Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for April 22nd, 2018

Going beyond the tourist experience in Bali 0

Posted on April 22, 2018 by jimparedes

With author Jim Paredes (third from right) are (from left) Agnes Gervacia, Marivic Anonuevo, Violi Remo, Margaux Hontiveros, Ibu Mansri (mother of the teens), Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.06.33 AM

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – April 22, 2018 – 12:00am

I have been to Bali a few times. I have seen almost all of its temples and a few of the rituals performed for tourists. I have admired the way the Balinese have retained their traditions and preserved their old houses and sacred sites. I also love the food, and the natives of this island for their easygoing ways and their friendly attitude towards foreigners. I have enjoyed shopping for souvenirs and I can still do it again and again.

But it was a different experience this time, during my last trip as guest of Air Asia Philippines. I joined a group of people invited by AirAsia chair Maan Hontiveros to attend a food festival. As it unexpectedly turned out, the food festival was not the big thing we came for.

In a conversation with a waitress at the hotel we stayed in, I learned a few things about some Balinese traditions. One of them happens to every Balinese person very early in life. Balinese babies are not allowed to touch the ground for the first 105 days of life. That is because they believe that newborns are still too close to the spirit world and so must be treated with respect and be protected lest they be contaminated by evils of the earthly plane. Babies are also seen as replacements of old relatives who have perished and therefore are treated like gods in some ways.

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Offering rites at the teeth-filing ritual at the Neka property
The waitress also told us that many Balinese babies are carried until they can walk. They mostly avoid crawling. When I asked why, she said that crawling was a trait of animals and was considered not good.

Another thing I learned about was the ritual of the teeth-filing ceremony and procession every Balinese person goes through between the ages of 16 to 18. It usually happens in July, but we were able to witness a ceremony that involved teenage members of the wealthy Neka family in Ubud. This elaborate ritual is one of the biggest events every Balinese goes through.

We were lucky to have been invited. Valentine Willie, a Malaysian and resident of Bali, was a longtime friend of the Neka family. He lived with them some 20 years ago. Some of us know Valentine from way back since he visits Manila quite often. He hosted a delicious lunch at his garden on the second day of our trip. He also invited us to try his masseur, which turned out to be one of the best massages we ever had. But I digress.

The teeth-filing ritual and procession involves the filing of the incisors and other teeth to remove their pointed edges. The teeth are filed to be aligned until no pointed tooth is evident. In doing this ritual, it is believed that six evils are taken away from a person. These evils are Sad Ripu, which is desire/passion; Nafsu (greed); Lobha (anger and resentment); Krodha (drunkenness); Mada and Matsarya (envy/spite); and Moha (confusion).

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High Priest of the Brahmin caste

The ceremony is a big event and something that families prepare for months ahead. The choosing of the date and the rituals are all done according to old tradition and the ancient Hindu calendar. The ritual is presided over by a High Priest of the Brahmin caste. Many guests are invited. It is a big social event.

When we entered the huge Neka property as invited visitors, we were all stunned. The house was filled with people and elaborately decked out with flowers and decor. Everything looked like a tableau of Balinese culture such as you’d see in paintings. Those of us wearing shorts were given sarongs and yellow sashes to wear to fit the occasion.

I felt like a National Geographic writer/photographer who was privy to a ritual the Western world had barely heard about. The splash of colors, the intricate ceremony, the chanting on top of a full gamelan orchestra playing, the elaborate offerings given to the Buddha, and the primal strangeness of everything gave me goosebumps. It was a spectacle that thrilled all our senses.

The ritual was to be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and would run for two days. The venue is open and welcome to friends. Guests show up in traditional fashion, and are fed sumptuous meals.

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Teeth-filing ceremony (Photo from Bali Star Island)

Three teenagers of the Neka clan were supposed to undergo the ritual. The teenagers are required to stay in their rooms one day before the ritual until they are called, lest evil spirits enter and possess them. I was able to take photographs of the ceremony except the teeth filing itself.

Our tourist guide described his own teeth-filing experience. He said that his whole head was shaking as it was going on. He had to take bed rest for three days afterward. The High Priest uses a small hammer, a file, and a carver.

This Bali trip will remain among my most memorable trips. As a traveler, it is good to go off the beaten track and immerse ourselves in the rituals of the places we visit. We learn a lot. By “going native,” we learn a lot more about humans everywhere.

The writer Thomas Wolfe said, “Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” I say it is a way a people try to make sense of life, and everything about it.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/04/22/1808108/going-beyond-tourist-experience-bali#C2YcSiIKLUti8L4m.99

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