures of grumpy Balinese with shovels and spades who’ve gathered the money needed and now have to start working on the grandfather’s grave to get the necessary bones from under the ground.
But I’m mistaking. It appears the thing is a lot more metaphysical.
They really don’t burn the dead body. Instead they light the body’s symbolisation – be it a bunch of chosen coconuts or a twig. This is what is built at the glorious ceremony which begins from the home of the dead person and with a procession they move to the carnation place where the symbolisation is put into a special dragon headed bed, which then is piled with copious donations and the sounds of the gamelan orchestra. Finally everything is lit. And once again ash falls from the sky.
The next big ceremony takes them to the sea where the ash is solemnly thrown into the waves. And last but not least, they go back to the temple to carry out an even bigger ceremony to give even more sacrifices to the gods and to get some rice grains on your forehead and your nape wet with holy water.
So, 100 million rupees for the symbolisation of the body.
At least the grandfather’s soul is free now.
The “body” of the dead is put into a dragon headed bed. Cremation ceremony in the area of Bayun lake.
No doubt the dead is rich – this ceremony was held only for the mister in the picture.
Sacrifices – to insure good next life.
In minutes the whole beauty of the game is in flames.
It seems to me that there’s something common in the faces of the Indonesian holy men – all of them have deep wrinkles in the corners of their eyes. These are laugh wrinkles, like sun rays that seem to prove that an Indonesian holy man lives in blessed harmony, looking at the world through the healthy prism of laughter.
Papa Jero’s eyes were the same. Long beard, droopy hair and pajama-like batik patterned clothes could let me assume the uncle living in a shed in the mountains is a weird hippie. But there’s so much warmth beaming from that hippie, the smile, the eyes. His humble shack on North Bali looking at Buyan lake is always open to his guests, because when Jero has a lot to do, then Jero is happy.
Now this weird papa tells himself to be a holy man. If this was all I knew about him I’d think him to be a weirdo. But bit by bit the microcosm of the holy man opens up to us, reveiling Hinduist colours intervened with animistic powers and Buddhist rationality.
In every expanded family there’s usually one holy man that the god has given special powers to communicate on a bit more powerful level. If there’s someone ill in the family or there’s a quarrel the holy man can help a lot. A holy man has no steady relationship with any temple but if necessary he could take part in sacred rituals. Usually the power of the holy man is passed from one generation to another. Jero got to know about his role only six years ago when somebody in his brother’s family was suffering from a difficult illness. When the family went to a farmer for consultation, as it’s proper on Bali, he’d told that in their family there already is one holy man. The threads led to Jero and in a magical way the sick became well again. This was followed by some other weir healing cases that papa Jero had to do with until people really started turning to him when they had any trouble. But not always do the methods carry fruit, Jero says honestly. Sometimes I’m lucky, sometimes I’m not. Sometimes the god talks to him, sometimes he doesn’t.
Usually when Jero feels sensation in his chest there’s somebody from the family coming over; if he feels it in his head, somebody from the village is coming; when he feels it on his hand, there’s a foreigner coming. Jero says that money isn’t the most important, health is as important, if not more. Jero understands that the god’s treat doesn’t depend on the amount of the sacrifice. “You have to believe, truly. Even a small sacrifice is a good sacrifice.”
In the morning Jero wakes up and says he has a feeling somebody’s coming. It’s less than 30 minutes later when the owner of his land arrives and waves a contract before the holy man. The contract says that papa and his family have to move because this is a place where a hotel for tourists has to be built. With a pool, of course.
But Jero doesn’t worry, he’s happy per se. He baptises all of us his children and like a modern man he says that one has to love all countries and honor all nationalities. The little papa takes his five European children, who are all much taller than he, into his jeep and drives us to the most beautiful rice fields of Bali, which have also been noticed by the protective hand of Unesco. And then we hold hands and meditate.
Our new mom cries when we drink our last morning coffee and try to ask Jero if the god is rightful and moral.
If you live your life in an honest way, truth truth truth, then god takes your hand and takes you to good places, Jero says.
I think I have to do a little sacrifice to god, really honestly, I’ll let him have mango and banana, truth truth truth, as papa Jero says. Because this really was a very good step of him to take us here.
