BALI CULTURE INFORMATION

 

 
 
The Island Of Bali, Indonesia

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WITCHCRAFT

WITCHES, WITCH-DOCTORS, AND THE
MAGIC THEATRE

A performance of wayang kulit, the shadow-play, is such an ordinary occurrence in Den Pasar that it was unusual and intriguing one evening to find the town aroused by news of a shadow-play to take place that night in the outskirts, and we tagged along with the Balinese members of our household to watch the show.

The streets were filled with people from the neighbouring villages, all going our way, and we found the open square of Pemetjutan, where the show was already in progress, jammed with an eager crowd trying to push their way within hearing-distance of the little screen, a focus of flickering light for a restless, dark sea of human heads.

We were accustomed to see sober groups sitting quietly even at performances of the most famous story-tellers, but on this occasion the crowd was so great that we could not approach the screen near enough even to distinguish clearly the shadows of the leather puppets.

So unusual was the sudden interest in the performance that the high-collared, helmeted Dutch officials, ordinarily unconcerned with the " nonsense of the natives," asked nervous questions among the crowd. Everything in the performance went on as usual, except for a line of Balinese characters painted across the screen which said: " I, Ida Bagus Ktut, dare to tell." . . . We inquired what he dared to tell and from various sources we pieced together the following story: For many months a feud had raged between two enemy factions of leyaks, witches, the spirits of living people given to black magic.

This everybody knew because in Pemetjutan the leyaks in battle were seen every night in the form of blue flames darting among the coconut trees. The villagers fell sick by the score and many died suddenly of mysterious, unexplained deaths, but the wounds that had killed them became evident if the bodies were washed with specially blessed coconut water. The leader of one faction of witches was a well-known dealer in coffee, a woman of low caste named Makatjung, famous for her strong character and her natural magic powers.

Her child had suddenly died, and in her despair Wakatjung refused to leave his grave; night came and she fell asleep over it. In a dream the child spoke to her and blamed for his death a princess of Djerokuta, also reputed in the neighbourhood to be a powerful witch. Mad with rage, 1\Iakatjung went to the princess and accused her of the murder of her child. The princess did not deny it, and the leyak war was on.

It was supposed that the tide had turned against the faction of the noblewoman, and Matakjung, to make her victory known to the public, had engaged the daring story-teller to re-enact the events in a wayang performance and give out the names of her enemy's allies. To add to the suspense, it was rumoured that the story-teller, the son of Badung's most famous witch-doctor, had stolen the names he was about to make public from his father's records of clients for formulas of witchcraft.

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