We take you to Bali to talk about the widow witch, the demon queen, Rangda! We discuss her different forms, the story of how she came to be, and some really beautiful poetry. As always, fight the patriarchy!
- Skillshare is an online learning community where you can learn—and teach—just about anything. Visit skillshare.com/spirits to get two months of Skillshare Premium for $0.99! This week Julia recommends The Fundamental of Magic Tricks.
- Mrs. Fields is your destination for fresh-baked holiday gifts. Get 20% off your order of any gift when you go to mrsfields.com and enter promo code SPIRITS at checkout.
Find Us Online
If you like Spirits, help us grow by spreading the word! Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, & Goodreads, and review us on Apple Podcasts to help new listeners find the show. You can support us on Patreon to unlock bonus audio content, director’s commentaries, custom recipe cards, and so much more.
Amanda: Welcome to spirits podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.
Julia: And I'm Julia.
Amanda: And this is episode 105, Rongda.
Julia: Yeah. I'm actually really excited about this myth. It was sent to us by a listener, which I am always excited when listeners send us suggestions for stories and they're very good and they have a lot of information in them, so I am excited to share it with all of you.
Amanda: I'm also excited to share my laughter, my life, my joy with our newest patrons, Sarah, Tony, Noel, Francis, Rebecca, and Sean. As well, our supporting producer level patrons, Philip, Julie, Christina, Eeyore, Sammy Marie, Josie, Omara, Neil, Jessica, Bill Fresh and Deborah. And of course our legend level patrons, oh my goodness, Steeda, Jordan, Jess, Sarah, Zoe, Sandra, Audra, Mercedes, Jack Marie, and Leanne.
Julia: You all are the ... You're not the turkey to our Thanksgiving dinner because the Turkey is potentially the worst part. You are the very good stuffing with the gravy on it and kind of mixed in with the mashed potatoes, that's you, that's you right there.
Amanda: Yeah. You are the Trader Joe's brand cranberry sauce mixed in with fresh orange zest because you add some needed acidity, lightness, flavor and color to our lives.
Julia: We love you for that.
Amanda: Speaking of delicious foods, Julia, tell me about the cocktail you were drinking.
Julia: So I made us a cocktail called an herb and spice. Think of it as kind of like a Mojito, but with basil and lemon grass instead of mint, and then just a hint of chili on top.
Amanda: I've been getting pretty into spicy drinks, it's never been one of my fortes, but I had a like, Tequila, mescal based jalapeno involves drinking recently, and it was so good. So I'm, I'm getting into that chili floater. I'm into it.
Julia: Heck yeah. I'm glad spicy drinks are my fave. Do you know what else is my fave Amanda?
Julia: So I just started a new podcast and it's called Wild Things. I didn't started it.
Amanda: You're in it or are you listening to it?
Julia: I'm listening to it. Thank you for asking.
Amanda: I know that you act in a lot of podcasts, but for me to hear on air that you were doing a new one, would be pretty surprising to me.
Julia: Just a little bit. But yeah, if you liked our episode way back about bigfoot or just like crypto zoology in general, check out Wild Thing. It is about a former NPR reporter who found out that her cousin was one of the leading bigfoot experts in America, and started following in his footsteps.
Amanda: Are these real people?
Julia: These are real people. This is a nonfiction podcasts.
Amanda: Pulling out my phone to subscribe right now.
Julia: Do it. It's very good.
Amanda: Also, very good. Our two sponsors for this week. Of course you know Skillshare. The online learning community that we love so much. Where skillshare.com/spirits will get you two months of premium membership to all their classes for just 99 cents. But did you know that we are also sponsored ... Welcoming to the show Mrs. Fields. Mrs. Fields Herself. My close personal friend, Mrs. Fields. The cookie company and snacks, all kinds of stuff. You can get 20% off your order at MrsFields.com, when you enter promo code spirits. But we'll tell you more about that later.
Julia: I'm very, very excited. Do you know what else I'm very excited about, Amanda?
Amanda: Is that our two live shows happening the weekend of PodCon 2 in Seattle?
Julia: Yes, it is and I'm so excited.
Amanda: We are putting on two live shows, because the whole Multitude fam will be in Seattle in January for this podcast conference called PodCon. We figured why not put onto amazing live shows with us, with our friends, with special guests, it's going to be so great. And if you're in town, whether or not you're going to the conference, you are totally welcome. Go to bit.ly/multitudeinseattle to get your tickets.
