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Cremating A Turtle

Village Seek God's Redemption by Cremating Their Victim.

(7/15/2002) The Klungkung Regency in East Bali was the scene of perhaps the first cremation of a turtle conducted by villagers seeking to regain God's favor.

As Hindu's, cremation is the preferred final rite of passage for most of the island's human inhabitants. This final act of purification is, however, in its religious format, seldom extended to other members of nature's cast of characters. In fact, experts claim that the ceremonial cremation of a giant turtle conducted in the village of Tojan in a public ceremony on Friday, July 5th was the first of its kind on the island.

The saga began in early June when a group of village fisherman captured and killed a turtle said to measure over 2.25 meters in length and weigh 500 kilograms. Hoping to sell the meat in the local market, the fisherman's plans were thwarted when markings on the turtle were interpreted by local religious leaders as signifying the turtle was the incarnation of Segara Kidul, the mighty ruler of the southern oceans and a protector of their seaside village.

Fearful of the consequences of eating the flesh of a god, the turtle meat remained unsold in Denpasar's main market. Forced to bring the turtle back to the village and bury its remains, the fisherman suddenly began to fall victim to peculiar ailments that produced bruises and contusions on their bodies and sent some of them into trances.

A growing panic surrounding the turtle's death and it portent of ill-omen increased when reports of strange sightings and occurrences at the place where the turtle was buried began circulating.

Fearing the worse was yet to come, the village religious leaders - Pemangku - decreed that to safeguard the village the remains of the turtle must be disinterred to be bathed and anointed in accordance with Hindu rituals ordinarily accorded exclusively to human members of the community. This done, a symbolic cremation of the turtle followed intended to allow its soul's entry into heaven.

Covered widely in the local and national press, the ceremony was attended by hundreds of religious devotees, many moved to tears or repentance and penance for failing to maintain the Hindu tenet of Tri Hita Kirana. That philosophic mainstay of Balinese Hinduism mandates the maintenance of balance between man and man, man and nature, and man and god - all three violated by the brutal killing of the giant turtle.

Turtle meat, once a mainstay of Balinese ritual feasts is in diminished demand following governmental decrees demanding jail terms for those involved in its trade.

Certainly, in one village of Klungkung, the taste of turtle meat is now much less sweet than in days past.