Category Archives: Jakarta v. Bali

Calon Arang: The Lion, the Witch and the WordPress

Newer than the Odyssey and older than Hansel and Gretel?  Beowulf of Bali? Am I warmer? Hotter?

Are tongues of flame leaping from my nostrils and my mouth, devouring banyan trees and instantly turning nearby soldiers to charred mounds of flesh ??

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Friends, I really have no idea what to say about Calong Arang besides:

  • she was a witch and her name seems to mean “ready to barbecue” (swear! best translation I can make/find)
  • who practiced the blackest of magic and sacrificed kids to Durga
  • it’s a seminal tale, about 1000 years old, remembered better perhaps in Bali than Java
  • totally connected to Rangda (witch), Barong (the lion), and trance dance
  • Pramoedya covered it in The King, the Witch and the Priest A Twelfth-Century Javanese Tale
  • one of the first Indonesian films (1927) went there; but now it’s lost (not the 1985 one)
  • crops up a lot in Indonesian plastic arts, wayang and theater
  • Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead and Hildred Geertz (once married to Clifford) are among the only folks who’ve managed to comment at all without wholesale  copy-pasting Wikipedia and ripping off jpegs from DeviantART

So Hildred Geertz (it seems) pointed out that, in Bali, it’s real magic — not just a story about magic — and the costumes are a big part:

 [N]otions that [it’s] just a story are dispelled on recognizing that … the play is a practical act of attack and defense in a world teeming with … invisible beings …. who are willful, irritable and easy to anger, but [can also] be … benevolent ….  [I]n Balinese rituals, the masks and [the] play bring the spiritual beings into contact with humans where they can be … bargained with, entertained and even threatened. 

Enacting a narrative such as Calong Arang is a means for communicating with these beings and one of the main channels are the masks themselves, for masks can be, in Bali much more than mere costumes [77]. 

Images of Power:  Balinese Paintings Made for Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead

I warn you, stick with Google images. No matter what language you speak you’ll find nothing relevant about this topic. And if you go to a performance titled “Calon Arang,” again, that’s like saying “Hansel and Gretel.” It could be almost anything.

Spooky, man. Real spooky 8 ]


Rare footage : Charlie Chaplin tramping around Indonesia

Young Indonesians who’ve seen Chaplin & Co  on Indonesian TV might be surprised to know that Charlie Chaplin was a real guy — quite famous –who once romped his way through Indonesia in 1932.  Even children in Batavia (now Jakarta) knew who he was back then.

Unfazed by modern times, kids in Bali in the 1930’s thought he was just another bule gila (crazy white guy). Although you’ll see he did manage to get some laughs.

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Yes, we have vacancies.

Monthly lease rates range from Rp 5 – 6 million with minimum 9-12 month lease including unbeatable location near Four Seasons, wifi broadband, newspapers and coffee on breakfast table, clean laundry in your wardrobe, hot showers, good pressure, cold AC, full kitchen, CCTV and on-premises security, and a microbrewery!


Trance dance & spirit possession in Indonesia

Video below shows Indonesian horse spirit possession, although with horses rare in the archipelago monkey spirit possession (being possessed by the spirit of a monkey) is relatively more common.

While in Indonesia trance dance is a time-honored way to put the whole village on edge, possession by the spirit of Janet Jackson (videos below) only began gaining popularity in the early 1980s (Jackson was born in 1966).

A relatively uncommon hybrid form of Indonesian dance/drama: simultaneous possession by the spirit of Janet Jackson and a horse (unknown breed):

Full moon: trance and dance in Bali & Java — draft

Magic is a working mystery,

no ma’am sorry, that’s not history    

–Camper van Beethoven

[If only blogs were driven by the moon, like the tides. Regardless, I figure it has been exactly three years since I wrote a post about my experience at a holier-than-average and “totally authentic” full moon temple ceremony near Sanur, Bali. And posts by Made Wijaya (now there’s a blogger you can set your clocks by) reminded me of that. Meanwhile, my original photos (including, I should hope, a shot of holy rollers Frank Morgan and Leonard Lueras throwing dice under the big, hairy banyan outside the temple) were stored on blog that has been retired. So re-connecting with that is on the to-do list (due in 2015 ; ) For now, the score for this post is as follows: text, 90 % non-new and all dates refer to April 2009; pictures, 100% new (semi-sorted) and don’t relate (directly) to the text — ED]


I’m not sure what Om Frankie and Om Leonard like most about the three-day full moon ceremony at the Mertasari temple just down the beach from their cozy seaside villas in Sanur. May be the elegantly dressed women, the in-temple beer concessions, or the trance dance.

Could be, on the other hand, the holy gaming tables laid out under a massive banyan tree and the full moon. They provide a lot more action than a roulette wheel. It’s almost eerie how that little ball bounces around. And so back they came, night after night.

With buddies and a backstage pass, Miss S and I also made to all three sessions, too. Night one was topeng — stand-up routines in Balinese and in drag — over my head. Night two was a Balinese version of Baile de la Conquista with the Dutch and Chinese playing the Spanish. Whoa.

