Category Archives: Murni

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

Revolt in Paradise

Book Review

Ni Wayan Murni
The Times, Lombok, July – August 2007

Revolt in Paradise
K’tut Tantri
Reprinted Gramedia, Jakarta, 2006

Revolt in Paradise is a classic and it is good to see it in print again after a long absence. It is rather hard to classify this book: maybe autobiography, perhaps historical novel, possibly adventure story. On the face of it, it purports to be autobiographical: the story of a British-born American woman’s fifteen years in Indonesia in the 1930s and 1940s. Doubt has been cast on its accuracy and indeed the author begins the book by saying, ‘It is always difficult to be completely honest about oneself’. This does not matter. It’s a great story.

The story is divided into three parts. The first part tells of her time in Bali. In 1932 in Hollywood she saw the film Bali,The Last Paradise and shortly after set sail from New York on a cargo ship. She was an artist and made for Bali immediately after arriving in Java. Like all visitors at that time she stayed in the Dutch owned Bali Hotel in Denpasar. She felt, however, that this was not Bali but Holland, part of the colonial masters’ country, and determined to leave as quickly as possible and live in a Balinese village. Such a thing was unheard of in those days but she hated the Dutch attitudes. She took off in her car, driving herself, and decided to stop when she ran out of petrol. The car happened to halt outside a Rajah’s palace and although she does not mention it, I have it on good authority that it was the palace of Bangli.

She was accepted as one of the family and given a Balinese name — K’tut Tantri. K’tut is the fourth-born child — the Rajah already had three. In this section she describes what it was like to live with a royal family. She describes the various ceremonies she attended and trips she took. She also tells of run-ins and arguments with the Dutch authorities. They did not approve and schemed to deport her, but never succeeded. Her analysis is not terribly profound — the Balinese are all wonderful and the Dutch are all terrible. She herself is heroic and brilliant at all things. She formed a very close relationship with the Rajah’s son Agung Nura. My informant tells me that she formed an even closer relationship with the Rajah himself. Agung Nura was active in the independence movement, which K’tut Tanri later joined.

She found palace life a bit restrictive and unrepresentative of real Bali life and moved out and as she put it, ‘bought practically the whole of Kuta beach’. Here she put up a hotel in partnership with some Americans. This is a delightful section of the book despite the fact that she fell out with the Americans. The accounts of her relationships with her staff are endearing and clearly affectionate. The first hotel in Kuta seems to have been very popular. It was not a financial success, however, and she ran into difficulties with the Dutch authorities. Europe was at war. Germany invaded Holland and Japan invaded Indonesia — they landed in Bali first. The Dutch did not fire a shot in defence and fled to Java. It was no longer safe. K’tut Tantri left for Surabaya in East Java. The hotel was demolished by looters permitted by the Japanese.

The second section of the book recounts her time in Japanese occupied Java. The Dutch quickly surrendered. She was able to negotiate travel passes with the Japanese and helped the underground resistance movement against the Japanese. She narrates stories of arms smuggling and tales of derring-do. K’tut Tanti always plays a starring role. Finally she was caught and imprisoned for more than two years until almost the end of the war. She was tortured and the descriptions are quite harrowing.

The third and final section of the book describes the long independence struggle and her part in it. After the war the Dutch wanted to come back to Indonesia as overlords. The English helped them and bombed Surabaya, which was unarmed and did not have air-raid shelters, for three consecutive days. The blood of hundreds was shed. Women and children died. It was a turning point for K’tut Tantri and she determined to help the Indonesians again. She broadcast twice nightly in English from secret radio stations run by the guerillas. By this means she brought the struggle to the attention of the World and became known herself as Surabaya Sue. She also helped spread the word in an English language magazine called The Voice of Free Indonesia. She met and wrote a speech for President Sukarno. There were more cloak and dagger escapades until she went to Australia and toured the main cities publicizing Indonesia’s case for freedom. Finally six years after the War ended world opinion forced the Dutch to grant Indonesia her independence.

The book ends there; K’tut Tanti drifts back to New York. After all the excitement it is rather an anti-climax and the reader is left dangling wanting to know more. Whether or not it is all true, it’s a jolly good read.

