I have been documenting Bali for 40 years now — writing this column for almost 25 years — and I am sick of trying to explain the irrational.

People often ask me why the Balinese are always flailing about and pulling the heads off chickens and I always feel like answering ‘Because you’re a twit’.

I am exhausted from explaining everything.

I have been documenting Bali for 40 years now — writing this column for almost 25 years — and I am sick of trying to justify the irrational.

By the time I sit down to chronicle ceremonies and fashion trends (see the ‘alien baby corpse shoulder appliqué trend’ in ladies’ chemises in this month’s fashion section on following pages), I have already posted everything on Facebook, often with lengthy descriptions, and every time with the edited videos I make to go with the event.

If you want lengthy explanations: just watch my narrated videos of the events available on WIJAYAPILEM2 YouTube channel.


I think you, the reader, staying in mostly culture-neutral hotels, will glean as much as you need to know this life from the photos and the captions.

So, rather than repeating myself ad nauseam, I will just bang on about things I think you might find interesting like this:

25 October 2015: Delivering Invitations in Bali – Part One

For a society that’s pretty casual about post and delivery, generally (replying to emails, passing on parcels, acknowledging receipt of anything), the Balinese are very strict about hand-delivery of invitations to aristocrats and bosses. To deliver wedding or cremation invitations, posses must be dispatched in full Balinese dress to hand-deliver, while scraping and bowing. Last night two such postmen grovelled into the brahman house where I was sitting with my dad on a small terrace chewing the cud.

“Tell ‘em to sit down,” came the rude command from the family head inside.

They grovelled over to a pavilion edge where my driver was masturbating the house cat.

Big mama Dayu Gede suddenly arrived in a clapped-out van, fresh from a cremation in Kuta — she stage-manages Hindu events with her hard-working lady-in-waiting to make money for all our massive house-related ceremonies. Two Kuta bearers carried in offerings for tomorrow’s Ngajum ceremony. Dayu Gede thanked them and then dismissed them, rather indifferently (Balinese serfs adore being dismissed curtly by brahman boss-ladies — it’s part of the joy of feudal life), and then turned her steely gaze on the coupon-bearers just in case they were here to order offerings.


I was saying silly things all the time like “I’ll take a cut of the coupon money”, but it was as if I didn’t exist: in a brahman house, facing a fierce mama-san, most Balinese legs turn to jelly.

Eventually the coupons were delivered, and the postmen backed out, bowing and scraping.

Oh, how well all play their roles in this Balinese-medieval play on life.

• • •

Last week, high in a ceremonial pavilion in Denpasar, where two raja’s reps were fashioning exquisite soul effigies (puspa), a high priestess complained to a raja about his not having attended the recent cremation.

“HEAVENS, WOMAN!,” he bellowed, “your invitation-courier came in shorts!!!”

• • •

25 September 2015: Melasti procession to the sea of the village gods of Selumbung, East Bali

Despite my fatigue, there still isn’t a month that goes by without my tits being blown off by some amazing ceremony, dance, or trance.

Last month was particularly dense with extraordinary events so I’m going to have to spread the spiel over two columns.

This month I will describe the Selumbung melasti, because it was so devastatingly beautiful that I was moved to join in singing with the choir.


East Bali culture is different from the rest of Bali. Each East Bali village is unique. Selumbung is one of the most distinct, with its annual seven-day Ngusaba mass trance, which takes place in a beautiful temple on the slopes of Gunung Agung.

• • •

The afternoon started on Manggis Beach, a beautiful stretch of black sand below the Amankila Hotel.

The procession of palanquins and gamelan and palladia arrived at 3 p.m., just as I was finishing a coffee at Pak Panca’s beachside food stall. Some celebrants were already in trance, after the two hours walk from the village.

The palanquins were lined up along the beach, each with a priest and a load of offerings facing. Rites were held. The kidung choir sang from the wings. Under the row of palm trees above, celebrants watched.

The offerings to Ratu Baruna, God of the Ocean, are completed, and suddenly half of the palanquin bearers fly into trance and we are off, pell-mell down the beach towards the setting sun.

Every palanquin is exquisitely decorated, with flowers, miniature gilt umbrellas, and precious cloth.

It was a scene of great magnificence. Some of the trancees were tripping that brand of the light fantastic unique to Selumbung. The procession stopped three times on the route home, for another palanquin line-up and for villagers to dance and flail in the street. The demon queen ‘Batari’ ran amok amidst the proceedings.

Eventually, at sunset, we ended up at the village temple for a mass trance-in and then a sweet offering of Rejang Dewa dance by a corps of twelve pre-pubescent girls. The hills of Selumbung were a verdant backdrop to the show.

I returned home, drunk on the ambrosia of the gods, via Ibu Ketut’s amazing fish-satay roadside warung, at Sengkidu.

2 October, 2015: Tooth-filing at Jero Kutri, Singapadu, Gianyar

At the Kutri tooth filling: Denpasar Mayor’s son Ida Bagus Ngurah Mantra (Far Right), photographs his daughter’s tooth-filling.

On preceding pages, I highlighted ceremonial dress fashion at a morning of loveliness in an old friend’s mini-palace. The host, my friend Gusti Made Oka, started as a tailor on a sewing machine at Denpasar market. He then moved on to pioneer micro-financing in Bali, which grew into a banking empire.

Today, all his grandchildren are having their coming-of-age ceremony. His daughter-in-law, Orchid Blanco, daughter of legendary artist the late Antonio Blanco of Ubud, is leading the corps of Miss World beauties attending the ceremony. Her daughter Conchita, another stunner, married the mayor’s son — himself the son of Bali’s popular governor, Ida Bagus Mantra.

Gusti Made Oka has come a long way since those days peddling the Singer!