Julia: I cannot wait to see all of our friends and listeners there while we drink and also tell spooky stories.
Amanda: And it is an intimate venue so if you can come or if you're in Seattle, I would suggest buying tickets sooner rather than later. That's bit.ly/multitudeinseattle.
Julia: Yeah, we might sell out. Be careful, get those tickets now.
Amanda: Love it.
Julia: Get them. Get them.
Amanda: Well, without further ado, enjoy spirits podcast, episode 105, Rongda.
Julia: So Amanda, I'm about to leave for vacation tomorrow as we're recording this.
Amanda: Whoa, me too.
Julia: Yeah. Look at us. Out doing some vacation stuff, we're so cool. I was looking through my topics in order to figure out what I want to do this week and I saw an email in our inbox from a couple months ago, because sometimes I save emails that interest me and then I fully read them later. And so this topic that we're going to be talking about today was recommended by a listener, Andrea, who suggested it in an email that was titled quote, "Cool Motive, Still Murder, The Feminist Myth".
Amanda: Yay. I love it.
Julia: Which if you're making a recommendation to me using Brooklyn Nine-Nine references, I am definitely going to pay attention.
Amanda: Know your audience.
Julia: That's the secret. So she pitched the story to us as having quote, "almost every folktale trope the spirits team is into. Creepy, unrepentant, powerful villainesses, witchy things, parental child bond and confrontation, possible connections to a historical figure into the goddess Kali. The fact that it's still part of a living belief system and a symbol of the eternal struggle of good and evil". So you know ... You know, I wanted to learn more, Amanda.
Amanda: Good rec Andrea.
Julia: So this myth is about Rongda, who is the widow witch and demon queen of Bali.
Amanda: Ah! So good.
Julia: I feel like I don't even need to say more. That's like we're, we're good. We're sold for the episode.
Amanda: No, I'm here.
Julia: Let's go into our discussion at the end.
Amanda: I'm here. I'm ready.
Julia: So she represents chaos or adhama, and makes up one half of the traditional dance Pas de deux with Barong, who is a protect spirit who takes various animal forms, and represents order, or Dharma. And we'll get into a little bit more about Barong later. But I really wanted to start with like, just Rongda's whole thing.
Amanda: Oh yeah.
Julia: Rongda is usually associated with Colone-Arong or Mahendradatta. A 11th century Queen Concert of Bali when it was considered still a vessel prinstim under the dominion of mainland Java.
Julia: So Bali is part of Java, but is like a smaller island part of it.
Amanda: Makes Sense.
Julia: Mahendradatta was a princess from mainland Java before she became a queen. So she was from mainland Java, and then she moved to Bali when she married the king there. So she was a follower of the goddess, Kali and Durga, who we've talked about in another episode. But in the case of Kali, she's the goddess of destruction and power. And in Durga's case, she is the goddess of victory over good and evil. And in general is this fierce warrior aspect of Parvati.
Amanda: I'm a big fan.
Julia: Yeah, I know.
Amanda: I feel like the early part of most Spirits episodes, I'm like, yeah, no dope, great, yes, okay.
Julia: So she gave birth to the famous Javanese hero, king at Ederanga in her thirties. Which made people speculate that she had been married before, and that Ederanga was conceived through her former husband and therefore was not the king's true air.
Amanda: People love to think about legitimacy, don't they?
Julia: They do.
Amanda: In big, big air quotes.
Julia: And doesn't matter really who's baby the baby is as long as it's being raised by a family that loves it.
Amanda: I know. And, and I know there's like stuff about the sacredness of the actual bloodline, but if you believe that the line of rulers has like divine buy-in, then surely the God knows, and is like, yeah, this person's cool. Like they're gonna ... I don't know. I don't know.
Julia: That's fair. I think that's fair. But again, creates some conflict within the story. So in Balinese traditions at the time, the cult of Durga was linked to sacrifice, black magic, and witchcraft and Mahendradatta ended up being accused of ... according to the legend, witchcraft and therefore was exiled by her husband, thus becoming widowed. So not actually widowed, but widowed through divorce basically. Hence Rongda getting her name since the term, Rongda, is an old Javanese one for widow.
Amanda: Uh, so let me get this straight. She existed over the age of 30 and had a child. And so therefore is excommunicated-
Julia: Therefore is a witch and was excommunicated.
Amanda: Okay. All right, all right.
