Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Stranger in Paradise: Carry on Bali

Baris Tekok Jago dancers viewed through the burning flanks of the LEMBU at A.A. Alit Aryawan’s cremation,
Intaran, Sanur, 16 December 2012

Despite the avalanche of tourism kitsch threatening to smother the island the village Balinese continue to amaze with their patience and their prowess.
Patience is spreading thin in Ubud, however. Recently I detected a ‘schism’ forming when a village elder complained about all the pale-faces (bule) opening fish and chip shops and yoga retreats.
“They’re taking our jobs,” he protested.
It used to be that any foreigner starting a small business in Bali was welcome, as the Balinese ending up benefitting, but in these hard times Bali is feeling the pinch too and some village elders are looking for scape-goats.
The fact that over 60% of the labour force on any building project come from outside Bali is not an issue: the Balinese are happy to relegate blue collar work to others — Eastern Indonesian run most supermarket check-out counters, for example, and, in the construction industry, Lombokese dig all the holes and East Javanese fill them in.
It’s the pale face presence that’s starting to grate.
I now won’t go to palace events in Ubud or Peliatan because I get glowered at like some karmic carpet-bagger.
It used to be like that in Sanur-Intaran too — a traditionally vibrant suburb of old Sanur famous for its he-men — but I managed to overcome the impasse by schmoozing up to the pecalang (temple vigilantes) and the commandant of the Warrior Dance (Baris Gede) troupe by giving them videos and prints of themselves at the recent Ngusaba Desa ceremonies (See Stranger Paradise, Not Lost Bali, January 2013).
Last month the royal family of Intaran, Jero Abian Timbul, held a cremation of such extreme verve and vivaciousness that my camera gave up the ghost from exhaustion.
Now read on:
17  December 2012: To Jero Abian Timbul for the cremation of A. A. Alit Aryawan
The Abian Timbul palace is an offshoot of the Royal Pemecutan line and as such attracts all the warrior-princes from Denpasar to its family ceremonies.
Today,  Cokorda Pemecutan XI and his wife Cokorda Istri came; his brother Turah Agung rode the funeral bier to the cremation grounds, Made Kara, pecalang to the stars, was master of ceremonies and Seminyak fashionista Susanna Perini of BIASA was among the guests of honour. For full coverage, see my video
Pelebon Cremation of A.A.Alit Aryawan, Jero Abian Timbul, Intaran, Sanur
(Click image to enlarge)
The highlight of the morning’s precedings was the procession to the cremation ground, complete with teen-angel princesses-on-palanquins (holding the deceased’s spirit effigy) and a pair of lembu black bull sarcophagus (a cousin across the road had died a week before the big event so and extra, matching lembu was ‘folded in’ to the precedings).
The magnificent bleganjur marching band from Banjar Pekandelan, winner of this year’s Arts Festival Competition, provided a spirited accompaniment.  At the cremation ground the two black bulls were parked side by side under a gold and white canopy. After the last rites were delivered — by Brahman in-laws and uncles — and the lembu set alight, a troupe of magical, mystical Baris Tekok Jago dancers tripped the light fantastic in the small court in front of the blazing bulls.
Other highlights of the ceremony included: Agung Subamia (Biasa Boutique manager and son of the deceased) riding into the cremation ground atop a giant ramp, holding aloft a sacrificial adze; Turah Putra Darmanuraga riding the bade funeral bier from the palace to the cremation ground; Gusti Ayu Cici/Mrs. Subamia’s green toenails, under her turtle accented mules; Susanna Perini’s vision of Sista Jezebel, the Jewish saint of sch’muttah (textiles) in the cremation smoke.
26 December 2012: My article on Urban Tourism, Schoolies and Toolies is published in the Bali daily
Last week I was interviewed by a young journalist form Balipublika newspaper about tourism in Kuta and recent developments in the nocturnal raging of shit-faced (very drunk) Australian students, called ‘schoolies”.
Having been in Bali for the last 40 years I know little of recent trends in Australia and was shocked to read the Balinese journalist’s list of questions. Some were a bit school-marmish (“Don’t Australian parents teach their children not to run wild and naked in other people’s countries” sort of thing) and others were quite pertinent, about the direction of ‘urban tourism’ in Kuta.
When I was home in Sydney for Christmas I did some research and wrote an article (excerpted below) for the Bali Daily which was published on New Year's Eve:  (excerpt) “A recent survey discovered that most Australians now go to Bali to get horribly drunk and see a fire dance or drag show in the Seminyak district local homosexualists call the 'Gaza Strip'. The Australian red-head bikie gang The Rebels now has a chapter in Bali. Bali also has over 30 cricket clubs and an excellent new fish and chip shop in Mertasari, Sanur.
The great Australian 'Schoolies' tradition held during the last week of November — started in the 1980s in the fiercely culture-neutral Gold Coast of Queensland — has recently moved to Bali as well. It involves teenagers indulging in alcohol-fueled rampages of hedonism and aggressive behaviour. A vigilante group of Australians called the Red Frogs now sends volunteers to Kuta where they annually set up red tents on the beach, to council rampagers and hand out condoms. A slightly less altruistic Australian group, the Toolies, consisting of an a more mature cross-section of Australian alcoholic, now follow the Schoolies to Bali to prey on younger Schoolies.
“An island gets the tourists it deserves” a Sanur-based pundit recently opined, but I tend to disagree. The Balinese culture is still magnificent. There ARE still lots of immaculate rice-field views and gorgeous villages, and a few fairly un-trampled beaches. In this current tsunami of the tasteless let’s not lose the original flavour. Early January I posted the article on Facebook and got a startling comment from a Balinese lady journalist:
“There is no mentioned of lady-boy hookers who are lurching in dark alley ways of Kuta, ready to show their shiny skin to the right submissive western victims to be trapped into their webs being injected with poison in clubs and then their meat being sucked out dry and leave only skeleton!!”
Well, there's certainly no holds barred in home-grown  Balinese journalism these days!
Am I detecting a sea change in the local presses attitude towards foreign and unwholesome influence, previously let pass in a  passive-resistance sort of way?

Consecration of new Cokorda Pemecutan IX monument outside the Pemecutan Palace, Denpasar.
27 December 2012: Consecration of new Cokorda Pemecutan IX monument outside the Pemecutan palace by Cokorda Pemecutan XI, other family members and the Denpasar mayor Ida Bagus Rai Mantra
The monument is a memorial to the horrific 'suicide battle'(puputan) that ensued when Cokorda Pemecutan IX and his entire family and court chose death over dishonor (Dutch troops taking over their palace and ancestor temples), The Cokorda's son took some 20 bullets in the battle but survived, to become CP X, father of the present Cokorda.