Lions and Monuments



We were down town in Jogja having our evening meal at a rumah makan run by a friendly Chinese man – it was becoming a habit to eat and talk with him. He was born in Surabaya, had spent all his life in Java, but curiously thought of China as home. He saw his people as a race apart with important traditions they must struggle to keep. It seemed a philosophy of co-existence rather than a merging and sharing of common experience. We spoke of our meeting with Yasir Mazuki and were lamenting the fact we had not arranged to see him again when, at that moment, Yasir passed the restaurant, caught sight of us and he made noisy exclamations of greeting.   We happily drew out a chair for him to join us. He had been celebrating his first day’s shooting on the restoration of Borobudur and was on his way back to the site, a good hour’s drive from Jogja where shooting would recommence at daybreak. He was elated to be directing this documentary, for his book `Namo Buddhaya’ tells the story of his love affair with Borobudur and of his research on this most famous and greatest Buddhist monument, `a tremendous structure where not a single stone is accidental, where all is symbolic, with a well-planned purpose. Subtle yet demanding if one is to share its secrets’.

Our talk with Yasir made us keen to visit Borobudur; and of course a visit is a must on any tourist program.

`What did you think of Borobudur?’ is a stock question and a certain conversation starter. Not to see the shrine is tantamount to closing your eyes as you pass the Statue of Liberty. But we didn’t want the guided tour for fifteen U.S. dollars each, which included the comfort and isolation of the air-conditioned travel coach. Thirty dollars could be put to much better use and our visit spread over three months and included wide travel through Indonesia. We found we could make the trip, with a change of bus route, for three hundred rupiah each, (there were four hundred and fifteen rupiah to the U.S. dollar).

Heeding Rormon’s insistent warning `beware of pencopet (pickpockets), we kept our bags slung to the front as we melted into the crowd struggling for a seat on the bus. We were travelling by public transport, Indonesian style, and although the journey may be a bone-shaker, it is guaranteed to be a colourful, entertaining, maybe exciting event.

We struggled into narrow seats, the backs positioned to keep the spine rigid; three passengers on the right of the aisle, two to the left, and any number standing rump to rump. If the central back-door couldn’t close, well, there’s room for a few more, hanging on by fingers and toes. Bulky baggage is tossed on the roof, but no-one complains if fowls in a bag sit and blink at your feet. Vendors with baskets of hard-boiled eggs, fruit, pastries, sweets and cigarettes, do a brisk trade, as they offer their decorative displays at the bus windows. The boy with his `Es, Es, Es’ or ‘Telor, Telor, Telor’, (ices, eggs) is popular.. Close your eyes and listen and it’s a choir, superbly resonant and vocal.

We slid from the depot without a sound, sailed into a downgrade and round the block, but the driver hoping the battery would connect with the engine was disappointed. A boisterous group of boys gave us a final push back to our starting position. We waited and heard the pushing and prodding going on in the bus’s belly and then at some mysterious signal, I never found out what, we rose in a body, transferring in a scramble to reassemble in a new bus whose battered appearance gave visions of a past heroic effort.

We jolted and lurched from the starting position and gathered speed as we took to the streets of Jogja. Out into the country we flew taking the route to Borobudur forty-one kilometres northwest of Jogja. Our eyes took in every shade of green and colour of earth and sky as we looked to the volcanic range thrusting its peaks and uneven spurs to a near horizon. We were out in the country of a country more densely populated than any other in the world. There were always people. It’s no wonder people like people in Java.

Half-an-hour from Jogja, we swept over a long low bridge, crossing a wide sweep of river which had broken into a series of swift-flowing streams, cutting deep into the grey sand and black volcanic rock. I saw men at work, squatting in the dry river-bed, chiselling bricks from the black stone. I could hear their rhythmic tapping above the noise of our engine. The sun was hot, beating down on their bodies protected by coolie hat and short sarong. Many men were working, carving bricks from the stone and my mind leapt back to about 800A.D., when a similar scene must have been taking place. Thousands of men, coolies, masons, sculptors, painters worked for more than twenty years to gather the materials, transport them to the site, and build the giant grey, stone stupa that is Borobudur.

We ground to a halt on the far side of the bridge. Judging from the gesticulations and exclamations of the passing parade, it was obvious we had some spectacular trouble with the right front wheel. Again without a word, but by common instinct we rose as a body and deserted the bus. I saw that the wheel had come adrift and lay skewwhiff embedded in the sand.

People straggled away in different directions; we were the only Europeans and a good-looking Javanese boy befriended us. He escorted us back across the bridge and to a nearby village where he put us on a bemo headed in the right direction. He bargained with the driver and then, with wonderful generosity, insisted on paying the fare.

The man-made mountain rising from the Javanese plain of Ketan seemed unreal at first; but there it was, terrace upon terrace, each supporting many small stupas. Tourists, mainly Indonesian, Japanese and Indian, swarmed the central stairway, hundreds of high steps of uneven tread, reached the summit and spread on to its supporting terraces.

Real life was on the plain below. At the base of Borobudur, loudspeakers blared instructions and the latest hit song; beggars sat in the sun, sweating as they sang. Tourists haggled over the prices of hats and souvenirs in the dozens of small stalls that line the route to the Buddhist dream. Over and above was the haunting sound of bamboo spinning tops, humming in treble, alto, tenor, and bass. Singing bamboo tops, skilfully spun on canvas. We bought a dozen.

Then we struggled to the top of the man-made mountain, reached our arms deep into stupas to touch carvings of the Buddha, noted the restoration in progress since 1907 and gazed at the reliefs and carvings to do with the life of Prince Siddhartha on his way to becoming the Gautama Buddha. His previous incarnations and episodes from the life of the Bodhisattva Sudhana are also recorded there. We stood on the summit of the man-made mountain and looked to the real mountains beyond.

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In Rormon’s becak called `Ming’, we roamed slowly through the streets and alleys. We visited painters and batik craftsmen; we became a little bit known so that people greeted us as we drifted by.

‘Are you interested in magic?’ a man asked us.

We were, of course, more and more interested.

He told us to go to the old, ruined palace, Taman Sari and, anywhere in that area, ask for Yamto Magic. `Seeing is believing’, he said, and almost as an afterthought: `Take along some nails and drawing pins, razor blade, perhaps an electric light bulb’.

We had a good idea of what these were for. David shopped for them carefully, lingering over different kinds of tacks. He bought a light bulb. ‘One hundred watts? Seventy-five watts?’ the shopman asked and quite seriously David said: `That sounds a bit too strong. Have you a twenty-five?’

Near Taman Sari, we asked for Yamto Magic and sure enough, he was well known. The way went round and about, through alleys which became too narrow even for a becak and we walked on through the kampung, all three of us, for Rormon was curious too. It had begun to rain. Yamto’s house was a small one, standing higher than the houses round about, built on a part of the old ruins. The man who had sent us was there. `Seeing is believing’, he said again.

Yamto Magic was a man in his thirties with close-cropped hair, and a small moustache. He was small, wiry and active.

First of all, we drank black coffee from glasses and the two men talked to us of magic in general. For years, Yamto had been the leader of a group of ritualistic dancers who travelled the villages, performing rites to keep away sickness and disease. They told us how silat fighters could knock down walls, just by the power of thought, how soldiers could deflect bullets.

Then after a small fee had been arranged, Yamto Magic demonstrated. `There are tricks’, he said `and there is magic. First, the trick’. He poked his tongue far out and David sprinkled a few drawing pins on it. He munched with an awful crunching sound then took up a glass of water, swilled and swallowed. David was invited to inspect the inside of his mouth – so was I, but I declined – and he reported that the drawing pins were still there, hidden around the edges. ‘Now, the magic.’ Yamto swilled again and swallowed. David inspected again and this time in his mouth there was nothing.

`They go right through?’ David said, rather indelicately. `No’, said Yamto, `they disappear’.

He showed us again, with razor blades (though I assured him it was not necessary) and again with tacks (though I protested). Thank goodness, the electric light bulb was forgotten. Yamto was in the swing of things now. He took up two bricks, had David inspect them, then leapt in the air and smashed them on his cropped head. David had to inspect the head; it was undamaged.

Now, the atmosphere of magic was thickening. Outside the door, a young boy appeared. He carried a bed of nails, which, it was explained to us, had been borrowed by a neighbour, a soldier who wanted to deflect bullets, and who was practising to develop his powers. `Now’, said Yamto Magic, `I will transfer my power to this boy’.

We went outside into light rain. A small crowd had gathered from the kampung.  Rormon was wide-eyed, so was I.

Yamto took the boy’s hand in a firm grip as though they were about to Indian wrestle. ‘Now, they will recite a mantra (incantation) in the old Javanese language’, the man beside me said.

