Cholera: Nékték & Gerédag from Nusa Penida (Weck, 1937)

Below  article from 'Heilkunde und Volkstum auf Bali' (Healing and Folklore in Bali), published in 1937 by medical doctor Wolfgang Weck, Chief Government Doctor ('Hoofd-Gouvernementsarzt) in the Dutch East Indies, describes cholera and the mythological tales concerning this disease, often associated with the feared Jero Gede Mecaling on Nusa Penida. The English translation from German is by author Godi Dijkman.

weck heilkunde1937 coverCholera

In former times, cholera was one of the most feared diseases in Bali, occurring regularly in certain periods called 'musim grubug' (the cholera season). Grubug is actually an expression indicating an epidemic, a disease that kills many people, while cholera is referred to by the word 'ngutah bayar' (diarrhoea and vomiting). The name grubug, however, over time has incorporated this meaning.

According to Balinese reports, the cholera season was a terrible time: the stricken villages lay still, the residents by six o'clock in the evening closed their doors, and no-one dared to show himself on the street. The markets had closed down, everywhere the dogs barked and howled and the croaking of the raven was heard, so that the fearsome people, who were not ill themselves, were now taking care of the sick or burying the corpses, as people who in the morning had been healthy, in the evening had to be carried to the grave.

The last epidemic was in 1915. Earlier, according to von Eck (1), Balinese claimed that the disease always occurred after the visits of foreign ships with Javanese or Dutch onboard, although several people had dreamed simultaneously of such an event. Jacobs (2) remarks that cholera had broken out after the expedition against Bandjar (a village in North Bali, west of Singaradja) in 1868, after the departure of the Dutch warship 'Ardjoeno' in 1878 and some time after the arrival of the 'Watergeus'.

Notes: 1) II 100 von Eck writes: we learn from this that a close association must exist between war and cholera on these islands, 2) II 93

Like all great epidemics, it is one of the plagues sent to the people by the Dewas. It originates from Nusa Penida, located southeast of Bali, where the terrible Kala 'Djro gdé mecaling' (3) lives in the Temple 'Pura Pééd'. He is also called Bhatara tengahing segara (4).

weck heilkunde1937 imageImage left: Presentation of the 'world inside the body'. (Drawings by Balinese painter A. A. Gde Raï). See p.241 for more information.

About the origin of the Djro gdé mecaling, the Balinese tell the following story: "In ancient times Bhatara Çiwa with his wife Dewi Uma 'played' in the seas. During the play, Çiwa was taken by passionate love for his wife and, burning with desire, wanted to have sexual intercourse with her. But Dewi Uma found it unseemly, since they were sitting on the bull (Çiwa's riding animal) and said the product would be a Kala (5). But Çiwa could not control himself and raped Uma who resisted violently. Thus it happened that sperm from Çiwa fell into the sea. After some time, the seed grew to maturity and took the form of a Kala with long canines, of frightful appearance. And in the middle of the sea he shouted and roared in a loud voice: "Who are my parents and where is my home?" This went on all the time, day and night, until finally Bhatara Iswara, Brahma and Mahadeva came down from their godly thrones to investigate the terrible noise.

When the three Dewas met the savage Kala, they said: "Hey, stop this noise, get the heck out of here. Who are you, who are your parents, where do you come from, and where are you going? Go away, otherwise we will kill you!" Hearing these words, the Kala exploded in the greatest rage and attacked the three dewas. In the ensuing violent struggle, the Kala was overwhelmed by bumps and kicks of the Dewas, but they withdrew because of the ferocity and power of the Kala and went to Wisnu to ask him for help after they had told the story. Wisnu wanted to help them and went to the battlefield, where he found the Kala and threw his weapon, the 'cakra' (wheel, disc), at him. Although he managed to strike this being, the throw had not the slightest effect; the Kala was not even wounded. Now Wisnu turned to Çiwa himself, very angry about the fact that his four sons were no match for the Kala, and he himself made his way to the Kala and asked: "Who you are, where do you come from, and where are you going?" And the Kala replied: "I'm looking for my parents, I know neither my father nor my mother, whoever they may be, wherever they may live." And Çiwa said to him, "Hey you, looking like a Kala, come to me, if you allow me, and I shall break your fangs, and I pledge to bring you to your parents."

Notes: 3) The giant with tusks; 4) The Bhatara in the midst of the sea, this name is chosen in order not to pronounce the name of the feared being; 5) An evil demon.

The Kala was so anxious to get to know his parents, that he went to Çiwa, who managed to break the long fangs (6) and told him: "I am your father, and Dewi Uma is your mother, you are really my son. I now give you the name Bhatara Kala, and you shall live on Nusa Penida. If you are in Bali, your home is the 'Pura Dalem Kayangan'. I authorize you to monitor the people on Bali, and judge whether they properly perform their worshipping rituals, and if they neglect them, so I give you the power to cause the disease 'grubug'. Also, you should watch the fishermen at sea and, if they make mistakes at work, bring them bad luck." After Bhatara Kala had settled on the island of Nusa Penida, people called him 'giant' (Djro gdé) because of his size, and as his canines were now much longer than in a human, they called him Djro gdé mecaling."

