THE ATOM AND THE ALL
The Atom and The All
In a vision seeking God, I came to a blazing ball of gas similar to the photos of the Sun taken with a telescope. In front of the blazing ball of gas was an Atom. The Atom told me: "Yagniza, you are unique, unrepeatable and a miracle. I kept only what I needed to retain my identity and the rest I gave away."
It helped me to understand that our God is a God of simplicity and generosity, of whom we are a part.
The Shadow Puppet
"Gamelan is comparable to only two things: moonlight and flowing water. It's pure and mysterious like moonlight and always changing like flowing water. It's a state of being, such as moonlight itself which lies poured out over the land." Jaap Junst in Music in Java. [Description of musical instruments from local guide.]
The gamelan musicians, up to thirty in number, dressed in umber Yogyakarta batik sarongs and turbans, custodians of an ancient art, warmed up for their wayang performance; their instruments of the Regency of Klangkung, famed in Java. One man beat the saron, a set of convex metallic resonating keys with small mallets, like a xylophone. Another did the same to a gender, a smaller version of the saron. Sweet, clove-flavored cigarettes, kretex, rested at his side. Short flat dull tones resonated from the ketuk, answered by deep resounding notes from the kenong.
Drum beats merged with the metallic cadence of the gongs. Snapping, cracking sounds emanated from the contact of wooden mallets with the wooden gambang. A musician played slow, then fast on the kendang, practicing the changing tempos. The rhythmic beat of the wooden keprak prepared the stage for the shadow puppets soon to appear.
Rows of overturned brass bowls of the kenong, its range from the slightest cling to the deep boom awaited the opening. Seven heavy circular brass bowls with a raised nipple in the center hung at different heights from a lacquered red, green and gold frame in front of which another man sat cross-legged, on a thin pillow on a flat wooden mallet, ready to tap a volley of sharp, metallic rings from the demung.
A carved wooden gargoyle guarded each pole; a garuda, Indonesia's legendary bird, and Vishnu's mount, rested on the frame. A plaintive violin-like rebab echoed through the plaza as the high-pitched, nasal, twanging chorus, the pesinden, begin to sing in unison. Light magical flutes, the suling, mesmerized the crowd as the sound wafted on the evening breeze. Like jazz, there is no score, no fixed key, only an integration of the high and sharp, the wooden clack and the deep and booming brass. The mood is either slendro, festive and cheerful, or pelog, solemn and sad; the scales unfamiliar to the western ear.
The music of the gamelan personifies the harmony and interrelationship of everything in the world. The wayang kulit, leather puppet show, was to be held in the evening. Sometimes they lasted through the night until dawn. It was a time for families to convene, to sit out under the stars, to hear the tales of old. Babies sleep in their mother's arms, children gather together and run about. Parents rest, meet with their neighbors, and enjoy the collectivity of the community.
There would be plenty of food and drink for all - roti, nasi goreng, mie bakso, ikan goreng, daging kambing, ayam goreng, udang, sate, sayur, dendeng, dodol, ketupat, es teler, es kelapa muda, durian, salak, jackfruit, belimbing, surzat, jambu air, rambutan, kopi, teh, jamu, and tahu.
Men lashed fresh green banana tree poles together to serve as the base of the shadow screen, the dodogan, representing the surface of the Earth; the puppets, the shadow leather wayang, would stand in the spaces between the poles. A white screen, the kelir, bordered with red, was erected to represent the visible world. An oil lamp framed in a sheet of iron, the blencong, The Lamp of Life, The Sun, hung facing the screen, centered above where the puppet master, the sacred high-priest, the dalang would sit. It would flicker and create a livelier mood for the audience, creating the shadow world on the other side of the screen where the women were to sit. Sheaves of rice hung from either side of the kelir.
