Have you ever thought about what love making entails when you cross a border and change cultural background. You may say the basic working of the thing is similar, and, as a frequent traveler, I will tend to agree of course…But, as you know, in some countries, people eat bread, in others, rice. So while being the same, things differ.


Let us go back to our primary topic. In most societies, when you make love, you keep busy with yourself and your partner, and you don’t pay much attention to the world around you, least it deflates you. The main thing is really to “make it”, at any price, and I should say, with the minimum damage to your ego. You want to unite, to merge with your partner, because it is the purpose of the whole thing. You don’t make a lot of fuss about it. You just carry on, happen what may!

In Bali, however, things are different. Making love – uniting with your partner, takes a different meaning. First, and you may not like it, when you make love, you are never alone. Your love making involves not only both of you, and the occasional peeping Toms, but also the cosmic forces your action is unwittingly activating. Don’t forget that you are a microcosm within the Macrocosm. When you are in the act, the god of love, Asmara, is also in the act with his beloved the goddess of the moon, somewhere over there. So you better behave, lest you cause some disruption in their relationship. This entails constraints. For example there are days and moments where you should abstain. One does not make love during the Balinese week dedicated to the incestuous son Watugunung, the Balinese equivalent of Oedipus – which happened to be the week of Trump’s inauguration. Making love during this week would besmirch the cleansing under way. I wonder whether Trump took this into account. It might explain a few things. There are other taboos as well though. Some are related to time: calendar days, or moments of the day. For example you may not make love at day junctions: sunrise, midday and sunset, for the demonic butas are out, and you may fall prey to them, which means your offspring will turn out to be a small demonic being. For similar reasons you should take into account the place where you perform. Don’t make love in a garbage disposal. It will have consequences on the body odour of the forthcoming child. All of this is due to karma. Yet, there are, as always, exceptions. For example one of the best ways to become a “leyak” is to go to a cemetery in the middle of the night, to exhume a “fresh” woman’s corpse and to make love to her. With the proper mantras, of course. Or else. If you manage to do that properly, your powers will go unchallenged by anyone for a long time.

To put back things in the right order, and not become overly lewd in my writing, I must add that love making should not be gratuitous. It has a meaning, to keep things in balance during one’s life between the goals of life – artha-accumulation of earthly goods, dharma or virtue and kama or pleasure, in order to achieve the fourth and ultimate goal, moksa, merging into the cosmic, even though there is a good change, you will miss it and come back to earth after a long or short punishment in Balinese hell. Once there, I warn you, if as a man you had many lovers, you will be sentenced to shoulder-carry pierced coconuts. But if you are a woman it is much worse: a demon may insert a burning torch into your genitals or worse. There is patriarchy even in Balinese hell. How to bring feminism to hell and empower women there?

Once a soul is in hell or after punishment (it is not clearly understood), an ancestor in the “Old Country” above the mountain has to come down to earth for another attempt at achieving moksa (merging into the cosmic). For that, things should be organised properly on earth, in the so-called “Middle-World” by your descendants.

Let us say you are one of those descendants. You will yourself need children to perform their own duties toward you. So how do you do? You go with your wife to one of your ancestors’ temples and there, you present a few offerings, then meditate, beseeching the right ancestor(s) to come down. Then you go back home, and you do what you have to do, not forgetting to utter a short mantra, and, in some instances, to address small yellow rice grains to the demonic forces around. Never ever forget it, because the little bastards are very nasty. If you mistreat them, they may turn you impotent – if you are a man of course. But let us go back to what you did: when making love, you united what the Balinese call the white kama (kama petak) and the red kama (kama bang) – the cosmic forces at the origin of human life. The next day, when you and your wife go to the ancestors’ temple, she may well shudder all of a sudden: the sign that an ancestor is coming down to incarnate. A little god – dewa — the Balinese will say. The rest will be a matter of proper behaviour and right offerings. And be relieved: the partner you find in your life may well be a soul you got indebted to while both of your souls were in hell. Karma is creating karma.

But I warn you: there is nothing romantic in Balinese traditional love. You will be told to beware of women. After all, their genitals is bluntly quoted in classical literature as being a “year-long incurable sore, which causes the world to go “bananas.” And they are “eight times more resistant in love-making”. But, forgetting the nasty side of it, perhaps it is the reason to make another try at it, at the right time, in the right place, and the right kamasutra cosmic positioning, of course.

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.