6 AM. Jimbaran Bay. Small pyres of leaf litter and debris burn, smoke mixing with heat haze, as women languidly rake. A tourist walks briskly along the water’s edge while local men sit alone and quietly gaze at the horizon. Old wooden boat dollies stand along the sand, sentries lying in wait for boats to arrive. Loyal dogs sense their masters’ return. I also sit on the sand and enjoy this window of tranquility and inertia. Sleep still lingers.
A small jukung, a brightly painted Balinese fishing boat, arrives at the water’s edge after a night fishing out from the bay. Although jukung may seem simple in the eyes of the foreign traveller, there is an underlying symbolism associated with these fishing boats: they are constructed following a strict set of religious guidelines.
“When a fisherman decides to build a new boat he must first carefully choose the tree that will be used for its timber. The Balinese prefer to use the wood from the indigenous Belalu or Camplung tree, which is light, strong and ideal for boat building. Such a tree can only be cut down on an auspicious date in accordance to the ancient Balinese calendar and a special day is also sought for construction to commence. All members of the local fishing community offer their carpentry skills to construct a new jukung and this social interaction is a vital element of the Balinese Hindu culture.”
“The majority of jukung are built using a set of dimensions that are closely related to the owner’s personal body measurements. The Balinese strongly believe in harmonizing with the physical environment and spiritual world, thus human measurements are used in an effort to balance these invisible forces. Just like a human body, a jukung is not symmetrical. In fact, the bamboo floats that are attached to both sides and run from the bow to the stern are not even parallel. Yet this basic, but ingenious design gives the jukung a heightened degree of stability when out on the open seas.”
“Once the jukung has been fully constructed and brightened up with a bold coat of paint, it then undergoes a complex blessing ceremony. Offerings of rice, flowers and fruit are presented to appease the Gods and the jukung is sprinkled with holy water by a priest before it is considered seaworthy. The jutting bow is decorated with an image of the mythical Gajah Mina (elephant fish) with its fierce bulging eyes to ward off evil. The spirit of Gajah Mina is also thought to bear the power of night vision and guide the jukung through all sorts of weather conditions”¹
The men along the beach are roused into action: they move purposefully towards the boat. One man pulls the boat dolly into place while others gather alongside the bamboo side floats. The scene is now swarming with helpers: more men move towards the boat from distant points along the beach; the boat becomes a gravitational magnet. The fishing community have been waiting for this moment.
The boat is hauled onto the wooden sand trailer: more men arrive and the boat is pushed to a higher point along the shore.
The morning heat haze lifts as the sun rises: the men become more animated through shared activity and camaraderie. Pagi pagi ( early morning ) turns into pagi (morning). Another boat is about to turn up. There will be many more.
Selimat pagi , good morning to you dear reader from beautiful Bali.