May 11, 2005
On our flight from Bali to Yogya, Utami and I met a young Balinese man. He was escorting a group to Parangtritis to observe Labuhan,the annual "offerings" ceremony. On Sunday morning, Ut and I sped south to that fishing village on the wild Indian Ocean coast.
Parangtritis has a beach of sweeping black sand and powerful undertows so dangerous that even the local people lining the beach screamed and scampered away, protecting their children from the waves coming ashore.
In a covered pavilion up from the beach sat about fifty fishermen in traditional brown, red and yellow dress who were receiving blessings from the chanting priests. Lined up on the beach were about a dozen long and narrow blue and white wooden fishing boats with double outriggers and a small outboard motor. Hundreds of people, infants to the elderly, crowded around the boats, everyone waiting for more than an hour in the blazing sun.
The boats contained "offerings" to Nyai Loro Kidal, the "Queen of the South Seas." Baskets of fruit and rice; a large goose with a gaze of astonishment; small bleating goats; one tiny tiny yelping puppy dog; and one anguished cow that had to be trussed and lifted into the boat.
I can still see and hear that lonely frightened puppy as he strained against the cord tied to a plank. As she listened to the hobbled, pleading cow, Utami spoke softly, and said, "It's a pity."
All of the "offerings" - the goose, the puppy, the goats and the cow, - all of them had a one-way ticket to the open sea and the arms of Nyai Loro Kidal.
One by one, a dozen men pushed the boats across the black sand and into the raging surf. The breakers were so tall that the boats were lifted straight up as they flew over the waves. One boat capsized and the men, wearing life vests swam back.
With my binoculars, I tried, but failed to see the "moments of truth." Maybe that was a good thing.
After all the boats were safely beyond the waves and into the calm sea, the drama ended and everyone wandered away.
Ut and I found a shed-restaurant where we had some lunch - chicken, fish, vegetables, rice, iced tea. I was a little worried about the ice but I was OK.
And of course, I am learning to eat Muslim-Java style.
Roll a ball of rice and vegetable and chicken in your hand, gently pop the ball in your mouth and then lick your fingers clean. Finger bowl provided.
Call me crazy.