The dalang, the interpreter of the universe, a frail man, dressed in a batik sarong and a crisp white jacket, directed the placement of his kotak, his red, wooden chest of puppets. It would sit to his left, within reach of his right foot. With an ebony triangular shaped piece of wood, the dodogan, small enough to cup in his hand, he would strike the kotak repeatedly, establishing a single, rhythmic motif. With a wooden knob, a cempala, inserted between the toes of his right foot, he would clang the kebyak, a bundle of metal plates suspended from the side of the chest.
The sounds ranged from a gentle clang to a thunderous clash. The dalang is known for his magical power, his sakti. He is the playwright, producer, director, actor, the host of the show. He manipulates the puppets and speaks in formal Javanese for them and colloquially for the panakawans, grotesque figures that provide comic relief. He jokes, satirizes the government, and philosophizes. A marriage had brought him out to this kampung, this village, to perform, as two families were now forever joined.
He placed a gunungan, a peaked, pentagonal painted leather shape in the center of the stage, on the gedebog, the space created between the banana poles lashed together. It depicted a small house, the inward life of man, with many steps leading to its front gate, guarded by ferocious-looking black-headed giant gargoyles representing man's conscience. Above the palace, the head of a gold-haired, blue faced, bulging, red-eyed, fanged, monster glared out, below it stood a red and a black panther, head-to-head. A tree of life ran from the bottom to the top. The rest of the gunungan consisted of an ornate gold leaf and red filigree design.
This prop would signal the beginning of the performance, the changing of scenes and the culmination. During the performance, it could represent a mountain, a river, a forest, a palace, a gateway to a palace or a temple, a valley, the Earth, clouds, a tempest, fire, wind or water or an ocean. Before midnight its apex is turned to the left; at midnight, straight up; after midnight, to the right. It is a reflection of life's journey from the sensual to the spiritual. Above all, it symbolizes the world cosmic order, harmony and peace with nature.
The stylized, painted filigree puppets represent magic powers, the physical counterpart of more than two hundred characters: gods, noble and cruel or wise kings and princes, beautiful princesses, wise men, heroes, ugly, deformed comical semi-divine servants, clowns, jesters, demons, giants and monsters, creating the shadow, the wayang, the ghost world, the souls of the puppets. They are two-dimensional and made from polished and gilded buffalo leather (kulit) or goatskin. Their eyes, nose and mouth are finished last to bring them to life. The only movable parts are their arms, jointed at the elbow and shoulders; each hand is connected to a long rod moved by the dalang.
The almond eyed, slant nosed, regal-looking ones are the heroes, representing 'alus,' refined cultural traits which are gracious, polite, noble, civilized and pure. The bulging-eyed, bulbous-nosed ones are the villains, painted black or green to show cowardice, portraying 'kasar,' that which is rough, uncivilized, coarse, blunt and impolite, a grave sin in Indonesian society. The speech of the alus is soft, slow and tender; the kasar, loud, rough and rapid. The panakawans are short and paunchy, with flat noses and flabby breasts. Yet they are thought to work powerful magic and destroy demons. They can take liberties with the gods that is forbidden to others, beating, bantering, and mocking them.
Wayang literally translates to shadow or ghost. To the Javanese, man is a mere puppet of god; his drama, a shadow of life. The plots or lakons of the wayang kulit consist of love, war, treachery, betrayal, deceit, with truth and loyalty prevailing in the end. Mores of the three stages of life are depicted in sequence - infancy to adolescence, young adulthood and old age.
The evening opened with an offering of rice, flowers, water and incense, prayers and chants calling forth the blessing of the magic powers of the deities. A tin of betelnut, sirih, sat next to the dalang who would need it for strength during the all-night performance. Families watched the show sitting on blankets in front or behind the ketir (screen), under distant, twinkling stars. Most of the women sat on the shadow side of the screen and wore brilliantly colored batik sarongs and blouses with floral, bird or insect motifs. A few wore silk batik scarves strewn over their shoulders and batik or gold headdresses. Their finery included gold necklaces, earrings, arm, wrist and ankle bracelets, and brocade belts with a single silver concha shell as a clasp or a chiffon scarf bordered in gold. Their hair was pulled back and tied in buns.
