Category Archives: Articles by Murni

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

A look at Bali’s Artistic centre, past, present and future.

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, January 2005

In the early Thirties, Miguel Covarrubias came to Bali, and said, “Undoubtedly Bali will soon enough be spoiled for those fastidious travellers who abhor all that which they bring with them.” Well, Ubud hasn’t been spoiled. Ubud is just getting better and better. Covarrubias got it wrong.

I am a Balinese baby boomer. When I was growing up in Ubud, just after the Second World War, our lives were hard. We didn’t have much. Not being able to afford pure rice, we added corn, jackfruit and sweet potatoes. Our protein was from rice-field eels, dragonflies or frogs.

Now, in Ubud, there are 24-hour supermarkets. A brand new one has just opened close to my restaurant. It has everything – well, nearly everything; it doesn’t have rice-field eels and dragonflies but it does have frogs!

When I was six, we were lucky to go to school. It was hard. Now all kids go to school. That is good. Many children go to university and some go abroad. Computer classes are available in Ubud for local children. That is progress.

There is progress for tourists too. Ubud has always welcomed tourists. There are excellent courses for them: cooking, batik painting, silver jewellery making, woodcarving, stone carving, gamelan and yoga. There are nightly entertainments and five dance groups perform regularly.

Ubud was a leafy place in my childhood. Tall lychee trees lined the main road. Where Ibah Hotel now is, mango trees grew and where Ary’s Warung now is, there were jambu trees.

Monkey Forest Road was a dirty, muddy track with rice fields on each side. Every day you would see farmers carrying produce on their shoulders and ducks on the way to the rice fields. At night you would hear frogs croaking and see fireflies flashing.

Nobody, apart from the Royal family, owned a car; most people walked. If you were lucky, you had a bicycle. I, and a group of friends, had bicycles. We cycled over pot-holed roads down to Sanur to sell our wares to cruise ships. In the evening we cycled back.
Now many families have cars. In fact, most do, and Ubud has a traffic problem. I was the first woman driver in Ubud. Originally only men drove cars. One small step for women! That was in 1976.

There have been other advances. Many activities were reserved for men; even painting, for which Ubud is famous, was traditionally a male preserve. When Puri Lukisan Museum opened in Ubud in 1972, all the exhibits were by men. Now there are many women artists and Seniwati Art Gallery, started in 1991 by Mary Northmore, is dedicated to women.

Gamelan music was exclusively male. In the last twenty years or so, several women’s gamelan groups have formed. My own group plays all over the island.

Our traditional ceremonies bring the arts together; their purpose is to please the gods and men. In my young days, there wasn’t the money to create lavish displays. Now, in Ubud, there are frequent ceremonies: maybe six gamelan groups, numerous dancers, shadow puppets, thousands, dressed in the finest Balinese textiles, attend our ceremonies.

Over my lifetime, and especially recently, there has been rapid development. When I opened my restaurant in 1974, there was no electricity – not until 1978. It was hard to keep beer cold but candles and kerosene lamps created an atmosphere beyond compare. Now, reputedly, there are over 300 restaurants in the area.

In 1974 there were only two hotels: the Tjampuhan and the Menara but everyone stayed at the Tjampuhan. Now there are many wonderful hotels and fabulous villas. There are hundreds of shops – including my own.

However, the time has now come to limit development; we don’t need any more shops, hotels, restaurants or supermarkets and we should concentrate on our strengths and our traditions.

In November we had a very successful Writers and Readers Festival and I am pleased that it is planned to make this an annual event. In December there was the Global Healing Conference at ARMA, which Desmond Tutu attended. We also launched the 50th anniversary of the book Dancing Out of Bali by John Coast at Murni’s Warung, where the star of the book, dancer Ni Gusti Raka, danced and signed copies.

I believe that for the future, we should focus on events such as these, and, of course, the temple ceremonies and exhibitions.

Ubud, Bali

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

Another Day Another Dance

Another Day Another Dance


Ni Wayan Murni
Natural Guide to Bali, 2005

Balinese dances – and indeed the other performing arts in Bali – have a religious background.

Dances are offerings to the gods and ancestors – staged to please and entertain the deities at religious ceremonies to which they have been invited by the priests. Visitors to Bali have a very good chance of seeing one and they certainly should.