Ubud, Bali

Revolt in Paradise


Appreciating Calligraphy Batik

Ni Wayan Murni
Appreciating Calligraphy Batik

The Times, Lombok

August – September 2007

Calligraphy batiks do not get much press. The beautiful books on batik and the exhibitions abroad concentrate on Javanese batik, especially from the north coast of Java and the courts of Yogyakarta and Solo in central Java. The batiks from these areas are indeed magnificent and their history and evolution fascinating, but the calligraphy batiks, mostly associated with Sumatra, also have a wonderful story to tell.

Calligraphy Batik, Collection of Ni Wayan Murni

I have been collecting textiles for over thirty years and have bought, traded and sold thousands of batiks. Recently I have been appreciating these mysterious and powerful textiles more and more and I think I am beginning to understand them. The most common are men’s headcloths about a metre square and rectangular cloths about a metre by two metres. They tend to be blue or less commonly red. I have examples of both in my collection.

Calligraphy Batik, Collection of Ni Wayan Murni

They all have Arabic script; hence they are called calligraphic batiks. The Arabic writing is usually the basmallah or the shahadah. The basmallah is said before any big project: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. The shahadah is the main tenet of Islam: There is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is His prophet.” The cloths are sacred and worn at rites of passage ceremonies. They are also powerful protection against harm.

, Collection of Ni Wayan Murni, Calligraphy Batik

Soldiers wear them. The red cloths symbolise courage and deflect bullets. Dead soldiers killed in battle were covered in the red batik shrouds on their way to the graveyard. Adam Malik, Indonesia’s first Vice-President after Independence, was covered with such a cloth during his lying in state before burial.

It is likely that these textiles were inspired by textiles from Islamic countries. Arabic calligraphy goes back at least a thousand years in Egypt and the Middle East, and Arab trade with Jambi in Sumatra had started by at least the 13th century. Indonesians on the haj pilgrimage to Mecca would have seen the basmallah and shahadah.

Ottoman Turkey had close links with Aceh and Jambi and Turkish influence is particularly evident in these batiks. The motif called tughra shows this most clearly: it is the formal signature of the Ottoman ruler as used on official documents formed by three central lines with two loops which appear like a rooster. It had supernatural power.

, Collection of Ni Wayan Murni, Calligraphy Batik

The dominating impression is of perfect symmetry and balance and reminds me of Mughal and Moorish architecture. Typically there are three borders, the middle band containing diamonds. An outer border of white lines provides an artificial fringe. The centre field is the main part, normally full of geometric designs and Arabic calligraphy. Sometimes birds, lions and horses in stylized calligraphic designs appear.

In Islam the Koran is the actual Word of God. Mohammad was not divine; he was the messenger. The Words of God are important and revered. The writing itself has immense significance even if it is not understood. The most pious act a Moslem can do is to read or write the Koran. Beautiful and skilful calligraphy allows those who cannot read or write and those of us who are not even Moslems to appreciate the perfection, presence and power of God.

Ubud, Bali

Appreciating Calligraphy Batik

How to make Batik

Ni Wayan Murni

How to make Batik

The Times, Lombok

September – October 2007


How is batik made?

I wrote in last month’s Murni’s Corner about Calligraphy Batik, which is an outstanding example of one of the many styles of beautiful batik made in Indonesia. I have been collecting batik for decades and selling it since I was a girl. I sell it from my shop, Murni’s Warung Shop in Ubud, and in recent years all over the world from my web site, You see batik frequently as locals in most of the islands wear it on a daily basis and people love it. I am frequently asked How is batik made? I think that you may be surprised at the time and effort it takes. But, first, what is batik?

Girl wearing Batik breastcloth, Yogyakarta, 1880

Girl wearing Batik breastcloth, Yogyakarta, 1880

What is batik?

Batik is a method of dying cloth by applying warm beeswax, mixed with paraffin, resins and fat, to it to repel the dye. The cloth is usually cotton but can be silk, The pattern is left unwaxed. When the cloth is put into the dye, the waxed parts aren’t dyed and are left uncoloured. The wax is then removed by gently washing it in warm water. The cloth is rewaxed and dipped into a different dye, so that there are more and more colours. If there are three colours, the cloth is dyed six times, three times on each side.

