Uncultivated: What cannot be explained is not true

In my previous post I shared an extract from my new Uncultivated book project. The book is built up around negations of “the ten commandments of cultivation”. The intention herewith is to challenge taken-for-granted cultural and societal “truths” and assumptions and to promote a rewilding of the cultivated human being.

The ten commandments are the following:

  1. We have to adapt and behave
  2. We are superior to animals
  3. We are separated from nature
  4. We must be ambitious
  5. We have to work hard
  6. What cannot be explained is not true
  7. We do not talk about death
  8. Decay must be defeated
  9. Time is linear
  10. God is dead

In this post I will share a passage from the section: What cannot be explained is not true. This specific section is a description of an experience I had a couple of months ago in North Bali.

Sometimes what cannot be explained is true.


What cannot be explained is not true

Losing a loved one is horrible. Especially if that someone is taken away too early. Last week the neighbour of our Balinese friends died. She was only 34 years old and left behind a husband and a 5-year old son. What happens in Bali when someone dies is really quite remarkable. Especially when coming from an individualistic each-to-their-own-culture like my own western European one.

The day after the young woman died nearly 200 people stopped by the family’s home – bringing their condolences alongside money, cooked meals, rice and offerings. People would come and go and stick around for a while to cry or talk or just sit and be still together. And, to my wonder this went on for the coming 7 days. Family, friends, and neighbours (and not only the closest neighbours, but basically the entire village) would come and go; sit around and talk, offer a shoulder to cry on, tend to the little boy who lost his mother, cook some food, share a meal, a cookie or a cup of coffee, prepare offerings for the family temple, clean, wash dishes, or just sit in silence. The husband and his son were never alone. Not for one minute. And I could see it soothed them.

The deceased young woman was, as a parenthesis, buried on the second day after her death. Before the burial she was carefully cleaned, embraced and dressed by the neighbour women. She will be cremated later on when the family has saved up enough money to pay for the cremation ceremony (which is a costly affair here in Bali).

Then on the 8th day after the death of the young woman the closest family and neighbours went to a shaman. My husband and I were invited to join, not knowing what to expect. The shaman of the region in which the village our fiends is located in is a woman in her 50’s. When we arrived at her house there were already a lot of people there, and as we were coming in we met a man who was leaving, and who greeted us with teary eyes, saying: I spoke to my father. I am convinced it was him talking to me through the shaman; the way her mannerisms changed when his spirit entered her body, and the way she smiled, and of course the things he said to me through her – there is no doubt! Good luck, he then added and rushed out, filled with emotions and with eyes full of tears, needing to contemplate in solitude.
We went in only to be met by more teary, emotional people. I was not sure what to think. Everything in me tried to negate this experience – my culture’s voice was instantly turning critical and rational and explaining to me what was going on by saying: these people just lost someone dear to them, and they need to believe that this is true.

We were taken into a small room with a group of people, among them the widower and the young son as well as our friends. The shaman started chanting with closed eyes. Incense filled the room and everyone looked down quietly. After a while the shaman opened her eyes and started talking, addressing an elderly woman in the back of the room. Everything was happening in a mix of Balinese and Indonesian, so I wasn’t understanding a lot of the conversation, but my friend was explaining to me that it was the woman’s husband who was talking to her through the shaman. The woman was clearly affected and had many questions for the deceased husband.

And so, it went on. The shaman would address people in the room and talk to them as the spirits of the deceased loved ones would enter her body. Her mannerisms and voice would change, and on several occasions, she had concrete messages from the deceased; for example a man was told to take out the healing stone that his father left him (which he apparently never knew how to make use of) from the cupboard where he had stored it and give it to his son, because he would know how to use it. Another man was told to read the book that was left for him by his father, as now was the right time for him to understand its wisdom. And a woman was told by her deceased husband that he knew she was apprehensive about coming to the session, but that he was grateful that she did, and that he was still here with her looking out for her. There were tears and there was laughter.

Then suddenly the tone, or rather the atmosphere changed. A sigh passed through the room, as the shaman looked directly at the little boy who recently lost his mother, and who happened to be sitting right next to me. She was starring at him, and tears started running uncontrollably down her cheeks. Until now she hadn’t cried, not once, but now she was sobbing and reaching out for the little boy. Anak saya, anak saya, she kept saying (my child, my child). And then she started talking to the young widower who was sitting right behind the little boy. She was very upset, and constantly holding her head telling him about all the pain she had (the young woman had had a tumor in her head for years and a seizure had caused her death). The husband was crying, and the little boy was terrified and got up to run out of the room – out to his grandparents who were sitting in the door opening. The shaman tried to grab him to hug him as he ran out, unsuccessfully – and then just sat back silently looking at him as he reached the arms of his grandfather. Her eyes were full of deprivation and sorrow. It was heartbreaking to look at.

She started talking to the husband again and to her sister who was sitting next to the widower. The sister was very upset, crying and constantly asking why she left so early, what they should do without her. She was explaining that she had so much pain in her head (apparently, she had been bedridden for months before her death) and that she couldn’t cope with it any longer, so she had had to let go. She was begging the husband and sister to promise to take care of the little boy. This went on for a long time. The shaman was crying the whole time.

And then all of a sudden the shaman got calmer and looked around the room at all the faces that were surrounding her: familiar faces of family members and neighbours. She smiled at each one of them and put her hands together in a suksma (thank you). When her gaze reached my husband and me her eyes stopped, and with a surprised smile she said: I remember you! I am very happy to see you here – thank you for coming. And she added: sorry I could never speak with you; my English is very bad. (the young woman had worked at our friends’ homestay for years and we had indeed met on several occasions, not being able to speak due to language barriers).

Before leaving the shaman’s body the young woman once again reached in the direction of her child and started crying. It was almost unbearable.

I cannot explain what happened. But it was real.  


The featured photo that beautifies this article is a painting by my amazing friend artist Lydia Janssen

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