It’s just on 2 weeks since I was lucky enough to be invited to a ‘Blessing Ceremony for a New Villa’ in Sidemen in the eastern part of Bali. Sidemen was and is the centre of one of Bali’s great weaving traditions. Very intricate multi-coloured silk cloths are woven using traditional foot and hand worked large looms to produce complex lengths that can be used as sarongs or (in my house) as coverings over tables or to be hung on walls.
But this day is about ‘Ceremony’ in a way that Bali does like no other. An Australian friend and her partner who have been visiting Sidemen for years decided to build a Villa that would be their own ‘home’ when they come to stay here regularly. As many ‘visitors’ have found when embarking on one of these things, the project continued to grow as my friends realised they were going to become part of the village community.
This is so different to Australia – imagine moving into a small country town and consulting with the town council and neighbours as to what are your plans
. In Bali this is seen as ‘inclusion’ into a community of which you hope to be a part.
Bali continues to be developed and land absorbed from ricefields into housing. Some areas are more aware of the impact on the land and the people who actually live there. The sight of more and more ricefields disappearing and tourist villas changing the landscape especially around Ubud – not to mention water and sewerage demands – has given the Balinese in other areas time to make decisions about just how or if they want their land developed.
The Sidemen Village Elders seem to be applying a common sense approach of allowing certain development and building but it must incorporate support of the nearby agricultural land and employment of the people in the area.
That’s how my friends found themselves involved in the building of a smallish tourist villa complex as an add on to their own family villa.
And that’s why when I arrived in Sidemen and drove into the beautifully built Villa area I could see that this was going to be a Big Event.
Several marquees were erected around the main Villa where there were groups of uniformed army officers, police and village elders. Then over on the other side of the swimming pool a ‘Special Ceremony Altar’. This was where the High Priest would be performing the ‘Special Ceremony’. As it had become such an important project for many locals – top ranked officials of all kinds had to be invited
Protocol is definitely the definer of how things are organised.
And everybody does show up. No ‘ sorry it was my day to take the kids to sport or attend a meeting in another village’.
All the women (me included) had to wear temple or ceremonial dress – a sarong and a long sleeved blouse called a Kebaya with a sash tied around the waist.
Around the ‘Special Ceremony Altar’ a huge array of offerings were placed in trays and on the ground. These are all hand made for this day – lots of what looked like food offerings – meat on skewers, small clusters of unknown foods and on the central platform a whole roasted pig surrounded by 8 cooked chickens and 8 ducks. Our ‘guide’ told us the chickens were for the humans and the ducks for the gods. So some of these offerings were later given to the villagers to eat. travel destinations . discover websites . I’m not sure how the ducks found their way to the gods…
We sat on beautifully carved wooden benches and waited for the High Priest to arrive.
When he did, he seemed very intent on getting to the small temple and ‘doing the business’.
He was tiny, thin, dressed in all white – and with a big high priest ceremonial hat on that featured a huge quartz crystal on the top.
As soon as he sat down gamelan music started up and he began chanting and spraying Holy Water out over the offerings
Next on the agenda two beautifully dressed young Balinese women performed a special Legong dance next to the High Priest’s temple.
All this time we – the westerners, sat respectifully watching in silence – and sitting behind us were representatives of the local police – one even had his walkie-talkie on so the crackling was mixed with the gamelan music as some kind of percussive accompaniment.
This is typical of the Balinese approach to ceremony – there and doing what has to be done – but not ‘the hushed silence that features in our Christian churches most of the time. They are respectful of ceremony but not ‘precious’.
Before the ceremony began everyone had been given a small box with food treats and a bottle of water – to see us through the morning.
After the Legong Dancing girls finished, the High Priest signalled my friends and the Villa’s staff to come and sit below him and there they were blessed with holy water and flowers and finally small grains of wet rice were pressed on to their foreheads.
The local officials and village elders were being looked after in a separate pavilion. They observed and chatted amongst themselves.
Eventually some of them drifted off – after a big thankyou from the hosts.
Then it was time for ….
A Cock Fight!!!
I watched in fascinated horror as a 10 centimetre sharp metal thorn was wrapped around one leg of each cock.
At this stage I departed to look at the beautiful scenery up and down a long valley full of forests and ricefields, a stream rushing down the middle and a mountain range behind. Hard to imagine a more beautiful setting.
When I walked back I asked ‘So it was to the death then?’
‘I’m afraid so – part of the ceremony that makes the whole thing work’. – Yes, we are in Bali…
The main villa is beautifully crafted using some recycled traditional Javanese and Balinese structures. High ceilings keep the buildings cool and the use of thatch and beautifully woven panels with floors of locally made tiles make the building feel very airy. The main living and eating rooms are designed to look out on to the valley.
The gardens have grassed and paved areas and lots of established tropical plants and trees.
The place looks as if it has been here for years.
But all this has been built in just one year.
Only in the tropics could this happen.
WIth the final ceremonies and blessings over, we were all given beautifully boxed lunches of delicious Balinese food.
And just before it was time for me to drive the one hour back to Ubud – my gracious hosts suggested we have a toast to the day – the wonderful ceremony and
to my birthday…
Yes… this is how I celebrated my 78th Birthday.
A Once in A Lifetime Special Day…..