The whole scene had become dreamlike. The man and the boy squatted, gazing into each other’s eyes, and the boy repeated the sing-song words. Very carefully, he eased himself onto the bed of sharp nails and lay full length. Carefully, two men placed a heavy board across his stomach. Meanwhile, Yamto Magic had mounted a motor-bike. He started it, revved it, he sped three times around the open space, then once over the boy’s stomach. The board kicked up in the air and fell back heavily on the boy. Yamto cut his engine and there was silence.

When he had been lifted from the bed, David inspected the boy’s back. The whole thing became nightmarish for me when I heard David asking politely if Yamto could transfer power to him.

`Of course,’ he said.  But you must repeat the mantra exactly as I say it.’

They clasped hands; the mantra was intoned; David put himself on the bed. I looked at Rormon and I am sure his coolie hat was shaking on his head. `Couldn’t you just walk on him or something?’ I said.   For one thing the plank seemed very narrow, and if Yamto missed it …

But Yamto was already zooming around his victim. David was spiked into immobility; he could not have moved if he had wanted to. I could see his eyes rolling as Yamto sped round him. He looked such a dry, frail leaf. Then it was over, the board crashed down, David was lifted off, and we all inspected his back. There were hundreds of deep holes, which took some time to go away, but not much blood. `We could do it with a jeep if there was more room and if we had a jeep’, said the man beside me. `Would you lie on the bed of nails?’ I asked him. `Oh no, not me.’ And he raised his hands, palms forward and laughed nervously.

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Jogjakarta, in Central Java, is a very busy city. There are women with baskets or babies slung in selendangs, as their long sashes are called, walking softly on sandalled feet, respectable black capped Muslim gentlemen, brash lads and pretty girls. There are beggars and street musicians, sate cooks carrying their kitchens, fruit sellers squatting beside huge baskets. An ascetic passed us walking on his hands, his legs tucked underneath him.

On the streets oxen with rubber shoes draw wonderful high roofed drays with rubber tyres – brass bells at the oxen’s necks sound softly – ponies trot briskly with andongs, four wheeled carriages, and thousands of becaks, three wheeled pedicabs, whisper by while their drivers’ handsome legs turn the pedals slowly.

It is a murmuring city.

There are ten thousand becaks in Jogjakarta, Rormon, a tukang becak, told us. We liked to ride with Rormon. His motto was `Slowly and carefully’, ‘Pelan-pelan, hati-hati’, so we did not feel guilty that he was overtaxing himself. Sometimes, if the road was steep, he asked us to get down and walk for a while. Everywhere, on the main street and in back alleys, were posters on walls advertising a Festival of Magic. `Do you believe in magic, Rormon?’ `Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know.’ He smiled enigmatically.

If magic exists in the world, there must be magic in Java. It is a land of volcanoes, mystery and myth. Magic has to be believed to be seen and Javanese do believe. Rormon delivered us to the Sport Hall, where we hoped magic would occur. A young man on the street sold us three hundred rupiah tickets for five hundred rupiah each. By the time we realised our mistake, he had performed the first vanishing act of the evening.



A pistol toting soldier, on duty in the hall, was so amused by David’s flow of approximate Indonesian that he slapped his shoulder in a friendly way and escorted us to the best seats in the house.

The most remarkable thing about the first two parts of the show was the growing pile of rubble on stage: A man smashed an earthenware pipe with one hand, smashed bricks on the head of an entranced friend, and hurled a boulder at the same friend’s back, doused him with water from a flaming vat (this act was exposed by a young man in the audience, who strolled to the stage and washed his hands thoroughly in the same water), fried an egg on a pretty girl’s head and slashed a cucumber resting on her bare midriff. This act was followed by one in which a huge and dangerous fire was lit and a wild looking man in trance horrified us by biting off the head of a live rooster and drinking its blood.

At this point, the four other Europeans in the audience made their exit.

The last act came on to something like a set for the last days of Pompeii with rock and earth, water and ash, and the corpse of the poor departed cockerel. A very handsome and well-dressed gentleman in front of us turned and said, in perfect English, `These are not simply tricks. It is not possible for Europeans to understand this. It is quite different from your ideas of magic’.

I was agitating a little and wanting to leave but David was absorbed in drawing and wanted to stay. `The next act’, said the educated gentleman, `is very good. It is a group from a village in Western Java. They have been doing this for a long time, in secret.’

Already, the group was on stage. We stayed. I hoped there would be no more fire or slaughter. This time there ‘was an orchestra: two large black drums, a strange flute with a wide band around the player’s cheeks, and a gong swung on a frame decorated with carved and gilded nagas, dragons. The barefooted dancers prudently swept the stage, and the orchestra beat out wild, insistent music. All of the dancers wore loose tunics, wide trousers and head-cloths. With long knives they performed fighting dances. One was a sturdy girl and she mimed the art of silat, a fighting art, sending her armed attackers spinning and somersaulting off the stage. At last we had the feeling of magic and mystic rites. I would like to see this dance and hear its music on its home ground, bare ground in a forest clearing, lit by torches.



The leader of this Banten group was an old, old man. He suffered spikes hammered into his belly, escaped from bonds and, in trance, slashed himself with a knife. He was eighty-five, he told us after the show. The girl who performed the silat dance was bright-eyed and smiling. We showed them drawings and they were pleased. They invited us to stay at their village in the province of Banten and we shall; but this time, Banten was far behind us.

Next evening, at dinner with the painter Kartika, we described the magic show. She was thoughtful for a while, and then came up with one of her sweet smiles: `I have a friend you might like to meet. His name is Mas’.

She called for us next day in a large four-wheel drive vehicle. It was driven by Yasir Mazurki, a film maker and the author of a fine book about the Buddhist stupa, Borobudur. A large man with a casual manner, Yasir was one of the most pleasant of all the people we met in Indonesia; and he was interested in Magic.

While he drove, he talked about the Baduie, a remote people living in the jungles south of Banten. The outer Baduie dress in blue and form a ring around the villages of the inner, the inaccessible white Baduie. These are the most aloof and respected mystics in a land of mystery. Yasir had been studying the Baduie for eight years, on and off, but he felt that he still knew too little to produce a book or film about them.

We came to the house of Mas. It was a simple dwelling, typical of those in the kampungs. The roof was made of small, dark tiles, the walls of woven bamboo slivers. Inside was an earthen floor. Mas was a small thin man. He greeted us with handshakes and his even smaller wife took our hands between hers most gently and bobbed her head.

On the wall of the long main room was a large painting by Mas of Mount Merapi, the sacred mountain within sight of Jogja. Somehow, it was a portrait of a mountain; red lava flowed like blood from the volcano’s mouth. Mas sat cross-legged on a rattan chair and told his amazing story. As he did so, he gestured often with long, fine hands, moving in something the way of a Javanese dancer.

Some years ago, when he was an art student, he had a vision in which he found himself in a large desert where there were no landmarks. He saw a figure in the distance. He crawled towards it and, as he came closer the figure grew and grew, so high that its head was out of sight. `Go to the east’, the figure said. For ten days, Mas was disturbed and found himself wandering in all parts of the city. For another ten days he was completely lost and has no memory at all of what happened. He awoke in the Sultan’s Palace in Jogjakarta. He went then to the slopes of Merapi, the sacred mountain, and there he stayed for eight months and ten days and in that time, he said, he neither ate nor drank. When he returned to his family, he found he had the power to foresee the future. Gamblers flocked to him and he told them the numbers on which they should bet. They were so successful that the police became suspicious and questioned Mas.

All this worried him and he consulted gurus. `Be honest’, they told him; `Accept no money’. Now, Mas gives his advice free of charge and many people come to him.

I asked him what had happened on Merapi. He had met the spirit of a man who, in his life, had been well known as a holy man. He was a grandson of the sixth Sultan Agung and had died, on the day of Mas’s birth. This man had given Mas his sacred kris or dagger, a powerful implement of magic.

Mas took us to the end of the room and pulled aside a curtain, earthen floor gave way to beautiful tiles. On a dais were two carved wooden chairs with sumptuous velvet cushions, and resting on each cushion was a kris. On the walls were portraits of the sixth sultan and his grandson. There were carved nagas, stuffed peacocks, colourful fabrics draped from the walls; and in one corner, strangely enough, a television set. `This is my place of purity’, Mas said.

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The city of Bandung is high in the hills and has the kind of climate to which rich people like to retire. It is a university town, a centre of learning; our driver shows us where Sukarno studied engineering. Mile after mile of squat, Dutch houses and there were more Mercedes Benz on the streets than I have ever seen before.

Our guest house was divided into first and second class. Goodness knows what the first class bedrooms were like; but we did know that first class guests were always served first in the dining room. A fat rat died in our cistern.

Bandung spreads across a valley. Just out of the city is a spectacular volcano; in the centre of town is Jalan Braga, a street of antique shops; in the suburbs is Mr. Udjo. Travellers might forget the rest, but they always have a word for Mr. Udjo, maker of fine angklungs.