Night three of the party did not disappoint — trance dance, dramatically violent movements, that fearsome Balinese barong beast with Chinese characteristics, the moon, the ancient temple on the magic beach — complete.

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Bombing Bali — 60 years ago today in the Dutch East Indies

~~ A Japanese plane approaches what is today Jakarta in this game illustration  ~~

In late January of 1942 step-grandpa , Robert F. Graf, was just getting the hang of dog fights. Quoting Tennyson he later wrote (all caps as usual : ) STORMED AT WITH SHOT AND SHELL, BOLDLY THEY FLEW AND WELL.

Sixty years later I find myself getting more interested in Java from/in the air. (Getting high on Java?) But not only Java, Bali too. And looking at Java from Madura and Bali.

And so the awesome illustrations by farang65 is an artist’s depiction of what the Java Bomber was looking at as he was shooting and being shot at. For the most part, I imagine, he was just trying to figure out how to stay in the game (so many of the guys he came over from Salt Lake City with failed to do that). However, the earth’s own skin may have given him pause. I think Jez  O’Hare’s body of ultralight photography proves this is a singularly good-looking part of the world.

Meanwhile, “Big Bob” the Java-n-Bali Bomber was a good looking guy. At least according to his memoirs.

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Indonesian possessed by monkey spirit won’t leave tree in downtown Jakarta

Yesterday, in Jakarta — it is widely believed — a 30 year-old security man named Rofika was possessed by the spirit of a monkey. He spent between 2 and a half and 3 hours some 60 to 70 feet up a tree, resisting various attempts at “capture,” before finally giving in.

Most of the online comments from Indonesians (excluding the jokes) are along the lines of :

  • whoa, that’s so crazy
  • poor guy, that’s a long time to hang in a tree
  • probably a lot of stress and not enough food

There is also some discussion of the nature of spirits (jin/roh), traditional beliefs about trees and tree spirits and exorcists. But these would be expected from an older, generation of Indonesians not likely to be online.

Yesterday, several spirit worker types,  typically referred to as orang pintar or smart people — worked side-by-side with fire fighters and others to get “Fika” — his nickname —  to come down.  Shaman (dukun) as well as orthodox religious leaders are almost always called in cases like these in Indonesia. In Java they chant and throw Muslim holy water; in Bali they chant and throw Hindu holy water.

Of course, people get possessed in Indonesia all the time, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. In Bali, where some of the research for Gregory Bateson’s influential Ecology of Mind (1972)was carried out, you can find young girls who routinely enter altered states. They do it on purpose and it’s beautiful, although sometimes one or more girls will go further into the trance than desired. At other times of day or night, as per the Balinese calendar, wilder and occasionally wooly spirit possession practices used to and may still occur.

What is interesting, is that no one has seriously suggested this was an April Fool’s prank or — really — anything besides spirit possession (kesurupan).

While there isn’t a lot of easy information about pathological spirit possession by animals, what I did turn up is Episode 2 : Night from The Miracle of Bali, one of the David Attenborough documentary series Tribal Eye (1975).Also, at the All About Jazz forum — of all places — a contributor from South-East Asia provides a review including the part where it  “takes six men to hold down this one man once he becomes [intentionally] possessed” by a pig spirit. Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler etc — says the random commenter — remind him of ecstatic, tranced-out performance in Bali.

I am particularly fascinated by these images because my mother comes from Indonesia (Balinese Hinduism was once common throughout the Indes until the Muslims forced the Hindu princes to flee around the 1500s; indigenous Hinduism is still very common among ordinary Indonesians). She told me stories very much like this, with Javanese Hindus becoming possessed by monkey-spirits, turning into pigs, putting curses on each other and suchlike. (My Dad, from Malaysia, has similar stories).

Over the past few years there have been frequent stories about students possessed at school (not on purpose).  In recent  middle and high school cases, the possession recurs (different students, same school, within a day or two). There was a case a month ago at a middle school in Gianyar, Bali.

Spirit possession in Indonesia

This school (and cigarette factory)  “mass possession” (kesurupan massal) gets a lot of coverage in the media because —   apparently in each case — the possession tends to be persistent and contagious. Administrators and managers are tasked with aiding the possessed, protecting the rest and deciding whether to shut down for the day. This gives TV crews plenty of time to work, so check YouTube.

Looking for commonalities in the mass possession cases, one sees young women (but not exclusively) working/studying under relatively crowded or stressful conditions. (In fact, at least two of the cases above happened at lunch time when the possessed would have been relaxing.)

Anyway, when this security guard finally came down the tree, he did it “just like” a monkey. And what freaked the crowds was how he began running around “doing acrobatics” in a crouched or slouched posture, ie, like an ape. While still in the tree he had taken one of the bananas offered by crisis handlers; but he gobbled it with the skin on.

The Jakarta Globe story is probably complete as any of the others (1) (2). However, it’s unlikely anyone really knows the guy very well because in this story his name is Rafika and he’s 28.  There’s also plenty of video of poor Fika, somewhere.  But you get the sense that, even had you been there at the foot of the tree, the whole thing would have been hard to grasp.