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She Comes of Age in Bali


Claire Walter of Boulder, Colorado is an award-winning writer and the travel editor of Skiing magazine. Her own menstruation celebration consisted of being allowed a day off from junior high. The following are Claire's thoughts on a Menstrual Ceremony she recently attended in Bali.

Would you like to see a menstruation ceremony? The invitation was disconcerting. Intriguing, but disconcerting to one who grew up when such functions were rarely mentioned, let alone celebrated. Publicly celebrated. I'd heard that visitors are often invited to Balinese funerals, Balinese weddings, Balinese feasts. But something as personal as this?

Fruit on their heads...

So there we sat, the other menstruation guests and I, on folding chairs in the home of the girl whose new maturity we were honoring. My place was among a covered portico between the heavy gate and the courtyard where the ceremony would take place.

The gamelan' played without respite, and sarong-clad women bearing elaborate towers of fruit and flowers on their heads filed past on the way to the main altar around the corner in the courtyard's largest section. Men brought in tubs of meat and poultry, as well as a chicken for a ritual slaughter.

AngelShe wore a golden sarong...

Then the guest of honor, clad in a golden sarong, was carried into the enclosure on the shoulders of two young men. She was accompanied by two pubescent boys, cousins I was told, who shared her day because they too were coming of age. The girl was a graceful beauty, who looked discretely proud. She wore a gold headdress of traditional design, but was lipsticked into modern womanhood -- rather symbolic, I thought, of ancient Balinese traditions in conjunction with the late 20th century.

The boys seemed bored...

The boys, also riding on men's shoulders, seemed bored. One was toothpick-thin and appeared to verge on restlessness. The other, pudgy and sullen, kept looking toward the kitchen, from which drifted aromas of the banquet that would follow.

The procession wound to the altar where the ceremony took place. Older men and women, seated separately, had the best places -- close, just before the altar. I could see them, but not the ceremony itself, and for a while I watched the old folks watching what was actually going on.

The Balinese do it better...

Eventually, I found myself drifting off into a dreamy state, furthered by the heat of an early Balinese afternoon and the sensory overload of the colors and sounds and smells. Through my haziness, an insight emerged, nothing cosmic, just one of those realizations of the obvious that nonetheless satisfies. A joyous celebration of a girl's very clear transition in life, shared by her male peers, no matter how reluctant or bored, seemed preferable to furtiveness, snickering, and the other traditional Western responses to coming of age--or many other of life's transitions. The Balinese do it better!

Quarter Moon

Women's Words About Ritual

Ritual is one of the ways in which females put their lives in perspective, whether it be Purim, Advent, or drawing down the moon. Ritual calls together the shades and specters in people's lives, sorts them out, puts them to rest.
(Clarissa Pinkola Estes)

Women's Words to Ponder

Women never have young minds. They are born three thousand years old.
(Shelagh Delaney, 1958)

One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.
(Simone de Beauvoir, 1949)

Religion - The Yin and Yang of It...

Yin YangDid you know that despite celebratory menstrual rituals in Bali, menstruation can, in some spheres of everyday life, be viewed differently? For example, you will often find notices outside Balinese Hindu temples requesting menstruating women not to enter.
(Source: Handbook for Women Travellers -- Maggie & Gemma Moss)




Back to Travel Tales

Culturally Correct Dos and Taboos



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