The angklung is a traditional Sundanese instrument. It is made of bamboo and when shaken in the hand, gives out a single sustained note. They are pitched differently to form a scale. Mr. Udjo has made many of them. Many small Udjos too, there are ten. `And I am the only father”, Mr. Udjo boasted while his pretty wife smiled shyly.

He was a quick, clever man. `I am a man split in half’, he said, and he split himself neatly with a hand from skull to sternum. `There is the artist and there is the businessman. There is the traditional Sundanese music which I love … and there is western music, diatonic,’ he said with a small bow towards Betty, ‘which pleases the tourists. Ah, if you are artists, you will hate me.’

We did not hate Mr. Udjo. We liked him and we promised to be back in the afternoon for the performance that Mr Udjo gave for tourists. But we hadn’t banked on traffic.

It was a Saturday; Monday would be the Moslem feast of Lebaran, which marked the end of Ramadan, the fasting era and it was a time when people went home to their villages. We were driven in the jeep of a man from the Department of Culture. It was a very slow trip. The man from the Department of Culture would be leaving that afternoon for his home village, and he too was impatient.

We lunched in Jalan Braga. I had frogs’ legs and Betty had shuddering sensations. After lunch, we strolled to the place where taxis wait for customers. We had been told quite sternly, never to pay more than seven hundred and fifty rupiahs per hour. When we mentioned this price to the drivers crowded round us, they laughed derisively. `How much then’, we asked. `One thousand five hundred.’ Now it was our turn to be derisive.

Gradually, the prices came together at round about a thousand rupiah. A thin driver with a black, Moslem cap, a respectable moustache and a kind expression ushered us to his large, black car.

When we were under way, I said brightly: `The traffic should be better now’. It was ten times worse. We would not have thought it possible. Our car came to a complete halt and stayed that way for twenty minutes. What a relief when we moved; but we stopped again within thirty yards.

It was raining and it was hot. With the window closed, we stifled; when I opened it, it fell in a couple of jerking movements, rain poured in and I had trouble closing the window again.

All around were public transport vehicles, small and large trucks full of people and becaks with drivers hooded in plastic sheets. Faces around were impassive. A little boy peered between the legs of men standing tightly packed on the back of a lorry. Our driver massaged his temples.

All engines were switched off and everything was quiet until, once in a while, some driver sounded his horn and others took it up and the sound rose in a loud wailing lament and died again of futility.

I drew, Betty wrote notes. Really, what we wanted most was to go to a lavatory, but that seemed out of the question; all doors along the street were closed tightly. Better not to think about it. We were uneasy. We were not used to crowds like this and it was frightening. This was the most densely populated part of the world. We could imagine we were fleeing from some disaster in the city.

Suddenly, we remembered the rate of hire. Hell. We moved twenty yards and stopped for twenty minutes. It was just over two kilometres from the town to Mr. Udjo’s house; but we did not know that. We took more than two hours.

We arrived when the show was almost over. Elderly tourists from a bus were enthusiastically applauding a choir of children. Angklungs were passed around and we played an old favourite under Mr. Udjo’s strict direction. Little brown girls came to hold our pale hands and sing a farewell song. Physical contact added the last grain of happiness.

Mr. Udjo knows how to put on a show.

When we made the long journey back, it was a little better going. The outbound traffic was still one solid mass. In the bemo ahead of us, a pony lay on the floor amongst the feet of the passengers. He lifted his head and we knew he was alive. His tail hung over the bemo’s end.

When the taxi had left us at the guest house, I found I had lost my best drawing pen.

Next day the town was quiet. We decided to hire a taxi again to take us around the city. Amongst the crowd of drivers, we haggled again. We were led to a cab. It was not until we were seated in our places behind the driver that I recognised the back of his head. As I leaned forward to tap his shoulder, he turned round, beaming. He was holding up my beloved pen.



I worry about the becak drivers. You see them straining to push uphill perhaps with two passengers and merchandise as well. The passengers look so unconcerned and pleased with themselves, I tend to blame them. Yet I suppose the becak drivers want all the passengers they can find. But they last only about five years in the job; then are broken down becak boys, possibly suffering tuberculosis. It is so sad. Once there was a move to do away with the becak, but this move was not popular with drivers. Someday it is hoped the becaks will all be motorised.

They add colour to the streets and they are obviously proud and beautifully muscled. We saw two becak boys riding their becaks in the courtyard of a building. They were having time off; but spending it doing circles and figures of eight on two of the three wheels and enjoying themselves greatly.

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We got off to a great start towards Java at three o’clock in the morning. We were well loaded with small articles of luggage and we stumbled over the square to where the bus was waiting. I fell into the drain beside the road and I swore badly, without the satisfaction of being understood. Even at that time, the streets were not empty. The markets were beginning. Shapes were moving through the early dusk, small women supporting huge and heavy baskets.

Soon, as the bus swung onto the open road, rain began. It rained on me too because I sat directly underneath a ventilator which was not properly closed. In the darkness, I stood and pulled it shut. When I sat, the greasy metal arm from the ventilator fell on my head. Betty slept. I watched the raindrops falling into the beam of the lights ahead.

Our trip to Jakarta had begun and, as yet, we took it lightly. It was wonderful to see Java from the western tip of Bali. Rising out of the plain, Mt. Merapi stood above us, iron-grey, awe inspiring. Java was heavy with mystery.

As you travel west in Bali, you notice the change of character in villages; there are fewer temples, more small mosques, fewer roofs of thatch and more of clay tiles, fewer women with baskets on heads, more carrying their baskets slung from their shoulders in sashes called selendangs. Although there is a boundary of water, Bali merges gradually into Java.

At Gilimanuk, our bus was loaded onto a fat and dirty boat and we followed. We lent on the grimy rail and watched Java and the narrowing stretch of oily sea. On the Java side, the bus hit the road again, with loud music piped for our uncertain benefit. There were new wonders on the road,: great Brahmin cattle yoked to wide-roofed drays, stately, slow and sculpturesque, that made their way slowly, as though hours were minutes, and centuries were years.

The bus took us to Banyuwangi. There we boarded a train, sat as straight as soldiers on rattan seats in one of the second, or was it third class, carriages. And so we sat for eight hours.

Javanese gentlemen sit cross-legged on these seats and seem more comfortable. We, and the irritable Javanese women opposite us, hung on grimly, numb-bummed. But discomfort is a passing thing. Long, long after our circulation had returned, the marvels of the Javanese landscape stay with us. There are the textures of gorges filled with palms, the lights of the forests where sunlight filters through, there are the villages of tiled cottages, bird cages slung on poles high above rooftops so that the birds enjoy the view.

Eventually, we limped off the train at Surabaya. A travel expert had told me exactly what to do. `Outside the station’, he had said, you will find a bus labelled Mutiara. Get on it’.

Miraculously, outside the station there was an old bus labelled ‘Mutiara’. We got on board. It whisked us away. To disaster, as it turned out, because we were not meant to travel on the Mutiara train at all.

`This ticket is for the Bima train’, said the uniformed man when the bus had put us down at another station. Bima and Mutiara take different routes and start out from different stations.

`When does it leave?’ we asked.

`Three minutes.’

`What platform?’

`The other station.’

Here was a pretty fix. We had booked sleepers on the Bima train, now pulling out of Surabaya. I lay the blame squarely on the Bima people and our adviser in Denpasar.

Mutiara did manage to find us two reclining seats in a second class train and dinner was served free of charge on the night train to Jakarta. Things were looking up. We sat opposite a young girl student who spoke good English. But at one point in the conversation, Betty went strangely quiet. Her face coloured and she began to splutter and cough. She had bitten on a chili. Our night was not good. Betty was ill and once the train staff had gone to sleep, I had great difficulty in finding a glass of water or a cup of tea. Eventually, I woke a brigandish man who turned out to be a friend in need.

At station stops, women selling jackfruit passed the windows; the great fruit balanced on their heads. In the morning we saw the northern plain of Java, flat as flat except for an occasional soaring volcano. Armies of harvesters moved across wide fields of rice, slowly and deliberately.

A night trip on a train is always followed by a feeling of fellowship amongst travellers. It is as though we had shared one gigantic bed. Conversations started up. We talked long with the man behind us who was Balinese.

Betty still felt bad when we arrived at Jakarta. Mutiara (generously, I thought) refunded us the difference in fares between their train and the one we had missed. This did cheer us up. We left the station light-heartedly.

Hundreds of becak (pedicab) drivers waited outside and they jostled and pushed and crowded us. When we insisted that we needed a taxi they crowded us to the taxi rank and pushed us into a waiting cab. As we drew away, several tukang becak leered through the windows. They were shouting: ‘Terima kasih, terima kasih’.

`Why are they thanking us?’ asked Betty.

`I really couldn’t say’, I said. We found later that we were being thanked for Betty’s expensive and only cardigan which I had, until then, carried in my rucksack. ‘Terima kasih’ indeed.