Fabulous photos by Ethel Kings, Estonian photographer/painter based in Yogyakarta
@The surroundings of Buyan lake, Bali, November 2010
A few days ago who would have known that I’m on my bike on Bali, a tropical island filled with gods, dashing from one fabulous Hindu temple to another. A week ago who would have known that we’re tracking Shiva and Vishnu or measure the transformation of Batur volcano with a local vulcanologist.The timing of this trip was set by Merapi that was spilling heat clouds and ash bombs, the company of this trip thus was put together absolutely plan free. It all happened just like the mad situation in ash grey friday decided to direct us.
In Bali people pray more, make sacrifices in a form of flowery baskets to natural powers and gods at their every step, and always organize different ceremonies either for freeing the soul of a grandfather who’s died years ago, or for a birthday of some temple or for purifying the people of Bali. This is what our local religion men say – local volcanos are at peace with the locals, it’s safe here.
But neither Vincent nor me were the only refugees from Yogyakarta who’d travelled to a safer ground. For example, a half of the inhabitants of our hippie castle had come to Bali, the other half had gone to Australia. Võsa and Ethel came here too. Exactly a week after the enormous eruption of Merapi the paths of the refugees crossed at a white sandy beach on Bali. We aimed to sit around fire and take the most of the local rice booze araki and then catch the fire tail of a comet and fly into the universe where everything’s possible, and then rub our sandy eyes in the morning and to swim towards the sunrise and then just to delve into water and have a silent conversation with the orange and black striped Nemos.
When at the first night we’d been the only squatters at the beach, then the next morning a whole scene of Russian Ubudi goa-trance had arrived and for the name of the half moon a mind-blowing trance party was set up. We danced in the psychedelia of the white sand tickling our toes and under the setting sun, we danced with the neon coloured nozzle of Ganeshi and in the creative-demolishing power of Shiva.
Until the roaring sky opened and suddenly heavy liquid drops started to fall. We lied in the torch light under a sparse roof and the local village men tried to refresh our senses offering us different versions of araki each being more horrible than the other. Vincent was playing Velvet Underground on the guitar. I sang about Thor, the god of the heaven.
I assume the latter heard us. Or was it the dance eager Shiva. But the rain stopped soon and the trance of Bali Russians took us over.
Until the sun arose again on the horizon, until we could again throw ourselves into the waves, until together with a local friend Wyn we could for hours look for a turtle in the sea bed, until we could grill fish on the fire, until we could afford the luxury of drinking real red wine, which our senses hadn’t tasted for four months and what our local friends had never tasted. They simply don’t have money for “real” red wine (the cheapest in Indonesia costs about 15 euros). They also cannot afford going to school. Or any other stupid luxury things or many vital things. We can share a bottle of red wine with them, but I can’t afford to sent Wyn to school.
On the very last night at the beach temple I donated my last fruits – a banana and a mango, to Shiva. They shall now represent the balance of Yin-Yang, feminine-masculine balance or symbiosis, or shall they simply be the two best tropical sweets to symbolize the wonderland-weekend we’d had.
Where are you from? For how long have you been living in Indonesia? Where in Indonesia have you been to, Bali? You haven’t been to Bali? You haven’t?!
This is how every random conversation in Indonesia began. Until the nature, namely the erupting volcano, drove me to the island of gods.
Of course Bali is the most known piece of the huge archipelago called Indonesia. There’s no Australian who has never been to Bali, or at least dreamed about a vacation there. No doubt the island is known for a reason.
It is virtually impossible to forget a fact that the village or street I’m walking on at the moment, or the warung where I sit for a second to have a coffee is on Bali – it’s an architectural paradise and ritual enchantment. At every step there’s a woman throwing rice, there are chantry baskets everywhere, at every step there are sweet incenses smoking, at every step you could trip over over a pedestal built to honour a god, or when looking for a temple you could easily find yourself in somebody’s house because sometimes they are so similar to each other.
For a long time on Bali there was no term for art because it was considered as a part of everyday life. Life is art, on Bali. Life is aesthetics. Life is chantry.
Of course Bali women don’t think in detail about the ritual things they do every day, they don’t think why is it all necessary. It’s simply a part of their day – to put baskets on pedestals, on the pavement in front a café, on a table or on a motorbikes’ seats. For the gods.
What happens if a Bali woman doesn’t do all of it? Since Bali society is community centered the group pressure mends all these glitches. A careless woman is judged, her , or at least her husband’s reputation suffers, or she loses a possibility to marry successfully in the future.
The coexistence of the contemporary consumerist culture and Bali traditions in Saminyak.
