BALI CULTURE INFORMATION

 

 
 
The Island Of Bali, Indonesia

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THE WITCH-DOCTORS, MAGIC, AND MEDICINE

There were two medicine-men, two balians among the friends that often visited us. One of these was a learned, serious, middleaged man who practised medicine and was progressive enough to adopt some Western medicines like quinine tablets for malaria, to which, however, he added Balinese magic by reciting formulas over them. He liked to discuss the methods of foreigners and often came to us to ask for medicines.

The other balian was the extreme reverse; he enjoyed the terrifving reputation of teacher and chief of bands of leyaks, and our friends had warned us in whispers that many of the old women of our leyak-ridden neighbourhood were his pupils; nobody had the slightest doubt of his great magical powers. His appearance was as demoniac as his reputation: enormous fingernails on knotty long fingers, halfextinguished little eves burning still with a wicked gleam, and a great, bloody cave for a mouth; entirely toothless and always crimson with betel juice. He dressed smartly in a blue silk saput, and his gestures showed a rather studied elegance. He was gay and solicitous, but he loved to appear mysterious at times.

Our two friends belonged to the two arch-types of Balinese balians. One was the inspired mystic who works through fits of temperament and trances to fight the evil forces and who by his inherent sakti is able to dominate the supernatural spirits. Shamanism is his medium; he can see " far away " by going into a trance and looking into a mirror or a container with water.

Through his self-induced trances he comes in contact with his assisting spirit, perhaps his father's, a former great balian, whose reputation establishes the prestige enjoyed by the son; thus possessed by his assisting spirit, he is able to go into the spirit world and fight the wrongdoer. During the trances the balian growls and mumbles monologues similar to those in plays, in which he relates his adventures in Hades.

Often he dances entranced, elegant versions of duels with malignant spirits. I was told that such a balian can see a guilt in the eyes of a boy or a girl who is still " pure " - that is, uncontaminated by sexual intercourse. By going into a trance, balians are also able to trace the past history of an old kris or some similar object.

While the intuitive witch-doctor (balian ngengengan) work mainly through his inspiration and his inherent sakti, the learned balian (balian wisada) " who can read," depends for his effectiveness on a mixture of practical medicine and religious magic learned from palm-leaf manuscripts (lontar or rontal) . Although not a priest, he knows all tile Food and evil gods and the mannner of their approach; he understands the calendar and knows the proper formulas and magic words, cabalistic symbols, and so forth, which he combines with real medical knowledge, of ma; sage, herbs, and roots. 'Hills, assisted by the faith of his patient he can perform real cures.

A balian inherits his father's wisdom, his sakti, and the accessories of his ritual: magic stones and coins which are placed iv water that is given to the patient to drink, calendars and chart, for horoscopes, but mainly old treatises on magic and medicine the possession of which alone already gives balians certain powers. Besides the aforementioned manuscripts on " right ' and " left " magic, they own special books on love magic (pengaseh) , collections of models for pictorial amulets (tetumbalan) . and books on medicine and medical recipes (wisada and tetulak) These are copied when the old ones have become too worn, and the discarded palm-leaves are burned to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands; the burned remains are then eaten by the owner in order not to waste any of their magic power.


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