Six days in Jakarta, `City of Victory’, making seemingly interminable rounds of Government Departments, scattered wide afield, gave us a chance at least to get to know the transport system and also something of their bureaucracy. I am an impatient creature and I was chafing at the bit. I tried to adopt a little of the Indonesian attitude ‘pelan pelan’, to take it slowly. There were endless opportunities to admire the beautiful country, the great wealth of tradition and culture; many times I looked into people’s faces to see simplicity, warmth, interest and delight. Mostly their movements are graceful and serene, their faces unlined. They have a philosophy, so it seemed to me, which brings happiness in an acceptance of what is.

But around and around we went. The Department of Immigration, The Department of Culture, The Police Department, The Department of the Interior, and our sponsor The Department of Science all had to be visited, several times in some cases, and satisfied that we were who we were and doing what we said. Sometimes satisfaction took the form of a financial contribution. At last we were armed with a sheaf of necessary documents and lists of people we must visit in any centre in which we planned to work. All this ‘toing’ and ‘froing’ was doubly frustrating as all business comes to a halt at 1 p.m. Even the museums close their doors, something we had cause to regret, because our brief look at the Museum Pusat, the Central Museum in Jakarta was tantalising. It is filled with a marvellous collection of Hindu-Javanese antiquities and a vast wealth of archaeological treasure. If you visit on Friday morning you can have a conducted tour with an English speaking guide.

Though we saw few Europeans in the streets and public transport of Jakarta, we met up with them in the sumptuous, extravagant hotels. Jakarta is proud of these ‘world-standard’, towering monuments to tourism. Sheltered by glass and gilt, you can feast in luxury on menus which cater for a world-wide taste, at a price, of course. A glance at the canals in moon-light cannot reveal the unbelievable sludge and stench and the fact that in last night’s storm there was flooding; we were caught in a storm in the central city area only a minute’s walk from our hotel, but we didn’t get home for hours. The water was soon waist deep and the canals rose to enter hovels which line their banks, home to thousands of impoverished Indonesians.

Jakarta seemed a city of extreme contrast, wealth and poverty exist side by side. It seemed a city struggling to the west, but it is a city which commemorates in abundant, huge postrevolutionary sculpture the `new’ man, the freedom fighter, victory over communism in the bloody 1967 coup.

Friday was our sixth day in Jakarta and at twelve o’clock we were handed our last document completed. By 1 p.m. we had packed our far too many bags, bits and pieces and were off to catch a bus to Bandung, so-called `Paris of Java’ and approximately one hundred and eighty kilometres south-west of Jakarta. We had paid for our over-land ticketing throughout Indonesia before leaving Australia, but sure enough we found we would need an extra one thousand rupiah to do this trip. No bus was available so six passengers and their luggage were piled into a Holden taxi.

We had as a fellow passenger a blind Javanese gentleman. I sat next to him and was delighted to meet him. He spoke excellent English and had been to New Zealand for two extended periods, the second two-year period had been to study the violin which gave him a great deal of personal joy. He spoke with concern and knowledge of the problems of his people and he saw the time as one of great change. We talked and I saw we were passing spectacular scenery. Tunnels of tall trees gave way to hills and mountains as we climbed to the Puncak Pass. Beyond Puncak we saw the massive rim of the volcano Gunung Gede.

Meanwhile we all realised we had a maniac for a driver, bullet shaped head and beetling brow. He hurtled along. He screeched to a halt inches behind other traffic.

Our speed at times was over ninety miles an hour. He placed absolute reliance on the car, which I hoped and prayed had tyres a little better than many we had seen with tread worn to canvas.

David said, `As this may be our last drive we should enjoy it’. I urged him to DO something about the driver. Our blind friend just accepted the `impatience of the driver’.

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On our last day in Ubud, we sat and talked with local men on our front veranda.

`You must be careful in Java’, someone said, `Be careful of pickpockets. Never leave your luggage unguarded. There are gangs who specialize in stealing luggage: they carry suitcases with a few rocks inside to exchange for cases which are similar.’

`And’, said another, `if you are wearing spectacles, do not lean out of the carriage window as the train moves off, or a thief might grab them and stand there smiling and waving goodbye.’

`And’, said yet another, `in a crowd, a whole gang might gather around you and jostle you and . . he mimed two fingers creeping into a pocket. `Always keep your hand on your bag, Nonja Betty.’

`You will find the food much spicier in Java’, said one. `And much hotter’, said another.

`And,’ said yet another, `if you reach Sumatra. ..’ and he mimed a hot mouth by fanning with his hand.

`The girls are very pretty in Java, Tuan’, said one to


`Our girls are too stocky’, said another. `The girls in Central Java are prettier. You’ll see for yourself when you get to Jogja.’

Said yet another: `I think in Sunda the girls are even more delicate than in Central Java’.

We pondered for a little on this. I thought the girls of Bali seemed quite beautiful; in fact the Balinese in general are a handsome lot of people. But there is one girl I remember as being particularly beautiful. We would see often on the road to Denpasar, where our colt transport slowed down for roadworks. She carried loads of rock balanced on her head, which made me think of models in training who balance books to improve their postures.  She was as good looking as any model or film star that I had seen.

When we left Ubud, we had to charter a colt to take us to Denpasar. Our luggage had grown. Betty had bought a huge basket, two beautiful small bamboo percussion instruments, male and female, called guntangs and two large bamboo instruments on the xylophone principle, called tingkliks. I had two flutes of course, but they were small and fitted in my little rucksack.

At our small hotel, our arrival created some interest. The boys crowded around and talked knowledgeably about tingkliks. `These are used for the dance Joged Bumbung’, one said. ‘Ah, there will be a Joged Bumbung at my village tomorrow night. I could take you to see it’. So on the following evening, we set out, again by bemo, to Sempidi. In the wide village roadway, large enough to be called a square, there were people in groups and bright light from petrol lanterns.

Our friend, Made, took us first to his house. His poor house, he called it and it was certainly simple, small and thatched; but it was beautifully kept and the ground around was swept clean as could be. His small wife greeted us very shyly with her head bowed and looking at us solemnly. The only words she spoke were of greeting and farewell.

The Joged Bumbung had been arranged by the Girls’ Club of Sempidi. Made took us to a pavilion where a welcoming committee was passing out rice cakes and orange soft drinks. Benches were placed in rows and there was a banner with the initials of the club and the words for welcome ‘Selamat Datang’. The girls serving the refreshments were dressed in their best kebayas and kains. The boys sat on the benches and were served. When we arrived the ones nearby engaged us in conversation. It was all as polite and respectable as a church fete in a country town.

In the open air, small crowds gathered round games where you bet money on numbers. One game was for children and the stakes were low, the next took in a little more money and, hidden behind a compound wall, was a small huddle of grim men, squatting round a shaded petrol lamp, intense in concentration … the big-time gamblers. A young man of the village had drawn me aside to show me this little bit of night life. Betty had sat herself down beside the area marked off with poles and hanging lanterns where the dance would be performed.

`I will show you my humble house’, the young man said and, lighting our way with a torch, he took me on a tour of buildings in his family compound. There was a large shed where harness hung on pegs and behind it, in stalls with bamboo rails, were a mare and foal, a yearling pony and a stallion, all munching at green grass which had been cut for them. My new friend carried a torch and as he walked he flashed it about. In a small pavilion, the light caught the figure of an old, old woman gazing out at us. `My grandmother’, said the youth.

Where he led, I followed. We mounted the steps of yet another pavilion. `My mother’, said the youth and he flashed his torch into the eyes of a woman stretched out on a cane bed. She was bare breasted and beside her lay a baby. The unfortunate woman sat up, tousled and alarmed. We were introduced, both embarrassed. But it was not the mother who was on display, it was the baby. ‘Adik laki laki saya’, the youth said with warmth,  ‘My little brother.’ and he held up the child for me to see. I held out my arms for him and he was given to me. He was soft and warm and firmly fleshed, knuckling his face. When I held him, the mother smiled for the first time.

When I took my place beside Betty, the dance, the Joged Bumbung, was about to commence. The stage was similar to what we had seen at the Topeng Dance: a small tent with a curtain for entrances, a rectangle marked off with tall poles on which hung lamps with mantles glowing white. The orchestra was made up of tingkliks like the ones Betty owned and of sulings like mine. The players sat low behind the instruments looking about in a distracted way as they played; Balinese musicians often seem to be thinking of something else while they play intricate music. The music of these bamboo instruments was soft and woody.

The first dancer emerged, moving with little steps, placing her feet gently, while her arms swayed and her hands twisted and flicked like the hands of a Hindu Priest performing sacred mudras. She was small and vital, perhaps thirteen years old.  On her head was a golden winged head-dress with blossoms arranged within it. From amongst the blossoms stood two sticks of smoking incense.

