A performance of wayang kulit, the shadow-play, is such an ordinary occurrence in Den Pasar that it was unusual and intriguing one evening to find the town aroused by news of a shadow-play to take place that night in the outskirts, and we tagged along with the Balinese members of our household to watch the show. The streets were filled with people from the neighbouring villages, all going our way, and we found the open square of Pemetjutan, where the show was already in progress, jammed with an eager crowd trying to push their way within bearing-distance of the little screen, a focus of flickering light for a restless, dark sea of human beads.
We were accustomed
to see sober groups sitting quietly even at performances of the most famous
story-tellers, but on this occasion the crowd was so great that we could
not approach the screen near enough even to distinguish clearly the shadows
of the leather puppets. So unusual was the sudden interest in the performance
that the high-collared, helmeted Dutch officials, ordinarily unconcerned
with the " nonsense of the natives,"' asked nervous questions
among the crowd. Everything in the performance went on as usual, except
for a line of Balinese characters painted across the screen which said:
" 1, Ida Bagus Ktut, dare to tell." . . . We inquired what he
dared to tel and from various sources we pieced together the following
For many months a feud had raged between two enemy factions of leyaks, witches, the spirits of living people given to black magic. This everybody knew because in Pemetjutan the leyaks in battle were seen every night in the form of blue flames darting among the coconut trees. The villagers fell sick by the score and many died suddenly of mysterious, unexplained deaths, but the wounds that had killed them became evident if the bodies were washed with specially blessed coconut water. The leader of one faction of witches was a well-known dealer in coffee, a woman of low caste named Makatjung, famous for her strong character and her natural magic powers. Her child bad suddenly died, and in her despair Makatjung refused to leave his grave; night came and she fell asleep over it. In a dream the child spoke to her and blamed for his death a princess of Djerokuta, also reputed in the neighbourhood to be a powerful witch. Mad, with rage, Makatjung went to the princess and accused her of the murder of her child. The princess did not deny it, and the leyak war was on.
It was supposed
that the tide had turned against the faction of the noblewoman, and Matakjung,
to make her victory known to the public, bad engaged the daring story-teller
to re-enact the events in a wayang performance and give out the names
of her enemy's Allies. To add to the suspense, it was rumoured that the
story teller, the son of Badung's most famous witch-doctor, bad stolen
the names he was about to make public from his father's records of clients
for formulas of witchcraft. Everybody had gathered to learn to be names
of the village's leyaks, whispering advance guesses, and'many were in
fear of being named. The show dragged on through the night and we did
not stay for the outcome. The next day people were reluctant to talk about
A Balinese prince well known for his eccentric intrigues, announced he was to give a demonstration of how a man become a leyak and invited, the entire foreign pulation of Bali to witness the phenomena. He seemed particularly anxious to atract even the casual tourists that came to the Bali Hotel on the appointed night. not only the Government officials, tourist, and illustrious Balinese had congregated in the darkness of the cemetery, but a great crowdy of Balinese who had heard the rumour had gathered, equally curious, although less skeptical of, the supernatural performance than the whites, they climbed trees, tearing branches and flashing lights into each other's faces, until the infuriated prince banned all flashlights. The prince's motive came out clearly when before starting the demonstration, he asked the guests for a contribution of one guilder and twenty cents to pay for the offerings that had to be made, should the man succeed in becoming a leyak.
After an endless wait the crowd gasped when a greenish light became visible at one end of the graveyard. As it approached it looked more and more suspiciously like a piece of banana leaf with a light behind it. A Dutch official next to me, who had retained his flashlight, aimed it suddenly at the ghost, who disappeared behind the low mound of a convenient new grave The undaunted prince contended indignantly that the leyak was frightened and would not appear again so he did not collect the fee. Thus ended our only opportunity to make the acquanance of a leyak.
The existence of -these, leyaks is to the Balinese an incontestable fact. They are held responsible for most of the evil that afflict Bali, including sickness and death. Like the vampire,they suck the blood of sleeping people and are particular fond of the entrails of unborn children. Every Balinese has stories to tell of Personal encounters with leyaks in various forms, and from my friends I often heard stories such as these:
" Walking on a lonely road at night, a man from Sayan was confronted with a monkey that seemed intent on blocking his path. He moved to the right of the road, but the monkey stood 1, front of him and leaped to the left when he tried to piss on he left side. In sheer desperation be grabbed the monkey's tail, ,It the animal disappeared, leaving the panic-stricken man with he tail in his bands. He dropped it and ran for his life, the following morning he went back to the place of his adventure to reassure himself that it was all a hallucination, but there he found a scorched loincloth exactly where he had dropped the monkey's tail.
"Another night, in similar circumstances, three men stole a chicken apparently lost on the road. They took it home , killed it, cleaned it, and stuffed it with leaves and spices, ready to cook the following day. Next morning they found an unknown dead'. man in place of the chicken, his stomach and intestines remove and the cavity filled with leaves and spices."
" A tiger once ran into ' the school of the- mountain village of Baturiti. The alarm-drum was sounded and the tiger was killed. When the villagers proceeded to skin the animal, they found, between the skin and the flesh of the tiger a kompet, the palm leaf bag with betel-nut, tobacco, and pennies that every Balli, nese carries."
Most frequently leyaks appear as dancing flames flitting from grave to grave in cemeteries, feeding on newly buried corpses or as balls of fire and living shadowlike white cloths, but also in the shapes of weird animals: pigs, dogs, monkeys, or tigers. Witches often assume the form of beautiful mute girls who make obscene advances to young men on lonely roads at night. Leyaks are, however, progressive and now they are said to prefer more modern shapes for their transformations; motor-cars and bicycles that run in and out of temples without drivers and whose tires pulsate as if breathing. There are even leyak airplanes sweeping over the roof-tops after midnight. Children cry during the night because they see leyaks that become invisible on approaching to gnaw at their entrails. Then the child becomes sick and soon dies; that explains the high death-rate among children.
The ever unwilling patients of the modern hospital in Den Pasar claim to have seen strange shadows under doors and flocks of monkeys that grimace at them through the windows; the congregation of sick, magically weakened people naturally at tracts legions of leyaks and for this reason they fear having to go to the hospital. Witches congregate under the kepuh trees always found in cemeteries, but they are also attracted to the male " papaya tree (that which bears no fruit) and like to carry on their orgies of blood and their love affairs under its shadow; consequently these trees are never permitted to grow within the village limits.
I was told
that to see the leyaks that happen to be about, one must stand naked and,
bending over suddenly, look- between one's legs. They can be recognized
by the flames (endeh) that issue out of their banging tongues and from
the top of their heads. This does not work with foreigners, because the
leyaks are shy and do not show themselves to outsiders "; thus, even
the Balinese who fear leyaks so that they dare not mention the word leyak
are not in the least impressed with the bravery of a skeptical stranger
who walks alone at night into a cemetery or some such leyak-ridden place.
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