As I notified you in my last communique, Larry and I went to Indonesia to dive (him) snorkel (me). The time we spent in the ocean in Raja Ampat (it means the Four Kings, and it was a Regency under British rule) was amazing, but this note is about our sojourn in Bali. The first three days, we stayed in a Grand Hyatt. I wrote something for you about that and send it along soon. The last five days we spent in Ubud. Ubud is a city, but also a Regency. They have a royal family and it is quite wealthy and powerful. They also seem pretty beloved by the people. Since I had worked every morning in Raja Ampat (you know, like Ernest Hemingway in the Florida Keys or Singapore), I thought I would try to get away from death, you know, from writing the Book on Death and Dying (not the title).
We had been told by some friends that seeing a Balinese family cremation was an interesting experience, as they cremate several bodies at the same time, since individual families cannot afford big funerals by themselves. But, I decided not to try and figure out how to find one and how to get there, but just enjoy the wonderful resort we had booked in Ubud. On the way to the resort, however, our driver told us that we were lucky to be in Ubud at this time, because the King of Ubud had died and a procession to the crematorium would take place the day after tomorrow. My path yawned before me. Of course, Larry has a second cousin who happens to live in Ubud and can get us onto balcony above the procession where his friend owns a shop on the main street. Are you kidding? Apparently, I am not to escape my education about death this week.
So, as we stand on the balcony (there are no lights or air-con in the main street stores, as the lines have been cut so the floats can get by). Hundreds of people in little bands representing Hindu temples, clans, and (I think) motorcycle organizations parade by. The people in each group wear the same outfits—sometimes traditional looking and sometimes basically black tee shirts tout their organization. We are wearing sarongs because two elderly women accosted Larry on the street, wrapped a sarong around his waist, and wouldn’t let him go until he bought two.
In the second act, the musicians arrive—several bands of drummers, mostly. Then come the princesses in sedan chairs and full regalia atop floats with a floral theme, carried by a number of very fine looking young clan or temple members. The third act begins with the passage of a two story float in the shape of a black bull with golden horns. It is carried on the backs of maybe 60-100 young men, of whom, I believe our driver is one. They change the bearers from block to block, however, so I can’t make him out.
The second act crescendos in the appearance of a two story float in the shape of a black bull with golden horns in which the old King will be cremated. Despite the bull pyre, Larry continues to believe that it is the Queen who is being cremated, and denies that the driver said anything about the King. The third act crescendos with the passage of a float that appears to be a four story tower with the heads of various gods perched on the front of the first three floors. Above the third godhead, is a balcony on which sits the casket of the dead King (upon which sits the new King). The priest stands aside the casket on the right. The new king is waving to the excited throng lining the streets. Then, he leans back on the casket and takes some selfies. Yes. Selfies.
The tower has gigantic wings on either side, which make the float too wide for the street. The wings tear the limbs off of the trees that line the street, until one of the wings falls off. The float lurches to the other side of the street, narrowly missing two beautiful blonde girls and, apparently, injuring one of the bearers. This doesn’t stop the parade for long, as an ambulance is following the tower and the injured bearer is whisked by his comrades from under the bamboo lattice, on which they carry the tower, into the waiting ambulance.
We left shortly after that only to wonder all afternoon how the casket got from the third story of the tower to the inside of the bull. They must have had a door in the bull’s rear end, I venture, and they slide it into the bull that way. We didn’t stay for that part. It was way too hot and the crowd was huge, but it does leave many unanswered questions in one’s mind.
The selfies thing is clearly the most remarkable. The young king threw his legs over the balcony, smiling and waving to his people, and snapped the pics. He did not seem to be in any kind of mourning and nothing I’ve read about Hindus and death explained his laughter. The only thing I have to go on is that old Aztec word: joy/pain. Even in the midst of the hardest things, something can happen that makes you feel grateful to be who you are, that gives you joy. The people also seemed joyful to me. Perhaps, as they truly believe that the King as gone on to something better in the next life. It may also be necessary to belittle death. They also do that in New Orleans. On the other hand, the Hindus revere their ancestors. There is a temple to the ancestors in every home where the ashes of the ancestors are kept.
I like that idea. All of the white guys around me agreed that they thought they’d like a similar burial, I like a simple temple dedicated to myself.