Postponing a party

 Betty:

Kim Tin would see us again in a week, just before our return to Australia. He was purifying himself through fasting and meditation. He spent his days and nights on a small, roofed platform close to the shrines and family temples which sprouted like mushrooms to the rear of his dwelling. He was dressed in white sarong and shirt.

Members of his family worked in adjoining shelters, weaving small baskets for the offerings which were heaped near the temples. All celebrated and gave thanks for his recent honour. Kim Tin had been given the freedom of the temples of Bali. He could enter the most sacred, the most holy areas.David’s continuing ill-health, suddenly became alarming.

David:

In Ubud we had arranged a farewell party, inviting friends and the people we had hoped to meet. It was a Balinese farewell feast with smoked duck, port and chicken sates, yellow rice, other things and rice wine. I hope it was a success. We were not present. Somehow I liked the idea of throwing a party and being absent. I hope we were talked about at least.

On the morning of the party I became ill with asthma. The village nurse was called and she gave me an injection, but this was effective for a few hours only. During the afternoon I was fighting for breath, straining, supporting myself with my arms gripping a table. The rain came straight down. Sweat dripped from my hair, my clothes were soaked. Betty found the nurse who gave me a larger injection but this did not have much effect. A taxi was found at some cost and in pouring rain; we abandoned our party and drove slowly to Denpasar.

In the hospital outpatients department I was given another injection. `I think your heart is strong, but I advise you to pray to your God’, said the admitting doctor and he linked me to a oxygen cylinder. I learned much later that the drug I was being given could cause heart arrest and I had been given huge doses. I needed all the celestial help available.

Betty:

I was very worried about David whose condition had deteriorated since our visit to Jogjakarta. His weight had steadily dropped and he was never free of a cough or wheeze. He was often exhausted. Several times his spasms had required urgent medical attention but now he was not responding to medication.

The Doctor urged me to stay at the hospital. Several times nurses said I might share his bed but I declined. The small room already had two patients and an enormous cylinder of oxygen was positioned at David’s side. Later I was given a room across the corridor especially reserved for government guests. I climbed up on the high bed, said a prayer and fell asleep. I left the hospital early in the morning but already wives, family and friends of patients were arriving with baskets of food, enough for breakfast and the rest of the day. When I returned in the afternoon bearing my own basket, many of the family groups still picnicked together. Outside David’s room was a large tree. We watched visitors, staff and patients place offerings under it and pause in prayer. In his room, offerings were placed in the corners and at the window sills.

David:

Like trains, hospitals in Bali have three classes, first, second and third. There is also a V.I.P. room, but that is something different and as expensive as a good hotel. The doctor was very much against my staying in the third class section. `Dirty’, he said, `very dirty’. He did convince me that I should move, upgrade; but then he found that the first and second class parts of the hospital were quite full, so I had no choice. Anyway, when I had been for a while in the third class room I had no wish to be upgraded; I was where I belonged. I shared with a nice, quiet man from Klungkung whose wife came with baskets of food for him and brought along a little extra for me.

`Food is very bad in third class’, the doctor had said. True enough it was very plain and consisted mostly of little bowls of cold bean cakes and bean shoots and larger bowls of rice. The bathrooms were dark concrete cells with just a square cistern for water and a hole in the floor in one corner of the room, which did as a lavatory. That was all ok by me; but the mould and dankness of the room did not help my breathing,

The ceiling and upper part of the walls of my room were off-white, the lower walls institutional green and rather stained. But I liked the stains. I was able to amuse myself by making images – like Bemelmans’s ‘Madeline‘ when she was in hospital: `On the ceiling was a crack that had a habit, of looking like a rabbit’.

Australian hospitals have efficient sisters and nurses who bustle about in sensible shoes. They wake you up like sergeants for sponges and other indignities. Efficiency of that kind has not come to the Balinese hospitals. The nurses were nicely plump and looked like like smiling pillows in their short dresses of dazzling white, they moved quietly in tennis shoes. Theywere much too shy to touch my body.  I was considered ill enough for oxygen and cortisone and other drugs, but nobody offered to wash me and I lay in my clothes. I had to wait ’till I was sufficiently well to make my way slowly to a wet, mildewed hole of a bathroom where I splashed myself from the cistern and tottered, gasping for air, back to my bed. Cortisone every eight hours, other drugs every six. Some young doctors were gentle as whispers with the needle and some were strong and a little abrupt.

I lay on a simple over sheet of grey stripes. A framed, coloured print of a Balinese garden hung on the wall. At about six o’clock my partner’s wife, who was visiting with eggs, firmly closed windows and doors. Perhaps because of mosquitoes, perhaps because of demons. The room was very hot as a result. I did not feel that I should open them, mainly because of demons. Again, I was gasping.

I left hospital a day before we were to leave Indonesia. In the hospital foyer, as I sat with Betty waiting for medicine to arrive from the pharmacy, a young man hurried to me, took hold of my shoulder, gazed into my eyes and spoke urgently to me. He spoke in Balinese, so I did not recognise one word. He repeated, even more urgently, what he had said. I could not understand. He rolled his eyes. Obviously he was saying something terribly important. I asked him would he speak in Indonesian; but the same words came to me. I was very concerned. Two other men came and led the poor man away. `Crazy’, they said to me and screwed their forefingers into their temples.

Mystics and witchdoctors

David:

From the time we left Jogjakarta, we seemed to lose our hold on luck. In Surabaya, we lost our typewriter and with it many of our notes and addresses. My health slowly became worse and worse. Nothing seemed to work smoothly.

We were in Bali where we had started, I was ill and stayed in my room, Betty went to the bank collecting money which had arrived from Australia.

She put the money in her bag and walked along Jalan Gadjah Mada, the main street of Denpasar. She bought a few things in shops. At one point, she remembered, there was a crowd of people on the street and she was jostled, just as we were in Jakarta, when I lost the jacket.

