BALI CULTURE INFORMATION

 

 
 
The Island Of Bali, Indonesia

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THE WITCH-DOCTORS, MAGIC, AND MEDICINE

Balians do not divulge their secrets readily; they claim that they would lose their power to recover their human identity after a trance and would go insane if they revealed their formulas or sold their books. They have successfully injected fear of their dangerous practices among the common people, who shudder even at the sight of their magic books. The profession of balian is surrounded with an air of mystery, and although there are many kindly and respectable balians, it is believed that there are also wicked ones who use magic to do physical harm to a client's enemy.

For this purpose they are said to employ the universal system of sympathetic magic by which through the possession of something that belonged to or formed part of the victim - clothes, locks of hair, nail-cuttings, saliva, and even the soil taken from a footprint - they can gain control of the physical and mental condition of the person. Through sympathy between the victim and something of his - his image, a photograph or a doll containing any of the above ingredients - his soul is captured and tortured because he feels the harm done to his image. Consequently the Balinese carefully collect and bury all nail-cuttings, hair, tooth-filings, and so forth.

Just as the Balinese believe that foreigners are immune from the attacks of witches simply because they are of a race apart, so they believe that European medicines and the knowledge of white doctors, pills, liquids in bottles, and bitter or smelly powders, can be effective only to cure the people Who invented them. Furthermore, the lack of showmanship of doctors, of dramatic hocus-pocus with which to paralyse the evil forces which they believe cause illness, leave them without faith in their curative ability. Many refuse absolutely to be cured by Europeans, others accept treatment out of politeness, and the few that go to the hospitals do so only after everything else has failed them. It is natural that medical treatment fails then to cure an advanced stage of illness.

In case of serious sickness a folded leaf of pandanus is hung on the gate as a sign of taboo (sawen) to inform the village. Then only relatives may enter the house and may only approach the sick person after stamping their feet on the kitchen floor to shake off whatever evil influences may still cling to them. A balian is called, and if his magic succeeds in effecting a cure, the patient gives many offerings and has to undergo purifying ceremonies to lose the sebel.

The Balinese attach great significance to any sort of physical sickness and, having no great hardships to discuss, to complain of illness, no matter how slight, is a favourite subject of conversation. Colds, cough, stomach-ache, neuralgia, and other minor ailments make them miserable, although they can cure them effectively with domestic concoctions of herbs, roots, barks, flowers, and especially by massage, which they have developed into a real science. However, despite the appearance of being an unusually healthy race, the Balinese are victims of many serious afflictions for which they know no cure.

Worst among these are the widespread venereal diseases; syphilis and gonorrhoea seem to prevail although in an inherited, latent state. Supposedly of ancient introduction, the diseases do not appear in malignant forms and the Balinese seem to have developed a certain immunity that makes them carriers despite a healthy appearance.

It is common to see the whitish veil of gonorrhoea in the eyes of elderly people and often a boy or a girl of our bandjar broke out in sores of an unmistakable origin and had to be sent to the hospital for inoculations. But the reluctance of the Balinese to undertake foreign treatment, the forbidding cost of Salvarsan, and the natural promiscuity do not help the situation.

The violent rainy seasons bring epidemics of tropical fevers, and malaria takes many lives, especially of children. The Balinese attempt to cure the fevers with concoctions of dadap leaves, onions, anise, salt, and coal from the hearth, which, after straining, is given to the patient to drink, and he is put to sleep. It is also effective to rub the sides with a paste of mashed dadap leaves, onions, anise, and tinke, a sort of nutmeg, and to rub the back with coconut oil with scrapings of dadap bark; but quinine is rapidly gaining popularity.

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