Meteorology à la Balinese Chef de Partai

magical charms of Balinese sorcery

The above symbols, used alongside mantras & burning incense, are to help conjure clear skies for tourists in Bali, Indonesia.

There are two improbable reasons climate change on Bali Island is, well, changing – take your pick between Hindu priests or giant laser beams. It has been two years since the latter was suggested to me, a co-worker mentioning the lasers off-hand while awed by a strobing cloud adrift in Denpasar’s light-polluted sky. Nothing to do with him being an especially mystic Hindu, and after many fruitless Google searches, I began asking around to confirm his story. Each person I met affirmed: big-name resorts and construction of an underpass and airport are benefactors of Laser-Assisted Weather Modification Technology – best known from the 2010 Beijing Olympics.

So by what creative means do the four-and-a-half-star underdogs of the island compete? Throughout two years as copywriter at The Breezes Bali Resort, I made friends with Pak Gede – also the resort chain’s pemangku, or lay priest. Heavy-set Pak De comes dressed in regal whites for either of his duties; his most stressful delegation, apart from dinner rush, being the role of human umbrella. With some imagination – and on a larger and more affective scale – the practice, utilizing crop-dusters and perhaps dry ice, is known as cloud seeding.

sorcerers' symbol set to clear the skies in Bali, Indonesia

This set of cryptic sorcerers’ symbols is meant to invite clear skies.

It was likely Pak De’s ability to speak the Javanese dialect and highest level of the island’s three official tongues, Bahasa Kawi, that added rerouting monsoons to his task list. The language, reserved for ceremony and spiritual possession, is said to be out of the grasp of the average Sudra or Satriya castes, dismissing most of the island. No, this special language of the gods is reserved for people of the higher, Brahmana caste, gifted and cursed with greater interconnectivity with the unseen – as my friend with rice stuck to his forehead, our chef de partai.

As the resort chain expands, Pak De spends less time in the kitchen. Rather he mounts his Honda Vario scooter and goes through the motions at The Breezes, Chez Gado Gado, Cocoon Beach Club, Kudeta, Double Six Hotel, keeping up with those blasted laser beams (sporting holy garb is one way of brandishing your good karma; by this token, Pak De can legally ride around without a helmet). Cross-legged in the absurdly ornate temples allotted to safeguard each hotel, restaurant, or nightclub, Pak De makes an offering of rice and flowers folded in banana leaf. The burning of large sticks of incense then carries with it, in sharply sweet clouds, the volition behind his offering and the spirit of the offering itself. Pak De adds, in the language of the gods, incantations to keep back those monsoons, after which it is said the smoke will rise up and part the clouds. The service offers a reliability that has lay priests outdoing tent rentals for large weddings and corporate events, their fallback being that two or more priests working in the same vicinity – or others using ilmu hitam, or black magic, may do something to your parade.

Deep with meaning, there are many symbols to conjure good weather.

Research shows Bali’s appeal towards academics with a thing for the sangat, very esoteric has not succeeded much – and yet it continues, die-hard.

As for workplace stress, Pak De claims to lose two nights of rest each week. He presses his broad temples while explaining the feeling whenever showers are called for – not that the well-attuned priest bothers with dodgy, Australian meteorology. It’s a job he does with dutiful reluctance and piety, torn in the conviction that religion and nature should never be in conflict, causing him great stress. Greater is the pressure from colleagues asking him to keep the skies clear so tourists can enjoy their holidays. Pak De’s is one of the lesser sacrifices to coax the economy, yet it is easy to pity the broad-shouldered, bright-eyed, superhero-of-sorts, chosen against his will to use his gift for the betterment of Double Six Properties, Seminyak, Bali.

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