Generally lighter colours are dyed first to enable overdying with darker colours. Sometimes the dyes seep under the waxed borders and create interesting spider webs and attractive fuzzy outlines, which are so attractive.

One side or two?

Silk is only dyed on one side. It’s not necessary to dye cotton on both sides, but we like to dye both sides in Indonesia. It has to be done very carefully and takes more time. It is called two-sided batik. The pattern is then very clear on both sides.

The alternative is to wax the whole of the underside. That is called one-sided batik. The pattern is still visible but less clear and the textiles are not regarded as so good. So, how is it made?




The finest, and still the most sought after, batik is hand-drawn batik, using a canting to apply the wax. A canting is a pen with a bamboo handle. It is a Javanese invention, probably in the 17th or 18th centuries. The wax painting is done by women, usually at home, often in bad light. The melted wax is poured into the pot at the end and carefully released out of the nozzle bit by bit on to the white cotton.

Lady using a canting

Slow work

It’s very slow and requires a calm state of mind and a lot of concentration. A complicated pattern could easily take six months or even longer. That was all very well in the18th century, but at the beginning of the 19th century the Europeans discovered batik and loved it very much. They didn’t want to wait. They wanted it and a lot of it, and they wanted it cheap and quick.

Problem: competition

The batik makers had another problem: competition. In the 1830s inexpensive machine-printed batiks were beginning to flood the market from Europe. It was cheap and quick. To meet the challenge the batik makers in Java experimented with stamps to apply the wax instead of the canting. Initially they tried stamps made from tubers, but they didn’t last long, then wood, but they weren’t fine enough.

Batik StampBatik Stamp

Invention of the batik stamp

Finally, they invented the cap, made of red copper, which is still used today, and they are collected as works of art in their own right. In fact I sell a lot of them. The pattern is formed from thin metal bands, secured to a frame, to which a handle is attached. The structure was inspired by European wood-block printing stamps. The original caps were small and were first used around 1845. They are bigger now and tend to be about 20 cm by 20 cm.

The cap process was revolutionary and enabled a batik maker to wax many cloths a day, maybe up to eight. Men saw the commercial possibilities and muscled in to do this new kind of work. Previously women made batik. Now, men make most batik cap textiles, whereas batik tulis, using a canting, is done mostly by women. The invention was a great success. The tide of imported foreign textiles to Indonesia was stemmed.

Man using a Batik StampMan using a Batik Stamp

Using a batik stamp

It is hard and unhealthy work. The cap printer stands at a padded rectangular table on which the textile is stretched. Beside him stands a round, flat-bottomed basin containing warm wax on a small stove. The wax is filtered for impurities. The batik maker presses the cap on to a filter pad and absorbs the wax. He then applies the stamp on the cloth at exactly the right temperature. He places the edge of the cap on the cloth first to make sure that the position is correct. Then he presses it firmly on the textile to leave the wax imprint and repeats the process until all the cloth is covered. He may use several caps depending on the pattern.

One of the problems that took a long time to solve was how to overlap the wax so that patterns were regular. It was not until 1930 that the problem was solved: pins were soldered to the corners of the caps to ease the alignment. The batik maker just had to check that the location marks on the stamp matched the marks already on the cloth. Then the pattern would be perfect. Some batik makers use stamps for larger areas and the canting for fine details, so both techniques are applied to the same textile. They are called combinasi.


Cap-printing has now made it possible for everyone to afford batik textiles. Interestingly there was a surge in demand for batik canting following the availability of cap batiks. Those who could afford it preferred it.

Which is better: canting or cap?

Customers often ask me which technique produces the better batik. I like both very much, but for me, batik cantingis more pleasing, more delicate, more charming and has more life than the batik cap.

In my opinion batik stamp patterns are too perfect. They don’t have those interruptions, small mistakes, variations and drips of colour that make the designs of a canting interesting, individual and alive. Hand-drawn batiks are unique works of art, which demonstrate great technical skill. Using a stamp removes the creative aspect from the process. Having said that it is sometimes difficult to tell which are tulis, that is hand-drawn, and which are cap. The hand-drawn batiks can be so perfect that they look as if they were done with a cap.

To me, the irregularities of batik canting give the piece feeling; they literally put you in touch with the lady who made a unique work of art; they are tactile signatures.


Ubud, Bali