Dances also accompany rites of passage, which mark a turning point in a person’s life, such as baby ceremonies, tooth-filings, weddings and cremations. There are exciting dances at exorcism ceremonies, held to rid the place of disruptive forces. Sensational dances are performed at times of crisis, such as epidemics, famines and plagues. At these events dancers, and sometimes even spectators, fall into trance.

Some dances have a story, often based on the old Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabarata. It is almost impossible for the first time spectator to follow the plot. Boys dance girls’ parts, girls dance boys’ parts. You cannot tell which are which. Both wear heavy make-up. The same person may dance several roles and scenes change with the barest of announcements. It‘s best just to sit back and enjoy the extreme beauty of the movements, the expressions and the dazzling costumes. Lose yourself in the subtle, intricate, wonderful, percussive sounds of the gamelan orchestra.

Dances are classified into the sacred and the secular. Sacred dances are for the gods and secular dances are for humans. Sacred dances are sub-divided into the very sacred and the ceremonial. The very sacred (wali), like the pendet, gabor, baris gede and the masked dance, topeng pejegan, take place in the holiest, inner court of the temple (jeroan) and the ceremonial dances (bebali), like the Ramayana and gambuh, take place in the middle courtyard (jaba tengah). Sacred and ceremonial dances usually take place when the priest is conducting the rituals and the temple is milling with people. At the same time, a shadow puppet performance (wayang kulit) may also be going on.

Secular dances take place in the outer part of the temple or even outside. Popular examples are the legong, kebyar and the lively solo baris tungal. New dances tend to fall into this category, and although often created initially for Western consumption, the Balinese quickly adopt them as their own. Examples are the famous kecak (monkey dance), which was choreographed by Walter Spies and Katharine Mershon in 1931 for a German movie “Island of the Demons” – they based it on old Balinese trance dances; the oleg tumulilingan (bumblebee dance), created by local choreographer, Mario of Tabanan, for the Peliatan dance troupe’s tour of Europe and America in 1952; and the new genggong (frog dance), a favourite among children.

Balinese dances are not about individuals. The story is not the important thing. It’s the rhythm, the atmosphere and the feeling for space. The characters exist in their own formal, spiritual world. There are stock characters, who represent respected or not so respected qualities. The king and queen are nearly always refined or halus. The king’s ministers may or may not be refined. The witch and the monster are coarse or kasar. They all have their own stylized movements, their own dress and speak in Kawi, an old language that few understand. The only individuals are the clowns, who improvise, joke, and explain to the audience in Balinese what is happening on stage.

The gestures in Indian dancing tell a story, but not in Bali. Faces are like masks. Emotion is underplayed. Gestures are purely abstract, although a few have dramatic meanings. Shading the eyes with the hand indicates weeping. First and second fingers pointing at the end of a stiffly extended arm is a gesture of anger or denunciation. Eyes move quickly from side to side to stress the rhythms and accents.

The best place to see dances and listen to the gamelan is in their proper setting, in one of the many temples. The temple, private or public, will be packed with people in splendid Balinese attire. White-clad priests will be intoning mantras, ringing bells and muttering prayers. Ladies will be carrying offerings of fruit and flowers on their heads and placing them on special pavilions. The moon and the stars will illuminate the proceedings.

Many hotels and restaurants put on tourist dances. These can be enjoyable, but lack the magical, natural beauty of a temple. Many tourist villages also have shows. The best are in the Ubud area. I am from Ubud, so I would say that, wouldn’t I? But, it’s true. The dance troupes in Ubud Palace and Pura Dalem are of international standard and frequently go abroad. There is a policy of rotating them as much as possible to prevent them getting stale

There are dances four times a week in the beautiful Pura Dalem temple, next to my shop, Kunang-Kunang II. The temple is softly lit by small lamps of coconut oil, in the traditional way. There is a great kecak, fire and trance dance on Mondays and Fridays at 7.30 pm, a barong and kris dance on Thursdays at 7.30 pm, and a dramatic jegog bamboo orchestra (with dances) on Wednesdays at 7.00 pm.

Ubud, Bali

Another Day Another Dance

Buddhas in Bali

Buddhas in Bali

Buddhas in Bali

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, February 2005

Visitors to Bali see Buddha images everywhere. They are often moved and inspired by them but wonder what they mean. They all look alike, but are subtly different.

