Category Archives: Weekends Away

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 ]


Home video from Madura — Sumenep, Bangkalan and Sampang

While the Madurese are Indonesia’s third largest ethnic group, Madura itself  has no more than 4 million, giving it almost the same area and population as Bali. Likewise, it’s located immediately to the east of Java.  There are plenty of lovely beaches and — here, but not in Bali — you can have them all to yourself.

There’s another page on this blog with historical, cultural and travel information about Madura.  This is just a few extra megs of  low quality home video : ) The first is a day trip we took to one of the smaller islands off of east Madura. The other two  document village life in Bangkalan and Sampang, on the west side of the island.

Welcome to Madura — watch for cows from Jack Chavez on Vimeo.

Beast Indies: Chillin’ like a village from Jack Chavez on Vimeo.

Madura is like a puzzle with four pieces — Bangkalan, Sampang, Pamekasan and Sumenep. (Actually Sumenep is itself a puzzle, with dozens of smaller islands  stretching almost to Bali.) Madurese (not too far from Javanese)  is spoken in Madura and it’s Muslim.  We know that much. Beyond that you kind of have to connect the dots yourself.  Perhaps because it lacks a political existence few people seem to concern themselves with either the past or the future of Madura.

Cursed with poor soil,  the Madurese have always been the traveling type.  So you’ll  find them all over Indonesia, including many doctors and lawyers, as well as tradesman and small business owners.  Being Madurese in a place like Surabaya, Jakarta or Denpasar might be like being Mexican from Texas. Yes, you’re got some interesting roots, but so does everybody else in this country.  For the most part people wouldn’t get it and that would be fine.

If you Google the BPMIGAS map of oil and gas blocks around here,  you’ll see that — unlike the rest of greater Java — the island of Madura is entirely obscured . In fact, the Indonesian government has pinned its hopes on projects like Santos’ in Sampang and Husky’s in Sumenep, to reduce dependence of the foreign oil (which it heavily subsidizes to fuel its zoom-happy populace).

But despite that and the bridge, batik tradition, unique architecture, emerald rice terraces fringed with bamboo, awesome seascapes — all of it — you get the sense nothing’s really going on in Madura. Perfect for a semi-adventurous vacation — since  sand, sun and sea are hard to ruin — but with this sense that the potential is simply much greater.

Sampang is a fair example. Before it was making international headlines for a Sunni-Shi’ite blood feud (270 refugees whose village was burned still in limbo more than month later),  it was already the poorest regency of East Java with only 32 doctors for almost a million people.

Sampang is where you’ll find the rustic cottages and lovely gardens of the Camplong Beach Hotel.  Oil and gas operations are visible as night as a massive torches out at sea.

Expate, outsource, automate and disappear: how to spend less and live more in Indonesia

Here’s what we’ve heard over the years about why single expats find that sharing a house near the business district with other expats makes sense in a city like Jakarta.

“I like the fact they’ve got a micro-brewery on board. It’s social, but in a focused way. The Jakarta serviced apartment thing was convenient, but ultimately alienating and boring. There’s just not that much going on in Jakarta on the 26th floor.”

— Development consultant, Madrid

“The kost thing was fun for a while. Sure you meet a lot of people, including Indonesians. It’s almost like a family experience. But then if your boyfriend comes to Indonesia or something . . . or you want to throw a Halloween  party, you may as well be in a hotel . ”

— Tech journalist, Palo Alto 


“My company offered me a big kontrakan [rental house]. But there were a lot of questions about who was going to look  after it. I’d just as soon not have a pool if I have to clean it.”

— Expatriate GM, Melbourne 

“I’m having enough trouble with my driver so I wasn’t really keen on having more people [maid] to manage.”

— Hydro engineer, Montreal

“Once I got the gym membership and located a few good swimming pools, there was really no reason to stay in the apartment.”

— Intern, Helsinki 

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Java’s Heart of Light & Darkness — Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn

History of JavaAs a young man, after the friction with his father drove Yunghuhn (1809-64) to try suicide — but before he went to medical school, joined the miliary and ended up in Java, he’d wander through Brunswick, Thuringia and especially the Harz mountains. At about the same time his first articles on mushrooms began to appear “out of the botanical twilight zone” (Mirror of the Indies, at 71)

Heart of Javanese Darkness“Many years later when [Junghuhn (which means “young hen”) ] returned to his old haunts he recognized only “the plants, shrubs, trees and geological formations [with] nary a word about people. He found Germans generally “a bunch of fat, arrogant and intolerant priests” (74) and surmised that “only in Holland had he encountered “such a bigoted lot of people. (Mirror 75)”

Old Java Looking at Ancient JavaIndologist Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 –1860) quotes Yunghuhn’s Images of Light and Shadow. He was a little over 20 years older than Yunghuhn.