The girl’s body was tightly bound in rich cloth with a golden thread and kain wound tight around her thighs. Her black hair hung in a thick tail to her hips and was decorated with frangipani flowers. The backward curve of her hands, like the curve of a pagoda roof, was repeated in her hollow back, her slightly bent knees, her upturned toes. The dancer became a series of graceful undulations which matched the music and the movement of the dance.

And crushing close to the stage were the boys of the village, who must have seen the dancer differently from the way we did. We saw only the dancer; they saw her as a village girl dressed up and dancing. They knew her as we did not and they jeered a little, though without cruelty. The little dancer smiled self-consciously.

After she had danced for a while, she looked directly to her audience. As her eyes travelled along the front rank of the crowd, it gave, rippled a little like grass before a breeze. She circled the stage, looking outward she circled again and always there was the ripple of the crowd before her gaze. Then she stopped.

The boy in front of her shrank back, to be pushed forward again by the ones behind. The little dancer tapped him lightly with her fan. The boy shambled on stage, hanging his head and grinning foolishly. He lifted his arms to allow the dancer to tie a sash around his waist, and then as though this one act had caused the transformation, he looked up into the girl’s eyes and they began to dance.

The Joged Bumbung is not a serious dance. Mention it to the Balinese and they smile: `Yes, Joged Bumbung, good fun’. There is no story, so how could it be taken seriously. It is a dance of flirtation. As he dances the boy makes sly passes with his hands towards the girl’s breasts or thighs and he tries by intricate movements, turns and feints, to catch her off guard. She fends him off with a tap of her fan and turns away haughtily.

Three girls danced during the evening and each one, out of sheer politeness, tapped me. I accepted and when I rose there were jeers, and cheers, from the little boys.

No doubt the audience saw a clumsy, comical, white faced man going through grotesque motions. From the puzzled expression I can remember seeing on my partners’ faces, they saw the same thing. But seeing it from the inside I was a Balinese dancer; my dark eyes and teeth flashed, muscles rippled under my brown skin, I moved to the music and wooed the maiden whose eyes were claimed by mine.

I was tolerated more than enjoyed and each time I danced it was for less than a minute.

Among the Balinese men, some dancers were much better than others. One man who was tapped, struggled out of the grip of his friends and fled. Twice the dance was taken to a final climax. Two of the male dancers were exceedingly good. Their eyes and teeth did flash, they danced with graceful vigour and took control of their partners. When this happened, an old man who squatted nearby, tossed a branch of green leaves onto the ground near the dancing pair. The young man picked it up and furiously beat the girl. Then he hurled her to her knees. The girl kneeled, head bowed. The man, his anger spent, smiled at her then gently moved around her, wooed her, cajoled her sweetly till she was on her feet again.


It was David’s night. I was full of admiration too, for the beautiful girls and men so lithe and virile as they danced. The dance was fun, the men abandoned in their wooing. Yet superb technique made each movement secure, controlled. But it was midnight and the dance was over. We had to go home and the last bemo had stopped several hours before. What to do? While we dithered the situation was in hand, motor-bikes and drivers appeared beside us.

Off into the dark night I roared, my hair flying in the cool wind. The stars were big and bright, lighting the road as it wound through the forest like a ribbon. I was exhilarated like the dancers. Swerving to turn a corner I saw behind, the lights of the bike that carried David. He drew abreast and he and his driver passed us, speeding on to Denpasar. At once my driver slackened pace and I was startled as we drew to a halt.

He turned to me and I understood he was offering himself to me, at a price I can’t recall, should I desire. I certainly did not. I urged him to hurry on to David who would be looking for me and who held the money should he wish to be paid for my transport.

He kicked over the motor and we started off again but we gathered little speed. My high spirits were numbed as again, and yet again, he repeated his proposition. He even offered time to pay. He said he would collect the cash next day. I never wished to see him again and whipped him home with warnings of my husband’s fury.

The lights of Denpasar that night were spectacular and a feeling of calm took hold of me. We reached the main street of the city, but instead of taking the turn for the short route home, he stubbornly persisted with his offers as we toured the suburbs. Maybe his tank was low but at last he turned into Jalan Diponegoro. And I was home at last. David was not there; he was out searching for me. The driver did not wait. Without his money and without stopping the motor he roared off into the night.

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One day, while I was sitting outside the place we called the rumah gong, waiting for my lesson, an old man in a white turban came striding along the road and stopped directly in front of me. I was holding my flutes. From inside the music room came the sound of Betty’s lesson: the syncopation of the Legong Dance repeated again and again.

The old man stood close, within a yard of me, thrust his face towards mine and glared into my eyes. I said `Good morning’, and smiled politely. He turned his head to glare at the rumah gong, then again, he glared at me, quite balefully.

‘Apa kabar?’ I said, for lack of anything better, `What news?’ The old man shook a fist towards the rumah gong, then towards me. `Oh?’ I said. He pointed in a jabbing way at my flutes, then mimed the playing of a flute. His eyes rolled, his head wobbled, he held his elbows high, he lifted his shoulders and leaned a little sideways in a burlesque of ecstasy. Suddenly he hurled his imaginary flute down. He leapt into the air, thrusting off with one leg and holding the other high with knee bent and foot upturned. As he leapt, his arms rose and became wings and his expression turned mawkish. In this way, he leapt high, flapped slowly and bird-danced gracefully in a circle. In front of me again, he pushed his face to within inches of mine and glared. I nodded emphatically. I was sure I had his message: `Your music is for the birds’.

The old man walked away in the direction from which he had come. Every few yards, he stopped and looked back at me. In spite of his glare, I felt no real anger coming from him, but something benign, perhaps sympathy. Soon, he was out of sight. I was sitting, holding my flutes, with something to think about.

Pak Raka Suling, would stroll gracefully on the roads. His abstracted manner, the carriage of his head and his long, dark sarong gave him a monkish air. Sometimes he would visit us at night appearing suddenly from the darkness, to discuss music. He would listen to tapes of European music and if we asked him, would repeat the melodies on the bamboo flute.

Sometimes when we met on the road, he would take my arm and we would stroll with measured steps.

`l like to talk’, he said; but it was difficult to go beyond domestic conversation. Raka’s sense of humor was keen, but we saw it only when he talked with others, for he liked to play on words, using the words of the Balinese and the Indonesian language. We were not up to that.

One day he explained to me the story of a song Puh Sinom, an involved sad story of love, of the town, of the forest, of a ring by which a parent recognised a long lost child. He played the tune on the suling, then sang the song. As I write, I hear it played on a tape recorder: twining forest music, and Raka’s voice rises and falls and wavers like something wind-blown. Now the lament is taken by the flute.

Very early every morning, Raka passed by, walking towards Campuan Village and his rice field. To late risers like ourselves, who did not see him at work he seemed to lead the life of a gentleman.

We saw dances: the famous Kecak at Bona village, the Ardja at Peliatan. This last was so crowded that we had to stand huddled in a dense crowd or watch from a distance. While we were in the crowd, I saw a tall English tourist bumping viciously with his elbows at the ears of little boys who pushed beside him. And wonderful to relate, a small Scottish woman who stood beside him, punched the tall man just as viciously in the kidneys so he grunted and mumbled.

When we sat at a distance, a young Balinese man edged close to Betty and offered himself for just one dollar – she refused politely.

One dark starry night, Raka took us to a tiny village nearby we walked through the cremation grounds and our torch lit a small, green snake on the road. In the village centre a flimsy pavilion had been built to cover the dancing area. Bright spirit lamps hung on bamboo poles lit the many brown and few white faces of the waiting audience.

One of the Europeans was an American student of the dance who had been in Bali for a year; another was the clean cut American Buddhist Abraham, who bowed over his finger tips with an expression of sweetness. The leader of the gamelan came forward and clapped Rake’s shoulder. `We are good friends’, he said to us.

The instruments of the gamelan were carved and decorated in red and gold. There was a small tent arrangement, the dressing room, with curtains leading onto the earthen stage. We sat on a low, brick wall. The show would begin in Bali time. We waited. Little boys laughed at us without malice and made feinting snatches at my cigarette. To save our supply we took on a schoolmarm attitude and told them they were far too young to smoke. They postured, and repeated our words.

We waited. Little girls stood still and looked at us with big brown eyes. Even amongst the children, males and females know the female place.      •

We waited. Men squatted with their hands dangling between their knees and turned their heads about slowly, looking at nothing. Raka looked straight ahead. The Europeans had to make small talk with one another. ‘

We waited. Women holding, and not holding babies, stood back where the light begins to fade; lovely round, placid faces, short noses, wide mouths, smooth foreheads with the hair pulled back to great buns.

The gamelan began to play. It was an easy going syncopated melody with the gangsas dinging softly, but now and again it broke into a passage of agitated, clanging sound.


