June 20, 2018

Cloud shrouds the menacing heights of Bali’s Mount Agung as hundreds toil in preparations to ensure the recently active volcano remains in sleep mode.

Balinese believe the gods dwell in Agung, the ash-spewing volcano that ruled out tourism and local life in east Bali for almost four months from late 2017.

Ceremonies to appease the gods certainly defied the predictions of volcanologists, who were sure the 3000-metre plus gunung api (fire mountain) was set for an imminent eruption.

Their predictions served to re-locate tens of thousands of people living within a designated red zone. The dire warnings also had a profound effect on tourism, the island’s number one industry.

But not content with the volcano’s present sleep-mode, hundreds of men from Karangasem regency, Bali’s most easterly regency, maintain regular visits to Penataran Agung temple in a community effort known as gotong royong.

Construction of bamboo and palm temporary outbuildings and maintenance of the grounds are in preparation for a major full moon ceremony on September 24, a year after Agung signalled its first intentions with a show of steam, smoke and ash.

Village chiefs assign various tasks to the banjars (council divisions), such as digging post foundations, moving soil, crafting posts and rails, palm frond fashioning for walls and roof.

These gotong royong efforts begin just after dawn, when the clouds still hover on the three central spires of the   temple, representative of Bali’s three most important mountains.

This selfless, hard labour is offered without monetary rewards, but promising something richer: the belief that homage to Agung will satisfy the gods and serve to   insert a spiritual plug in the restless crater.

In other words, a return to life minus the threat of deadly lava, fire and noxious gases. The older participants still remember the eruption of March 1963 when more than 1000 people died and farmers were unable to harvest crops or tend to livestock for months.

With that historic fact in the back of your mind, weeks and weeks of community building and cleansing processes need no explanation.


By Ian Monaghan