Children always follow him wherever he goes, shouting and throwing stones at him. He is about 40, dressed in rags, carrying a worn-out leather bag. On his head is a cardboard box containing various kinds of rags and a worn-out mat. He wears a shoe on one foot and a slipper on the other. His look is wild and he gazes vaguely around him.

Illustration By Sadha

The man is mentally ill. At times, he walks comfortably, hardly paying any attention to what is going on around him. At other times, he mumbles to himself, grumbling, complaining about God knows what, and even swearing at everybody he runs into. There are times when he would weep loudly and bitterly and then suddenly burst into laughter.

Lunatics exist everywhere in the world, including Denpasar. People usually find them at market-places, on the streets, or in desolate places, such as puras (temple). A pura seems to be a favourite haunt for them. They sleep, sit idly, or meditate as if they were pondering over some deep philosophical problem. Under such circumstances, no one pays any attention to them. They enjoy their peace of mind and the tranquility of nature at leisure. At the same time, they are neglected and forgotten.

A lunatic often attracts attention because of his seemingly silly antics. Unfortunately, the attention is not always positive. More frequently, it is negative and includes hate. People, especially children, are fond of making a lunatic the butt of their jokes, as well as targets for their pranks.

Some children even have the habit of mistreating him. First, they follow him everywhere he goes, shouting at him and teasing him. If this fails to provoke him to make the desired reactions, they begin to throw stones at him. If this still fails to get what they want, they beat him up with sticks. They run away from him when he gets angry and tries to hit them back.

Most parents do not like to see their children being cruel to a lunatic. They try to prevent them from doing these evil deeds by advising them: “Wih…. da ngendahang anak buduh. Sing dadi keto. Nyanan CAI milu buduh ,” meaning, “Hey, you should not treat a lunatic poorly. It is a culpable deed and you could become mad yourselves one day.”

Most lunatics in Bali get their meals from restaurants or small eating-stalls. The restaurant keepers have heaps of left-overs they are glad to hand out. The food stall owners usually show more kindness. Instead of giving left-overs, they hand out snacks of rice with a bit of a side dish. Probably it has something to do with their belief that ill-treating a lunatic can do them harm. It can also be just a way of getting rid of the lunatic and preventing him from making a scene.

In Bali, there are several types of lunatics, each of whom has his own name. A buduh babainan is a man who shows abnormal behaviour because of the influence of witchcraft, cast upon him by someone who hates or envies him. To make him a buduh babainan, his enemy has to seek a man of supernatural powers called a balian or sorcerer, who then puts a pasangan, an object upon which he has previously cast a spell upon, in front of his house. The enemy will know whether or not his scheme is successful by observing the behavioural changes in his victim. Generally, a buduh babainan likes to scream loudly, use profanity, talk to himself and so on.

The buduh bebainan may also have other characteristics. Most frequent among them is the neglect one may have shown towards dead ancestors. For example, if one forgets an important offering during a past cremation, the soul of the deceased cannot achieve release which turn them into a wandering soul and the spirit may well take control over its absent-minded descendant. In such instances the only thing to do is to find the right balian, who will call down the lost soul and ask it what it wants. It usually ends up with a cleansing ceremony, or more. And sometimes, believe it or not, it works. Otherwise the niskala forces at work may totally take over control of your body and mind and you may totally collapse, physically and psychologically.

A buduh keturunan becomes mad not because of an outside factor, but because of his own internal disposition. He has a disposition for mental illness resulting from hereditary neural weaknesses. This condition is easily diagnosed by observing his genealogical-tree. If there is a relative of the same lineage afflicted with lunacy, one can be categorized as possessing that disposition.

In Bali, a parents objection to a love affair of their daughter – boys are more free – with a man they disapprove of can have serious consequences. The parents, for instance, in trying to break up the love affair, can appeal to a sorcerer, asking him for a panekek raga, an object on which a certain kind of spell has been cast and given to the daughter in in an attempt to stop her from loving the undesirable young man.

If the love is not so deep that she can easily forget her lover, no problem will arise. If, on the other hand, she is head over heels in love with the lover, instead of forgetting him, she will “become nuts” or “buduh kasmaran”, mad from love. Usually she remains buduh for a few days, during which she is said to be possessed and is subject to counter-spells, inhaling of incense and pouring of ʺholyʺ water. At the end of this ordeal, she is usually psychologically broken and will accept whatever she is asked to do. She may also remain buduh for good, or choose suicide –usually with her lover.

A man afflicted with buduh ngentahngentahan, to a certain extent, could be classified as a normal person, because he is not permanently off his rocker. Most of the time, he is normal in the sense that he does nothing “out of place”, and thinks and behaves in the way a normal man does. He is capable of changing his behaviour all of a sudden. Though, he may burst out laughing at the very moment that he is crying.

At the time of affliction, he may be harmful, or even dangerous to the people around him. But he becomes calm and self-controlled as soon as the “possession” leaves him.

Unfortunately, a fully sane man can also be classified in the insane category because of an excessive interest or liking. A man who is a born flirt is called buduh ken anak luh, meaning “mad about women”. A man who is fond of merry-making is called anak buduh mamali. An avid reader is named in Balinese anak buduh memaca.

Indeed, having an excessive hobby or doing something in an abnormal way is nothing but memuduh in the Balinese language. It does not always have something to do with madnesss. When someone is asked, “Lakar kija to, bli?” (“where are you going, bro?”), he answers, “I’m going to the sea to fish. I’ve been crazy about fishing since I was a child, which in Balinese reads – “kadung buduh memancing”.

Jean Couteau

Jean Couteau

An observer of Bali for over 40 years, Jean Couteau is a graduate of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and former lecturer at the Denpasar Institut Seni Indonesia. He is a reputed specialist on Balinese culture, having authored: Puri Lukisan (2000), Un Autre Temps: Les Calendriers Tika de Bali (2004) Time, Rites and Festivals in Bali (2013, with Georges Breguet), and Myth, Magic and Mystery in Bali (2018) – to name but a few. He is a multilingual writer, contributing for Indonesia’s national paper, Kompas, with his column “Udar Rasa” published in the Sunday cultural page (in Bahasa Indonesia). He also contributes a monthly cultural piece for NOW! Bali.