Good and Evil

There’s been a strong, unavoidable theme swirling around Ubud and Bali lately.

Every 210 days, the entire island celebrates something called Galungan, which is a very important event. This day welcomes the gods and ancestors down to earth, and begins 10 days of festivities. All villages get dressed up. Elaborate, tall, arched canes of palm reeds and flowers called penjors are placed along the sidewalks of every home and business. Some neighbors try to out-penjor one another, ala Halloween decorations or Christmas lights, but everyone spends a lot of time and money making these ubiquitous signs of respect, as well as the usual dizzying myriad of traditional ornamentations, offerings and food dishes.

Galungan celebrates the death of a legendary tyrant called Mayadenawa, and is a rare Balinese observance of good (dharma) over evil (andharma). Balinese Hinduism accepts that evil exists. Rather than try to rid their world of it, Hindus stress the importance of striking a balance between these two intertwined forces. Checkered fabrics, representing this balance, are seen everywhere: wrapped around the bases of revered banyan trees and draped over shrines and temples.

The Balinese are often dressed up during this period, and busy going to various feasts and visits to families. It’s common for them to make a ceremonial meal called lawar, for their neighbors. We dodged the lawar bullets, thankfully, as it is both very spicy, and made of pigs blood. For days we could hear the horrific sound of pigs being slaughtered by varied neighbors. But, a wonderful part of Galungan that accompanies this period is the sudden sight of a wandering team of boys expressing an artform called Barong: most are playing traditional Gamelon music, while 1-2 prance around wearing the furry Barong beast outfit that represents goodness.

The day before Galungan began, Jennifer went to the central Ubud market to purchase the offerings to bring to the opening ceremony the next morning. The young woman arranged 5 different colored flowers and incense into the small palm leaf baskets, and instructed the correct way to use them during the prayers. Then she refused to take any money, out of respect for the holiday. That night, we read up on the details of the ceremony, learned the words to the sung prayers, and the proper way to receive the blessing: raise your hands to get sprinkled with the holy water; cup your palms together and quickly slurp the first 3 dousings; spread the 4th dousing over your head; grab the offered rice with your right hand and place it into your left one; and finally stick a small amount of it against your forehead and at the bottom of your neck. It was a beautiful ceremony inside the temple, with only a few westerners present, sitting on the ground with everyone else.

Galungan lasts for 10 days, and is then replaced by a day called Kuningan, when the Balinese offer their thanks, and say goodbye to the gods and ancestors -until the next 210 days. Galungan was several days ago, and Kuningan will be on the 31st, so we are right in the thick of good and evil -and in more ways than one.

For several months, there’s been an escalation of a crime in Ubud, but particularly one type: women, riding alone at night on their motorbike, having their purse snatched off their shoulder by pairs of men riding together, who then vanish off into the darkness. This sort of thing has apparently been happening for years in the Kuta and Seminyak areas farther south where the nighclubs are. And its been known to happen around Ubud now and then as well. But now the numbers were noticably escalating, and the incidents were happening in the daytime too, and they were becoming more violent.

Stories spread of victims being pushed off their moving motorbikes, and then as they lay injured on the ground, having their keys taken and used to open the storage basins where their purses were stashed (suggesting that the victims were cased-out as they got onto their bikes to begin with, perhaps at the gas station or grocery store, etc). At least one woman was known to have been seriously wounded 2 months ago, and still lies in a comma. Facebook community pages became the place to inform, discuss, debate, and organize. Some blamed the victims, or western influences, while many Balinese pointed fingers at the Javanese. But most everyone was alarmed.

One night, a 15 year old Balinese girl was robbed in this manner, and was surprisingly willing and able to chase her lone suspect, whom she eventually caught. She was a martial arts champ, and was able to knock him down, and give him what he had comming. He turned out to be a 32 year old Balinese man, who later confessed to the police for many other similar robberies. Both his ethnicity and that of his victim defied the norms about these crimes.

Most everyone breathed easier for a week or two -but it didn’t last long. About 3 weeks ago, Kim Eun Sol, a 17 yo woman visiting from South Korea was the victim of one of these night time robberies as she rode home with friends. She was “inadvertantly” pushed across the center dividing line and struck by oncoming traffic, and was killed, and the evil-doers got away. This tragedy made the international papers, and further ignited the efforts to address not just these motorbike crimes, but the sense that crime -particularly aimed at foreigners in Bali- had gotten way out of hand, and that the local police and Indoneasian government has been very slow to react or to acknowledge the problems.

Then just last week, on the first day of Galungan, a 40 year old Brittish expat named Anne-Marie Drozdz, was found brutally murdered inside her home, in a quiet village just north of Ubud. Word spread fast and furious. Murders of expats have happened before -albeit rarely- but Ubudians were already on heightened alert to crimes against foreigners, and this was the ultimate worse-case scenario. More international stories appeared, and Australia and Italy released travel advisories against coming here. Such actions were largely viewed by the expat community as the best way to get the attention of the powers in Jakarta, perceived as too busy counting tourism money than to protect tourists. Surprisingly, two days later, the police arrested a laborer, who’d been working near the victim’s home for a few weeks, by tracing her stolen cell phone back to his home in Java. The motive was robbery.

A few nights ago there was a candlelight vigil held at the soccer field in central Ubud in memory of Anne-Marie Drozdz, and Kim Eun Sol, and all the victims of crime. About 250 people showed up -mostly expats, but with a respectful number of Balinese there as well. A patch of flowers was arrainged on the ground, where candles were left behind as the crowd slowly thinned out. Prayers were spoken. Sadness was expressed. Tears were shed. Silent hopes were raised.

As I looked on, I noticed a group of boys off in the distance strolling the street. I could hear their Gamelon music, and see the Barong beast prancing among them, representing good over evil.


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