Mass Cremation in Bali

Balinese people aren’t stressed about much, but the one thing that can create overwhelming tension is the inability to afford to cremate your parents and family.  In the past, cremations have financially ruined poor and middle class families alike who by tradition must provide a suitable cremation ceremony for their loved ones which can cost thousands of dollars.  When you are a farmer earning hundreds of dollars a year…it could have meant selling your land or not putting your kids in school.

Our friends Greg, Esther and Alex with Darmawan's father waiting while the ceremonies go on.

Our friends Greg, Esther and Alex with Darmawan’s father waiting while the ceremonies go on.

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Fortunately, many Balinese villages have adopted the practice of mass cremations where all of the people who die over a five-year or so period are cremated at the same time.  This mass cremation helps because it allows richer families to subsidize poor ones and permits every family to perform their sacred obligations to their loved ones.

We were invited by our friend Darmawan to the village of Tangkas in the Klungkung Regency to participate in its mass cremation of 95 villagers who had died over the past five years.

Sarcophagus containing the bodies from one banjar in the village

Sarcophagus containing the bodies from one banjar in the village

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It was a very long but fascinating day.  Darmawan’s family had lost a young nephew who had died from drinking too much Arrak (palm brandy) five years ago.  His body had been buried for the past five years.  His remains were dug up just before the ceremony and placed in a white cloth for the ceremony.

offerings around the sarcophagus

offerings around the sarcophagus

Cremation represents two important actions. First, it is a physical act in which the five elements of the universe contained in a human body are released by cremation to return to the earth.

The fire begins

The fire begins

More importantly, cremation releases a person’s soul from his body to be returned to the circle of life and death (reincarnation) or to be released from the cycle by seeing the face of God (moksha).  In Balinese tradition, the ritual mechanism for doing this is through a water blessing.  Every person who was cremated was accompanied throughout the cremation ceremony by a woman of his family.

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In our friend’s case this was Puspa, Darmawan’s wife.  She rose at 8am to prepare the water offering from holy water provided by the priest. Just before the cremation, the priest sprinkled holy water from her offering onto the body of her nephew.  After the embers died down at 10pm that night, she carried the ashes to the river for the soul’s final journey back to the spirit world.

Climbing a Bali Volcano…with a little extra help

 

Gunung Agung, Bali's highest volcano at 9,000 feet

Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest volcano at 9,000 feet

Most trekkers appeal to the Gods for support before climbing Gunung Agung, Bali’s 9,000 foot volcano.  Some of us also need chocolate.

Prayer at Pasar Agung, By Joseph Smith Mewha

Prayer at Pasar Agung, By Joseph Smith Mewha

The trip began at sunrise with prayer at Pasar Agung temple.  I said a few more than usual for my knees, legs, feet and lungs.

Sunrise: The Trek Begins

Sunrise: The Trek Begins

This is a volcano so there is no meandering or switchbacks or any other wimpy western trekking crutches.  The trail went straight up the damn mountain.  The trail began on a narrow path through the jungle which as we rose became less dense and eventually ended after about 2 hours.  The last hour and a half was a scramble over rocks and boulders until a final push of nearly straight up to the rim of volcano…which overlooked this very big, ugly caldera.

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We were eleven.  Joe, Alex and me from America (Max smartly stayed home with Bali Belly) and eight ashram members (Wyasa 1 and 2, Artha, Nengah, Adi, Kawenuh, Komang and Sugi).  Our Balinese friends were bundled up for freezing weather and wore an odd assortment of trekking gear.

Wayan Wyasa, wearing Nomad Bandit trekking gear

Wayan Wyasa, wearing Nomad Bandit trekking gear

Cowboy Nengah

Cowboy Adi

Kawenuh

Kawenuh

Sugi and Adi

Sugi and Adi

Alex, Joe and Kawenuh

Alex, Joe and Kawenuh

Sheik Komang on the mountain

Sheik Komang on the mountain

Also proud that our group picked up several bags of plastic garbage on the trail and recycled it.  Nengah, Kawenuh and Wyasa 1 won the prize for best recyclers.

Our final ascent to one of the holy places on the rim was delayed by a group offering prayers from a village in Karangasem.  Some of us waited our turn to pray.

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The caldera from the rim with incense for prayers

The caldera from the rim with incense for prayers

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Some walked over to the party place to celebrate reaching the top.