Even in front the designer shops, luxury car salongs and gas stations in a bit modern and touristy Southern Bali (for example Kuta, Seminyak, Denpasar and in a large part Ubud as well) there are proudly standing pedestals for the gods, in every shop where there’s a freezer next to lemonades and beers there’re little baskets filled with fresh flowers for the chantries for the next day. Life doesn’t stop when you follow the ancient traditions. So, on Bali modern hedonistic consumerism has wonderfully integrated with the traditions.
Still it’s quite difficult for me to tell the named towns are “the real Bali” – the restaurants offering European cuisine, the flashing night clubs and the resort-like atmosphere that is constantly commutes between the exaltation of the night and torpidity during the day. On streets like that there are hungover Australians and whiny couples, who seem to have come to an annoying vacation and who seem to almost hate their holiday, their wives or children, strolling.
Food that an Australian tourist cannot stand – nasi putih or regular rice, sayur or salad and tempe or a soya seed cake.
As my travelling comrade Vincent is an Italian, we thought to try good Italian food, both of us were hungry as wolves and so excited to try the tasty raviolis we had ordered. But instead, they bring us a handful of thin pasta pillows – seven all together. In good will we cut them into two and got 14. Seems a bit more, doesn’t it?
We labelled the fancy dinner a starter and went from the tourist area to “the real Indonesia”. Where warungs roll on wheels, ladies with big boobies drop bananas in dough into sizzling oil and men smoke the tarriest cigarets one could find. It might sound strange, but here I find myself a lot more at home than with the grumpy Australians in the Italian restaurant, where there’re no Italians whatsoever and where they add 15% service fee to the bill.
Imagine – there is a metal drum, the largest in the whole world, a giant round piece of metal, over two meters in height, made of bronze and it has fall down on this earth from the Moon! No one knows exactly how old the drum is, or how it actually got here, but we could predict it to be a thousand years ago, maybe even two. As the hand of a man at the time was probably not yet ready for acts as such, it is believed that the drum is a lost earring of a bull or a wheel of a Moon Goddess’ trolley.
The wheel fell down from the sky in Pejeng village, but it stayed hanging up in a tree and began to glow strangely. But one day a thief tried to get a hand on it, but as the luminosity of the magic wheel began hurting his eyes, he decided to empty the bladder onto the drum. So he took a piss on the drum, whereupon it lost its divine glow and turned green. A moment later, for an unknown reason, the thief died.
We’re trying to hide in a narrow shadow from the way-too-hot sun, having to admit that no flow of piss would erase this merciless luminous wheel in the skyline. There’s an ethnomusicologist lighting up a sigaret next to me – he’s studying the gongs – these amazing machines of humming sound, which ends each cycle in gamelan music. In each gong lives a spirit and of course all the gods. Sometimes the ghost plays the gong. So that you could sometimes hear from an empty gamelan classroom some chilly gongs. This gonging sound seems to represent the point of zero of their micro-universe. Gong. Gooong. Gooooong.
It is believed that the bronze drums were in the past even before gonge. These giant drums have so much holy in them, so that even if in theory we had the opportunity to play it, we still would not do it. Not that I very much believe in these things, but you never know…
Just in this side of the world there are so many ghosts, demons and gods, that from a mere curiosity I would never set a hand on some primordial luminous disk. Even when the guard of the Pura Penetaran Sasihi temple (pictured) haven’t heard much strange sounds from this drum, however one is clear – the drum is home to all Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, and thus it has to stand for something powerful.
As promised, I now have an Indonesian boyfriend. Before diving in, I’d have to explain that the relationship is of temporary and experimental kind, and at least so far there’s no threat of me bringing an Indonesian boy to Estonia. I ran into him on Bali where we started tripping together. He is officially a Muslim but not the most exemplary as he fasted for only a couple of days and ate meat when needed, prayed in Hindu temple and relationships before marriage are not tabu for him. Seems like one modernized Muslim, but still not quite.
Ryan is a graphical designer, policeman and a care taker in a temple, and all this in one personality. Usually he doesn’t take work too seriously because Ryan has a dream. Namely, his mother, who has a well-opened sixth sense and who works for the president and heals people with water in her free time, once predicted for Ryan that he’ll get married in a couple of years. Since the Muslim girls are too conservative for him and too dependent on their husbands he’s decided to collect some money and go and live in the USA with an intention of getting married.
