Blog 5 - Trance Dance



My scarf today is the brightest in my collection, vivid lime green and shocking pinks, silk of course with a jacquard weave and Paisley pattern so it has texture as well as colour. I bought it in England on a dull day at a village green fair but it evokes the thoughts of exotic lands.



Where will we go?



Over forty years ago, my husband, I and a teenage daughter went to the romantic island of Bali in Indonesia. We had been living in Hong Kong for some time but nothing could have prepared me for that first visit to Bali. It was a business trip for my husband to inspect a hotel which his client had bought as part of a larger deal. You can imagine we got VIP attention including one of Bali’s top guides, a handsome, seemingly well educated young man. More of him later.



One of the most magical memories of my life was our arrival at this hotel at night, the like of which I had never seen before; it didn’t seem to have walls...we entered a covered courtyard or was it a hall with seated gamelan musicians playing haunting music and everywhere was amass with bright flowers.... yes, the colours of my scarf; the night air heavy with their scent. We were greeted with drinks, each a work of art with fresh flowers and fruit. I didn’t realise we would see that everywhere, beauty and art in their dance, temple offerings, music, gardens, carving, painting, presentation of their food. What artistic people. I was fortunate to see this a long time ago but I suspect tourism has altered life now.



Back to Nara, our guide. Of course, he fell in love with our young daughter and offered a large carved table for her hand! We turned down his offer and then had to be most protective. He was very handsome! Through him, we had the most interesting, and alarming experience of our lives. Knowing now about Covid, what we did was very stupid. He told us about his best friend’s village deep in the jungle which had been struck by an odd sickness. The temple priest was going to lead a special ceremony to seek a cure by holding a Trance Dance. Nara had never seen this ceremony himself and wanted to share it with us. We had met his friend who also spoke good English. We were very unprepared for the visit to his village home. After a long taxi ride following the young men on motor scooters, now walking in total darkness in the jungle, used to the constant lights of Hong Kong, we were blind. We arrived at the village and were welcomed at his friend’s traditional house built high on stilts. As honoured guests we were given rusty chairs and tins of Cola, all others sat on the floor and drank from coconuts. I don’t like Cola and would have preferred the coconut but it would have been rude not to drink it. Introductions all round, including ‘grandmother’ who was actually a young baby......they believe in reincarnation. Now we walked to the temple in a clearing of the jungle. The high priest sat on a dais, before him a group of men with black and white checked skirts, beating drums, with two other men dressed with headdresses of branches resembling antlers....they were the appointed ones to fall into a trance to find the ‘cure’. It was oppressively hot, not helped by a bonfire of burning coconut shells. All the village had turned out. Failure! The appointed ones remained awake. Instead, one of the onlooking villagers fell to the ground and was taken into the centre. He was then clad in one of the checked skirts, bells were tied around his ankles and in a stupor he started to dance. The music got louder and more frenzied. He danced faster and to our amazement he leapt through the burning coconut shells, back and forth with no smell of burning flesh. We were only yards from the fire. The sweat was running down my face. We were the only outsiders there and I worried that our daughter might be some kind of trophy or sacrifice. As I said, we were very foolish visiting a place of sickness. Eventually, the villager in a trance seemed to recover. We asked Nara whether we could make an offering to the priest to help the sick. It was not requested and a very modest sum was suggested. Nara himself seemed to be impressed by the ceremony he had seen. I wanted to get out as soon as possible. Introduced to the high priest, we did our best with nodding, smiling and gave our small donation. We were escorted back to the road to our waiting taxi and I don’t know to this day what the sickness was and whether a cure was found. Looking back in our present climate of virus awareness, it could have been anything!



Our daughter would return to Bali on two more occasions on her own to meet Nara, once to a modest hotel, and on the last occasion to his village where his family built a special hut with its own altar for her to live in. The family gave her a carved statue which is now in my garden, a live pig, a hand printed dress and paintings. The romance came to an abrupt end when his mother suggested our daughter had her eye teeth filed level and smooth to look less animal-like at another special ceremony attended by the whole village. It was then she decided there was too much of a cultural difference. Her front teeth were expensively capped!



I am glad to say I now have very British grandchildren and great grandchildren, but still have exquisite Balinese paintings and wood carvings in my home to remind me of these gentle artistic people. I wonder how they are dealing with Covid? It may take more than drumming, a trance and burning coals! As a precaution, maybe I should start putting a flower each day at the foot of my garden statue as well as wearing my mask!



Busy Bee, Scarf Face!

Series 2, Blog 5.

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