Bali is predominantly Hindu but has long had a connection with Buddhism and, following contact some 2,000 years ago with various Indian influences, is the last surviving Hindu-Buddhist civilisation in Indonesia.

Inscriptions dated 9 AD have been found, which mention Tantric and Mahayana Buddhism. There are stone statues and references to Buddhist monks and monasteries.

Some time between the 14th and 19th centuries, the Buddhist monasteries came to an end and eventually the various Hindu and Buddhist sects, whose beliefs were similar, merged into Bali-Hinduism.

Buddha was born into a royal family in Lumbini in south Nepal in the sixth century BC. He lived a life of luxury, married and had a son.

One day he met an old man, then a sick man, then a dead person. They represent suffering. Later he came across a wandering monk with a shaven head, dressed in a yellow robe, begging for alms. He saw tranquillity in the monk and decided to renounce the World and live the same way.

When he was 29, he left home in the middle of the night, on a horse, and travelled to a forest where he fasted. Some images show him in an emaciated state with his ribs showing. He decided that suffering was not the right way and enunciated his doctrine of the Middle Way: moderation in all things.

The earliest human Buddha images were made in the first century AD in Gandhara, a kingdom encompassing parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Greco-Roman art had a great influence there, which is evident in the Buddha’s toga-like robes, wavy hair and young features.

Buddha’s physical characteristics indicate his qualities and episodes in his life.

The bump on his head, the ushnisha, indicates supreme wisdom; the hairy mole between his eyes, the urna, supernatural vision; his short, tight, curly hair his renunciation of the World; and his long pierced earlobes his nobility. Indian royals wore heavy earrings, which stretched their ears. Sometimes the ushnisha takes the form of a flame, which symbolizes illumination.

Buddha’s skin is always unblemished and he wears a monastic robe, either open, leaving the right shoulder bare or draped over both shoulders.

In Bodh Gaya, Bihar, in northeast India he meditated for 49 days under a bodhi tree. During that time, Mara, the god of desire, tried to tempt him. Finally Buddha asked the Earth goddess for help by touching the earth with his right hand. She roared, “I am his witness,” and defeated Mara. At that moment Buddha overcame desire and attained Enlightenment, which Buddhists call Nirvana. Buddha images show him sitting in the lotus position, right hand extended down, palm inwards, middle finger touching the ground, left hand in his lap.

After a while, Buddha gave his first sermon to the World. It was in the Deer Park at Sarnath in northern India and is called ‘Setting the Wheel of the Law in Motion’. It marks the beginning of Buddhism as a faith. Images show Buddha, hands at his chest, each forming a circle with thumb and forefinger with the ends of the fingers of the left hand resting against the palm of the right.

Buddha then travelled around India, preaching, meditating and performing miracles. Images show him walking, right hand raised, arm bent, palm outwards, fingers pointing upwards, in the gesture of fearlessness.

The meditating Buddha is tranquil, back straight, in the lotus position, hands in his lap, right hand resting on his left, palms upwards, fingers extended, thumbs touching, eyes half-closed and with a hint of a smile; suggesting that he understands everything.

When he was 80, probably in 483 BC, Buddha died in a grove of trees near Kushinagara in northern India. He lay on his right side, head resting on his right hand, left hand on left hip, a peaceful expression on his face and accompanied by some of his disciples. The reclining posture always refers to his death; his final release.

Buddha images are usually on a throne shaped like a lotus, a symbol of purity and perfection. Just as the lotus has its roots in mud and filth and can grow into a beautiful flower, so can a person who follows the Buddha’s path reach Enlightenment.

Following his death, Buddhism spread to many countries and many Buddha forms came into existence. Perhaps the most popular is the Laughing Buddha. He is represented as a monk with a bald head, big smile and large, prosperous belly. He keeps a bag full of treasures beside him, and beams, “Don’t worry, be happy!” but is this man really a follower of the Middle Way?

Ubud, Bali

Buddhas in Bali

Treasures of Bali


Treasures of Bali, A Guide to Museums in Bali
written and edited by Richard Mann
Gateway Books International, 2006

Murni’s in Bali

Murni was the first person to have a proper gallery of antiques, textiles, costumes, old beads, tribal jewelry, stone carvings, masks and other ethnic pieces in Ubud. She started her shop at the same time as her famous restaurant, Murni’s Warung, overlooking the Campuan River in 1974. She is Balinese and understands Balinese culture thoroughly.