Betty:

Instantly the thought of pickpockets flashed through my mind. Men pushed around me, bumping me. I was soon out of the crush and immediately reached for my bag which hung from my shoulder by a strap. The buckle clasp was closed but I stopped on the pavement to check the contents. My wallet had gone and with it all the money I had just collected from the bank, 100,000 rupiah, approximately two hundred dollars Australian. I hadn’t one rupiah left as I made my stunned way to the Police Station. My little knowledge of the language seemed to have disappeared with the money. I wept with frustration and shock as I attempted to talk to two young policemen who were so embarrassed that they could only laugh at me.

I felt very sorry for myself till the supervising officer appeared. He indicated I was to get on the back of his motor-bike and away we went to what I imagined would be David and consolation. Instead I was delivered to the large central Police Station. I could see it was now absolutely essential to speak in Indonesian.

The police officer had no light of hope in his eye as I told my story. He put down the particulars carefully, typing with one finger, he smiled wryly and shook his head pityingly.

I was allowed to go. Back at the hotel David went perhaps a little paler but others grew excited as I told what had happened. They all had the same advice: `consult a dukun’.

David:

The word, ‘Dukun’ is translated loosely as ‘witchdoctor’; the term seems strange in a civilised country such as Indonesia. Dukuns are healers, dukuns can see the future, find lost property and help in all kinds of ways. All our advisers had their own stories of how dukuns had recovered their stolen goods or saved their lives when evil spells had been cast.

`Can you find us a dukun?’ we asked. The loss of money was an excuse to search for something which could defy logic. `No problem’, they said and they consulted each other about the whereabouts of dukuns until the consultations turned to arguments and the purpose was lost. Then, when we mentioned dukuns, we received blank looks. `What dukun?’

`There is a very good dukun in Tabanan’, somebody said, but could tell us no more.

Now, we were going to Tabanan to visit a painter, Kay It (his wife Eni, is one of the beauties of Tabanan which is noted for beautiful women). Without much hope, we asked him if he knew of the famous dukun. Kay It is a charming man, big and easy going. ‘Oh yes’, he said casually, `he is a relation’.

Kay It obligingly took us to the house of his relation, Kim Tin, who explained that he was not a dukun, but a kebatinan, not a witchdoctor but a mystic. Kim Tin had a strong face and a searching gaze. We sat with him and told him about the robbery.

Kay It spoke English so we thought it better that he translate rather than trust the story to our shaky Indonesian. When Betty had proceeded a little, speaking to Kay It, Kim Tin said a few words. `There is no need for me to translate’, said Kay It. `He cannot understand English, but he is understanding your story.’

Of course, Kim Tin did not seem to hold out much hope of finding the money. He would meditate, he said and he asked us to think of him at eleven o’clock that night.

On the subject of my illness he said: `You have met a man similar to me. Not the same, but a man with powers. You met him in Java. He passed on some of his power to you. This made you strong for a short time, but has left you very weak’.

‘Yamto Bloody Magic’ I said to myself.

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The village of Tenganan

Tenganan is completely walled. It is an ancient Balinese community of about three hundred people that holds to ancient ways. For hundreds of years it has preserved the ancient customs of pre-Hindu times. Its serene conservatism was especially marked as minutes before we had been with the kris dancers. Neat, little stone and brick houses, joined together, were arranged in rows on either side of the wide, stone-paved central avenue which runs the length of the village. The avenue is terraced and graded slopes, not steps, lead to the various levels. A Buffalo grazed freely. Chickens, hens and ducks were about our feet. Fighting cocks crowed from their elegant baskets as they watched the passing parade. Remarkably plump and handsome village dogs warned of our presence.

Cokorda Mahun knew the Mayor, who was now walking towards us. I was surprised he spoke in English and when I told him so he beamed proudly, `I listen every day on my wireless to Radio Australia. I listen in to Melbourne. They teach how to speak English and I want to learn. I never miss a day!’

I Made Pasek, this English speaking Mayor of Tenganan, ushered us to a small house to see the famous cloth of Tenganan in the making. This cloth, called ‘gringsing’, the word means ‘not sick’, is said to have miraculous powers to protect its wearer and ward off sickness. Prayers chanted by the women weavers are said to be woven with the thread into the cloth.

On the loom, we saw a strip of cloth, about the size of a normal scarf. As yet it was unfinished, but it had already been seven years in making. Above, loosely knotted, hung the threads used in weaving. Each thread was dyed already in a pattern which would emerge as the intricate, exquisite, age-old gringsing design.

Mayor Pasek brought out a small wicker basket and there we saw fine examples of this almost priceless cloth. One piece as long, but not as wide as a sarong, had taken fifteen years to weave, the design was the traditional Gambar Wayang, drawn in profile in the style of the Wayang puppets, and the colours from natural dyes were black, cream and flame. I asked Mayor Pasek if I could photograph the cloth and nodding agreement he wound the sarong round his waist and with a broad smile, stepped outside into the sun.

As we walked the length of the village, Mayor Pasek accompanied us. He spoke of a Swiss Doctor now living in the village who was making a study of the low birth rate. He was sad as he told us the women were often barren and families were lucky to have two or at the most three children. `Maybe because we marry within our village. If a man marries with a woman outside he is exiled. He must go from here’, and he waved his arm in an expansive gesture, and in an afterthought added, ‘but he may return to visit’.

In a village of three hundred, isolated for hundreds of years it is obvious there has been intermarriage. This may be a reason for the small families of Tenganan, when in neighbouring villages households are bursting at the seams, and the Government, in huge posters, illustrates the benefits of small families and urges birth control for the modern family.

Mayor Pasek was generous with his time and information. He spoke of the beliefs the Tenganese held: `We don’t believe in burning the body after death. Here there is no cremation’,  he shook his head; his face brightened as he spoke of their burial after death, `the body is naked and put face down in the earth the hands like this’, and Mayor Pasek bent himself forward, hands clasped in front in an attitude of prayer. `We come into the world like this and so we must return naked to the earth. Everything must return to the earth. This is why we fold the hands, we are praying to the spirit of the earth’, and he stopped talking to point out a house where an altar had been erected near the door on the outside wall. `There is to be a burial’, he said, `an old woman has died’.

