Since a few days people disappear from the refugee camps. They just get less and less in numbers. Where do they go, we want to know. Home to prepare for Galungan, we are told. Absolutely normal. As if there were no volcano.
A little excursion into the Balinese culture: The Balinese love ceremonies. I correct myself: they consider their ceremonies necessary. They feel being part of a cosmic concept with a fragile balance of good and evil. Maintaining this vital cosmic balance requires constant rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies. That’s the only way to keep the dark forces in control and the gods in a merciful mood so that people can live in peace under their protection. The Balinese calendar turns to the moon and is shorter than the Gregorian calendar. That’s why the Balinese celebrate their holiest holiday twice a year: Galungan. On this day, the victory over the forces of evil is celebrated. Legend has it that long ago a despotic ruler and demon forbade the Balinese to worship their gods and ancestors. With the help of the gods, the people rebelled against it and defeated the demon in a great battle. 10 days after Galungan is Kuningan day, where the souls of the warriors fallen in this battle are worshipped. It is said that on Galungan the highest deity descends from its divine throne on Gunung Agung to dwell in the temples of the people until Kuningan day, when it returns to the mountain.
17. March 1963: 3 days before Galungan. The volcano had already announced its activity for weeks. The people who lived nearby had partially fled, but they came back to prepare for the Galungan ceremony. The volcano erupted on that very day, killing hundreds of them.
29. October 2017: 3 days before Galungan. The volcano has been announcing its activity for weeks. The people who live in the danger zone defined by experts, have all quickly fled. But they come back to prepare for Galungan. As if there had been no eruption in 1963. If the volcano erupted in the next few days, there would not be hundreds of deaths but thousands or maybe tens of thousands.
This is normal behaviour for a Balinese. They must perform their rituals and ceremonies to preserve the cosmic equilibrium of good and evil. And since their ancestors, who dwell at home in the family temples, are involved, they must hold the ceremony at home. They sacrifice themselves for the greater good, so as the community will survive. We Westerners, as flabbergasted witnesses, tear out our hair because we are worried about the people whom we know personally. But that does not help. We cannot hold them back. We might as well beg Gunung Agung not to erupt. The chances of success would probably be slightly higher.