Her sources are the best and she is still the first person that dealers generally visit when they come to Bali from the other islands in Indonesia. Murni travels extensively collecting unique treasures from as far afield as Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, China and Laos. Those she doesn’t keep herself find their way into her shop. Many of her pieces are museum quality but she also has reproductions to suit every budget.

Part of the pleasure is to meet Murni herself and chat about her lifetime of collecting. Her Villas and restaurant are decorated with items from her personal collection.
Murni’s Warung and Shop
at the Campuan Bridge

Daily: 9am-10pm
Tel: (62) 361 972146
Fax: (62) 361 972146 or (62) 361 975282

Treasures of Bali

Healing Performances of Bali

Book Review: Healing Performances of Bali

Book Review

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, July 2006

Healing Performances of Bali
Angela Hobart
Berghahn Books, 2005


As far as I know this is the first book of its kind. It is a study of the traditional healers whom we in Bali do not often speak about but all visit from time to time. I met Dr Angela Hobart on one of her many trips here and was delighted to learn that she speaks High Balinese. This is rare for a Westerner as it is not an easy language. It is, however, a vital attribute to carry out research into this arcane area properly.

There are many types of traditional healers in Bali, who are mostly consulted at times of illness or trouble. They are a bridge between the seen and the unseen worlds and are highly esteemed by us. Whereas Western trained doctors cure illnesses from natural causes, traditional healers or ‘balian’ cure illnesses from supernatural causes. They communicate with the spirits of the unseen world through trance.

They are also consulted on the causes of family problems. We believe that such matters have specific causes and the balian can ascertain them. Angela Hobart sets out a number of case studies and explains the rituals and mechanisms at work. She also examines the wider healing processes of whole villages through a discussion of the roles of the Barong and Randa masked figures during religious ceremonies.

Balian advise how to rectify mental or physical problems. There is no conflict between the work of a balian and a scientifically trained doctor. If we suspect our illness has been caused by the unseen world, we go to a balian and if we suspect it comes from the seen world, we go to a doctor. As Angela Hobart points out, they refer patients to each other. She sets out a table of their separate roles.

Balian often prescribe herbal medicines, provide amulets for the patient to wear and hand out protective drawings with sacred syllables on them. Angela Hobart says that knowledge about traditional medicine is dying out. It is a lot easier to go to the pharmacy and get a pill than make up concoctions of roots and leaves mixed with egg white and honey.

Many people are sceptical about traditional healers but balian do have successes. Patients believe in them and that goes a long way. Angela Hobart explains that they can shift a patient’s consciousness and change his attitudes, so that he engages more fully with his family, enemies and community. After a session the patient or victim of bad luck sees things differently. He’s on his way to being cured. She gives various examples of successful treatments.

Even in the West placebos work in mysterious ways in curing various illnesses. A person’s beliefs and hopes about a treatment can have a significant biochemical effect. It seems to be a case of mind over molecules. Changed behaviour and attitudes, how one feels, and how one acts, can even affect one’s body chemistry.

I am pleased that Angela Hobart has written this interesting book and highlighted the balian’s role in Bali. Few tourists who see the lion-like Barong parade through Balinese villages to the sounds of the gamelan orchestra appreciate the forces at stake, but if they read this book, they will. I also hope that it is read by those who may be able to support the role of the balian in Balinese society.

Ubud, Bali

Healing Performances of Bali

Dancing Out of Bali and Dancers of Bali: Gamelan of Peliatan, 1952

CD Review: Dancing Out of Bali and Dancers of Bali: Gamelan of Peliatan, 1952

Dancing Out of Bali and Dancers of Bali: Gamelan of Peliatan, 1952

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, August 2006

Dancing Out of Bali and Dancers of Bali: Gamelan of Peliatan, 1952. Laura Rosenberg has done it again. First, the book, which we heartily applauded, and now, by way of an encore, the CD. Both are great. Most visitors see several Balinese dances during their stay in Bali and many of them see the Bumblebee Dance. The stars are two delightful bumblebees.

