Tuesday, August 30, 2011

yellow coconut

yellow coconut,
beautiful frog, early morning
chain saws and mallets 

We are staying in the woodcarver village of Nyuh Kuning, which means “yellow coconut,” in a natah, a family compound called Pondok Frog, or “beautiful frog.” Inside the rectangular perimeter wall, palm trees provide shade and plumeria cast their fragrant white blossoms. Every compound has a family temple, but Pondok Frog is the compound of the pemangku, the village priest, so there are more shrines here than in other compounds. Three generations live in this compound: Ida Bagus Mangku and Ida Ayu, their sons and their families. The buildings for family members have elaborately decorated doors, walls and pillars, and white marble porches. The sons are undagi tapel, woodcarvers, and they have a shop at the rear of the compound. At 8 am every morning we hear the sounds of chain saws and mallets as they begin work. We are staying in the rice barn, which has been converted into guest rooms. The door to our room is intricately carved of wood, but termites have gotten into it and there is a little pile of sawdust accumulating at the threshold. Robin and I are sharing a small room, while the six girls share two more rooms. I am sleeping on the bamboo frame bed, under the mosquito net I brought with me, and Robin is sleeping on my inflatable camp mat. Above the bed is a tiny shelf for offerings. Behind a divider wall with no door is the squat toilet with a bucket of water for washing. In front of our rooms there is a tiled porch where we sit on bamboo mats to talk and eat. Next door is the kitchen, which has a wood cook stove without a chimney, a well and no refrigerator. The Balinese believe that Brahma, the Creator (not Agni, the God of Fire), lives in the kitchen, so they make upakara to prevent hurt by fire. Vishnu, the Maintainer (depicted seated on a shell in the ocean and holding a conch), lives in the well. 

In Bali every village and every compound is oriented relative to Gunung Agung, the highest and most sacred peak. Kaja means “facing the mountain” and kelod means “facing the ocean.” Since there are settlements all around Gunung Agung, these terms are relative. In Nyuh Kuning, for example, kaja is northeast and kelod is southwest. The other two directions are kangin, “where the sun rises,” and kauh, “where the sun sets.” Since Bali lies just south of the equator, these directions are almost exactly east and west. There’s a bit of a logistical problem when kaja and kelod are not exactly north and south, but the Balinese don’t seem to be bothered by this. Their sense of orientation is more organic than linear.

The Balinese believe that the family compound reflects the human body. The measurements for a new compound are based on the measurements of the head of the household, so a tall man will get a bigger compound than a shorter one. The top of the compound represents the head and that is where the bale daja, the sleeping quarters for the head of the household, is located. The family temple is located in the kaja-kangin corner, closest to the sacred mountain and the first to see the sun rise. In the center of the compound is an open area which represents the navel. On either side, representing the arms, are the bale dangin, the ceremonial pavilion, parallel to the kangin wall, and the bale duah, the guest pavilion, parallel to the kuah wall. In the kelod direction, there is the paon, or kitchen, and the lumbung, or rice barn, representing the feet. Outside the kelod wall are the compost bin and the pigpen. I would not have figured all this out just by looking at the layout, but now that I know, it feels good to be living inside a living body.

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