We passed a buffalo grazing in the central avenue. Our young friend ran to pat its sparsely bristled, tough, tough hide. This gave our host a further train of thought. `We have the ritual killing of the buffalo; we sacrifice its blood to the earth; it is, as you say, a symbol; that’s why we have the cock-fighting, the blood must return to the earth’, and his eyes beamed as he thought of the cock-fights, a manly diversion in Bali, a huge entertainment, but with spiritual motives.

We had arrived at Mayor Pasek’s house and inviting us inside he produced a Visitor’s Book and so we signed. Directly opposite the signature column was one which noted donation received. We dug into our pockets, something for Tenganan and something for Mayor Pasek, who was full of smiles as he waved us through the gates of walled Tenganan. Five hundred rupiahs was a small exchange for a unique experience.

We walked to Cokorda Mahun’s gleaming car, still parked in the now empty square of the village of the kris dancers. Somehow it had taken on the serenity of Tenganan. We were quite alone, but on the ground were the heaped offerings, which dogs were sniffing. The breeze ruffled the feathers of the dead chickens.

 

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The Moon of Bali

Betty:

Galungan is a great national festival day for the Balinese. It is a day when all the temples ring with merriment. It is the time when the Balinese believe the supreme God Sanghyang Widi and a retinue of deities and ancestral spirits descend from heaven to spend ten days on earth in their temples. Galungan is celebrated every two hundred and ten days and, for ten days, there are continuous processions to the hundreds of temples. The Barongs are paraded in the streets, marched from village to village, often stopping on the roadside and dancing on the spot.

Maybe the day I am about to describe was especially auspicious because of Galungan but we set off early in the morning to a series of adventures which made me wonder.

We had met a handsome, distinguished Balinese, Cokorda Mahun. ‘Cokorda’ is the title for Prince, or, as one very old man told me as he was introducing his six year old great granddaughter, also to be addressed as Cokorda,  `. . . the same as your Lord Clarence’. Said Cokorde Mahun. Cokordas seem numerous, perhaps because, as one proudly told me, `my father had thirty-five wives . . .’ and to top that, he showed me a photograph of one of his father’s beautiful wives. Cokorda Mahun owns an old, luxurious American car, and he earns money renting it, with himself as guide, to travellers. We hadn’t enjoyed this scene before – our travelling had been on our own and on public transport. How wonderful it was to drive so slowly (for he nurses the car) to villages I had as yet seen only on the map. Travelling in this way with so much space and comfort was luxury; we shared it with a young friend.

Our first stop was Pedjeng where we saw the `Moon of Bali’. It is the largest cast drum in the world, and its origins are lost in the Bronze Age. It is cast in bronze in one piece, over 1.8 metres long, a graceful, waisted shape with flared ends. It is still almost intact. The head is decorated with a large, many pointed star, and mysterious, beautiful, mask-like faces circle the upper section of the drum. I wonder about the people who made it; the Balinese have no recorded history of this early race so resort to legend and myth …`long, long ago one of the thirteen moons of heaven fell to earth and was caught in a tree at Pedjeng . . .’ and so they display it, raised on a platform as high as a tree in the inner temple grounds. Other pavilions within the temple grounds house wonderful, ancient stone images of Gods and spirits. They gaze out over the sawahs where they have recently been found, testimony to the rich historical past of this area.

For a long time I had wanted to visit the village of Tenganan. It is close to the holy mountain, Gunung Agung (Great Mountain), a still active volcano whose peak, often wreathed in cloud is over 3,000 metres high. Agung dominates the mid-eastern Bali landscape. Its last eruption in 1963 caused devastation, loss of life and isolated one-fifth of the Island. To climb its peak is part of the course for high school students in Bali; a feat of endurance and skill for both girls and boys who are proud to speak of their adventure and night spent shivering on the summit.

Tenganan is one of two villages in Bali whose inhabitants are known as the Bali Aga. Their origins, customs and religious beliefs survive from pre-Hindu times. David and I had already set out three times to visit Tenganan but obstacles and intrusions on our journey always made us turn back. And it almost happened again.

We had turned off the main road and were within two kilometres of Tenganan when we came to a halt; hundreds of brilliantly dressed Balinese took every inch of the road as they moved, laden with offerings, to a village square and temple further along the road. We inched our way at the rear of the procession and came to a halt with them. Offerings were made at the cross-roads and blood sacrifice was made. Chickens were killed and the blood allowed to blend with flowers and incense on the roadway. It was impossible to take the car any further. We began to move through the crowd planning to walk to the walled Tenganan which we knew to be nearby. I became alarmed when I saw a man with a kris turning the point of its long curved blade upon his chest. I had heard of the kris dancers, where young boys, said to be in trance, dance in a frenzy, repeatedly turning the kris upon themselves. I had seen this too, climaxing the colourful, highly entertaining dance drama Barong. But this was different, not a tourist performance. We had stumbled upon a Balinese celebration to honour Galungan.

Before I could stop her, our young friend dashed away to take photographs followed by David and Cokorda Mahun. I was rooted to the spot aware that we were intruders. I felt menaced and sick at the sight of the chanting, leaping man whose chest trickled with blood. Near the dancer was a white robed priest who was praying and sprinkling water. The crowd parted and the dancer moved to several others, also in trance. They moved awkwardly to the rhythm of the gamelan which played percussively with a monotonous, scant, melodic line. At intervals the dancers would plunge the kris energetically to a high point above the breast.

A mass of people lined the square and all interest was on the dancers who paused when David and our friend, the young girl approached. Suddenly I saw the man with the bleeding chest wave his kris at them. He repeated this gesture several times, raising his arm and kris in a thrusting outward gesture and moving toward them. It was obvious he wanted them out of the way. The crowd murmured. David and the girl disappeared, but I saw a tall man approach Cokorda Mahun. He took his arm and propelled him toward the Priest pointing in my direction.