The lady bumblebee has long wings, which she stretches out in all directions. The dance was choreographed by Mario, the famous dancer from Tabanan, for John Coast’s tour of Europe and America in 1952.

The show caused a sensation and so did the dance. The lady bee flits and flirts from flower to flower. A young male bee appears and they dance around each other and finally lightly embrace.

It is very touching and was the first time that a woman had lifted her arms above her shoulders. It raised eyebrows. The dance is now firmly established in the repertoire and just called ‘Oleg’.

The show featured other dances and music too. The group, who had never been out of their remote village of Peliatan, near Ubud, left Indonesia on 21 August 1952 and flew the 8,000 miles from Jakarta to London in four days.

The next day they danced at The Winter Garden Theatre in London’s West End. It was a full house and there were rave reviews. Little 12-year old Raka, the lady bumblebee, was a star overnight.

In September, they flew on to New York. The Fulton Theatre, Broadway, was sold out for seven straight nights. Everyone courted them. Richard Rodgers, who put on South Pacific with its famous Bali Hai song, came to the show. Ed Sullivan televised parts of the Bumblebee Dance and the Monkey Dance to an audience of 30 million. The American comic actor Joe E. Lewis commented to Ed Sullivan, ‘I think they were on something’.

Then they were off to Boston, Philadelphia, Newark, Washington, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St Louis, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

After the tour John Coast wrote Dancing Out of Bali, which tells the story of how he brought the troupe of 44 dancers and musicians from Peliatan to London’s West End and New York’s Broadway.

I remember hearing about a white man in the Fifties, Tuan Coast, living in the area where I was going to school, near Denpasar. I used to see him driving about in his battered old jeep. I had no idea what he was doing, but I do now.

Every person I know likes the book. It is a great introduction to anyone visiting the island and describes many aspects of Bali’s culture and beautifully depicts Balinese ceremonies, dances and music.

Laura Rosenberg, John’s companion and my great friend, arranged for Dancing Out of Bali to be reprinted in 2004 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the English edition.

She has now persuaded World Arbiter to reissue the original Columbia Records LP Dancers and Musicians of Bali. You can read the book while listening to the music.

The performances are the first modern recordings made of a gamelan orchestra. It is lively, loud and frenetic; 66 minutes 16 seconds on a digitally restored CD, originally recorded in September 1952. The 6 minutes’ Kebyar composition, which accompanied the Kebyar Duduk dance, is very different from the version used today and therefore historically interesting.

The gamelan was under the direction of Anak Agung Gede Mandera. His family continue the tradition today in Peliatan.

There are 9 tracks:

Overture – Kapi Radja (melody from North Bali), Angklungan (an experimental piece), Oleg Tumulilingan (bumblebee dance), Baris (warrior dance), Gambangan (an ancient melody), Kebyar, Gender Wayang: Angkat-Ankatan (music for shadow play) and Legong (both versions – the New York studio recording and one (live) from Winter Garden Theatre, London).

There is a 24 page booklet of detailed notes, photographs and bibliography. Laura Rosenberg writes a note on John Coast and the John Coast Foundation ( ), which was formed to further his dream of disseminating and preserving traditional Balinese culture.
I heartily recommend both the book and the CD.

The CD:

Dancers of Bali: Gamelan of Peliatan, 1952
Under the direction of Anak Agung Gede Mandera
Produced by John Coast
World Arbiter

The Book:

John Coast
Publisher: Periplus Editions
Date: 1954, reprinted 2004
ISBN: 0794602614
Pages: 256
Order Number: BOOK2

Dancing Out of Bali and Dancers of Bali: Gamelan of Peliatan, 1952

Perfect Order Recognizing Complexity in Bali Review

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, September 2006

Perfect Order
Recognizing Order in Complexity
J. Stephen Lansing
Princeton University Press


Perfect Order Recognizing Complexity in Bali. If someone mentions ‘Bali’ one of the first images that will come into your mind will probably be rice terraces. The first Austronesian colonists introduced rice to the coastal regions of Bali several thousand years ago, but it was by no means certain that rice cultivation would expand into the rugged interior of the island. Ancient Balinese farmers had to find ways to move massive amounts of water through kilometres of solid rock. Water is necessary for wet rice agriculture. They had to perfect a new engineering system constructing canals, tunnels and aqueducts and they did.

