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From Don: a day out to see some art, a bird park, and lunch at the beach.

This turned out to be my first “Artist Date” day since I can’t remember when. We had hired a driver to take us to the villages where the artists specialized in various arts and crafts, including a painters’ co-op in a beautiful old building that housed thousands of paintings. Some of these were excellent quality and I could feel myself being moved by their beauty. Outside the art centre was a large temple-like building with golden doors and window covers and a statue of Ganesh, my favourite Hindu deity. When I saw this temple I was suddenly overcome with grief at having shut down so thoroughly in early childhood that it’s been a lifelong challenge to open to the beauty of art.

The temple door

This photograph was taken at Neka Gallery in Ubud, but is a good example of the kind of work we saw at the artists’ co-op where photographs are not allowed.

From the art centre we drove to another centre that specializes in woodcarving. Much of the work there was clearly aimed at western tourists: life-size large-busted nudes stretching backwards, life-size statues of Jesus, and lots of large ugly pieces, but in amongst all of them were some delightful original pieces of Balinese art including five small seated musicians and some Balinese figures that were simple but elegant. There were also a number of well-executed Komodo dragons that I liked. The door shown above is also an exquisite example of Balinese wood carving.

We went to a batik centre, where there were workers demonstrating how batiks are made, and a huge store filled with batik clothing and artwork. Some of the artwork was astonishing in terms of the artistic quality of the pieces and the sheer complexity of the designs and the colouring.

Works in progress

After paintings, wood carvings and batiks, however, we were into overload and ready for lunch, so we headed down to the coast at Sanur. We walked along the beach for a way until we’d left the tacky tourist shops behind and were out where fine dining was a possibility!

On our way back to Ubud we stopped in for an hour at the Bali Bird Park, and saw some fabulous exotic birds from all around the world.

Interjection from Alison – arrrgh, don’t usually like going to touristy places like this, don’t like seeing birds in cages, and the Kookaburra in a cage just about did me in, but we did get to see some amazing birds that we would probably never get to see in the wild, like this African hornbill which is astonishing.

Back to Don now . . . . . . All in all I enjoyed my “Artist Day” out, but was more than ready to head home with my heart filled with grief and my art tanks refilled. I don’t know if I can ever become fully open to the experience of beauty in this lifetime, given how closed down I have been for most of my life. But I know from experience that emotional healing comes about through feeling all of the feelings that arise, regardless of how painful they are. So I’m hopeful that if I keep feeling the grief I’ll continue opening up more and more.

The Family Ceremony

One day we were walking down one of the side streets of Ubud and came across a “house” (family compound) where several men were in the process of making this entrance decoration:

We stopped to admire it and were told it was for a special family celebration. Then one of the men invited us to it – in two days time at 7am. By this time we had gathered that for any of the Balinese celebrations it is mandatory that even westerners wear the basics of traditional Balinese dress. I had a suitable top and sarong but needed a sash. Don needed a sash, sarong and hat so off we went to the market. Then two days later we showed up at 7am with no idea what we were about to attend. It turned out it was an initiation ceremony for five males in one family – three brothers, and two of their teenage sons. The ceremony is usually held at the age of about seventeen but this family had been waiting many many years until they could pool their resources and have the one big ceremony for the five of them.

It lasted all day. All five men being initiated, plus their other younger sons, and their wives, and the mother of the three brothers, were all dressed in very elaborate matching outfits, and then later in the day changed into another set of equally elaborate matching outfits. It was kind of like a wedding in that sense. Also in the sense that many people were invited. The decorations in the family compound were also very elaborate and beautiful. And there was an abundance of wonderful food and soft drinks. It was clearly a very big deal for this family and no expense had been spared.

This is what we gleaned about the ceremony: when the Balinese reach the age of about seventeen they have their teeth filed. The belief is that pointed teeth are related to animals, witches and evil, so filing specific teeth releases negative characteristics. They believe teeth symbolize “bad” emotions and that filing them renders the initiate physically and spiritually more beautiful. It is a belief and ceremony that is idiosyncratic to Bali, and unlikely to be found anywhere else in the world. We felt incredibly lucky to have been invited to attend.

A priest did the ritual and the filing here in this special place for ceremonies, richly decorated for the occasion.

Initially all five men sat on a decorated double bed in the ceremonial place as the priest went through some of the ritual. Then one by one they lay down to have their teeth filed. Apparently it does hurt but no-one made a sound. All close family members crowded in to see. At one point I went round to the end and I could see the movement of the priest’s arm as he filed the teeth of one of the men.

Later they were given special gift packages, and had a bright gold diamond pinned to their chest.

Family portrait

Then there was a party, with a gamelan band, and a wonderful buffet meal was served.

All the women cooking together

The men cooking. Apparently it is the one time the men do some of the cooking.

The guys hanging out in the street for a smoke

The Balinese are extremely generous and open and welcoming about their religion and spirituality, and their lives generally, and are happy to share it. They were completely fine with me photographing and also had their own photographer recording the event. The whole event was fascinating, and we felt so lucky to have stumbled into it.

As things quieted down we thought we would head home to rest for a bit. We were told that there would be another part of the ceremony at three pm so we came back at that time. Unfortunately the priest had arrived early so we missed that, but did get to see their wonderful new outfits. And to congratulate them again. It was obvious that this was a very very special day for the whole family. And for us.

The Wedding

The photographer at the family ceremony offered to take us to a wedding party in the evening. The ceremony had taken place earlier in the day, but we did get there for the tail-end of the party, another Balinese meal, and to see the bride and groom in all their finery. They graciously agreed to have their picture taken with us. And yes, the groom is wearing almost as much makeup as his wife. They both looked fabulous.

The decorated entrance to the family compound

The bride and groom

Decoration in the ceremonial space in the compound

This wonderful statue of Krishna on a bull, a bamboo structure covered in papier-mache, is a permanent fixture in the family compound.

Bali becomes more and more a place of joy, nurturing and healing for us both the longer we are here. And the longer we are here we discover more and more to see and do. We’re planning another snorkelling trip, another day at the beach, trekking up one of the volcanoes for sunrise, a downhill cycling trip through the small backroads and rice fields, a visit to the turtles on Turtle Island and a visit to a cliffside temple at sunset. It is a rich and magical place indeed and we feel as if we could stay here forever.

Next blog: ogoh-ogoh’s, a magical and magnificent and deeply moving temple ceremony, and snorkeling at Blue Lagoon.

Footnote: The Balinese live in walled family compounds, with three or even four generations living closely together. When a young woman marries she goes to live in her husband’s compound. At the front of each compound there is a walled building in the north for the parents, an open air building in the east for ceremonies, an open air building in the south for cooking and meals, a walled building in the west for the children, and a temple between the north and east buildings, with many more buildings added in the back for succeeding generations as the family grows.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.