When her feet touched the ground

Remote is just a word until you’re there. An hour and a half by motorbike, uphill all the way, is the town of Kintamani. And several miles beyond that is the village of Abang Sonang. No foreigners live there and few visit. But this is Ketut’s village. His family’s land was given to them by the king. Things haven’t changed much for the people here.

Every village in Bali has its unique traditions, so when Ketut asked me if I wanted to come to his baby’s three month ceremony, I was thrilled. When he told me he would sell his motorbike to pay for this very important birthday party I was horrified. “But Ketut! You need your motorbike!”

“Already,” he said, then added “have two.” He’d already sold the automatic…the one with the super smooth ride…the one I fondly called ‘Pink’.

“How much does a three month ceremony cost?” I wanted to know. Asking isn’t impolite in Bali. No people group on earth is more inquisitive than the Balinese. They’re not afraid to ask anything and they’re not opposed to being asked. When he told me it would cost 5,000,000 Rph, about $500 US dollars, I was horrified all over again.

Ketut, Komang, and three month old Nengah

Ketut, Komang, and three month old Nengah

In all fairness, this is a very important milestone. Balinese children are held every waking moment for the first three months. Only when the parents go to bed is the child out of someone’s arms, and then it is snuggled in with mom and dad for the night.  The three month ceremony marks the first time the baby’s feet touch the ground. It’s a big deal. But I had no idea what that really meant until June 19, 2013, Nengah’s three month ceremony.

The belle of this ball

Nengah, the belle of this ball

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Arrival tent for visiting and smoking

When I arrived I changed into temple clothes, the kebaya and sarong, and was invited to sit on a platform with other family members and guests. There were baskets of cigarettes and matches here and there for the men to enjoy. Social smoking is as popular in Bali as social drinking is in Western cultures.

I was curious what $500 would buy for this party, so, armed with my camera, I set out to see for myself. Three tents had been erected in the family compound. One was the arrival area with the platform and the cigarettes. Another had been pitched beside the food service area so people could eat in a covered space in case of rain.

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Women sit crafting hundreds of offerings

As I progressed I wondered at the absence of women. There were men lounging, laughing, talking, but no women to be seen. Then I came to the third tent. Mystery solved. The third tent was full of ladies making offerings. They chatted and laughed as their fingers flew.

P1030910There seemed to be a hustle-bustle of people coming and going from behind one house. I peeked around the corner and found Komang’s mother cooking. She was stirring a heaping wok of veggies. There were bowls of other delights just waiting for the feast that would come later.

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Chickens wrapped in banana leaves stay moist and delicious

Moving through another group of men talking and smoking, I found the barbecue pit. As I approached the blistering heat, I wondered how the men could stand there all day, twisting the sticks that held the food.

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The birds are done…notice the two ducks on the right

Ketut told me he had bought 40 chickens and a suckling pig. I saw a few ducks on the spit, thrown in as an extra measure of pleasure for the gods!

The young pig awaits his turn on the fire

The young pig awaits his turn on the fire

Seated on the ground near the fire, the holy man prayed for blessings on the food, the child, the family, and the guests.

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The holy man offers prayers throughout the day

I left the barbecue and continued my photographic journey. The next stop was the room where Nengah would experience her coming-of-age first kebaya. It was filled with colorful offering towers and stacks of the small, palm basket offerings.

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A wall of gifts to maintain the balance between good and evil

I was beginning to see where ‘all that money’ went!

Ketut found me and asked if I wanted to go with the family to the birth site. Nengah was born in a small center just a few miles down the road. The family was going there to offer thanks for her safe delivery. We left the guests and hopped on motorbikes for the quick trip to the clinic.

Komang delivered the baby in the bed with the blue cover

Nengah was born in the bed with the blue cover

The holy man is seated with piles of offerings as granny lights the incense

The holy man is seated with piles of offerings as granny lights the incense

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It’s a lighthearted affair. Ketut said something just then that made Komang blush.