It was almost midnight and the moon had risen. It hung directly overhead, a floating, golden ball. The moonlight caught the silver thread of the curtains making them gleam; I glanced away then back. The curtains fluttered. I stared and could not look away as a finger, then two, shimmering in the light of the moon, jewels and their own motion, parted the curtains almost imperceptibly.

The fluttering curtains stilled the fluttering tongues. The only voice was that of the gamelan as it rose, fell and hovered, like the hand parting the curtains. Time seemed suspended too. The known hand drew our concentration to an unknown figure. My whole attention was on the figure which now emerged and moved with audacious confidence. As I watched, I shivered. The body was exquisitely costumed. An embroidered cloak hung from the shoulders, the outline of the kris jutted below the shoulder. The ankles were circled in gold and the feet were slim and bare, toes upturned. The figure moved superbly circling the pavilion

It was not a man. It was a presence. The white mask was covering personal identity. The man had become the mask. The presence moved triumphantly, the smile was enigmatic and the bulging eyes glowed. I felt uncertain, apprehensive of the figure and its influence. I turned away. I felt I must leave, but I realised 1 could not go alone through the forest at midnight. I turned back. The spell had broken and 1 saw a man.

He retreated to the curtain and disappeared. The audience stirred. The gamelan stridently announced the characters in this night’s performance of the Chronical Play of Bali, a living history of royal families and kingdoms, of facts, legends and miracles, the TOPENG.

I did not tell of what I had experienced till long after. I did speak though with the American student of dance, the lady from New York who had fallen in love with Bali, the dance, and her Balinese teacher. `Tonight’, she said, `we saw the master of the Bali Topeng. He is an old man now, loved and revered by the Balinese. He carved the masks he wore tonight. I saw them in the tent just before the performance; they were covered with white cloth. The dancer  unwrapped  the mask and gazed at it for some time before he put it to his face,.’ she said, `At that instant, he was transformed. He had taken on completely the character of the mask’.

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Now, the cremation bulls were almost complete. The great, generous wooden forms had been covered with black velvet; the horns were bound with gold. The bulls smiled and showed their mouths’ red interiors and the thin, red pizzles were thrust close along their bellies and were tasselled and lined with golden thread.They had become something else; cartoon figures. The bull that belonged to another village was sent away. ‘Theirs was the better one’, someone said and l asked why. Like a cattle judge at a country show he walked around the Ubud bull and piled up penalties:`Head too small, body too long.’

On the night before the cremation, there was a show of wayang kulit, shadow puppets, in the palace grounds. It went on to the early hours of the morning. Children squatted close to the screen and followed the story closely. The Dalang’s voice rose to grating heights and gutteral depths as he took the different parts. His torch flamed brightly behind him, his small gamelan beat out a constant rhythm.

Above was a full moon. The palms were black against a bright sky. We could see the men in the wantilan still working on the bull. Dogs barked in the distance. Once in a while a motor-bike would sputter past.

Next day, we were told that the cremation ceremony would begin at 11 a.m. maybe, and we were there on the street on time. The tower stood on the road before the palace. Two great wings spread from near its base and the pagoda-like top was crusted with carvings, gilt and coloured decoration. It stood in a carrying frame of thick bamboo poles. Along the road was the bull, also on a frame.

Tourists blocked the road and stood in the way of each others’ cameras. A Japanese family lined up in different combinations to be photographed in front of the tower. This was the great day. Time wore on. Police arrived to control the traffic. Buses put down loads of foreigners.

`Plenty of tourists’, I said to a Balinese bystander. `Too many’, he said spontaneously, then he looked embarrassed. A very white man with a small beard had dressed himself in a conical hat and a kain which he pulled up between his thin legs in the way of a warrior. A blond little girl trailed at the end of his arm and behind was his wife in slacks, a towelling hat and sunglasses.

A very pleasant Englishman leaned on the base of the tower. `What are you doing there?’ someone called. `Spoiling photographs’, he said.

Tourists arrived in cars and on motor-bikes. Plump Dutch ladies in sun hats strolled along the road and poked in and out of art shops. `When will the ceremony begin?’ `Maybe twelve o’clock’, said the Balinese.

A couple of woodcarvers wandered in the crowd, each carrying a piece of carving for sale. We knew them slightly and they knew that we were not potential customers. One came and stood for awhile with us. `How is business?’ we asked him.


The stocky, crew-cut Frenchman was there, booted and braced, enjoying the atmosphere. We had not seen him for awhile and he told us about his adventures on unruly motor-cycles. The crowd was swelling. Now there were Balinese waiting. `What time is the ceremony?’

`Maybe two o’clock.’

A gamelan arrived and the players all in small turbans and blue shirts sat on their haunches beside the wantilan. The village men, who were to carry the tower and the bull, milled about, many of them in kains with bands around their heads, barefooted. Pak Rake Suling was with them, looking not so professorial. Pak Rake, landlord, passed by, very elegant in a long kain and turban. There were boy scouts and, because the dead man was a hero of the revolution, soldiers.

We foreigners were here simply for the spectacle; we were very lucky that a man had died. . I had never known the dead man , nor had the other foreigners; but I did begin to think about him.. He had died conveniently and we were crowding into his cremation ceremony. It didn’t seem quite right.

, One of the tourists said with an air of importance: `I have arranged it so I can take a photo of the body before they close the coffin’

`Here comes the body’, said another.


The gamelan was playing dramatic passages. Reports from firecrackers sounded from inside the palace. Men came forth bearing a shape in a shroud. It was not a body, just a dummy, a decoy for evil spirits. The crowd relaxed. `That wasn’t the body.’

The real procession came quickly, again to confuse the spirits. Jubilant, shrieking shouts rose from the bearers. A small procession of stately women bearing offerings walked behind the coffin.

`That must be his family. The women are crying.’ With cool curiosity, we watched the women cry. The body was real then, and had been a man, and people cried about it.

Njoman, the houseboy, was close beside us and he stayed near for the whole of the afternoon. When we looked around he smiled at us gently. He would not be included but he stayed at a little distance, always with us. He would accept a cigarette then retire just a few paces. 




The coffin was carried up a long bamboo ramp and placed in its compartment half way up the tower. Live chickens were hung by their legs alongside it. There was a great noise of yelling and yipping like, Cowboys and Indians, and the bearers took up the tower. It leaned this way and that and then moved off quickly and smoothly along the road. The bull was way ahead and out of sight. From the village to the cremation ground was a distance of a kilometer or more and every inch of the road was jammed with a slowly moving river of people. Motor bikes overtook us on either side.

In the middle of the crowd was Hans Snell and his wife and children. We saw Nyonya Raka watching the procession from a house along the way.

A handsome, haughty young Brahmana priest, with a walking stick, stalked past us. The crew-cut Frenchman forged past bravely on a motor-bike, riding pillion to a Balinese boy, his eyes glinting excitedly behind thick lenses.

We turned with the procession into the cremation grounds. The crowd was filling the green field. The tower and bull had come to rest; the bull under a decorated canopy. Sellers still mingled amongst us: melancholy carvers, women with sweet foods and fruits, women with batik printed materials in bundles on their heads. We sat on a grassy bank, far back from the ceremony but in good view. Njoman sat just a few feet away.

The coffin was carried again down the ramp and the body placed in the bull. Several white clothed men were working over it, purifying the body with water.

The Hindus regard death simply as an important event in man’s life. The man’s death and cremation were well ordered. Being of the Ksatriya or princely caste, and rich, he was able to be burned only a few days after his death and his soul was released.

Cremation is so expensive it places a great burden on the ones left behind. Wasi, a bright and pretty widow who supports herself and children with a warung on the main road, told us of the thousands of dollars it had cost to cremate her husband. A painter had sold padi fields at his father’s death, then the rest of his padi fields to pay for his mother’s cremation. Often, poor people must bury their dead and wait, often for many years, for a communal ceremony.

`The Balinese love ceremony’, we say lightly. For the Balinese, ceremony is a necessity. Religion and ceremony have preserved the harmonious community which was the Balinese way of life long before the coming of Europeans.

Tourists stood in line beside the canopy of the bull, loading up their cameras for snapshots of the dead man. Few people stayed for the firing of the bull and the tower. When the ceremonies of purification and the speeches of the army had been made, they began to drift away. So did we; it was late afternoon and we were tired. We walked back to Ubud and Njoman walked a little to one side and talked with us, giving us the Indonesian names for whatever we pointed out

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`Ten years ago’, said Anak Agung Raka, `Ubud was very beautiful. There were no motor-cars. You would see farmers carrying their ploughs and flocks of ducks walking along the middle of this road’.

As the days passed, our vision of the village changed. The picturesque remained picturesque, but had less impact for us. The village was no longer a stage set built for our own act and the people no longer bit players. We were the exotics and we began to realise it.

