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The Returning Souls and Sacred Birds of Petulu, Bali

It feels a little bit like Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Every evening at dawn tens of thousands of herons come to the small village of Petulu in the heartland of Bali. Every evening.

Petulu is a village like Ubud used to be before the artists came; before Elizabeth Gilbert found love there. (I do hate the movie btw and haven’t read the book.) Anyway, in Petulu men are sitting on the street, every evening, for the ultimate cock off. Well, kind of. You get the picture.

Women are working, without paying attention to the men, and the boys are playing football like nothing else matters (as long as there is no tourist around, because they love to strike a pose for a picture).

You can easily spot the few tourists here. Besides the camera at the ready and this “Sigh, I will find my inner peace here”-face, tourists are the ones who always look up. And at the same time duck their head. Sounds funny, but it’s true. They’re looking for the sacred herons and trying not to get “hit” by them. Yes, birds poo. Even holy ones.

petulu bali

Holy? Yes, kind of. In Bali Hinduism is the dominating religion, which is bound to the belief in reincarnation. And the herons? On Bali, they say the herons are the reincarnation of thousands of Balinese who were killed during the anticommunist massacre in Indonesia in 1965/66. In Bali alone, 80.000 people were killed within two weeks.

petulu bali

After the riots in 1966 the village people held a ceremony in Petulu as a remembrance for the murdered and to protect the survivors. Shortly after the ceremony the birds arrived in the village. Since then tens of thousands of herons are coming to spend the night in the trees. Every evening. They leave in the morning. They had never been seen before in Petulu.

If you believe in reincarnation, spiritual stuff or not, the herons of Petulu do have something magical. And Petulu is one of the very rare places on Bali still kind of off the path. And while we’re walking down the streets of Petulu, trying to protect ourselves from the bird poo, a local starts talking to us. “Where are you from? Where are you going?” He says the herons are also important and sacred because they are wearing the Hindu holy colours of white and yellow. And then he gives me a flower, a white and yellow one. “This will bring you luck”, he says. And I do believe him, kind of.

Do you believe in stuff like this? Have you been to a “magical” place before?

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