Some experiences in life touch some other unknown realms with such profoundness, that even if they remain so far from our daily lives, they keep on haunting. I gave a visit to couple of bissus to ask about love, but experienced a live broadcast from some other dimension, in a language i yet don’t know.
Bissu Nasir in a state of trance (video-still)
Although vast majority of the bissu consider themselves transgender or locally calabai, actually bissu can be of any other gender too. The important matter here is to be clean. For women, this would mean that bissu can be a girl whose menstruation has not yet started, or a woman who have already reached menopause. As the first is theoretically impossible, then female bissus are generally elderly women. Also, according to the legend, the very first bissu was actually a woman. The rumors around the village also tell that the most powerful bissu now is a woman.
Bissu Ma Temmi is a brilliant woman that radiates warm energy. She creates an impression of a grandmother who is charming and smokes a lot. After approximately one hour-long interview we move on to her the sacred chamber to ask the spirit a question I have in mind. I take the classic step and ask about love.
Ma Temmi puts on her glasses, for a moment she gazes at her palm and then puts her fingers on the siri-leaves lying on the plate.
“Salaam Alaikum,” she begins to have a conversation with the spirit. It feels as if we’re listening over a phone-call in which one side is for us to hear, but the other is not. “Aahaaa, jajajjajaajjaaa …” she nods to agree with the spirit.
Finally, she tells us her interpretation in Bugis language what she has heard from the other side, which is then translated to me into Indonesian language, from which I in turn create my own interpretation. It turns out that this man I can marry, we suit for each other. But the other one is only playing with me and, besides, he has another woman in the heart. Of course, I do not want to believe it, because the reality always seems to be a lot more multilayered, than the information that reaches me through continual re-interpretation, and multiple translations. But you never know!
And just as she said her words, a candle burns down and the curtain falls down over the sacred place. The truth has been proclaimed.
“If you want to speak with the Holy Spirit more, you need to go to another bissu. Spirit was here for a moment and then it moves on to the next bissu,” Ma Temmi was laughing. As the spirit has already fled, so we too take a ride along dark and muddy forest paths to reach another bissu.
Bissu Ma Temmi
Our knocking on the door of this tiny hut woke up bissu Nasir from sleep. Nevertheless, this man (exactly, male bissus are particularly rare) is ready to speak to us, in case of course the dewata accepts us too. We reach out to give him our gifts on the plate and the bissu disappears to the rear chamber, leaving us with just a curious black cat. Just like in a fairy tale.
On the other side of the thin wall we hear a gentle murmuring of the bissu that mixes with loud sounds of tropical night bugs. We are waken up from the dreamy state by a huge rumpus. This is an unconscious bissu who has fallen out from his sacred chamber. I get scared, so that even the hum of the insects hush up. However Ma Temmi’s brother who was accompanying us does not seem to be surprised at all.
Bissu has entered deep trance, followed by a few cramps. Then he crawls himself together and his cheek against the floor he starts speaking with a strange voice. This live broadcast from the Spirit World lasts for next quarter of an hour. Even if I manage to ask something in the meantime, it seems rather, that the spirit guides his talk throughout the connection. The voice that has come alive in his body repeats that the spirit is already old and feeble and the strong dewata works with only a few selected shamans. Until he suddenly caught another strong rage of cramps and he enters into deep sleep again.
When bissu Nasir finally wakes up, it looks as if he’s having a huge hangover after traveling between the worlds. He does not seem to remember anything of the time that has passed. But I remember, I will always remember. And up until now I am still thinking a lot about it and wondering how it should be interpreted.