Giant Ferns of Java

Four brothers — Night, Day, Dawn and Dusk — trip across Java telling tales. Junghuhn accounts for their experiences with some splendid descriptions of volcanic and other geological formations. Night is the orthodox Christian. Day is Junghuhn (deism tinged with pantheism) or “natural religion.” Dawn and Dusk atheists. (69) [Ed.: sounds like camping in Utah].
Losing my cool

“He often describes nature in terms of animal shapes or human emotions. A motionless volcanic lake can momentarily be stirred by such passions as to destroy overnight what it took years to grow, much the same way man will let his emotions destroy his own happiness. “Coming close to confession,” and though nature defies description, describe it he does — despite the fact he’s writing in a foreign language. “Indeed like someone who can suddenly cause a stone to spark, Junghun time and again manages to convey his sense of joy, elation, and relief while looking down from some “labyrinthine landscape” that looks “torn and gutted (Mirror 68).”

Pastoral Java (drawing)

“Compared to Junghuhn’s observations and descriptions of nature, all others pale. He goes well beyond noting, as Van Hoevell did, the ‘beauty and loveliness of the landscape,’ or ‘splendid, although rugged and wild, natural vistas.’ Junghuhn unfailingly prefers his landscapes rugged and wild, and majestic – majestic in her great silences and majestic in her forces; and alive too. (Mirror 68)”

Antique Java

Junghuhn relates that in Java he saw an immense field entirely covered with skeletons, and took it to be a battle-field. However, they were nothing but the skeletons of large turtles, five feet long, three feet broad, and of equal height. These turtles come this way from the sea, in order to lay their eggs, and are then seized by wild dogs (Canis rutilans); with their united strength, these dogs lay them on their backs, tear open their lower armour, the small scales of the belly, and devour them alive. But then a tiger often pounces on the dogs.(see Wright below)

Java, seine Gestalt, Pflanzendecke, und sein innerer Bau

The four volume treatise, Java, seine Gestalt, Pflanzendecke, und sein innerer Bau (Images of Light and Shadow from Java’s interior) was released anonymously between 1850 and 1854. The work was controversial, advocating socialism in the colonies and fiercely criticizing Christian and Islamic proselytization of the Javanese people.

Dr Seuss on Java

“The work was banned in Austria and parts of Germany for its “denigrations and vilifications of Christianity”, but was a strong seller in Holland where it was first published pseudonymously. It was also popular in colonial Indonesia, despite opposition from the Dutch Christian Church there. The publisher of the first volume, Jacobus Hazenberg, refused to continue his association with the work; the remaining four were published by the outspoken liberal, Frans Günst, from volume three as installments (from October 1, 1855) of the newly founded journal for freethinkers, De Dageraad (Dawn).” #wikipedia

Day trips from Jakarta

“Now all this misery is repeated thousands and thousands of times, year in year out. For this, then, are these turtles born. For what offence must they suffer this agony? What is the point of this whole scene of horror? The only answer is that the will-to-live thus objectifies itself. (Ecological Thoughts: Schopenhauer, JM Coetzee and Who We are in the World by Laurence Wright

Javanese femininity

Needless to say, our only response to such an enormous body of illumination, experience, and will to live is “Pak — itu jamur apa, pak? [Sir, but what type of mushrooms ?]”


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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Gunung Gede-Pangrango, Jakarta’s Twin Peaks

I’m been thinking of a city by the mountains and the sea. A dozen million people and it’s pretty as can be. LA? Rio? Nope, it’s Jakarta.

Because this is where, on a very clear day in Feb. — if you can just find a south-facing window about 25 stories up . . .  that opens,  you’ll see the lush volcanic range that backgrounds and backstops greater Jak.Mt. Pangrango — let’s call her Gede-Pangrango.

Mt. Gede means big in Javanese and reminds me — why would it be — of the Grand Tetons back in the other state abbreviated ID.  And it does beat all, since up there it’s covered with sage brush.

Anyway, here’s what the official tourist literature from around 1900 had to say about these twin peaks:

In the west monsoon [Dec.-Feb.] the volcanoes of the Preanger district are (p. 50) often visible from [Jakarta Bay]. From West to east they are called the Salak, the Panerango-Gedeh, and the Tangkoeban Prahoe.

Lithograph by German-born naturalist Franz Junghuhn (1809-1864)

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