Letter from Bali – VI
Our king was cremated today… he’s been dead for over two months so I figure his story can wait another minute until we first give a plug to young Ben’s movie!
If you checked out letter IV you’ll know we went to Borneo – This is what you end up with when you are stuck on a boat for three days and someone brought a movie camera. I’m too cheap to pay for streaming video but click here to get the goods! Got the popcorn ready? It’s showtime!
Now back to our dead king.
This afternoon, Ida (King) Dwagung (IXth Raja of Peliatan – That would be right beside Ubud, down a bit from the video store and up from the taxi warung and Vespa dealer), who passed away on 20 August at the ripe old age of 71, was packed into a pine box and stuffed into what looked, for all the world, like a 23m tall wedding cake. Or was it a space ship? Or a viagra advert? No matter. In he went. He appears to have been a generally well liked bloke, and he was loaded. And loaded well like blokes get the red carpet treatment on cremation day, especially if they are royalty, and double that too if there is a bit of the priest about them. Dwagung ticked all the boxes. That entitled him to a white bull. You can’t just buy yourself a white bull to the next life! There is a metaphor in there somewhere.
Today’s event was special, the biggest in generations. A white bull! There is a bit of footage of the parade, the sounds and noise and scale and crush of it all. Watch it in a sauna after standing under a heat lamp for two hours. Now you’ve set the scene. I’m not sure that no one died in the making of this clip, but I’ve still got most of my bits intact. Watch it here.
When the parade finally made the burning grounds, 2 km up the main road (all the overhead electrical wires along the route were severed in advance – better finish off the milk then!), he’d be yanked out of his cremation tower and stuffed into his white bull before finally being torched. It’s still going on right now, twelve hours after the kick off. I’m reliably informed that we (I say we because I’m a subject of his too and have the postcode to prove it), we won’t get around to burning the last bit of the last tower until late tomorrow. All very tidy. No cleaning up.
Ubud itself was at a standstill. This is not a big town, but is not a small one either, and there are not a lot of roads at the best of times. It was shut off – no one was going anywhere today except for the big man on top of the roaming chimney, and he had a one way ticket to re-incarnation. It was quite the send off, a jovial affair. Nothing sombre, no tears, no grieving family. Local belief says that his spirit will be re-born into the body of his next grandchild, and presumably all the bills should be sent in that direction too.
A couple of days ago I was chatting to the housekeeper (housekeeper #3 to keep it accurate). Bali is obsessed with its gods and demons and ceremonies and temple life so a day like today was looked forward to like a Cup Final. The Balinese appear uniformly pleased, proud as chuff with all their kings too. Every thousand yards is a new village and every village has its king. He usually owns a restaurant. Kings and gods and demons and ceremonies and round and round we go.
Now I’m not a big fan of royalty, white bulls or not, nor gods nor demons nor ceremonies for that matter. Diderot got a mention at one point – the bit about man not being free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. This is not a sentiment one apparently hears with regularity in these parts, and I look forward to a week of shite dinners as my just rewards. I’m interested in the conflict, if indeed there is one, between progress in a material and social sense for the island, and the all prevailing religious life. It is a topic, however, for another day. For now we’ll let the ashes cool and say our goodbyes to the old king. A decent bloke, they say, and loaded.