Julia: You got to include the witchcraft, obviously.
Amanda: Honestly, don't feel that difference at some family gatherings I've been to where they're like, whoa Amanda, you've been graduated from college for a "checks watch" foUr years now. What's going on?
Julia: Whoa, wild, wild! What are we doing with our lives? I'm just thinking about Thanksgiving now. Oh No. So in the email, Andrea says quote, "so it might be helpful to envision her as the Queen searcy of the 11th century Bali, for a vastly more powerful family than her spouse holding one of the most powerful offices in all the land, but still very much constrained by patriarchal structures". Her motives are sympathetic, but ultimately she is a villainous.
Amanda: Oh damn, Andrea. Bringing the research and the pros here I love it!
Julia: She's good. I really appreciate this email because a lot of my research was based off it and it's real good.
Amanda: And it reminds me of the women and the butterfly lovers to, where just like powerful has so much energy and stuff to give and yet is being hemmed in by structures around her.
Julia: Patriarchy. Man. I don't know. So I should note that this version of the story that was told after Mahendradatta off those deaths, and that she gained an unpopular depiction of herself later because of the unpopular view of Durga in Balinese traditions. But when she died in 1011 C. So like not too long ago, but like not, not recent, I suppose.
Amanda: Yeah, it's far back enough that we could have an object that existed from that time, but also a long time ago.
Julia: When she died, then she was actually deified and was depicted as a form of Durga. It was a form of Durga that was known as Durga as the slayer of the bull demon.
Amanda: Tell me about how she slayed a bull demon.
Julia: I didn't get too many details on that, but, isn't that the dream?
Amanda: Don't worry about it. Demon not here anymore. Therefore we rejoice.
Julia: Don't worry about it.
Amanda: Honestly. You can deify me for pretty much anything. I'll take it.
Julia: Just, just deify me, yeah. I want to be-
Amanda: Actually, don't please imagine me complexly because I am a flawed person in a flush prison. Doing my best.
Julia: Um, if anything, the spirits episodes have taught us that we can imagine deities complexly.
Julia: Eh! Oh, okay. So in revenge for being ousted by her husband Rongda curses the kingdom and her ex husband's court. Hence the whole searcy, villainous style kind of thing. Like understandable. Yes, but also still technically a villain.
Julia: So Rhonda is seen in Balinese culture as a manifestation of rage and destruction. And in Barang dances, which we'll talk about a little bit more later, she appears to create extreme moods among the performers. It is said that sometimes the dancer embodying Rongda during the Barang, will fall into a trance while performing. And Rongda's dance is significant too because it defies Balinese traditional dancing. She will stand with her legs apart, will tremble and spasm and shake her long fingernails at her enemies.
Amanda: Ooh, damn, I love it!
Julia: I'm definitely going to link a video of Rongda in a Barang because-
Julia: -it is really, really cool and honestly pretty creepy.
Amanda: That sounds awesome, and reminds me of when we were first learning about ancient theater, we learned about the worship of Dionysus because those two things are linked. And when I first heard this concept of a God specifically of or a deity related to the feeling of other worldly power and enrapturedness rapturousness, that comes upon you when you are really losing yourself in music or art. I was just like, exploding brain meme levels of like, oh my God, that makes so much sense!
Julia: Oh Man, I love that because I don't know, it's just like-very specific emotions being tied to God's makes me very, very happy.
Amanda: Oh yeah.
Julia: So, Rongda's colors that are associated with her, white, red and black, are also the same-
Amanda: Those are the only colors you need.
Julia: They're also the ones associated with Colly. So, you know, it's already good. Um, if you look at the mask and imagery of Rongda, they are very similar to Colly. She's got kind of the fanged mouth with the protruding tongue and it's very much like a goating facial expression, like goating enemies into battle. Come at me, come at me, bro. She is also said to be the Queen of the Leeok. And these are creatures that take the form-ooh you're going to love this one, these are creatures that take a form of a flying head with end trails attached.
Amanda: What? That is very creepy!
Julia: They typically have a long tongue and long sharp fangs. They are said to seek out pregnant women in order to suck the baby's blood or steal away the newborn child.
Julia: They were said to once be humans who practiced black magic and cannibalism, and this practice transformed them into this horrifying form.
Amanda: I see how one could get from a to b. And yet, I mean, black magic ... I don't know. Every person who practices black magic, I'm like, I bet your story is more interesting than people think it is.