Life had been adapted but not changed; not yet at any rate. Every three days was the market; every day, the people carried water from the spring, worked in the fields, placed offerings of flowers in temples and shrines. Tourist buses seemed incidental and so did we. The rhythm of village life goes on. Life begins, life ends.

At Puri Kawan, there were preparations for a wedding. Two men with a pig for the wedding feast, trussed in a basket and slung on a pole, ambled towards Puri Kawan and passed four laughing men who carried a log to be the coffin for the man who had died so recently.

Men prepared the wedding food. They were split into groups: one making pork sate for Hindus, another preparing chicken for Muslims, another making plates from palm leaves, another preparing little mountains of rice (they are called mountains, gunung). A man pounded pork in a vat with a heavy pestle, which rose and fell rhythmically; another stoked a fire under a cauldron. Curly tailed, white dogs sniffed about and little brown, straight haired children wandered. I took several photographs, (which, like most, did not come out) and drew the scene to the great amusement of the children.

Among the workers was a large and genial man, Njoman Roda, whom l already knew quite well. As l was a suling student, he had written out, in his own style of notation, the suling part for the Legong Dance. We had asked him if he knew a frog song (Betty loved the musical frogs of Bali) and he had immediately written out a two part song, not in notes but in proaks and prouts. He decorated the whole thing (an exercise book) with charming drawings of frogs and at the end put in some information about the betting system at cock-fights. `How much do you want for all this?’ we had said. He put up his large hands, palm forwards: `You decide’.

Now, in the compound, Njoman put his educational turn of mind to use and took me around the working bees. `Here, we are making plates from banana leaves.’ They were square plates, green, clean and disposable. `Here the men are making mountains of rice.’ The white rice grew in tight, high mounds on the green plates. ‘Here, they are preparing pork sate.’ Under a thatched roof, a large group of men were shredding pork. It went then to a tub where a man pounded it to pulp with a great pestle, and from there to a vat over a roaring fire. `Here they are preparing chicken for muslim guests and here you see is your friend, Raka.’ It was Raka Suling, master of music, taking meat from the bone and smiling widely.

I reported all this excitement to Betty, but she was suffering from an upset stomach and did not want to see pork being pounded. Betty had in fact been suffering with her troubles since shortly after our arrival. I always sympathised; but I noticed she chose and enjoyed the spiciest food. While she rested I was free to sit in the sun to draw. The children came around me and  giggled at my work. I took a few photographs which did not come out and had a good time.

Nyonya was with the other women, at the hotel where the wedding would be held. They were making cakes and coloured rice wafers. She brought us small glutinous rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. They were very good and I ate Betty’s as well as my own.

For lunch, we had mountains of rice and pork sate (pork grilled on skewers). This time Betty could not eat hers. Nor could she go to the reception held that night, the eve of the wedding. It was a quiet and dignified affair; not many people. We drank soft drinks, ate biscuits and sat talking. I was the only European and the Indonesians, wonderfully polite, talked slowly and carefully so that I might understand. The bridegroom was a handsome boy with slightly aquiline features. The bride was a beauty in the Balinese tradition; small features in a small, round face. She was a well known Legong dancer.

On the next day, the wedding day, we saw them both in traditional finery and looking wonderful. On his back, the bridegroom carried a sacred dagger, the kris. The wedding was held on the hotel veranda. A long table was decorated with fruit, flowers and rice offerings. A Brahmana priest sat, with his wife longside to assist him, chanting mantras (incantations) while his hands performed mudras (visual prayers), the beautiful movements from which dance movements derive. The veranda was crowded with guests, Indonesian and foreign. The Gamelan played tirelessly.

Misguidedly, Agung Raka had suggested that I take photographs. I joined the crowd of photographers and I jostled and craned. The light was bad, everyone else seemed much taller than I, so I had very few hopes of success. Much later I found that a smaller lever on the camera was in the wrong position: I had wondered why the film lasted so long.

Balinese landscapes are still. The earth dominates as it does in Balinese painting. You might look across a gorge to another hillside and the figures of farmers on the terraces are as small and as brave as ants. Rivers cut deep ravines through the black soil. The colours are rich and sombre: blacks, greens and ochres.

The Balinese care for their land with tenderness and awe. The terraces may be centuries old, but little of their soil is lost. Women harvest the rice: because women, like the earth, are the bearers of life. And the women hide their blades in the palms of their hands so as not to frighten the live rice stalks. They cut the rice gently, with respect.

Religion is woven through every day life. In the fields, are tiny thatched temples slung between pairs of living trees. Each village has three temples; representing birth, life and death. Each family compound has its temple. Offerings of rice and flowers in small, square trays of plaited palm are made from morning to night. Old women sell offerings to passing motorists and to the drivers of bemos.

In parts of Bali, the life is relentlessly hard. From a mountain village the farmers, men and women, might carry their produce over a mountain range to market; this takes one day; the market itself spends another day; there is a day for work in the fields, then the produce must be carried over the range to market.

 Life is designed carefully to fit in with nature. Before the buildings in a compound are erected, a priest advises where to place them so that they are in harmony, so that the thoughts of the inhabitants will be in harmony and there will be peace.




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rice terraces sepiaBETTY:

Our small house had two rooms and two verandas. Our bathroom was the usual Malay kind: tiled floor, square concrete cistern of water with a dipper and a lavatory just higher than the floor. There was no running water. Water was brought each morning by Njoman, the servant of the house, who came with cans of spring water on his shoulder pole to fill our cistern. The small verandah was almost completely filled with a large table, which left us just enough room to sit. The ledge of the verandah was decorated with flowering shrubs in pots. Sitting at the table we looked out to the plaited bamboo walls of warungs.   Across the road, we could see the village temple kul-kul, under a small thatched roof, it stood in silhouette against the ornate temple door which was framed again by a dark banyan tree.

Our days began with breakfast at a large plastic covered table. Njonja, (the word translates as Mrs.) Raka’s wife left at six o’clock for Denpasar where she was a kindergarten teacher. She brought our breakfast just before leaving. The five Raka children were up early too. Young Oka would come smiling to collect our lamps. It was his job to fill them and clean their globes. The two little girls would be sweeping the bare earth of the garden with hand brooms made from the spines of coconut leaves.

In fact the whole village was awake, in its quiet way at five o’clock. I enjoyed being up early and made use of the time by writing up notes of the previous day. David accustomed to working at night for a morning newspaper, emerged heavy and yawning. Agung Raka worked in his garden. Sometimes Denik, or other visitors came to talk over breakfast. Figures passed quietly on the road. The white house dog, which was rather ugly, sniffed about and ate the small offerings of rice which Njonja had left about for the gods.

Our breakfast was usually fruit-salad, pawpaw, banana, and melon, all sprinkled with coconut, lemon and sugar. Afterwards there was either fried eggs or omelettes, sometimes pancakes as a treat, occasionally toast. Always there was tea. When we had finished breakfast, the thermos flasks were refilled with tea and returned to us.girls grain

My first music lesson each day was at eight o’clock. As I walked out of the front gate of Puri Kawan, the warung owners greeted me: `Good morning. How are you? Where are you going? Ah, to study music. Good, beautiful’. David carrying drawing paper and pens in a small haversack would accompany me as far as the wantilan when he would stop to watch and draw the cremation preparations. Half an hour later he would arrive for his lesson. We had two music lessons, morning and evening. The rest of the time was easily filled. We, too, walked purposefully and slowly to definite destinations. In the village itself, there was enough to occupy us: people to visit, conversations on verandas, things to see; and we could walk to other villages close by or make expeditions by bemo to other parts of the island.

Every few days, both, or one of us, travelled to Denpasar to pick up mail and do other business. David often made the trip alone. I think he fell in love with a little girl who laboured on the roads. Always, the bemo slowed down as it passed over the roadwork and always she was there, under a wide, straw hat, carrying rocks. He always mentioned her, but he never spoke to her and never knew her name. He called her Sophia. She really was beautiful.

Often at night, we would sit on chairs and mats on our front veranda which looked onto the garden. Often Pak Raka, our  landlord would join us as well  as Pak Raka (Suling) our teacher. We would play bamboo musical instruments and the children, too, would come to listen and play. Darkness would fall and the lamps were lit and cicadas and frogs would sing.

There was no kitchen in our house. For lunch and dinner we went to one of Ubud’s eating places. In one direction was Tjokorde Mas and Menara Lodging House, in the other Njonja Made Tjanderi’s Homestay, both of which we could afford.

Life amuses Tjokorde Mas. He would greet us from afar and come to sit with us to talk and chuckle about music and the Balinese way of life. He is an expert on both. Tjokorde Mas, born a prince, does not know his age exactly. He is a very active man. He has a domed forehead and lively brown eyes behind horn-rimmed spectacles. `I am not an academic’, he protests when he talks of music; but he looks professorial. After all, he was a lecturer in Balinese music at the University of California, Los Angeles, for four years. Tjokorde Mas is the founder of Mudraswara Society which aims to document and conserve the traditional music of Bali. He is a director of the art gallery of Ubud, and manager of his grass roofed lodging house which stands right beside the rice fields.

