The best-selling book Eat Pray Love has sent a stampede of Westerners to the doorsteps of Bali’s spiritual healers. Tamara Pitelen joined the rush and got poked with a stick.
Today I paid an old man to poke me with a stick. Before he poked though, he stuck his fingers in my ears and all over my face and scalp, pushing and prodding with a considerable amount of pressure. I was supposed to tell him when it hurt. It hurt most of the time. He didn’t spit chewed herbs on me though, I’m told that’s common. I’d much rather be poked with a stick than spat on.
This was no ordinary old man of course; this was Pak Cok Negari, a renowned Balinese traditional healer (aka ‘Balian’) who’s purported to be spiritually gifted and will reveal and heal the spiritual roots of a person’s physical ailments.
On the back of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book ‘Eat Pray Love’, Bali’s traditional healers have become all the rage for Western tourists seeking something a bit different in this Indonesian island paradise.
Traditional healers are basically the community doctors for Bali’s villagers. They are said to treat physical and mental illness, remove spells and channel information from ancestors. So who can blame a tourist for being curious?
So, I asked the staff at my hotel (COMO Shambhala Estate, Ubud) to book me an appointment and arrange a driver to take me to the home of Pak Cok Negari where he would give me a consultation for the not inconsiderable sum of INR 250,000 (to put this in perspective, one of the staff at another hotel told me he paid INR 300,000 on rent per month).
The drive from COMO Shambhala Estate to Negari’s home took about 45 minutes. Plenty of time to chat to my driver Sutarsa about Bali’s traditional healers.
“Do you go and visit a traditional healer?” I asked Sutarsa.
“No, I can do it myself,” he said. “All can be healed by meditation so I heal myself. Energy transfer does not take a long time as long as there is concentration and focus.”
Has traditional healing in Bali become a bit of tourist gimmick? When I arrived at Negari’s ‘consultation room’ – ie, a mattress on the floor of an outdoor gazebo-type structure – there were four other people there before me. One being treated on the mattress by Negari and three others were watching. They were all Westerners. Plus, there was the obligatory, possibly-stray dog that seems to be a standard feature in Bali.
A stick-thin man in his late 70s who chain-smokes clove cigarettes, Negari was just finishing up with the client before me. He was drawing shapes over the man’s body with his stick and telling him something about having too much anxiety. When it was over, the patient did sit up looking very happy but maybe that’s because the stick-poking was over.
Then it was me. Negari indicated I should move over to sit on the mattress and he asked me why I had come to see him. I told him I was hoping he could help heal my digestion problems and open my third eye. He may have sniggered at that, it’s hard to tell but he said, “I hope your spirit will talk to my spirit and tell me about your problem.”
Which I took to mean he’d almost certainly shoe-horned me into the ‘Eat-Pray-Love-sad-single-woman-searching-for-a-spiritual-epiphany-and-soulmate’ pigeon-hole. As every Western woman visiting Bali between the ages of 18 and 55 is now shoved into, no matter whether she’s single, married or gay thanks to Gilbert’s mega book-movie success.
Anyway, back to Negari’s assessment of my physical and mental health. He sat on a chair and indicated that I should sit on the floor between his knees, my back to him, so he could inspect my scalp and ears with his comprehensive finger-prodding, he pressed points on my scalp, ears, sinuses, cheeks, jaw, and shoulders. Then he moved to my feet and that’s where the stick came into play as he pushed it between my toes looking for painful areas. There were a lot of painful areas.
His assessment was that there was “not much problem with you, little bit stomach and gastric, little bit pancreas. Not much problem, main problem mental, too much mental, too much worry.”
He then went to work, drawing shapes all over my body with his stick. Energy symbols, I was told, to take away bad energy.
Then he went back to my feet and poked the areas that had been the most painful to demonstrate to me that they were no longer painful because the stuck energy had been released. I wasn’t completely convinced; I just thought he was poking me as hard.
The whole process took about 10 minutes and I got the impression that Negari felt I was wasting his time a bit because there wasn’t much wrong with me.
“What can I do for you? Not much problem,” he kept repeating. Had those other Western tourists not been watching and listening so closely, I might have said, ‘what about opening my third eye so I can give psychic readings? Can you do that? That would be cool…’ but they were so I didn’t because that would have sounded really barmy.
And really, the ‘not much wrong with you’ was good news. Another woman I was travelling with, who did have a list of physical ailments, had visited Negari the day before. She reported back that he had correctly diagnosed many of her various ailments, eg, arthritis in her lower back, and told her she had to lose weight because most of her problems were symptoms of her excess weight.
Suspiciously though, both her and I were bedridden within 24 hours of seeing Negari, ill with fever, inflamed chests and coughs. The others in our travelling party thought it was terribly funny that the only two people in our group to fall quite sick were the two who went to see the healer. Oh yes, hilarious.
Staff at COMO Shambhala will arrange for guests to visit local Balinese traditional healer Pak Cok Negari. The minimum donation, is paid direct to Pak Cok and does not include additional herbal medicines if required.