Thursday, February 21, 2008

Good and Not so Good

"Don’t breathe as you pass by."

The sun searches for landing pads on the jungle floor, hopping from leaf to leaf. Dawa has picked a small white flower and explained it is used for eye wash, cautioned us not to touch another broad leaf plant because the surface is covered with fine skin penetrating spines that cause insane itching and pain – the only relief is to roll a sticky toad over the assaulted body part to remove the needles – no worry, the toad does not suffer and quickly replaces his gooey body covering. No worry?

This is not the metropark or a tourist attraction, although we are indeed tourists in our sandals and cameras, Dawa is taking us into his village to explain his way of life. Keleki Village is about 20 minutes north of Ubud on the island of Bali and stepping down off the main road onto the red dirt path way is stepping through a portal in a previous century. Which century? Doesn’t matter, they all blend together here. A special festival is being prepared at a nearby temple, but everyday is celebrated by spiritual devotions in the form of round, square and leaf offerings are made to the gods – some high up to honor the Hindu gods of Vishnu & Co. and others placed on the ground to appease the bad gods. It’s all about balance, black and white. Outside every shop in town, every home, and scattered about on the street are offering set there three times a day.

Dawa explains there each day is defined on a master calendar – some days are good for planting, some bad, there are good days for building, for marrying, for traveling and bad days for all of the above – the list is extensive. Naturally, there are good and bad days to be born. We are touring the morning after a bad day to die and one unfortunate had slipped away in the night. The usual practice is for the dead to be carried to the cemetery by the entire village, the spent life celebrated with prayers and song and the grave sanctified with holy water. he has been buried unceremoniously.

According to Bali custom, nothing is all good or all bad – good and bad only exist because of each other. Black and white. Even the Bali bombings which crushed the tourist industry on the island aren’t viewed as all bad, more like an opportunity to look at what was being done to disturb the gods of the underworld in the first place. The bombings happened in nightclub area in 2002 and 2005 and there is hardly a conversation with a local that the tragedies don’t come up.
Our two hour tour turns into a six hour trek along narrow rice paddy lanes and through houses and home shrines. As we pass through the 400 year old cemetery, Dawa explains that every three years they did up all the deceased and cremate them, thereby satisfying both their Buddhist and Hindu gods.

But as we walk up to the most recent grave, Dawa cautions us not to breathe as we pass by. Since the villager died on a not so good day, a hollow bamboo stick was placed in his mouth. After 30 days, they will have a ceremony and holy water blessed from the priest at the local temple will be poured into is mouth. Going out to the rice fields and on our return we file past the bamboo – and do not breathe.

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