‘Pelan, pelan’, he said, whenever I spoke of my music studies. `Slowly, slowly. This is Bali.’

`Don’t you ever get tired?’ I asked him once.

`The Balinese are never tired’, he said. `If I feel tired, I have a sleep, so if I’m awake, I’m not tired.’ And he chuckled loud and long. `That is how it is in Bali.’

The McRoberts family, father, mother and ten year old daughter, were travelling overland to England. All their luggage was carried on their backs; rucksacks, father bear, mother bear and baby bear sizes, and that was something I admired. Though, by now, their journey must be over, I think of them as an indiscernable dot moving slowly, very slowly, across the map of the world.

We had dinner together, on their last night at Ubud, in a small gazebo, half surrounded by an ornamental pond covered with lilies. All this is annexed to Tjokorde Mas’s dining-room lounge theatre. We had ordered, twenty-four hours in advance as the menu instructed, a traditional Balinese meal of smoked duck.

There was yellow rice and sate ayam (chicken on skewers) and very many small dishes of sauces and spicy little vegetables and then there was the duck, very beautiful. We ate slowly until late.

A choir sang to us from the pond and the padi fields, frogs answering each other, and like the Balinese music in syncopated rhythms.

`Do the Balinese take their music from the frogs?’ I asked Tjokorde Mas later.

`Of course, of course, everything from nature.’

Our meal was the traditional one for the day of Sariswati, the Goddess of Learning. It is always prepared by men. Of course we were having it a few days late.

`It is an offering’, said Tjokorde Mas, `Just as the dance is an offering and as the music is an offering. But with the meal, we offer it and’, he chuckled wickedly and shrugged his shoulders, `we eat it’

Tjanderi’s place is called a Homestay and is a family compound, where all the pavilions are used as guest houses. Young tourists living inexpensively use Tjanderi’s. There are Americans who seem to be able to wander for years and then in August there are the French and Australians  come at all times.

Tjanderi herself is a gentle, homely soul and perhaps this is why she attracts the young-away-from-home. At odd moments, when she is not cooking, she comes quietly and sits at your table.

The Americans seem to take their travel seriously. There was no difficulty in eavesdropping on their conversations. Sometimes they were competitive:

`Have you been to K.L.?

‘Oh yes, K.L.’s great! I was in East Africa last year.’

`Oh yea? Did you meet a guy … what was his name?’ Sometimes they were very quiet: a small thin girl whispered to us about her time in Nepal; she was travelling alone and had been doing so

for more than a year.

Abraham was an American traveller who had been in the east for a long time. We met him first at a village performance of the Topeng dance and he attacked us, in a soft, sweet voice, saying the life that we were leading was quite materialistic and futile. He was studying Bhuddism. He wore a sarong close to saffron in colour and, whenever we saw him, he carried an open umbrella to protect himself from the rain, the sun, or just for ceremonial purposes. He always smiled sweetly and bowed over his fingertips. Mostly, we would find him standing close to a group of Balinese as though eavesdropping. He would have to fly back to Singapore, he told us, just to renew his visa for Indonesia. We envied him in a materialistic kind of way.

At Tjanderi’s we met a Canadian girl, very shy and solitary, who was a graphic artist and gaining a lot from being in Bali.  We also met a stocky Frenchman, with thick lenses and his hair en brosse, who travelled somewhere different every year. He had a licence to ride a motor-cycle, but had never ridden one before. He was terrified of his own machine. There were many Australians, as one would expect, mostly travelling cheaply and discussing prices and expenses.

No matter how foreigners try to blend with the landscape and the local people, they are always conspicuous. A sarong seems to accentuate a European’s foreigness. Very few of us have the natural balance, carriage and movement of the Indonesians. Foreigners have become part of Ubud’s atmosphere. Apart from the tourists there are several foreign permanent residents, as well as students who stay for a while to study the dance, the music or weaving.

The painter, Han Snell, has gained Indonesian citizenship. He came to Indonesia, very much against his will, as a conscript in the Dutch army, loved the country and fell for a beautiful Balinese girl.

We walked uphill on a stony road beside the same fast stream that gurgled past Puri Kawan. Women were bathing, lifting their sarongs as they submerged their bodies. A small girl fell in beside us, asking, as usual: `Where are you going?’ She accompanied us politely right to the doorway of the house of Han Snell.

There was a souvenir shop, a long driveway bordered by clipped lawn, something we did not see often in Bali. Another pretty girl directed us through a gateway across a highly polished floor of an open pavilion and on to stepping stones across an ornamental lily pond with a graceful statue, and then into the painter’s gallery.

Among all this elegance, Snell’s paintings and prints looked elegant too. They were linear and restrained. When he exhibited in Tokyo, he was described in the press as one of the most exciting painters working in Asia. Soon, Han Snell arrived and he sat us in the pavilion with the polished floor and offered us drinks. He was impressively large with a head of blond curls, nicely greying. He wore a sarong, which might have been a toga.

He spoke of his struggling times, as painters seem to do, with a little nostalgia. After spending a year in Java, he arrived in Bali with just three thousand rupiahs (about six Australian dollars), which lasted him just one month. Fortunately, he met a Balinese aristocrat who became his patron, offering friendship and a place to live and work. He developed his talents in isolation, seeing only book reproductions of the European masters; Matisse, Dufy and Picasso impressed him particularly.

It was a very lonely life. It wasn’t possible, he said, to have love affairs with Balinese girls. He had been in Bali for eight years, when he fell so deeply in love with his young model that he took the bit in his teeth and bolted with her in Balinese style.

Elopement is not unusual in Bali, but this one came as a shock to the girl’s poor mother. When he comes to think of it, says Snell, he would not like one of his daughters to elope with some young painter, poor, unknown and foreign. At that point Ne Made, Madam Snell, the subject of our conversation, entered and we turned our eyes towards her. She was all we expected, graceful and beautiful.

Across the Campuan River there is a long steep stairway which takes you from the road to a wide plateau. We took the stairs slowly. Old women with loads on their heads and tiny children zipped past us. David climbed manfully, clutching his asthma inhalant, and I rested halfway. We had left our bicycles at the bottom of the stairway.

On the plateau there is a great view of green terraces. The pathway across the plateau leads between padi fields and the earth underfoot is damp and dark. We passed the studio of another painter – there is a pocket of good young artists here.

Walter Folle’s house is on the fall into the next watercourse. His house is small and tall, an arched frame, one great room and sleeping galleries. Again, there are wide lawns, a pond with a bamboo bridge. Walter Folle was still asleep and my collaborator seemed to envy him. We arrived very pink and ruffled and were greeted by Walter’s wife all smooth, cool and brown. From where we sat, we could see her village, nestled in palm trees. While we drank coffee, a tall old man carrying coconuts on a pole, passed by, he was stooping now and again to answer the questions of a small, curly haired blond girl who trotted beside him.

`My father and my daughter’ said Walter’s wife, who was due to have a second child. In fact she was overdue and taking it calmly. Balinese friends had told us she was very beautiful, and that was certainly true.

Her little girl had been born in the rainy season. At that time there was no bridge at Campuan, and, in labour, she had climbed down the steep, sixty foot high bank of the river and had crossed the shoulder deep, fast running water before walking on to Ubud, where the baby was born soon after. ‘No trouble at all’, she said. The Balinese are rural people and they have rural charm and stoicism, but they are also a cultured people, for culture is born in the villages.

On our way back to Ubud, we stopped at the Campuan Hotel for lunch. One of the hotel’s bungalows was once the house of the famous foreigner Walter Spies. When we talked of Balinese painting with Han Snell, we had discussed Walter Spies. He was a painter, musician and naturalist, the son of a German diplomat. He came to Indonesia soon after the first World War and when the Sultan of Java asked him to organise a western orchestra he made an intensive research into Indonesian music. Walter Spies eventually settled in Campuan where he made the first recordings of Balinese music, made a study of patterns of Balinese life and art, created the Bali Museum in Denpasar and became its first curator.  His teaching has remained an important influence to visual artists.

From his thatched house, Walter Spies once looked across luxuriant green plant life, growing tightly into the head of a gorge, to the paler green of padi fields under a wide sky. And so did we when, at lunch, two sweet, pretty girls in coloured kebayas, sashes and kains, pitter patted about and talked to us in quiet voices. There were flowers in the dining room, hanging birds’ nests as well as the bamboo instruments called tingkliks.

I had forgotten my umbrella at the Folle’s house. The two girls went off to get it. I could picture them arm in arm, heads close together,  smiling and giggling; they would be in silhouette as they crossed the rice fields on the plateau, and bright as butterflies against shadow, as they descended the stone stairway. No wonder foreigners like Bali.

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