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The intricacy of the rituals throughout the day mesmerize me.

The clinic blessings complete, it was back to the compound for the feast. The ever present rice was served in plastic laundry baskets! I was so shocked at the overwhelming abundance of rice I forgot to take a picture! The rest of the food was loaded on a long table and the feasting began.

Cap cay

Cap cay

A sayur stir-fry with tofu

A sayur stir-fry with tofu

Spicy satays of chicken mixed with coconut

Spicy satays of chicken mixed with coconut

Kachang penjang, the foot long green beans with chilis

Kachang penjang, the foot long green beans with chilis

Banana leaf packets of highly seasoned minced chicken

Banana leaf packets of highly seasoned minced chicken

A spicy tomato bumbu sauce

A spicy tomato bumbu sauce

Super hot sambal!!!

Super hot sambal!!!

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Ketut holds the cooked pig, dripping with grease, waiting as his mother clears a spot and produces a tray to hold it

The cuisine of Bali is a blend of many Asian countries and it is fabulous! I ate plenty, as I usually do. My Mona Lisa corset was stretched to the max. I needed to walk off some of the excess. Ketut’s brother accompanied me. After a short stroll he said, “Here.” I didn’t know there was a planned stop and this looked like another family compound. “Who?” I asked. “Father brother me,” he said. Ah, his father’s brother…an uncle’s home. I’m getting much better at sorting out the meaning of such cryptic phrases! We turned into the gate. A skeletal man, shirtless, motioned us over. I asked if I could take his photo. He jumped up, went inside and put on a shirt, then came back and with a big smile and nodded permission.

Uncle's astrological invention

Uncle’s astrological invention

The interesting object he is holding is a globe carved from wood with three metal rings encircling it. He explained the rings. Spellbound, I asked him where he studied astronomy. The walls were covered with calendars he had drawn and lunar progressions that he had carved and painted on long, rectangular blocks of wood. He didn’t understand my question. I turned to Ketut’s brother and asked him. As my meaning dawned, he frowned and answered with a scolding tone. “He no school. He just know.” The innate ‘knowing’ of the intuitive Balinese is a mysterious phenomena. But it cannot be denied. The man hasn’t spent one day in school, yet what he knows about the constellations and the movement of the earth through the heavens, is wondrous.

It was time to get back to the festivities. The next step in Nengah’s transition commenced in the offering room. The symbolism of what took place over the next hour left me with tears throughout. Her party clothes were removed and she was bathed.

Nengah doesn't like baths, but she let granny administer this ritual cleansing

Nengah doesn’t like baths, but she let granny administer this ritual cleansing

Following the bath, she was dressed for the first time in temple clothes, the sarong and kebaya. Ketut cut the strings that she had been wearing on her wrists and ankles and replaced them with bracelets and anklets of silver. The holy man had blessed a talisman and inserted it into a silver box on a chain that was now placed around her neck.

Cutting off the yarn bracelets

Cutting off the yarn bracelets

The holy man uttered prayers and chants and sprinkled great profusions of holy water. An egg was passed three times in front of Nengah’s little body. But the girl’s spirit of cooperation wore thin. It began with a few whimpers, then broke into an all-out squall that speaks louder than words, “I’m finished! Get me out of here!”

She was not made to endure. Granny left with her in tow and the ceremony ended. Dazed and delighted, I stepped through the doorway into the night. What sights met my eyes! The gamelan orchestra was setting up in preparation for dancing! The air crackled with excitement. Ketut had been talking about this for months. He and his baby daughter would have their first dance, maybe their only dance, together. The music began. Four professional performers in full costume wove their magic.

The firey torches in the center with offerings below, set the stage for the dancing

The fiery torches in the center with offerings below, set the stage for the dancing

They finished and it was time for Ketut and Nengah.  I have never seen Ketut so happy and proud. Nengah, her good nature restored, was wide eyed, taking it all in.