I felt unwell, weak-kneed. I sheltered in a small wayside Warung directly opposite the piled offerings and dead chickens. Twenty-five rupiah bought me a glass of thick, steaming coffee and a few deep breaths settled my nerves. The kris dancers had separated me from David, so I was relieved to see Cokorda Mahun and the Priest. Cokorda Mahun was muttering angrily. He’d been rebuked by the mayor for his and our breach of etiquette. This was a special occasion and the crowd and dancers were offended we wore no temple sashes. The girl’s shorts and long brown legs were a further distraction and most unwelcome. So we were being moved on. Cokorda Mahun had been instructed by the Mayor to move his car and the Priest now propelled him and I toward it.

The kris dancers were now joined by two small, beautifully costumed girls, about nine years old, a contrast in their grace and delicate movements to the entranced men. Incense sticks burned in their elaborate beaten gold and flowered head-dresses. The crowd chanted and formed a procession which with gamelan and dancers began to move from the square to the nearby temple. Cokorda Mahun and I watched it from the shelter of the car then quickly made our way to find the others.

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David:

Would you like to be part of the company for a night?’ Bandem asked. He had been very patient explaining the dance and story to us.

Of course we would and it was arranged: we were to be at ASTI at 6.30 sharp on the following evening. `And there is no need to bring umbrellas’, Bandem said, `it will not rain’.

The rainy season was under way and there was every chance of rain, every night. Why did he think tomorrow would be dry? `We have arranged it’, he said a little roguishly.

The dancers must learn formulae to protect themselves while dancing, especially while in a state of trance, and they learn also old incantations to keep away the rain. It is a matter of everyday magic.            `On the next day, for the first time ever, Betty forgot to bring her umbrella. We were well on our way, under low, dark clouds, before she thought of it and there was no time to turn back to the hotel.

Anyway, we were running late. It would be a long night and we had decided to have a meal beforehand. We found what seemed to be the slowest restaurant in Bali. At 6.30 sharp, our meal was arriving at the table. We wolfed it and bustled through the crowded market to hire a pony cart, known as a`dokkar’. We found one with a pretty pony with bells on his harness, perhaps the slowest pony in Bali. We tinkled through the streets and our lugubrious driver assured us we were too late and it was no use.

Really there was no need to worry. In Bali, time is made of rubber. At ASTI, students were waiting on the veranda and a truck was standing in the grounds. We were not at all the last to arrive. We had half an hour to wait. When the time came to leave, all the lithe dancers leapt into the back of the truck and Betty and I made it in our own way. It was starting to spit rain – so much for incantations – so we worked our way subtly towards two doubters at the front of the press who were opening umbrellas.

The truck took us north on empty roads, through dark villages and between rice fields where water glinted dully. The rain stopped and in the truck was a feeling of warmth and happiness. Now and again a chorus of song burst out. Students came through the crowd to speak to us and two befriended us for the evening. One was a pretty dancer from Java, the other a Balinese boy with a gentle, sensitive face and an ambition to be a clown.

The company was to perform the Ramayana Ballet at the village of Batubulan (Moonstone). The truck pulled up before one of the village temples, we trouped inside and, after removing our shoes, into the centre of a large, square pavilion. As the others sat, so did we, cross-legged on woven mats. Food was brought to us, rice and spiced meat wrapped in banana leaf, and glasses of thick Balinese coffee, black and grainy. Under amused instruction from the sweet Javanese dancer and the clown we ate with our fingers, spilling rice all about and on our feet, which looked pitiful and pale amongst the firm, brown Indonesian feet. Our second meal of the evening was better than the first.

Betty:

At about nine o’clock the company retired to put on make-up and costumes. The application of the make-up was a slow and marvellous ritual. The costumes were elaborate; there were masks and golden head-dresses, beautiful sashes and sarongs. They all came out of a huge wooden box with intricate carving.

We were shown to our seats. The Javanese girl whom David so much admired, was not dancing and sat with us. We were favoured; we had front seats, on the platform and under the roof of the pavilion. Students came to talk for a while. The dalang of the dance at KOKAR brought a friend to meet us. He was a stocky man with a proud, direct gaze, a manly man, and he was to be the dalang for this Ramayana Ballet.

We waited: ten o’clock, ten-thirty. Suddenly, the hundreds of open air seats in the temple grounds were filled and a mass of little boys squatted and wriggled in front of our feet. The performance, Indonesian style, would go on into the morning; there was no hurry to begin.

The music began; drums, gongs and metallophones. The dance began; fluid movement and colourful costume. The crowd of children in the front of the audience applauded passages of both music and dance; they were wide eyed. Bandem, Dibia, the great Mario, all the dancers on stage, dancers through the centuries, had once belonged to that throng.

There was no interval. I was exhausted. We had been very busy in the last few days, then the journey to Batubulan, the waiting, the pair of dinners. Now and again a small boy would drop his head to his knees, or the shoulder of a friend, and sleep a little while. My head dropped the same way; but we were guests and prominently placed. We decided it was best to take a walk.

We walked out of the temple grounds and bought drinks and brown-sugar sweets at a stall. The scene outside was almost as colourful as the ballet itself, with light from oil lamps falling on the bamboo and thatch of stalls. A road led off into darkness under a skyline of palms. We talked with a stall holder about families and music. I was tired and David was pale and ill, breathing with difficulty.

The story of the Ramayana came to an end. Rama and Sita were happily together and the monkey general Hanuman basked in glory. Stall-holders lifted their tables onto their heads and carried them away, little boys stood and dusted their bottoms. The crowd drifted away slowly along dark roads. It was 3 a.m. We waited for the truck to take us back to Denpasar. We were tired, but we knew we were happy.

`It didn’t rain’. One of us said. It was a starry morning after all. In Bali everyone is a little artist – perhaps a little magician too.

In the early thirties, when the German painter, Walter Spies and the Dutch painter, Rudolf Bonnet settled in the Ubud district, a Belgian painter, Adrien Jean le Mayeur settled in Klandis, a small village near Denpasar.

His favourite model was a legong dancer, Ni Pollok, whom he married in 1935. Their house in Sanur has become the property of the Indonesian Government and, as The Museum Le Mayeur, is open to the public.

The le Mayeur house is as richly decorated as a Hindu temple or the instruments of a Balinese gamelan. Furniture is deeply carved, painted and gilded. On the walls are continuous murals, in the painter’s decorative style, of Balinese scenes, of Balinese girls. One face and figure is repeated again and again, the Legong dancer, wife of the artist.