This Djro gdé mecaling, at certain times, looks for victims when people neglect the worshipping rituals. However, before a consultation takes place with all Bhataras who live in the various temples and are worshiped, Djro gdé mecaling presents his desires and indicates how many victims he demands from every place. The Bhataras name the people that come into consideration as a victim and those who should not be touched. Much depends on the negotiation skills with which a Bhatara acts in the interests of his district. Whomever is clever or stingy enough, or in the debate knows how to defend himself well, can achieve that within his villages only a few people fall victim, while the villages of a less skilled or a bountiful Bhatara are disadvantaged. This explains the fact that in some places the disease does not occur, while in the neighbouring village many people die. Should a Bhatara make no concessions during the consultation or should he
try to evade the vote, he may be forced by the assembly to add victims.

In various narratives it is described how the disease by the messengers of Bhatara Tengahing Segara or he himself is inflicted on the people. After the number of victims during the assembly is set in certain villages, the messengers (Bhutas and Bhutis) in the form of 'beregala' are sent in order to call on the victims in the respective villages. The head of the beregalas accompanies them with a list of people who are selected as victims. In addition, anyone who is hit by them on the road at night, is struck with a machete. The beregalas move away like a heaving mass, carrying torches, machetes, hoes, rice buckets, ropes, etc. Once at the villages in question, they begin to look for their victims in an invisible way, and chop up their bellies and cork the anuses, so that the abdomen of the poorest swells and they suffer severe pains.

Notes: 8) The broken pieces are taken away by Çiwa and later used as weapons called 'Kaladang-astra'.

Meanwhile, the Beregalas move on and in the same way deal with the other people on the list. After some time they return and simultaneously pull the soul from the anus with the plug. These persons now suffer violent diarrhoea and vomit blood and die, after a bowel movement of 'minced meat'. Since the disease bringers are invisible, they are also compared with a wind carrying the disease.

In another tale, the Djro Gdé mecaling himself confidently goes in search of victims. Since he is of gigantic stature, in cholera times one should sleep on the earth in order not to be so easily detected. And at night between 7-12, one should not leave the house because he is traveling during this time. In cholera times, anxiety and fear of the giant easy lead to hallucinations and fantastic tales, as shown in the following reports.

"During the cholera season three boys were guarding livestock in a field. Suddenly, two of them saw a big man (like a 'barong landung') (7) coming toward them, so they ran away in fear and hid themselves. When they were looking for their companion, they did not notice the big man. When at that moment they saw him cutting off his neck, they left the place. Nearby, there were a lot of people busy with the rice harvest, who had seen nothing more than the two boys who had suddenly run off. At the question why he had fled in such a hurry, the boy asked: "Have you not seen the big man who has cut off our companion's neck with a sabre?" They asked the boy himself the same thing, who had not seen or felt anything, but at the same time suffered from violent abdominal pains and left the hiding place. Once home, he suffered from bloody diarrhoea and vomiting and died soon after."

This is all what was said above the meeting of the advising Bhataras about the disease, and it was important for the villages to propitiate their local Dewas, so they dissuaded Djro gdé mecaling from taking his victims there. Offers are brought to him, and all sorts of defensive measures are taken against the dreaded giant. In the temple, the Pemangku (8) sells talismans to those praying to the gods, which must be worn in the form of a kepeng or a three-coloured band around the arm or neck, the roads leading to the villages are blocked by thorn bushes, in front of the house doors a sanggah cukcuk (9) is built on which a flag is planted with a drawing of Sang Ganapati (an image warding off disease), while at its foot a Pandanus leaf is planted inscribed with a mantra, and a chicken with spread wings is nailed to the wall, so that the Kala can drink his blood.

Notes: 7) A Balinese representation of the "Barong landing" II 113 in the article by Bonnet on page 60; 8) temple guardians, emissaries of the Dewas, who allegedly sold the talismans on behalf of Dewas.

In order not to give the impression of fear caused by the silence in the village, performances are staged, such as Sanghyang Djaran (horse play) and Sanghyang Dedari (nymph game or dance) and well-known, suitable persons are brought into a state of trance ('Sanghyang': it is assumed that the person is possessed by a Dewa).

weck heilkunde1937 image157Image 20. The Beregalas on their way through the villages (drawing by Balinese A.A. Gdé Rai)

If the village has a 'barong' (10), considered particularly 'powerful', it is carried around the village for five days in a large-scale processionin order to chase away the Beregalas.

Nékték & Gerédag

One particular custom in some areas is the so-called 'nékték' (an object to produce tones by hitting on it). "In this case, people suddenly appear and start to 'nékték' with all kinds of objects, followed by an increasing amount of people, until finally hundreds of men, women and children come running from their houses, singing and dancing through the village, making loud noises with drums, gongs, bamboo poles, kitchen appliances, etc. Young girls engaged in cooking or weaving, leave everything behind and run out with their cooking pots or weaving instruments. Whomever finds himself ploughing in the field and hears the nékték, stops herding his livestock, picks up the ploughshare on the shoulder and joins the procession, often leading them far away to other villages sometimes located at many kilometres distance, while the ecstatic crowd does not suffer from fatigue, hunger or thirst. This is called 'gerédag' and everything happens according to the Bhatara's wishes at Pura 'Mastjéti' in order to ward off the grubug."


  • Weck, Wolfgang - Heilkunde und Volkstum auf Bali; Mit 27 Abbildungen, Ferdinand Enke Verlag Stuttgart, 1937

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