A simple healer, a good cup of coffee
Sprain your ankle when you were trekking down that slippery path in the midst of the captivating terraced rice paddies that just earned the island UNESCO recognition? Or dislocated your knee-cap when you were trying to impress that beautiful girl with your extensive knowledge, and no actual skill whatsoever, of capoeira?
You could always head to the island’s modern hospitals, all of which are already equipped with so-called international wings, English-speaking staff, and to add the icing on the cake, a uniformly exorbitant tariff. Or you could head to Abiantubuh hamlet in Jl. Sedap Malam, east Denpasar, and ask the locals for directions to the house of Pekak Mangku, a traditional healer specializing in mending sprained tendons and joint dislocations.
Born in 1944 as Nyoman Rendi, he changed his name to Nyoman Bandem after a debt collector sent by a local bank mistook him for another, debt-ridden, Rendi of a similar hamlet. It turned out there were four Rendi in the neighborhood.
Bandem didn’t learn to be a healer. He simply became one. Decades ago, his older sister complained about her sprained finger. Bandem massaged the finger and healed his sister. Ever since that time, patients have flowed to his modest house from near and far. Some learned about Bandem from relatives and friends, others had dreams during which a blurred figure appeared and told them to seek Bandem’s help.
Bandem also had interesting dreams. A distinct voice told him to search for a magical kris. A few days later a kris materialized inside a shrine in Bandem’s compound. Gemstones and amulets appeared in the compound and Bandem suddenly acquired the intuitive knowledge to differentiate physical illness from supernatural ones.
“I have no knowledge, everything I do and achieve now is because of the grace of Mbang,” he said, using the ancient word the Balinese used in olden times to refer to the Almighty. Mbang is void, space that could accommodate everything and grant every wish.
That’s why he always prays every time he is about to treat a patient. Equipped with a massage oil made by mixing arak rice wine with shredded shallot, he comforts his patients before giving the rather painful healing twists and pulls. If he feels something is not right, he will present another offering on the shrine before taking out a tiny kris and using it to write sacred letters on the affected area of the patient’s torso.
At the end of the treatment, he will light a clove cigarette and offer the patient a cup of hot, black Balinese coffee and hold forth with fascinating lore about Denpasar decades ago. He is a superb healer and master storyteller. Either one of which would be sufficient to sooth the throbbing pain.