And in the gift shop, we find the same face and figure again, Ni Pollok. In life, she was of course older than the figure in the paintings, but still serene, still beautiful. She allowed me to draw her and sat relaxed, without embarrassment. She was used to modelling.

The museum seemed dedicated to a love story.

`My husband taught me to write and we used a stick and wrote in the sand of the beach’, said Ni Pollok. `He was my teacher as well as my husband. And he was my friend.’

 

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Little Artists of Bali

Ayu, a small Legong dancer, at practice

David:

In the villages of Bali, everyday life is decorated with flower offerings to Hindu Gods, with carvings, ornate temple gates, the thatched roofs of family shrines behind compound walls. Almost every village has its groups of actors and dancers and an orchestra called ‘gamelan’. As Indonesia’s top painter, Affandi, said: `In Bali, everyone is a little artist’.

‘You should have been here ten years ago’, the old hands say. `Then the Legong (dance) was the Legong. Now it is shortened for tourists and is just an entertainment; then it was an experience.’

Now, there are thousands of motor-bikes, transistor radios, rock and roll, flared trousers and everything else that goes on in the world and travels by jet. Wolf-eyed agents lead sheep-eyed tourists, and business is good in the large hotels.

The traditions of Bali, in art and customs, have been handed down for centuries without notation. They come from ancient beliefs, animism and ancestor worship, and from the Buddhist and Hindu religions. Now, academies and societies face the enormous task of recording what exists.

The traditions of Bali, in art and customs, have been handed down for centuries without notation. They come from ancient beliefs, animism and ancestor worship, and from the Buddhist and Hindu religions. Now, academies and societies face the enormous task of recording what exists. In the Balinese capital, Denpasar, are the twin academies, KOKAR, the Conservatorium of Music, and ASTI, the Academy of Dance. Betty and I were invited to see the students at work.

 Betty:

We had just returned to Bali from Java, where we had spent six weeks. David had developed a lung infection and was as fragile as a leaf. Balinese friends touched him gently and exclaimed in alarm. He tottered where once he strode. So we made our way slowly to KOKAR and ASTI. The buildings stand side by side in a small street, great oblong pavilions with steep Balinese roofs and guardian stone giants at the doorways. Groups of students in sarongs and white shirts on golden skins regarded us softly as we walked between them.

We watched the gamelan and dancers in rehearsal, and I was amazed by their discipline. The leader who played the drum, the kendang, was a particularly attractive and gifted musician. He held the orchestra in the palm of his hand and, at the same time, seemed to carry on a pretty flirtation with one of the dancers. Her blushes and glances decorated the performance. In Jakarta, we had met I Made Bandem, a dancer of renown and lecturer at ASTI, Bali. Now we were able to take up his invitation to visit him at the academy.

For four years, I Made Bandem studied at the University of California, Los Angeles and graduated with his M.A. degree. In California, he became known as the Nureyev of Bali. In 1975 he toured in Australia with Indonesia’s Cultural Mission to this country but not as a dancer. He was director, organiser, and became cook as well, for the company found Australian food difficult to eat.

He is a small, slim man, vital, with a warm smile and direct manner. His training began in boyhood in his village. He told us how the boys would train their voices while they bathed in the river, how they would watch well known dancers in performance and, on the following day, practise the movements they had seen. Later, he had studied with the legendary Balinese dancer, Mario. He described for us the way in which the arts have come down through the centuries.

I was interested also in new work. Bandem talked about a new dance developed at ASTI. He described it as modern, with western influence, but still based on the traditional Cak dance, and the old, old story, the ‘Ramayana’. We had seen the Cak performed in Bona, the village of its origin. There, we had been swept into the magic and mystery of Bali. The moon and soft torch light shone on the brown bodies of a hundred men, the monkey soldiers, come to the aid of Hanuman, the monkey general.

Bandem said he would call a special rehearsal for the next day and we could be the audience. We were there promptly on time, putting our shoes amongst the others at the door. Bandem sat with us to explain the action. I Wayan Dibia, the creator of the new work was to conduct the rehearsal and dance the part of the monkey general.

About forty young men, stripped to the waist and wearing sarongs were the monkey soldiers. This was a performance without costume or lighting. Voices without accompaniment rose and fell and the voice of the dalang, the narrator, intoned the story in the old Javanese language. With shimmering hands, the dancers mimed the forest, pyramids of figures formed mountains, the wind was created in mime.

We were completely taken up by the sound and movement. ‘Cak-cak-cak-cak’, the voices said, and beside me, David’s drawing pen scratched out `cak-cak-cak-cak’ too, as he tried to capture it in drawing.

When the dance came to its abrupt end, the players received a standing ovation from both members of their audience, then, grinning widely, they clapped us.

Then Pak Banden offered an invitation…

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The Queen of the Southern Sea

David:

Parangtritis is a small coastal town close to Jogjakarta. You reach it by bus and two bamboo punts which ferry people across a river – you have to wait on a sandbank in the middle of the wide river for the second punt. Rormon came with us and, when we were over the river, he hired two bicycles. I rode one and he, the professional, took Betty on the luggage carrier of the other. The road was rough.

Parangtritis is a beach of black sand. Surfing is said to be extremely dangerous; we saw no-one doing it. Rormon kept far from the water-line:  Nyai Loro Kidul, Queen of the South Sea likes to snatch men from this beach and keep them as slaves in her realm at the bottom of the sea. The beach is long and, looking inland, the view is of terraced hills, a low range, cattle grazing, thatched huts.

A woman with a coconut and a wicked looking knife in her hands hung close to us. She wanted to sell us the coconut and at last we agreed. We thought we were to drink the milk and eat the soft flesh. No. She whacked away a part of the top, gave us each a sip of the milk and ran down to the water’s edge. The rest of the milk went into the sea as an offering to the Queen and the woman brought us a coconut full of sea water in return. She was very pleased, so were we in a way and so, I feel sure, was the Queen of the South Sea; though she may well have preferred Rormon as the offering.

