On October 12, 2002, Bali fell victim to the deadliest act of terrorism in Indonesia's history. Three bombs were detonated in busy nightclubs in the popular Kuta district, killing 202 people and injuring more than 200 others. Among the dead were 11 tourists from Hong Kong, 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians. Members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a violent Islamist group, were convicted over the bombings and in November 2008 Imam Samudra, Amrozi Nurhasyim and Huda bin Abdul Haq were executed by firing squad.

Chief reduced to tears as traumatised islanders count their losses

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 12:00am

Kuta's village chief had gathered with his counterparts from Legian and Seminyak to express his condolences to the bombing victims. He began by stressing the need for cool heads, but ended in tears, overcome by the enormity of Bali's tragedy.

The moment was a dramatic one as the island's exhausted and traumatised people count their dead and wonder how such wounds can ever be healed.

'We have been shocked by an act which is beyond our imagination,' chief I Made Wendra said, adding that there was a need for cool heads and 'purified emotions'. He also called for a consistent focus on justice, peace and unity.

'We take this opportunity to express our sincere apologies to the international community and those countries whose citizens are victims of this tragedy . . . The suffering of the victims and their families has made us all one and their spirit has united people from all over the world,' he said, before beginning to weep.

An anthropologist living in Bali said Mr Wendra's response was unusual. 'I have seen people suppress the most intense emotions here. It is usually seen as a sign of weakness to let go.'

Legian village chief I Wayan Widana had to take over, continuing to read the statement.

Before the press conference was cut short, the village chiefs also announced plans for three traditional ceremonies to be held in conjunction with the full moon on Sunday or Monday: the Guru Piduka, which is a request for forgiveness; the Gendu Piduka, a plea for the chance of a better life; and the Pecaruan Pemarisuda Leboning Amuk, a purification ritual and prayer for blessings of the population.

These are in accordance with the Hindu principle of Tri Hita Karana, said Mr Widana, and require 'the harmonious balance between humans and the Almighty, humans and humans, and humans and nature'.

Balinese rituals for dealing with the dead have been thrown out of kilter by the bombing. As with most cultures, it is much harder to mourn when there are no identifiable remains.

The Balinese tradition also involves the relatives visiting the deceased at the morgue, touching the body and preparing it for display at the ancestral village. Burials are normally a temporary affair until enough money is raised for a cremation.

Instead, the morgue has become a place for gawking sightseers, who peer over the walls on to a grotesque scene, where even a visiting journalist was roped in to help move heavy blocks of ice.

'It has become a spectacle of atrocities, which is disgusting and sad. So many Balinese died in this that with the extended family structure here, everyone feels touched by the grief,' one Bali resident said.

Foreigners have been touched by expressions of deep sympathy from ordinary Balinese.

'Even the Kuta Cowboys are stopping traffic for me at the moment, and people are offering drinks with real compassion,' said one outsider, referring to the streetwise men who usually offer a range of services whether the tourists want them or not.

Local volunteer organisations are focusing on humanitarian needs at the moment, but they are also planning how to deal with the economic fallout.

'We ask and invite all parties to think positively and clearly so that we can continue to be known as an island of humanity, spirituality and peacefulness,' Mr Widana said.


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