Namely, it’s a shame here if a man in his thirties isn’t married and that is why he has to hurry. He first has to collect some money, then find a woman and so it could take years before he could get married. In general, he’s planned to have it all done in two-three years. If I asked how he thought to find a soulmate from a foreign country he said he trusted the God. And it’s not necessary to find a soul mate, it’s important to find a woman because the best gift in the world is a son. And a child without marriage is out of question.
So, my boyfriend Ryan has decided to marry a girl he’s dating in about two years. I recommended not to talk the western girls about his plannes in a too loud voice.
Ryan has alo decided to find himself step parents. He already has a step mom, a woman from the USA who’s promised to help him find a woman when he arrives in the USA. He needs step parents because his real parents got divorced five years ago and the scars in his soul are too deep. For me it is of course difficult to understand why a grown man suffers so bad because of his parents but if you take a look around on the island here, and see how families of tens live, it would obviously feel weird to come home in which there are only three people waiting: father, brother and sister in law. Not to mention the hippie mother who’s living alone in Jakarta, enjoying the anonymity of a metropol, and who has turned her back to Islam conservatism. But in every city Ryan has uncles and other relatives whose doors are always open. Since my boyfriend had decided to lengthen our time together and drove me back to Solo I opened my door for him so that he could rest after the 20-hour ride and before heading back to Bali. I turned the lights on and went outside to call him in. Ryan was looking at me with confusion:
“THIS is your room?”
Since I didn’t quite understand what the stressed THIS had meant, I thought that my ascetic room had scared him.
“Yes it is, I’ve just moved and the room isn’t ready het,” I tried to explain why I sleep on a mat not in bed, although I have no plans of exchanging my beautiful colourful nest for something more soft. I finally understood what was bothering him. Namely, my ground floor windows open to the street and as I don’t want to ruin the wide view I haven’t got myself curtains. And then I took a look around – there’s no house where there would be wide windows without curtains, and if they didn’t keep their front doors open during the day I wouldn’t know how their homes look like.
“Good luck living here,” he said and huddled into a dark corner. “I don’t feel comfortable here.”
Meanwhile I’d taken I shower and wearing a towel I joined him on the terrace. It was midnight and very quiet. Again he looked at me with his eyes filled with surprise and started fidgeting funny. He tried to sit in a way I’d be as hidden as possible and dragged my towel lower on my legs.
While I’d been away a guy from Singapore had moved in, we ran into each other in the living room, both wearing only towels we carried out a short greeting dialogue. If this was unacceptable, then imagine Ryan’s face when Georgio came out from the next room in the evening and spread some fresh Solo rumour: Kiwa had sunbathed (or carried out sun meditation, as Kiwa calls it) on the balcony, stark naked.
Although I try to follow the local clothing rules when I’m outside, at home we always have our own rules, anyways there’s no one walking in the streets at night. But I did hear the question of “where are your trousers” so often, when I tried to feel a bit more humanly in a 35 degree heat wearing only a long shirt, that I finally couldn’t help but furiously stared at him.
The second case took place one evening when there was a huge amount of people in our house that had suddenly transformed into a culture centre. Many of them drank too much beer and crashed in different rooms. I went to get some tofu, forgot myself talking to the village boys, and got back an hour later. When I arrived I found the boy lonely sitting in the livingroom.
“What are you doing here? Everybody’s sleeping, you’re tired too, why don’t you go to bed?”
“I thought I don’t know where I could sleep.”
“What do you mean? There where you’ve slept before – in my room.”
“But here’s so many people, all are your friends.”
“There’s somebody sleeping in my room?”
“What’s the problem then?”
“I don’t know if it’s appropriate.”
“Sleeping in your room.”
“You’ve already slept there for two days, why shouldn’t it be appropriate now?”
“You’ve got so many friends here today, they’d all see me going to your room for the night.”
Ryan did sleep in my room that day, as usual, after every thirty minutes he peeked to see if there was someone peeping into the room.
There were situations like that at least a couple of days a day and when I explained how I saw the things he thanked me profusely. I’ve never heard anybody thanking me so much. Thanks for letting me drive you, thanks for letting me to cook for you, thanks I can be near you, thanks for being here.
One morning, after a number of days I had lost my nerve, Ryan left. He left behind his pillows, his air conditioner, his drawing book and water colours, his weird turtle-shaped instrument, his helmet, his doormat and a chess board he’d secretly bought for me. And also a drawing of an old lady who’d asked us to her mountain cabin. He did it all by leaving me a letter, starting with Thanks…