Back we went, five kilometres by rough bicycle, a hundred metres on the two bamboo punts, a short paddle and from then on it was slow bus to Jogja. A group of cyclists rode just ahead of us for several kilometres; but the bus forged on bravely to overtake them.

 

 

At the bus station, Rormon hired a becak for the three of us. `Always hire an old tukang becak’, he said to me confidentially. `They are better.’ After that I always took that advice, when possible, and it was always right.

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Donald Friend in Bali

Betty:

In Denpasar, there is a cafe where tourists like to go for iced fruit juice, poached eggs and cheese and tomato sandwiches. We ordered banana pancakes and settled down to wait. The only other customers, a young Dutch couple, sat a couple of tables away murmuring to each other. Two pancakes arrived on a tray, but evidently not for us. They were taken to the Dutch couple. We craned anxiously in case there was some mistake; but no, they were attacked and devoured immediately.

We settled again.

About thirty seconds later the Dutchman poked the last end of pancake between his bearded lips, glared at the waitress and said loudly and crossly in English: `We did not order banana pancakes’, and again, with gesticulations `We … did … not … order … pancakes. Do you understand?’

Like the Balinese, we had been defeated by the Dutch. We could wait no longer and we left the cafe sad and still hungry.

In Jalan Kartini, we caught a colt with a capacity of eight and carrying a dozen, so we sat cheek to cheek. At Sanur, we were looking for the house of Donald Friend, the Australian painter. `You are looking for a friend?’ said a smiling girl, misunderstanding.

`Donald Friend.’ We laid emphasis on `Donald’. At the third try, her smile broadened.

‘Tuan Donald.’ She knew of him of course and showed us the way to go. `Ask anyone for Tuan Donald.’

From the main road, we walked through an ordered grove sad and still hungry.

palms were planted on straight lines and golden cattle grazed on green, green grass.

‘Tuan Donald?’ said a young boy, and he pointed to a small low built house. Tacked onto the garden gate was a notice which read that this was not a gallery, that paintings were not for sale, the visitors were not welcome during hours of work or sleep and no children were allowed.

Nevertheless, we had a letter to deliver. We struck a wooden bell that hung nearby, but this had no effect. We slid through the garden gate and knocked bravely on the door. The man who came had a kindly expression and a gentle voice `Donald Friend?

‘Yes.’

We handed him our letter.

`We are writing and would like to interview you.’ `When?

‘Five thirty.’

`Today.’

‘All right.’

`Thank you.’

David:

Next time we struck the wooden bell, a houseboy met us at the garden gate where the terse note hangs and he led us to the pavilion where Donald Friend was relaxing over a succession of drinks. The prototype for this elevated pavilion, which was surrounded on three sides by a shallow moat with carp and water lilies, was the pavilion of judgement at the old palace at Klungkung, a classic example of Balinese architecture.

`A serenely useless building’, says Friend; `that is, if you believe peace and quiet and the pleasures of contemplation to be useless … or conversation and cool drinks at sundown’.

The pavilion was placed on top of a plain rectangular, brick base. There were wood carvings, bamboo musical instruments and bamboo furniture scattered about. Nothing was present for the sake of ostentation. Again, there was texture and atmosphere and colours were muted. In the evening light, looking over the coconut grove, with a slight movement in the air, here was a good feeling of peace.

We sat and talked of magic, while a Balinese youth fielded empty glasses as they touched the table and just as smoothly replaced them refilled.

Donald Friend had lived in Bali for nine years and is matter of fact about magic. `For instance’, he said, `if I am going to have a party, I have a dukun, witch doctor, come in the morning to make sure there will be no rain’. He enjoyed our wide eyed wonderment.

`It works?’ we said.

`Oh yes. It can be raining everywhere else and all around, and here it will be dry. Of course, if you have an enemy, he might hire a dukun too, to work stronger magic.’

`Really?’ we said.

`Oh yes.’

`Do you want a formal interview?’ said Donald Friend, `or would you prefer to just sit like this and talk?’

We wanted to change nothing. I said: `You are fond of the Balinese. Are they fond of you?

‘I think so’, he said, `Because I don’t bore them. Balinese hate to be bored. They might think me a little mad. I do crazy things, but they like that. “Tuan Raksasa” they nicknamed me. They think of me as a benevolent Demon’.

If one of his employees must marry for the sake of an expected child, Donald Friend might be asked to provide a house. The boy who was serving the drinks so expertly and often, was given by his father to Friend as a servant, at the age of six. He was afflicted with a cleft palate and would not attempt to speak. In the village, his chances were slim. Donald Friend took him to Australia for a series of operations. The boy’s courage was admirable said Friend. To be in a strange country might be overwhelming; to be in a hospital ward amongst drip tubes and cylinders and bossy nurses, the like of which he had never imagined, must have been downright terrifying. Add to that the pain caused by surgery inside the boy’s mouth. Not once did he complain or show the fear he must have felt.

 Betty:

In the large room beneath the pavilion, we saw the painter’s own collection. He browsed over it fondly. Bronze Gods and Goddesses, animals, mythical beasts, small lively figures from the past, stand in sharp silhouette against white walls. Donald Friend has collected many pieces for the National Museum in Canberra, hoping they will be appreciated. A figure of elephant-headed Ganesa, Remover of Obstacles, God of Voyages, danced and displayed an elephant-sized erection. A unique piece, according to Friend. `Very Balinese. In Balinese art, the Gods, of course, are never mocked, but often teased. Even in the most sacred statues there are elements of wit and humour, in accordance with the idea that this life is a diversion, a joke played upon us. Like the Balinese themselves, the Gods won’t put up with boredom.’

Touching the rare piece I asked, `Where did you find it?’

His answer was characteristically Indonesian, with undertones to be left intact.

`It came to me.’

There were two bronzes of the Goddess Dewi Sri spreading plague. Rats emerged from her forehead. They were primitive, sinister, and according to Friend, made Balinese people feel uncomfortable. The small dark figures set in rows took on the look of written figures on white paper; and that is close to fact for those who can read the story. Also in the collection room were doors which Donald Friend commissioned a Balinese artist to carve. While he worked the carver lived in the house. He was asked to create something which represented the household. Donald Friend himself is there, painting; his ancient motor-car, filled with his caricatured servants; the pavilion being built.

