TURTLE ISLAND FESTIVAL IN CRISIS
For the past 30 years I have religiously followed the goings on at the Sakenan Temple festival which has been held twice a year on Serangan ‘Turtle’ Island since 1547.
During the 1970s this diary described the glorious pilgrimages — by ‘sampan’ at full moon, through mangrove forest alleyways.
In the 1980s I wrote of the appearance at the festival, out of the blue, of the incredible, dancing ‘people’s priestess’, Mangku Meme of Kedisan, and her rivalry with the palace priests and priestesses who run the big Saturday night trance-in.
I wrote of the outrageous ‘Mangku Torpedo’ who never failed to launch herself — like an Exocet 200 — into the dress circle of trancees.
In the 1990s, I risked life and limb to expose the rise of greedy developers who were to build an ugly bridge to the island, ruining forever, the festival’s special magic, but, ensuring a future for the island’s fishermen in the hospitality industry.
By the year 2000 the island’s festival was getting 500,000 devotees ― way up from the original 5,000 ― and enjoyed a new sparkling status as Bali’s answer to France’s Mount St. Michel.
Amongst the Balinese it had become a sort of spiritual tourist trap.
The island’s real estate era never started: due many thought to a hex put on the project by the temple’s priests.
It is notable that the army force’s chief — who put the weight of the military behind the developers — died tragically in a helicopter crash shortly after the project opened; and that the father of another pivotal player was forced to ‘abdicate’ as president.
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After Christmas last year I returned from Sydney to the shocking news that my adopted village gods had not gone to Sakenan this year— there can be no ‘festival’ without them, really — and that, subsequently, the buffalo-borne chariot that greets them on their return had been left in its garage. The twenty or so celebratory ‘Pemagpagan’ festivals — which happen on the Monday after the weekend festival — were also cancelled in villages from Kuta to Sanur. The Barong Medwi did not dance nor did the Seminyak Barong make a Sunday appearance on a painted prahu.
I posted the following on Facebook:
“Made Wijaya is back in Bali and tracking down the real story behind the South Bali gods boycotting December’s Sakenan temple festival. This is the first time in the temple's 500 year history”. Is it “due to a serf uprising”?
Professor Adrian Vickers of the University of Sydney posted a comment:
“It’s the damned bridge”
Monika of Seminyak — once married to a Balinese prince — posted also:
“It’s the Devil’s own work.”
Others in the broad, global, Bali-o-phile diaspora sighed and cried.
I did more research and discovered that the present 'rift' dates back to before the previous ODALAN festival (March 2009). It appears that the prince of Puri Kesiman instructed the Kepaon royals to help get masons to open the newly built boundary wall (built by the Kesiman palace) to allow access for garbage trucks to collect temple offering refuse.
The masons were threatened with murder and had their tools stolen (the Balinese are sometimes subtle in conflict-resolution). Serangan village reps were called to Kesiman to be reprimanded and the ODALAN festival went ahead, with the addition of a GURU PIDUKA ceremony to apologize to the gods for the upsets.
Fast forward three months: A PARUMAN meeting is held at the Kesiman Palace, attended by the BENDESA SERANGAN and all the royals from the villages that traditionally 'send' their gods to the festival, plus representatives from the billboard-loving Mayor’s office (KODYA) and the police. The Kesiman Palace demands to know why the police have not arrested the thugs who harassed his masons; The BENDESA Serangan suggested that KODYA should run the festival, which deeply offends the gathered royals; their ancestors have run this festival for the last 500 years — since before Serangan village even existed (in fact, many of the temple's gods are the deified ancestors of these Gusti families) so the Gustis called off the show (source: Bali Post 16 December 2010).
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31st December 2010: facebook has become the forum for fed-up foreigners
A retail honky in Ubud has complained on Facebook about the incessant fireworks ruining the island.”
“What about the mob of turis domestik ‘sistas’, ten-deep, outside JOGGER on the Kuta-Airport drag; or the mountain of Zimmer frames outside Spartacus Gay Spa; or the yoga hags chained to the low carved PARAS SANGGINGAN wall outside Starbucks Ubud whose mass has spilled into the gutters blocking the drains; or the stench of Tom Ford perfume in the METIS carpark responsible for the respiratory collapse of a commercial truckload of Bali Aga beggar women??”
“The island has become one big tourist trap and cliché and art shop mall. Perhaps the Balinese mounted a fury of fireworks to match the monsoon’s meteorological mayhem: it is just a cry for attention, tinged with mayhem.”