Microkhan’s few loyalists know that suicide is a frequent topic of interest ’round here. No surprise, then, that in the midst of reading Miguel Covarrubias’s Island of Bali, I was struck by the Mexican artist/ethnographer’s account of an infamous 1906 ritual mass suicide. Students of Balinese history (of which I’m certainly not one) are already quite familiar with the phenomenon of puputan, so apologies for serving up a familiar dish. But for those of us less acquainted with the self-slaughtering ways of defeated Rajas, it’s worth reading Covarrubias’s description.
The quickie background is that the Raja of Denpasar realized that he could not withstand a Dutch assault, and knew that surrender would lead to exile. Since death outside of Bali was considered a one-way ticket to Hell, the Raja instead chose to slowly march his entire court into the teeth of Dutch firepower, while wearing their finest clothes and jewels. The results were not pretty, to say the least:
The wives of the Raja stabbed themselves over his body, which lay buried under the corpses of the princes and princesses who had dragged themselves over to die upon the body of their king. When the horrified [Dutch] soldiers stopped firing, the women threw handfulsof gold coins, yelilng that it was payment for killing them; and if the liberating bullet did not come soon enough, the maddened women stabbed themselves. When they had nearly all been killed, a new group approached, led by the Raja’s brother, a twelve-year-old boy who could hardly carry his spear. The interpreters again tried to stop them, but were ignored, and they were all shot down.
The account fascinates because, like so many modern folks, it’s impossible for me to imagine participating in a similar scheme. How many of us would choose, by our own free will, to give up life for the sake of a man we considered akin to a living god? Not for any great cause, mind you, but rather solely for the honor of dying alongside the one we venerate? Methinks one of modernity’s great achievements is the squelching of this mindset, which ranks as the very antithesis of individuality (a value we Americans prize above virtually every other). Yet Microkhan can’t help but admire the fortitude of the puputan‘s victims. Perhaps we’re hard-wired to be awed by self-sacrifice, no matter how seemingly irrational.
More on the 1906 Denpasar puputan, including some vintage photos, here.
(h/t Stranger in Paradise)