 David:

Donald Friend loves rich imagery – in other’s work and his own. He showed us a few of his own paintings: Balinese figures, a boy with a guitar against a gold leaf background, a pair of lovers.

`It is the first time for years that I have used gold leaf’, he said.

I remembered gold leaf used in his Ned Kelly send-up: `One lump or two, Edward?’ said Mrs. Kelly, pouring tea.

Side by side with the restrained, sure drawing of figures, we saw wild little fantasies; small insect figures warring rudely; brash, funny, formless figures spread across the page. `Artists attacking critics.’ he said, probably on the spur of the moment. He said he was dreaming up an erotic book. I am sure that, like the doors by the Balinese carver, it will be busy, direct, humorous and beautifully executed. No wonder he gets on so well with Bali.

It was late. The thought of the notice on the gate made us feel guilty.

`I put that up because I just cannot be rude to people’, he said. `It might stop charabancs from arriving.’

A well-mannered boy lit us to the main road where we would catch a colt again for Denpasar. We looked back and saw Donald Friend making his way, without hurry, towards his house. A solitary man, living and painting in the way he wanted.

 

 

 

 Affandi,  Java’s Famous Painter

David:

Jogjakarta is one of Java’s most important centres of culture. Artists abound.

At A.S.R.I. (Akademi Seni Rupa Indonesia)the art school, I was placed in the care of a sweet, shy woman, to be shown through the departments. I liked the sculpture most of all and the woodcarving room where a young English girl was working alongside a youth from the woodcarving town of Jepara. She was a psychiatrist and told me interesting things; he invited me to Jepara, but I was not able to accept. By the time we had finished our tip-toed tour, my lady and l, we had both thawed a little and we talked about painting.

`Expressionism’, she called after me as I descended the steps, `I love expressionism’.

As our friend, Rormon, the becak driver, pedalled me through the town, I could understand why an expressionist painter would like Jogjakarta. It is full of texture, the sights, sounds and smells of humanity. It is like the tangled lines of Affandi’s painting.

Affandi is the Grand Old Man of painting in Indonesia, `Painter Laureate’ some say. And he lives in Jogjakarta. `Do you know Affandi’s house?’ we asked the hotel clerk.

`Yes, a most unusual house’, he said.

Rormon knew it too: ‘It is a house like you have never seen before’.

Betty:

Affandi’s house is a tree. The roof is a single leaf and the rooms are hidden in its fold; the roof and rooms are supported by two great branched pillars, between which is a tiled area with tables and chairs – a kind of open-air living room.

His gallery too is a natural shape, a stark concrete wall, like the face of an enormous boulder. Inside, there is a great space of tiled floor and plain wall where paintings in a thin irregular line, hang right around the gallery. There were paintings by Affandi himself, by his wife Maryati and daughter Kartika.

Affandi’s huge self-portraits are built of a wild mesh of fine brushstrokes; sometimes these heads are five feet tall. A reclining figure, most beautiful, was a portrait of the artist’s mother; she is dead.

Kartika’s paintings too are expressionistic and lyrical and Maryati works in bright wools – charming, vital pictures.

Affandi was not at home, we would have to wait to hear his explanation of the wonderful house. Maryati came out though, and she was sweet, showing a motherly concern, fussing over my badly sunburned shoulders and touching me gently. And just then, half cooked in a strange land, a little mothering was something I needed.

Affandi was in Bali. He would be back in one week. This gave us a good excuse to stay longer in Jogjakarta.

Quite a lot of time we spent with his daughter, Kartika. She has her own gallery where, as well as paintings, she sells artefacts, many from West Irian, and batik dyed materials to her own design. She is beautiful, warm and womanly. She and I were riding in Rormon’s becak. Another becak driver, passing by, called out to Rormon: ‘Take care of those two antiques.’

I was a little annoyed, but Kartika was delighted. `He was not referring to age’, she said, `he meant that we are beautiful and precious objects’.

From childhood, Kartika has travelled the world with her parents and now she holds exhibitions in Europe. In Java, she is considered something of a liberated woman. She divorced her husband, which is unusual, because she could not tolerate being one of several wives, which is not an unusual situation in a Muslim country.

 David:

Affandi is a small man with soft Chinese eyes and a whisp of beard.

`People say I am anti-social’, he said, `but as I grow older, I feel more need to work. I have not so much time left’.

We sat underneath his house drinking coffee. The house is a monument to a moment in his life. `I was sitting under a tree’, he said, `and I thought of how well the tree was protecting me. I made a drawing like this’. He borrowed my sketchbook and drew a simple little shape. `The roof is a leaf, the pillars are trunks.’ He puffed his pipe a little. `You know, if I were as rich as Rockefeller, I’d rebuild the whole of Jogjakarta.’ He puffed a little more and produced the mind shattering thought of an expressionist: `It would be just like a forest’.

Affandi loves Bali. `Everyone there is a little artist’, he said. A large retrospective exhibition of his work was being mounted in the Balinese capital, Denpasar. Affandi was returning there almost immediately. `If you are there, I will show you my Bali’, he said. This gave us a good excuse to go back to Denpasar.

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The Ijen Plateau

I stayed that night at Jember and next day went on my way to the Ijen Plateau. I spent some hours that day in sitting beside the dirt road that leads to Blawan, watching the cassava plants grow and a small group of harvesters move slowly across a tidy rice field. Now and again pony carts came past and stopped to ask me where I was going. `You’ll find a truck’, they assured me. A pretty mother from a roadside warung paraded her fat child before me and made him laugh. It was a landscape of plenty.

Eventually, a truck turned onto the Blawan road and stopped for me. The truck was carrying a load of furniture to Blawan on the Ijen Plateau. On top of the load were about a dozen school boys who had come for the ride.

It was a very rough road and the further we went, the rougher it became. Often, when we hit a rock, the whole load rose from the truck bed and we on top rose from the load and all would come crashing down again. `Awas Awas’ the boys yelled as we passed under a lone low telephone line that zig-zagged over the track. We climbed and the forest closed in until branches brushed the truck’s sides. When we stopped for a while, we saw monkeys.