The men sat on their haunches, on the side of the screen where the full color and panorama could be witnessed, talking, dressed in somber-hued batik sarongs and turbans; their feet shod with thongs.
The story as told many times before was the Barata-yuddha, an eighteen day epic battle in Indian mythology, which takes place between the holy Ganges and Yumma Rivers, between the five Pandava brothers representing the five senses of man and their ninety-nine evil cousins, the Korawas. Before the great battle in which Ardjuna, famed warrior, must slay his kinsmen, including their leader, Suyudana, he laments their death with his charioteer, Krishna.
At times, chaos reigns, storms blast the Earth, cymbals clash, gongs boom, drums beat, the cosmic order of the universe is upset. Men battle, bayoneted by magical krises. Great pumas come to life. The black-headed giant hero, Bima, stalks across the land. And so, the eternal and immortal stories of the Javanese played out before me. The good and evil of man shown separately, yet part of each of us; caste and fate accepted without question, doubt or complaint.
I listened all-night and reveled at the mystery, the beauty, the wonder. Finally, before any of us were ready or wanted to leave the shadow world, a gold gunungan with Buddha sitting in the center, a tree of life emanating from his head, two lion-headed gargoyles on either side, two gold pumas above him and a red-faced monster with a long gaping tongue closed the show.
I found comfort in Navajo tradition in which we are born innocent. If we err, the way is shown to us in ceremonies given to us through our past heroes who erred and were helped by Navajo deities. In overcoming our selfishness, the Big Giant, the Sun takes the first strike with his lightning bolt, recognizing that we can't win this battle without his help. God comes unasked to restore us to health as did the Twelve Deities for Monster Slayer and Child Born of Water: Mother Earth and Father Sky, Dusk and Dawn, Sunlight and Sun, Talking God and Call God, Male and Female Corn, Pollen Boy and Corn Beetle Girl. Changing Woman, symbolizing the cycles of life, is our catalyst for renewal. Through Coyote, we learn appropriate behavior, such as the worthlessness of self-comparison. Through Badger, we learn the wisdom of acceptance for longing, of building from what we have left when the fruit of our work is stolen from us, instead of fighting back or giving up.
No matter how dark our lives had become, within each of us there is still is a spark of light.
Many Native cultures didn’t consider man separate from nature, but a part of it; a completion of its wholeness. Our present suffering can lead to restoring this connection, as we seek a better life. As in Navajo tradition, we can travel to our Source, overcoming obstacles and fear along the way through prayer, relinquishing self-will, enabling ourselves to know our reality, the union of our physical and spiritual selves, which makes it possible to dethrone the ego. Then we will manifest our Source on Earth, revealing a sacred world of beauty and harmony, the world created for us. Beyond this, in our abdication of the egoic mind is wholeness, stillness, silence, formlessness, colorlessness, non-consciousness, the womb of creation. It is a state that doesn’t know of expectation, disappointment, resistance or resentment, a state in which we share. This is the truth of all sages.
For me, this journey led to the decision to embrace my pain and the uncertainty of each moment, of who I am, of why I am here, of what I am supposed to do. I am a link in life's chain of evolution, continuously changing. I can be this link or not, at this point in time, at this point in evolution, or I can die by withdrawing my consciousness from this form I know. With no energy left to go on, even to get to the state where I could withdraw my consciousness, I chose to honor all of the Yagniza’s miraculously kept together in a force field, structured, organized, individually intact, conscious waiting for me. This is my subjective reality, my truth.
The Luckiest of the Lucky
I would not be who I am without Moma and Daddy. I am so thankful for them. I am the luckiest of the lucky. Everything I love the most came from them.