By Joe Smith Mewha

By Joe Smith Mewha

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Wyasa Perseda celebrating

Wyasa Perseda celebrating

Showoff

Showoff

Flaunting it at the top

Flaunting it at the top

Some just celebrated the fact it was over.

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Canti,

Pak Dave

An Interesting Bali Weekend

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Warning: At some points in this story I will reveal an aggressive and impatient side to my personality that I’m sure none of you knew existed.

The weekend began with anger and frustration. For the past two weeks our neighbor, a dirt-poor man, has been driving us crazy with loud techno music blasting from his new speakers. He’s started a new pop-up bar selling tuak (palm wine) to his friends. It sounds like the music the CIA plays to make their prisoners crazy so they will reveal all of their secrets. If we had any secrets worth telling, we would have gladly spilled our guts.

What it sounds like from the pop-up bar next door.

What it sounds like from the pop-up bar next door.

We tried the nice approach at first. At our urging, Indra (our ashram founder) met with them during Galungan weekend to ask them to turn down the music. They told him it was just a holiday celebration and it would be quiet afterward. But two days after the holiday ended, the music was still blaring. Indra again walked across the road to attempt friendly persuasion. He was told that the speakers were borrowed, would be returned soon, and not to worry the loud music would cease….and it did until the next weekend. But after the Saturday workday had ended, the neighbor pounded the kulkul (wooden drum that signals time for prayer, meals, etc) to send a message that his pop-up bar and techno club was open for business. Sure enough, the drunks from the village arrived, and a big party with pounding techno music ensued…far into the night.

Kulkul, used to summon villagers to important events.

Kulkul, used to summon villagers to important events.

A series of Facebook messages from me to Indra with ever-growing urgency, and anger also was sent by Internet instead of by kulkul. The next day Indra met with Klungkung’s chief of police who said he would look into it, but that his resources were scattered because of the presidential election…blah, blah, blah.

By this time, our frustration with the Balinese limp noodle style of dodging a problem created as much anger as the throbbing techno.

On Saturday, we set out to solve the problem by meeting with the Kepala Desa (village chief). But this meeting too was done circuitously. The inability to solve a problem head-on is sometimes infuriating. But what the hell, at least we were moving. So instead of going directly to the Kepala Desa’s house, we went to SMA1 to meet with the principal about setting up a plastic recycling program. It was report card day, and the school was a madhouse. We were ushered inside and sat next to a group of three men who turned out to be the parent’s council. We had a nice chat with them about recycling and agreed the school would join our plastic recycling network, and then Indra remembered that one of them was the brother of Bali’s police chief. He then told our sad tale of techno-music battles and received some helpful advice which would have taken another two months of networking to achieve our goal of stopping the music…which did I mention: IS DRIVING US CRAZY!!

We then drove to the Kepala Desa’s house only to find he was attending an end of the year ceremony at the local elementary school.   It turns out Komang attends the same school, and is graduating, so we decided to drop by the event and accidentally meet him.

By the time we arrived, he had left but we observed a very moving ritual. All of the younger students were saying goodbye to the graduates moving onto to middle school. Our graduate, Komang, was crying her eyes out  She gave her principal a long and loving hug.

Komang hugging her principal

Komang hugging her principal

Komang and friends on last day of school.

Komang and friends on last day of school.

Afterwards, Indra and I met with the principal to discuss the possibility of setting up a plastic recycling program at the school. She was thrilled to work with us, and it turns out had been wanting to start such a program from the time she arrived at the school just four months ago.

We also got into a discussion about the challenges she faces as a new principal at a village school. It turns out that illiteracy is a major problem at the school and in the village. Kids are just not turning up to school often because their parents consider it a waste of time and would prefer their children to stay at home and help them make the beautiful temple umbrellas that the village is known for. The other problem is that she inherited an unmotivated faculty who tend to push problems under the rug. We experienced this with Komang who although naturally smart was way behind at her new school because her prior education had many gaps. She was bringing homework home that was several levels above her. The principal stepped in and worked with Komang’s teachers and Komang herself that started at the level she was, and built on it. We also started a Homework Club at the Ashram which helped her quickly build some basic math and study skills.

It worked wonders. By the end of the term, Komang won a prize for being one of the best English speakers at her school.

