Historian and art critic Jean Couteau brings us stories depicting the life on Bali, sometimes real, sometimes myth, always meaningful. Village of Abian Gombal, year 1913, Jero Dasaran had now been consulting for hours. Dozens of his “patients” were waiting in silence outside his chambers. Roars and muttering could sometimes be heard, coming from inside, but this was as it should be: it was inside that “all” was taking place. There he addressed the gods, ancestral souls and other spirits whom only he – or so it was believed in the area – could invite down to “talk”.
TEXT by jean couteau illustration by dewa putu kantor
Historian and art critic Jean Couteau brings us stories depicting the life on Bali, sometimes real, sometimes myth, always meaningful.
Village of Abian Gombal, year 1913,
Jero Dasaran had now been consulting for hours. Dozens of his “patients” were waiting in silence outside his chambers. Roars and muttering could sometimes be heard, coming from inside, but this was as it should be: it was inside that “all” was taking place. There he addressed the gods, ancestral souls and other spirits whom only he – or so it was believed in the area – could invite down to “talk”. Talk of what was “truly” happening and how to cope with it. Yes, as he sat in the lotus position with the wrinkled face of someone who “knew” of both life and beyond, he was indeed a “foundation” (dasaran = foundation), a channel to the outer world, and an adviser to humans.
Jero Dasaran was a well-known medium (balian), whom one visited to know what was taking place “out there” and why and how it interfered with what was happening “down here,” in this human world of ours. Which ancestor was incarnating as a young baby? What was the request of one’s recently dead grandmother? How could one’s beloved husband have fallen in love with a Javanese prostitute? And why one had such frequent bouts of fever, or this strange succession of motorcycle accidents? He was respected because he gave a name to events that otherwise would lead to meaninglessness, “possession” (bebainan), folly, or even suicide.
In the open pavilion just outside his chamber, dozens of people were waiting in silence. Some had come the day before to pick up their number. Others were arriving, ready to wait as long as it took. Yes, even though modern life brought with it cars and hand-phones, it did not bring tranquility, but quarrels about land, sex, and religion. For all this and more, Jero Dasaran and his flock of gods and spirits provided answers and solutions. And all was duly recorded on iPads, Samsungs and Blackberries, to be discussed back home.
Suddenly, a young woman who had been sitting on the front bench stood up and screamed in a long shrilling voice. “I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon! Please forgive me! She then fell, pale like death, on her husband’s lap, trembling as if in a fit. Then, almost immediately, as she was now breathing less heavily, a husky voice rose from inside the chamber: “She is lucky the little ones did not strangle her right here!” All those present hushed, not daring to utter a word. Time passed, the woman now and then in fits, shuddering and screaming, waiting for her turn with the others.
“What is it you want, my children”, asked Jero Dasaran, when he saw the young couple enter. “My wife has had fits for years, such as you heard outside,” replied the young man. We have seen doctors, Moslem tabibs and Chinese singse (healers), all to no avail, which is why we now come to you.” Jero Dasaran did not reply. He had already taken the small cup of burning mejagau coal that lay in front of him, inhaled its fumes, and was now launching into a wailing chant addressed to the dwellers of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Suddenly his voice changed: there “he” now was, the visiting one, a Batara Hyang ancestor, speaking through Jero Dasaran’s voice in his loud husky voice: ‘So, you don’t see your mistakes, children. Believe me, you woman, you are lucky the little ones failed to strangle you! Be warned, though. You killed them, all three of them, when they were but “water” (yeh),” he roared. “Forgive us, Father Batara Hyang,” the young man said hastily. “We shall do as you tell us to do. But please forgive us.” “Yes, the little ones you killed were not shaped yet like children, they were just manik (fetuses) when you had them aborted,” he said in a rising roar. They were incarnating ancestral souls… and you had them killed! Is it surprising now that they can find no place in the realm of the dead? You have made them into erring souls (atma kesasar), bent to avenge the evil done to them.” Neither the man nor the woman did reply, instead they bowed their heads in shame. “Preventing souls eager to incarnate from coming down to earth is a big transgression, children; and you will have to pay for it in the “field of sorrow” (tegal penyangsaran),” he rambled on angrily from the depth of Jero Dasaran’s throat. They were transfixed. But the young man pulled himself together enough to ask anxiously: “Tell us, Father, is there any rite we can perform to appease their wrath?” “Yes, there is,” came the answer. “Make them an appropriate “cremation” with a coconut, the right offerings, plus symbols of soul and body, and then burn them in the children’s cemetery, so that the “little ones” can find their way to the realm of the dead. Yet, don’t forget, children, you’ll have to pay.”
So they did. They held the three “little ones’” cremation in the children’s cemetery. Oh, it was not a big cremation, one of those you tourists so much like to attend. After the cremation, there were other rites, so that the three incarnating souls, long deceived by our young couple, could free themselves from all earthly bonds and guise and go back there, to the “Old Country” of the dead ancestors, and wait for the right time to come down, again. And this time for good.
Oh, I know, in those countries of yours, far away beyond the seas, you women don’t tire to say: “This is my body, and the choice to have children or not, and thus to abort, is mine, and mine only”. You have even passed laws to enshrine in rights this belief of yours. But know! There are still places, and there will still be such places for a long, long time, in which it is not women who give life to a soul, but God who shows up, or ancestors who come down. Feminist or not, we have to accept this reality.!
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