In a small village we passed under a tree of huge green limes, and what the boys could steal from it, they divided up later. `Give some to Uncle. Give some to Uncle’, they all cried out, so I had the first pieces.

We crossed over a high range and descended steeply into an immense caldera and the boys yelled happily in fright. `Bring us a helicopter’, shouted one. Now the telephone line was on the ground and we passed over rather than under it; then it was: broken no worry at all.

We passed a police check post on the valley floor. Away to the right was Mount Ruang, higher than the rest. We travelled between coffee gardens, sheltered by acacias. Now and again workers emerged to watch us pass. When they were girls, the schoolboy’s cat called with great energy.

We came to a stretch of the wildest, most ominous country I have ever seen. Piles of jagged grey boulders, mile after mile hurled up by the unthinkable explosion which created the caldera in which the Ijen Plateau lies. `Come back with us to Kalibaru’, the, boys yelled. ‘if you stay here, Uncle, you’ll be lost forever.’

Although I hated parting with my new nephews, and although I too found the landscape frightening, I stayed. The manager of a plantation not far from Mount Ijen offered to put me up in the cottage occupied by his two young clerks and he took me there in his four wheel drive car. The two youths laughed and laughed at the thought of having a guest.

During the late afternoon, visitors came. One to rent me a horse to ride to the lake and another who scorned the idea of a horse. The latter was an old man with a furrowed face who never smiled during the short time I knew him. Later, when I was walking about the settlement, he invited me into his tiny cottage to drink coffee and listen to the radio. He had a care-worn wife and three young children. Only one of these, a small boy, emerged from the dark kitchen. While the two in the kitchen gazed at me through the door, he sat on a chair and gazed at me intently from close quarters. There was no laughter in the house and I had a feeling that life was not always kind to this worker and his family.

The coffee gardens are worked by labourers from the island of Madura. Ijen is part of Indonesia’s policy of transmigration, which settles people from overcrowded areas in more remote places. Here Madurese is spoken, women dress in the Madurese way and carry loads on their heads as is done on Madura. While I was on

the Ijen Plateau, I was referred to as a Belanda, Dutchman, and I was something of a curiosity. Girls carrying snacks on their heads, ducked, giggled and ran when they saw me.

My young hosts at the plantation treated me with a great amount of charm. We ate vegetable salad, gado gado, for dinner, drank pungent coffee afterwards and smoked clove cigarettes until late at night. The two clerks took great delight in searching their memories for English words, learned at school, and by the time we went to bed, they were on the way to speaking basic English.

That night the older of the clerks and I, both wrapped in sarongs, shared a double bed. To this day, I have a suspicion that the younger clerk was left with nowhere at all to sleep. When I woke in the early hours of the morning, he was wandering in and out of the room. I saw him sit on a chair, stand, sit again and comb his hair. He had the air of a bedless man. Another example of Javanese hospitality.

I was up at five o’clock to start for Kawah Ijen, the crater lake. I felt ill with asthma and my back was aching as though it might give way any moment and it seemed a foolish thing to climb up a mountain that I may be unable to descend. Still, I found myself, well before sun-up, climbing into a wooden saddle on a small and sturdy pony.

Matno, the pony’s owner was a young man, small and tough. He brought a friend along for the trip and they both walked beside me while I rode. This was an arrangement that made me feel slightly ashamed, but the truth was that in my state of health, I could not have made the trip on foot. Every now and again, we stopped for a rest and when we moved we did not hurry.

It was a beautiful morning. At first we travelled through coffee gardens, then through a forest of enormous trees. We crossed a rocky creek with a broken bridge, made our way over ridges and through thickets and at last came to the foot of Mount Ijen.

At the foot of the mountain is a police station, where I was obliged to apply for a letter of permission to go further, and within sight, above us, was another police station where I must deliver the letter. For a while, we climbed steeply, then Matno stopped. `From here’, he said, `it is steep. You go on alone. We shall wait for you’.

The path was very steep. In my state of health, I could make only a few yards without a rest. My asthma was becoming more severe and my back was sore. The hut seemed far away.

Men who carry sulphur down from the lake in baskets on the ends of poles passed me, strolling very slowly upwards. More and more frequently, I sat by the track, heaving for breath. Somehow, I managed to stagger into the police station and deliver my letter.

`Only two hours more’, the policeman said and he kindly gave me a cup of coffee. I went out to the back of the hut and sat down. It was obvious that I could not go further and I was bitterly disappointed. I sat at a fork in the track and thought of Kawah ljen as I had once seen it from the air. Now, within two hours of my destination, I must give up. I sat disconsolately, fighting for each wheezing breath, for perhaps half an hour, then I stood to make my way back down the mountain.

The amazing thing was that when I stood, I suddenly realised that I was feeling better. Then within minutes, I was not only feeling better, I was feeling well. My back ached no more, my breath was easy. I thought I should try to go a little way further.

Of all the walks I have enjoyed, I enjoyed that one the most. I walked quickly on a narrow rocky track that wound up the side of the mountain. Below me on the right side, the ground fell sharply to a wooded valley. I met men who were making their descent with baskets filled with sulphur blocks and we stopped for a while to talk. They were strong men, but their work was punishing.

When, at last, I came over the lip of the Ijen crater, I saw the lake from exactly the same angle as I had seen it from the air. From close quarters the water was the same opaque turquoise colour I remembered. It was a wonderful moment, standing so high and so alone, looking down at the steaming water in this living volcano.

I cannot describe exactly how I felt, but I do know that I was not the first to feel exultation while standing on this spot. When I looked down at the ground, I saw right at my feet, almost as if I had just carved it myself, one word in large letters, inspired graffiti scored deep into the soft rock: ‘TUHAN’  (‘GOD’)..

I walked briskly down the mountain. The view was beautiful and the air was cool. When I came to the place where I had left them, I found the pony tied to a tree and Matno and his friend, wrapped tightly in their sarongs, sound asleep.

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