Back to illiteracy. The school principal has created a summer illiteracy program for these kids using some of her more motivated teachers.   Ahimsa In Action will be helping to fund the program.

Now back to our techno music problem. We returned to the Kepala Desa’s house, but he had been summoned to the police office to negotiate a fight between neighbors. The poor guy has a tough job. But during the ride Indra says, “Maybe we are approaching this problem all wrong. Instead of trying to solve it with a stick approach, (siccing the law on the guy) maybe we should figure out a way to embrace the family.”

We headed over to the neighbor’s with that thought in mind. It gave us a whole different way of looking at things. On closer inspection the pop-up bar was simply a way for this very poor family to generate some income. Not a very healthy way nor a good environment for the man’s three girls, not to mention his neighbors…but a desperate solution that worked for him. The house and his compound were about as destitute as I’ve ever seen with cracked walls and tiles, dirt floors, broken furniture. Their desperate circumstances really touched our hearts. Indra asked how he could help. Mertha, our neighbor, mentioned that they didn’t have access to water, and a connection to the new village water system would cost him $400, a sum he could never hope to save. Indra said he would pay for the connection. In addition, we are giving him one of our water tanks….and most importantly we are giving the guy a job…making plastic recycling stations. Remember, during the course of the day we had recruited two new recycling partners which means we needed to build an additional ten recycling stations. Our ashram carpenter wasn’t going to be able to do the new work…so this created a great solution for everyone.

An example of the recycling stations our new friends will make under Kadek's managment

An example of the recycling stations our new friends will make under Kadek’s managment

We left with our hearts feeling very good, and shedding a few tears of gratitude for this turn of events. It was a moving experience for all of us. Indra reflected on how Ibu Gedong was looking over us today. I thought about the healing power of love and kindness, and how it turned out to be a far more effective strategy than the use of force (law enforcement and political power) that we had first tried.

It’s been two weeks…and while the tuak parties are still raucous, there’s no techno music accompaniment. Our relationship with Mertha and his family began that day. We are embracing them as part of the ashram family and providing food, clothing, and books. A Gandhian group is coming from India next month, and they will be donating their labor to repair Mertha’s house.

Felicity and Indra delivering goody bags to our neighbors.

Felicity and Indra delivering goody bags to our neighbors.

Saturday evening was calm except for the emergency trip to the hospital with Ratna for what we thought was a heart attack, but fortunately turned out to be far less serious.

And finally, Sunday was Father’s Day a holiday that is usually not celebrated in Bali. We placed photos of our father’s in the temple, and did a ceremony honoring fathers. At the end, everyone said something about their father. It too turned out to be emotional with kids having mixed emotions about their father’s who generally were considered tough and distant. Every single one of the father’s of our ashram kids is illiterate… which circled back to our discussion the day before with the elementary school principal.  Our kids, thanks to the ashram, will be graduating high school with any who want to going on to university and graduate schools. Also pretty awesome!

Father's Day Ceremony

Father’s Day Ceremony

So a very interesting weekend ended with the roosters crowing and the dogs barking, and not a peep of music from the neighbors.

 

 

Bali Eco Club’s Field Trip…Keeping Bali Beautiful

 

Eco Club Members from SMA1 Dawan (High School) at Temesi Recycling

Eco Club Members from SMA1 Dawan (High School) at Temesi Recycling

On a field trip last week to recycling centers and one of the island’s most eco-conscious businesses, 30 high-school kids from Dawan, their principal and teachers learned how their school’s recycling efforts fit into the larger picture of cleaning up plastic pollution to Keep Bali Beautiful.

And we had a lot of fun.

Eco Clubbers on the Bus

Eco Clubbers on the Bus

SMA1’s Eco Club just recently launched the school’s recycling program in partnership with Ashram Gandhi Puri.  The Club members are responsible for doing the recycling itself, and educating the school community why we need to beat plastic pollution and Keep Bali Beautiful.  

Our first stop was Temesi Recycling which takes our plastic, glass and paper garbage.  They then sell the high value materials to recyclers in Bali and ship the lower value waste to Surabaya where it is recycled into new products.

At Temesi Recycling

At Temesi Recycling

 

 

 

Separating plastic from household garbage at Temesi

Separating plastic from household garbage at Temesi

At our next stop, the team at Bali Recycling showed us their very efficient operations, and then took us to visit an illegal dump in Gianyar Regency which has filled up a river with garbage.  The kids were outraged at this illegal and institutionalized practice which is polluting the river and the land.

