Luar mandi


In daylight, the site of my luar mandi. A small pond and spigot are to the left. 

At 10 p.m., I prepared for an ancient Sundanese voodoo ritual. Ok, not really.


In the afternoon, my Ibu and Bapak were making plans and asked if I wanted to join, “mau ikut,” to which I replied as I always do (whether I know what it is or not, see the time I crashed a wedding in yoga pants) “yup!”

As they continued to talk and I began to pay attention, I realized I agreed to take a walk at midnight. To where, I did not yet know.

After dinner and Masjid, they ushered me off to bed, so I could be up at 10 with extra clothes and a towel.

At 10:30, because jam karet, my Bapak tests his flashlight and I grab mine as well. We leave the house in coats with bags full of towels and spare clothes: Ibu, Bapak, little Ari, and I. The streets are pitch black, so our flashlights are immediately necessary and we jump to the shoulder of the road every time a truck or car speeds by.

Ari and I play with the shadows from the flashlights as we walk. On the way, we’re joined by the old man who frequently visits my family to massage anyone who’s sick. He has a bucket and gayung (ladle used to scoop water when taking a bath). We keep walking.

After about half an hour’s walk I begin to hear rushing water and know we’re by the beautiful dam on the outside of Panawangan City. I walked here myself this afternoon. It’s my favorite spot at site.

The moon is full and there are more stars than I’ve ever seen anywhere other than Thasos. Mount Ciremai is in the distance, now just a dark shadow where it was green and ominous hours before; white clouds not quite reaching its peak.

We stop at the side of the road and the old man disappears. Bapak starts babbling and we all shift around. I think there’s a snake by the way they’re freaking out, but it’s just a colony of fire ants. I laugh at how much people overreact here and the old man is ready for us.

Pak walks us to the side of the rice paddies and we start climbing a muddy hill. Something bites me between my big and second toes of my left foot as a take a step and shriek “fuck.” This time Bapak is laughing. I guess those fire ants weren’t to be underestimated.

We finally come to where the old man is waiting near a small pond. Ibu is in front of me holding my hand; I can’t tell if it’s to lead me or keep herself from falling, but I like the comforting grasp.

Ibu goes first for the ritual. I still don’t know what’s happening, but she squats behind a small bamboo fence, and the rest of us turn off our flashlights. Bapak tells me the name of each mountain that surrounds us, but there are so many I forget immediately.

Finally, Ibu stands again and shuffles toward us wearing just her bra underneath a towel. She is soaked and shivering. The old man says it’s my turn and I nervously giggle, getting out my towel and removing my sweatshirt.

“Taylor? Namanya Taylor?” The old man confirms.

“Yes, Taylor.”

He squats over a pipe of running water behind the bamboo fence and fills the gayung. He pours a collection of small pink flowers in as well and begins to chant. He tells me to squat in the water behind the fence, and I slip on the rocks. He pours the bucket with the flowers over my head praying, I expect the water to be colder.

He steps away, telling me to clean myself. I pour a few half-filled buckets over my shoulders, trying to avoid my head, and then it’s finished. Bapak’s turn.

I change my shirt underneath my towel while facing away from the group, but Ibu starts pointing and yelling about my pants. I must change my pants to go home or else I’ll get sick. I don’t have others, I tell her. I forgot. She doesn’t care. Take them off. Wear your towel.

For a brief moment I think of what will happen if I have to run away. I don’t want to be caught sans pants. I tell her I’m fine, but she doesn’t care and now the old man’s yelling too, not wanting me to get sick from the cold on the half hour walk home.

It’s not worth the fuss they’re making, so I take them off and wear my towel around my waste. If someone tries to kill me, I’ll show them another full moon when I run away.

The ceremony is over and the old man fills three bottles from the pipe and we head back down the hill. I hold Ari’s hand so he doesn’t fall and Bapak does the same with Ibu.

The walk home is long and I know I’ll be sick tomorrow despite dropping trou’. Ibu is swinging her legs back and forth and walking barefoot — revitalized.

When we get home, I put on warm leggings and a new sweatshirt. We all drink hot tea and dip shortbreads into the glasses. It’s 1 a.m. Sahur, the time to break fast, is in two hours. We finish our tea and Ibu points to my room “Istirahat dulu.”

I don’t really know how I got here, but know they are proud of me for participating in their ritual. They all laugh through Sahur and spend the next day telling everyone I had a luar mandi. This is my family.
After questioning my counterparts in English about my experience. I learn that the pond we used is used on a regular basis by the families who still do not have running water in their homes. It’s also used in ceremonies like my luar mandi for spiritual cleansing and protection. Our luar mandi is completed on the night of the full moon during Ramadan to forgive our sins from the past year and bring us health and protection in the coming year. It’s an old Sundanese ritual that has been largely abandoned by modern Muslims, but my old family continues their spiritual traditions in addition to practicing Islam. These are the mountain traditions of Panawangan.


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