Having done that they had to devise a workable and fair scheme for sharing the water. Those farmers downstream are at the mercy of the farmers upstream as they control the water flow. It was done through the subak irrigation societies, which are first mentioned in the 11th century, and the network of water temples. The subaks are very democratic societies and everyone who owns a rice paddy must belong to one.

The Dutch and their successors, the Indonesian government, did not understand the power of the water temples. It was not until well into the 1980s that the role of the water temples in setting cropping patterns and controlling irrigation was appreciated, thanks largely to the American anthropologist Stephen Lansing. The Green Revolution, which had its benefits, caused chaos in Bali as the water temples were ignored totally. Pests got out of control.

In this book Stephen Lansing describes his field research over a number of years. He and his team interviewed and videotaped many farmers in the subak organisations in the area around Pujung, which is not far from Ubud, where I live, and describes various conflicts that arose. He tested the decisions made using computer simulations and found that the decisions made were the best that could be made in the circumstances. He was intrigued, however, about the human element. After all it is very tempting for greedy farmers upsteam to keep more water for themselves and grow more rice. What is to prevent them doing that? He discovered that if they did it would result in more pests so it would not be in their interests to do so.

Stephen Lansing has a vast knowledge of Bali and has written many papers and other books about Balinese life. He writes in the clearest language and goes off on various tangents from time to time – always fascinating subjects such as human sacrifices, rat cremations, witchcraft and how they abolished caste in Pujung.

The supreme water temple is Ulun Danu Batur on the rim of Mount Batur. This is the second most important temple in Bali where Dewi Danu, the Goddess of the Lake resides. She refused to accept marriage and subordination to her brother and founded her own temple where she could be independent. It is a unique temple in many respects.

Stephen Lansing has spend a considerable time researching it and writes an intriguing chapter describing the forty-five deities of the temple, the trance mediums, who are ideally opposite-sex twins, the twenty-four male priests, half of whom are regarded as female, and the twenty village Elders, the four most senior of which may go through a ‘marriage’ ceremony to each other, but have not done so for the past century.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a good understanding of matters that are not generally apparent to the ordinary person, whether they are Balinese or just visiting Bali for a short time.

Ubud, Bali

Perfect Order Recognizing Complexity in Bali

The Ethnomusicologists’ Cookbook Complete Meals from around the World

Book Review

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, October 2006

The Ethnomusicologists’ Cookbook
Complete Meals from around the World
Sean Williams
Routledge, 2006


The Ethnomusicologists’ Cookbook Complete Meals from around the World. You will make friends and influence people with this book. You will be able to invite friends to amazing dinner parties at which you can serve food from all corners of the World and impress them with your knowledge. The World is divided into nine sections: Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East, South and Central America, North America, Oceania and Europe. Each section has between three and nine contributions, forty-seven in all, mainly from eminent ethnomusicologists and those, like me, interested in food. Each contribution is a complete meal for six people. That should keep you going for about a year without repeating yourself.

Start off somewhere exotic like Tonga. After 3½ hours you could be serving ‘Otai’ a coconut fruit drink to welcome your guests, followed by ‘Ota Ika’ a tasty dish of raw fish seasoned with lime juice, onions, garlic, chili pepper and tomatoes, and ‘Lupulu’ which are baked packets of taro or spinach leaves containing corned beef, fish or chicken (the Tongans like corned beef the best), Puaka Ta’o, baked roast pork and sweet potatoes, finished off with tropical fruits, ice-cream and fruitcake.

For your next dinner party go to Estonia and try the recipes for cucumber salad, beet and herring salad, sauerkraut, blood sausage and creamed semolina on fruit soup. All good peasant fare. Helpfully drinks are also recommended: Saku brand beer and juniper berry soda. Have some bread too. Bread is sacred in Estonia and giving the heel to a young woman will ensure that she has large breasts.

Take your friends on a trip to Namibia and treat them to ‘Braaied’, grilled goat or lamb chops, ‘Mahangu’, sorghum or maize meal porridge with a spicy tomato sauce, ‘Ekaka’, fresh spinach and Oshikuki, doughnuts or pumpkin fritters. These recipes are from Minette Mans’ 88-year old Namibian mother.