Illegal dump in Gianyar Regency

Illegal dump in a riverbed, Gianyar Regency

Our final stop was in Ubud where Yoga Barn co-founder Kadek Gunarta told us the story of how his business uses environmentally-conscious practices.  He also described the success story of how his village and its families and businesses have launched a comprehensive system to reduce waste, conserve energy and water and recycle.  It ended the day on a very positive note.

Eco Club Partners with Kadek Gunarta at Yoga Barn, Ubud.

Eco Club Partners with Kadek Gunarta at Yoga Barn, Ubud.

We all still have a lot to learn about how to be Eco Clubbers. But we’re convinced this will be a great learning experience for all concerned.  In fact, today SMA1 conducted a village wide clean-up day where Eco Clubbers led the way in picking up and recycling plastic and other waste.

The SMA1 Negara Dawan recycling program is a partnership between the school and Ashram Gandhi Puri.  Our other key partners are Ahimsa In Action which funds the project, Temesi Recycling who takes our separated waste and Yoga Barn which contributed our program’s recycling stations and storage shed at cost.

If you would like to help grow our Keep Bali Beautiful program, please consider a donation to Ahimsa In Action.  Your donation is tax-deductible in the USA.  Go to http://www.AhimsaInAction.com  and click support at the top right of the home page.

Our Principal, Kawenuh and Pak Dave

Our Principal, Kawenuh and Pak Dave

Lunch at Yoga Barn

Lunch at Yoga Barn

Sorting the garbage at Temesi

Sorting the garbage at Temesi

 

Good Whips Evil in Bali Holiday Bash

Panjor at Ashram Gandhi Puri

Panjor at Ashram Gandhi Puri

Twice a year the Balinese celebrate the ten-day Galungan holiday which symbolizes the fight between good and evil….And every six months evil gets its butt kicked.

One of the forces that helps defeat evil during Galungan is the strength of Balinese families. Not only can all the living family members be called upon to help, but conveniently, Galungan is a time when all the ancestors happen to be visiting so they too can summoned as spiritual reinforcements.

Ancestors Temple

Ancestors Temple

And finally, Galungan is a family holiday where mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and kids gather to swap the latest family gossip, catch up on family news and pray together.

Kadek and Wenni

Kadek and Wenni

Ashram men

Ashram men

Ririn and Ogek

Ririn and Ogek

Of course, the drama of evil versus good, ancestor worship and family reunion that make up Galungan are celebrated with ritual and ceremony. We were part of all this on the last day of Galungan when Indra invited us to his family temple for their Galungan ceremony.

Our Pandita is Indra's 82 year-old uncle, a former boxer.

Our Pandita is Indra’s 82 year-old uncle, a former boxer.

Neutralizing the evil spirits with arak and a feast

Neutralizing the evil spirits with arak and a feast

The family temple is located on a mountain top which requiring a steep 30-minute hike through groves of coconut, clove and nutmeg trees. It features a large temple for the ancestors and numerous other smaller temples for the other Gods watching over the family members. The family is part of the Arya Kaloping clan which over the past several hundred years has spread out across Bali and the world. But wherever a family members is located, he or she will always have this place to call home. It’s a very powerful way to keep grounded especially in today’s mobile society.

Offerings

Offerings

Bayu helping to get ready

Bayu helping to get ready

Temple at snset

Temple at sunset

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The family welcomed us as their own to the ceremony. It began by neutralizing the evil gods by giving them some arak (palm whiskey) and stuffing them with food such as eggs and coconut. How else would you deal with evil?

After temporarily subduing evil, the ceremony could move on to the traditional Balinese prayers, water purification ceremony and honoring the ancestors.

After the ceremony we ate a communal dinner of rice, chicken and a country sambal (spicy sauce) that made me sweat even in the cool evening air…

Nengah loses at dominoes and wears a banana on his ear

Nengah loses at dominoes and wears a banana on his ear

And finally we spent the night visiting and then fell asleep under the stars.

Crescent moon above the temple

Crescent moon above the temple

Final Score: Good: 10   Evil: 0….but a rematch has been scheduled in six months.

Canti,

Pak Dave

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