Yet, before I understood that my family is the evidence of the Native Holocaust, I had no empathy or compassion for the abused or the abuser, only hating the harsh stigma and cycle of abuse. The abused became an abuser. Abuser, abused; abused, abuser. Abuser, abused; abused, abuser. Abuser, abused; abused, abuser. Abuser, abused; abused, abuser. Abuser, abused; abused, abuser. Abuser, abused; abused, abuser.
Now I want to set aside judgment and condemnation and to know peace.
Prambanan. Borabadur. The Valley of the Kings. So much of an aura of mystery and spirit.
In the dark night, the Indonesian dancers danced against the backdrop of Prambanan to the ancient rites and stories of the Ramayana, the epic poem from the Indian Vedic Age. The batik fabric glistened from the hand-painted gold floral motif on the fuchsia background. The slight tilt of the heads and hands of the dancers belied the complexity of their movements. They dipped and swirled on perfumed feet to the honeymoon gamelan music as a great war was waged to rescue Sita, Rama's wife, who had been kidnapped by King Rawana of Ceylon.
At Borabadur, good deeds and bad deeds are depicted in the base level. Buddha's mother, Queen Maya, Buddha reaching enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and Buddha as He begin developing a following are carved into the Temple's circular three-dimensional mandala form. The Temple culminates at the top with numerous rock-carved stupas (a stupa is made in the shape of the lotus flower turned upside down, with the flower symbolizing purity) with a carving of Buddha under each of the stupas. The Temple is supposed to reflect the desires of man as he progresses from a life consumed with desire to the release of all desire when nirvana is reached, cast aside for purity of thought, word and deed.
Buddha, sitting in the stupa at the highest point of the temple, offers His hand to all. It is said touching His hand will bring luck to one's family so of course I reached into the upturned lotus flower to touch His delicately turned wrist and hand. I could smell the purity of the lotus' scent.
I climbed Mount Merapi at night to witness the sunrise. Step by step, slipping at times on the loose, treacherous lava rocks, I reached the top of the volcano. Venturing to the edge of the crater, I peered into the center to see the fiery red, bubbling, boiling, molten lava.
Warm sulfur steamed from crevices in the Earth. Eerie, frozen rock sculptures exhaled by the volcano to life stood at attention. In The Valley of the Kings below, the past kings and sultans of Yogyakarta lay sleeping, enshrouded in the mist from the geothermal fissures threatening the solidity of the Earth itself.
As I watched the sunrise and I breathed in the cool air at the top of Mount Merapi, I imagined what it would be like to live in Magelang, at the foot of an active volcano, which regularly belched out hot steam and ash. Here in the cultural capital of Java, I communed with Brahma and Shiva, Confucius and Lao Tzu, Buddha and Christ, Abraham and Mohammed, and the animistic deities still inhabiting Tanah Air Kita. I danced the dance of life and death, the two mingling and becoming one.
I thought of Changing Woman, rejuvenated every Spring after the barrenness of Winter, interlocked in the double-sided dance of the creation and the illusory destruction of life. There was no destruction, only a return to the Womb of the Earth, to engage in yet another transformation of form, all to the purpose of the sustenance of life.
I thought of Spider Woman, weaving the silky, fragile web of the universe, maintaining its harmony, anchoring her web soundly below the forest humus buried beneath the snow drifts we scrambled over.
I thought of the Twelve deities of the Navajo - Mother Earth and Father Sky, Dusk and Dawn, Sunlight and Sun, Talking God and Call God, Male and Female Corn, Pollen Boy and Corn Beetle Girl – who come to our aid unasked.
How could they understand the Native Holocaust; they came from a world of beauty and harmony.
I needed a deity that could understand me and the suffering endured by Native peoples. Out of this need came Holocaust Woman. I told her my story and she understood. My family’s experience was the microcosm of the Native Holocaust.
I was the Witness and the Evidence of the Native Holocaust. She would support me in my Truth.
Neither of us had an answer for what had happened. I only hoped that by coming forward I could be of service.