Sounds of Shattered Silence

By Hannah Black

Last Tuesday morning I walked out of my house and up to the main part of my family compound only to find my in-laws chatting and drinking coffee with three people who don’t live in our compound.

On any other day this would be completely normal, but it was Nyepi, Bali’s day of silence, the day when families stay in their compounds. Or not.

I’ve spent three Nyepis in the compound now and have realised that as strict as the rules may seem from the outside, inside they are very, very flexible.

I’ve also realised that no one really knows the rules in the first place!

Even in my family compound, where the patriarch is a pemangku (village priest), the lights and television were on all day and into the evening. When I asked if it was allowed, my sister-in-law said they would turn them off when it got dark.

So when does the curfew begin and end? There seems to be a lot of debate whether it’s at the stroke of midnight or dawn on Nyepi day. There still seemed to be a lot action outside after the ogoh-ogoh parade, so I’m guessing no one was chased home until the very early hours of the morning.

Also, most compounds are connected by passageways or easily climbable walls. So even if you can’t use the road, it’s effortless to get around. In our village when you can’t get through a compound, the creek that runs behind our house is used as an alternate route.

My husband, Ongky, told me that back when people didn’t have toilets in their homes, they would be allowed out between 4 and 6pm to go to the river. The nasty spirits we’re hiding from must turn a blind eye to people who need to do their business.

They must also be visually impaired when it comes to the pecalang (village security) patrols, which walk around making sure everyone is where they should be.

This year it seemed busier than ever at our house, with a friend and her husband staying, a constant stream of people wandering through our garden to get to the river and an all-day gambling session going on in the unfinished house across from us. There was action all day.

The real excitement of Nyepi actually came exactly at the strike of midnight after a whole day cooped up in the village.

Amy, my heavily pregnant friend from Kuta who had come to stay to be closer to the clinic where she was due to have her baby, got up, noticed the numbers on the digital clock in our living room change to 12:00 and immediately felt her water break.

Amy’s enormously pregnant belly had caused quite a stir when she arrived the evening before, and there was some questioning whether she was likely to go into labour on Nyepi day.

We had no idea what the protocol for emergencies on Nyepi day were, but I thought having to drive through three banjars on the way to the clinic must be better than the 30 she would need to traverse if travelling to her preferred delivery point from Kuta.

After waking me up for the “what time does Nyepi end” debate, and a bit of calming her husband down, they decided to risk being stopped and head to the clinic rather than wait and do a DIY delivery in the car.

I slept a couple more hours, but nervous that I would miss the birth, I headed out at around 5am. I was amazed how many people were out and how many cars and motorbikes there were on the roads, but at least it showed Nyepi was obviously officially over.

When I arrived at the clinic, which resembled a refugee camp with all the families who had had no choice but to take up residence and sleep on couches, Amy was already in heavy labour.

She had a healthy baby boy three hours later and I went home to sleep off a much busier than anticipated Nyepi night.

My Nyepi was far less boring than I thought it would be, but it’s still a bit of a conundrum to me, though. Are there actually religious rules pertaining to the day – and if so, where are they?

Has Nyepi become a watered-down event with very little or no religious significance? What a shame if it has. Maybe I’ll petition to bring back the silence.

Filed under: My Compound Life

One Response to “Sounds of Shattered Silence”

  1. Victoria Jerdon Says:

    Hey! Appreciation for the fantastic statement. Keep writing! 😉

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