Tempe Guard Duty in Bali

Culture | Written By, NOW! BALI | October 31st, 2014

A Balinese village: a path runs deep between a range of parallel mud walls, with a man slowly walking along, carrying on his shoulder a bushel of green grass. Every thirty meters or so, the eye catches the same mud gate with the same decorated lintel: Balinese art camouflaging Balinese poverty. Hidden behind the walls of mud, one sees the red tiles of the various pavilions, with, northward, every thirty meters again, the same thatched puppet houses: the family temple. From the eerie silence of these quarters comes now and then the barking of a dog or the cry of a child.  Then, by the side of the path, a big tree is seen, two slit logs hanging from one of the branches, and a couple of shrines under the shade of the trees with, nearby, a large open pavilion…

Text by Jean Couteau, Illustration by Dewa Putu Kantor

A Balinese village: a path runs deep between a range of parallel mud walls, with a man slowly walking along, carrying on his shoulder a bushel of green grass. Every thirty meters or so, the eye catches the same mud gate with the same decorated lintel: Balinese art camouflaging Balinese poverty. Hidden behind the walls of mud, one sees the red tiles of the various pavilions, with, northward, every thirty meters again, the same thatched puppet houses: the family temple. From the eerie silence of these quarters comes now and then the barking of a dog or the cry of a child.  Then, by the side of the path, a big tree is seen, two slit logs hanging from one of the branches, and a couple of shrines under the shade of the trees with, nearby, a large open pavilion…

——- 

In the village, a man can be seen walking intently, along the small shady alleys that stretch between the open-air Balinese compounds of the banjar Pekandelan, one of the seven banjars (neighborhood) of the village of Abiangombal. He looks around, ties his sarong tighter around his waist and, looking serious, he enters the house of I Made Kantor.       

Nodding to the women of the house, he goes directly to the small bale dangin  pavilion, in the  central  eastern part of the compound. There he stops, taking the small bamboo object that he has been holding in his hand, and hangs  it  from  the  roof  of the pavilion. Then he crosses the compound again,  telling the women in passing, “Tell Made Kelor to come tonight to the banjar meeting-hall for guard duties with five other members.”

 The man is Ketut Cetag, a juru arah (messenger), carrying out the instructions of the customary head of the banjar.        

 When Made Kelor comes back home and sees the bamboo urak “letter” hanging from his pavilion, he knows what to do. He immediately goes over to the mud-wall surrounding his compound and calls to his neighbour’s wife, who is cutting a banana tree to feed the pigs:  “Tell Pan Cepeng to be at the banjar tonight  for guard duties.”  With these words, he gives the urak to Men Cepeng (Mrs Cepeng) and leaves adding, “Pass the message on to Pan Kancut.”

The message is then passed on from Pan Cepeng to Pan Kancut, and so it continues until the other three have also been contacted in the same way …

——–

Tonight, Kelor is on guard duty (makemit) at the village temple (pura desa). He is used to it. Among the members of his household, it is always he who takes over this function, as his younger son – his inheritor – is a guide in Denpasar and he comes home too late, and too tired to take the job. Kelor, thus, was on duty last month at the temple of the dead (pura dalem) and he will be also next month at the temple of origin (pura puseh) for the preparation of the Anggarkasih temple festival.

“Kelor, do not forget to bring your wooden stick or machete to the temple,” the klian banjar – head of the neighborhood association – had said with eagerness. Kelor was well aware indeed of what had taken place in the village of Kerta Singa. The shrines had been vandalized, and the pratima effigy of the Sesuhunan God and an untold number of Chinese coins (kepeng) had disappeared. This is the price the people have to pay for the presence of tourism that turns godly effigies into decorative objects.

Kelor, unlike the young men, enjoys being on guard duty. He far prefers it to watching television with what he calls the “horse-dances from Java” – meaning the modern dances from the world outside of Bali. He can at least catch up on the local news with his old mates, in particular with old Pan Kompreng, who is well-versed in the Kawi language, although he never went to school, and who always has a lot of stories to tell about the “time of the Regents”, as he says – meaning the “old days”, prior to the Japanese occupation, when the “world was still quiet and peaceful”. Don’t think that Kelor and his banjar mates are the only ones on guard though. There are also those men from the banjar East of the River, who guard the middle yard of the temple, and those of banjar Babakan, who are near the shrines, in the inner yard. They all guard the “gods’ effigies” (pratima), as the gods will “wake up” tomorrow and stay in residence (nyejer) for three days, the length of the festival.                

Kelor is now half-asleep on his mat, next to the old Kompreng, when the beam of torchlight pierces the darkness. It is the neighborhood head (klian banjar) who comes by to check out his men. “Hey, old Kompreng, aren’t you too cold tonight?” he says while counting the number of men.” But where is Dabdab?” he asks suddenly. “He has no one to replace him, has he?” “This Dabdab,” says Kompreng,” he is never there when we need him. If his old father dies and he needs the help of the banjar, I won’t forget him. The corpse could well end up on the side of the road, together with the dogs.” “Don’t be so fussy, Kompreng,” replies the klian while he writes in his notebook: Dabdab, (fine): Rp.500. Then he carries on his tour, checking right and left to see that everything is all right. He disappears again into the night carrying his light.!

Historian and art critic Jean Couteau brings us stories depicting the life on Bali, sometimes real, sometimes myth, always meaningful.

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