I was flattered to be asked to contribute the Balinese section. I provided my family recipes for ‘Base Genep,’ which is a spice paste used in many dishes, ‘Babi Kecap’, pork in kecap sauce, which is eaten during the Balinese ceremonies of Galungan and Nyepi, ‘Lawar’, spicy green beans, which accompanies all ceremonies, ‘Nasi Putih’ steamed rice, ‘Krupuk Udang’, shrimp crackers, ‘Tahu Goreng’, fried tofu, and ‘Pisang Goreng’, banana fritters. We serve most of these in my restaurant in Ubud, which Sean Williams frequented every day during her visits to Bali in the 1980s.

Every contributor was asked to write a bit about the role of music and food in their society. The links between music and food are strong and it is interesting to compare them. This is the first book of its kind and may be responsible for creating a new subject which Sean Williams calls gastromusicology. She is a Professor of Ethnomusicology at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and has studied Indonesian and Irish music since the 1970s. She contributed the recipes from Sunda, West Java and Ireland.

Not only are there anthropological essays with each contribution but there is also recommended listening. So you can entertain your guests with CDs of music from the gastronomic region of the moment. Further, there are recommended reading lists and internet sites to allow you to go into greater depth on your own and really impress your friends. Not just that but we were all asked to contribute a proverb. Mine was ‘Nasi sudah menjadi bubur’ (literally ‘The rice has already become porridge’) or ‘There’s no use crying over spilt milk’. From Bolivia: ‘The angrier the cook, the spicier the dish’. Northern Ghana: ‘Eat the same food every day so you know what killed you’. Egypt: ‘An onion from a dear one is worth more than a goat’. Judeo-Spanish Morocco: ‘She went to buy cilantro and came back nine months pregnant’.

Sean Williams has thought about it all. She’s aware that there are vegetarians and vegans out there and people who keep kosher. For them there’s a helpful chapter called ‘I’m not eating that!’ It gives dietary modifications. She’s also created a special page on her web site which has more information about the meals and printable shopping lists so that you don’t have to copy down all the ingredients before you go out shopping (http://

The one criticism I have about the book is the lack of colour photographs (apart from the glorious cover). I rather think they are essential for a cookbook, but I understand that they increase the printing costs enormously. Sean Williams’ web site, however, contains colour photographs of the dishes, which at least is some compensation.

Finally, I must mention the great tag line on the back cover: ‘It’s Chapati and I’ll Fry if I Want to!’. Alternatives, also from Indian cooking, which almost made it, were: ‘My Pappadum Told Me, ‘Oh, You Beautiful Dal,’ and ‘Paperback Raita.’

I recommend this book warmly to delight body and mind and all the senses.

Ubud, Bali

The Ethnomusicologists’ Cookbook

Shop Smart Bali & Lombok

Book Review

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, November 2006

Shop Smart: Bali & Lombok,
edited by Jane Marsden, 2006


I often get asked by people writing books if I would be happy for my restaurant and shops to be reviewed. Of course I say I’d be delighted. Shortly after that I’m told that the cost is so many millions of rupiah per square inch. These so-called reviews turn out to be advertisements masquerading as independent critiques. That is very common. So, the first and most important thing to say about this new book, Shop Smart Bali & Lombok, is that it does not have any paid advertisements in it. There are over 1,000 contributed by just seven long term residents of Bali.

What about the content? Although it holds itself out as a shopping guide, which it primarily is, the book is actually much more than that. It contains useful introductory sections to life in Bali and Lombok with sections on history, geography, art, religion, festivals and celebrations. So for a very short visit to Bali or Lombok this maybe all you need. Throughout the book various hotels are mentioned and described, so it could also suffice as a guide as to where to stay.

Not every shop in Bali – or Lombok – is covered but all the main players and some lesser known, are profiled. Each area has a good introduction. It is then divided into smaller areas or streets with details of shops, hotels and restaurants, and maps showing where they are. This part of the book would be very useful if you were in one of those areas and wanted to walk around and have a view of what was available. As well as detailed profiles of places, it also cross-refers to the other section. The other section (482 pages) is the heart of the book, where shopping is classified according to the type of goods and services.

There are twenty seven categories and some are quite esoteric.They range from antiques and artifacts to stonecarvings, supermarkets and tailors and textiles.