A daughter's first dance

A daughter’s first dance

Various family members danced with Nengah. After that the professionals reappeared. Someone in the audience is handed a fan and that is an invitation to dance.  Of course a foreigner is a prime target, and I took my turn. It was great fun! But that’s another story!

It had been a long day. The gamelan packed up and went home, as did the guests. I had been invited many times before to spend the night with Ketut’s family, but it had never worked out. This was to be the first. They showed me to my room. There was a full size bed with fleecy new blankets. Ketut told me I should sleep there. I glanced at a tangle of bodies under covers on the floor. Ketut’s mother lay there with three of her granddaughters curled around her. Oh my. So I was once again the honored guest who got the only bed. I started to argue but was instantly shut down.

I didn’t sleep much. It was almost too quiet, way up on that mountaintop, with the soft breathing of four other bodies in the room. But it didn’t matter. I had seen sights that few Westerners ever see. I had heard stories and witnessed the unfolding of a stunning ritual. But…wait a minute…! This was supposed to be the celebration of Nengah’s feet contacting the earth for the first time. Had I missed it?

Morning brought my answer. As I emerged from the sleeping room, dressed and ready for the day, I saw granny kneeling on the ground. She had made two rows of overlapping green leaves about a foot apart and approximately two feet long. There were little bits of rice on each leaf. The next thing I knew, Ketut and Komang were there with Nengah who was once again in her temple clothes. Then it happened. Komang lowered Nengah to the ground, just so her bare feet met the earth. She half carried her to the end of the little leaf bordered path, back and forth, three times.

Making the leaf path

Making the leaf path

Nengah's feet meet the earth

Nengah’s feet meet the earth

Some moments are joyous and sacred. This was one of those.

We entered another small room for more prayers. The sun filtered through the incense-filled air creating an eerie beauty.

There is one more prayer session with the holy man

There is one more prayer session with the holy man

The formal prayers said, the family made a final gesture of gratitude for excellent weather and the blessing of children. They gathered up more offerings and carried them to the entrance by the street. Komang’s mother placed them, just so. Temporary altars were erected on either side of the gate.

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Filing out to the street with the offerings

Offerings at the gate are mark the end of the ceremony

Offerings at the gate are mark the end of the ceremony

Ketut places offerings by one of the temporary altars

Ketut places offerings by one of the temporary altars

After cups of rich, Bali kopi, slabs of papaya, sweet bits of kue pastries, and all the rice I could eat, it was time to go. It already seemed far away, like a half-forgotten dream, or a peek into someone else’s life. But it isn’t someone else’s life. It’s mine. It’s what I have manifested by letting go of who I thought I should be and exchanging it for who I am. It’s full, alive, and fabulous. It’s a life that fits like skin.

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nanci Froemming
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 08:46:40

    Sherry, once again, I have gleaned insight into Balinese culture from your fascinating post of the three-month ceremony. many thanks to you for sharing your experience.

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 01, 2013 @ 09:03:59

      Bali offers up endless opportunities to learn. The culture is rich beyond imagining. My Western frame of reference steers me wrong EVERY TIME when I assume I know what to expect! Happy surprises fill each day.

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jul 02, 2013 @ 06:48:00

      Glean is a good word. That’s what it feels like for me. I am picking up small bits and pieces of the treasures passed down through decades…centuries more likely. Because I have no frame of reference to Hinduism, neither the culture nor the religion, my experience skims the surface. It is more a collection of impressions than anything. But it is a glimpse, and I’m glad you enjoy seeing it through my eyes.

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  2. Sharon
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 10:38:09

    This is one of my favorite writings Sherry. What a joy and privilege to share this day with Ketut who you have grown so close To. The clear welcome of you (and us by default via your story) by family into their mist is just beautiful.

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    Reply

  3. Lottie Nevin
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 23:56:51

    I think this has to be my favourite post so far. What an incredible experience. Your description of everything was fabulous and you had me spell bound from start to finish. Just one question, did you bring the eye-liner? 😉

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