Each category has an introduction and good tips on how to shop for that particular item. When shopping for antiques and artifacts: take frequent breaks to eat, drink and think. When buying pearls: a fake pearl can be detected by biting on it; an imitation pearl will glide across your teeth, while the layers of nacre on a real pearl will feel chalky and gritty. If you are looking at pictures, check out the hidden details – whether a canvas has been properly mounted, whether a drawing or pastel has been done on acid free paper so it won’t discolour with age. Shopping is a pretty exhausting business in Bali, which can be very hot, so the final section will be very welcome to most people. It’s the Après-Retail Details – a small selection of bars, clubs and restaurants, which are subject to the same standard of meticulous and independent reviews.

I know I will use this book myself and therefore have no hesitation in recommending it to others. It is the only one of its kind in Bali and Lombok.

Ubud, Bali

Shop Smart Bali & Lombok

Balians: Traditional Healers of Bali

Book Review

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, December 2006

Balians: Traditional Healers of Bali
Edited by Bradford Keeney, PhD
Ringing Rocks Press, 2004


Balians, dukuns, traditional healers, shamans or witch doctors, whichever name you like to use, are a subject that never fails to arouse interest. This new book looks at some of Bali’s better known healers.

Bradford Keeney begins the book by recounting an incredible story. He and his crew arrived in Bali in 2000 to interview and photograph a number of Bali’s balians. The first problem was that their photographic equipment and luggage did not show up at the airport, then when he turned in for the night he woke up to a huge explosion and the sound of rocks and sand sliding down the outside of his room and a thunderous stomping of feet on the roof. He was terrified and called for help but nobody heard him. Bradford Keeney wondered what he should do.

He remembered that balians make magical drawings, so he decided to change the nature of the project and publish a book about these magical drawings. His guide could collect them and he could leave Bali immediately. Instantly the terrible noises stopped. His guide then took him to Mangku Alit, Bali’s top balian, who went into a trance and contacted the god for all shamans, Jero Gede Macaling. Later the luggage turned up without explanation. It was a good omen.

They visited various balians, all of whom confirmed approval of the project. The book contains interviews with six balians, Mangku Alit, Jero Sekar Manik, Jero Tapakan, Jero Mangku Srikandi, Mangku I. Made Pogog and I Gusti Gede Raka Antara. They are not terribly revealing. There is no analysis or explanation such as undertaken by Angela Hobart in Healing Performances of Bali, reviewed in July 2006. The interviews are short and reveal little beyond explaining that the Balinese visit them when they want protection. The balians go into trance and get the reasons for any misfortunes. Often they prescribe magical drawings. The vocation usually runs in the family.

The book’s strength and interest lies in fifty five magical drawings. There are also pages of wonderful black and white photographs, and although many do not appear to have anything to do with the subject matter, it’s not important. The drawings are in a unique Balinese style, probably influenced by Indian Hindu art. They are powerful and wildly surreal in appearance: deformed bodies, disembodied heads, multiple limbs, half human, half animal, snake like protuberances and tails, and flames emanating from heads, knees and feet.

Balians can be of the right or the left side – those on the right side use their powers for good. The drawings depicted in the book are all of the right. They are not frightening; they are just very strange. A page is devoted to each drawing and facing it is a brief description, how it is prepared and its purpose.

The magical drawings are usually drawn on white cloth with Chinese ink. They can also be engraved on gold, copper or tin plate, or even clay fragments. Some are worn in your pocket or belt for safety; some are attached to the entrance gate of a compound to stop evil forces or robbers from entering; and some are placed above the bedroom door to give long life or above the bed for protection. One is drawn on a betel leaf and spat at a person who needs protection from witches. Another is drawn on a turmeric root and swallowed to stop you being poisoned The most intriguing are those than can make you invisible or help you fly. Some protect animals; some prevent mice coming in; and some protect crops against disease.

The drawings are not art for art’s sake: they have a serious purpose and function. Indirectly they lay bare the innermost concerns of the Balinese. They remind me of the elegant, energetic, expressive drawings of the remarkable I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, who lived from 1862 to 1978. It would be good to know if he was influenced by them as he was known to be interested in sorcery.

The magical drawings of the balians were shrouded in secrecy. This book reveals a bit of that secret knowledge and provides us with a great opportunity to see them. Most people never get the chance.

Ubud, Bali

Balians: Traditional Healers of Bali