Julia: Oh, oh buddy we'll get there. We'll get there. Oh, I love when you do that. Okay. So they also are said to hunt graveyards as well, feeding on corpses and they can change themselves into peaks and fly away.
Amanda: (Gasp) cute little flying piglets!
Julia: Cute little flying piglets.
Amanda: Unless, unless they were like forest boars, in which case that's terrifying.
Julia: Maybe both. Ooh. Now I'm curious, because it could be an adorable piglet, could be horrifying bore with very sharp teeth.
Amanda: And depends where-like what graveyard, what kind of population density we're talking about there.
Julia: Sure, sure, sure. So certain diseases and death can also be attributed to Leeox and they can be removed through a seance done by a Balion or a Balinese traditional healer.
Amanda: Okay, good. Got a path forward.
Julia: Yes, yes, yes. So let's talk a little bit more about the dance between the Baron and the Rongda. It is meant to symbolize the intertwining of good and evil as well as showing the complex relationship between man and the supernatural.
Amanda: I mean, isn't that all of life and art that's we're trying to do here.
Julia: And I'll clarify that when we talk about about Baron, we either mean the character, which is the protector spirit, the mask that is worn by the dancer or the actual dance that is being done between Baron and Rongda.
Julia: So it's a multiple layer thing. So if I say Baron, I will try and clarify my best to say what I'm talking about. Yeah, I know, I know. But sometimes people get confused, I get confused. B
Amanda: But thank you for giving us that little prelib.
Julia: Of course. So let me take a moment to describe how the dance, the Baron, begins. Rongda enters accompanied by several men who are armed with daggers, called Chris, uh, which are these sort of like ornate, asymmetrical daggers that are found in Java, in Indonesia. They're actually really, really beautiful and they kind of have this like wavy pattern and they're usually like carved in a certain way or etched I suppose. And so the men enter with Rhonda and she influences them as part of the dance causing them to stab themselves with the Chris. But because of Baron's presence, the protector spirit, they are protected from injury.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Julia: So because Baron is essentially victorious in almost all of these dances.The village is protected and the people are protected. So this is really just a story of good versus evil, but that's not entirely it because it's better described, as I said at the beginning, as Dharma versus Adharma or Yin versus Yang. You know, neither is wholly good or wholly evil on their own, but they're these two parts of the same coin that needs to be balanced out. Baron, who is the protector of the village is usually portrayed by two dancers under a hairy body
Amanda: Like a paper machine type situation?
Julia: Yeah. Kind of like, I'll talk about it a little bit more. But you've seen the lion dances in Chinese-
Julia: So dancers coordinate themselves performing leaps and quickly turning legs as the dancer in the front operates the head and jaws of the Baron mask.
Amanda: Man, they are predating a warhorse by centuries here.
Julia: Yes. Like I mentioned before, the Baron is influenced by the Chinese lion dances which are typically performed during New Year's celebrations in China. But these dances also spread throughout Indonesia through trade and cultural exchange.
Julia: The Baron is not just a lion though, but rather a combination of several animals. Amanda's favorite thing in the world.
Amanda: Okay. Roll the dice, Julia. Let's go.
Julia: So there are types of Baron depending on what animals make it up. For example, a Baron Asu is a combination of a dog and a lion, a Baron Machon features tiger parts and a Baron Lembu has the shape of a cow.
Amanda: Okay. Not so bad yet.
Julia: No, no, no. Pretty-they're not, they're not bad. This is a benevolent creature. It's not going to be super creepy.
Amanda: Oh, you set me up to expect it.
Julia: I know, but I just like to get you on your toes.
Amanda: Editor Eric texted me early this morning to say that in the Facebook group people were posting photos of animal Mashups for me, so to proceed with caution and that is my life now and I am here. I accept my mantle. I have done this to myself and we'll get on with life.
Julia: I really got to start tagging you in all of those posts.
Amanda: I tend to read them all at once, but if it's going to be super terrifying or if Jim McDonald's is involved, our BFF and friend of the show, I will proceed with caution.
Julia: Good, good, good, good. So the Baron represents the manifestation of virtue within the community, but not only that, because the Baron is also considered sort of like a capricious, an unpredictable creature and it's because it's associated with aspects of the forest. And Andrea writes a really interesting part of the email that she sent here, both Rongda and Baron to my knowledge are associated with aspects of the forest. Rongda perhaps encapsulates the aspect of the forest that is the terrifying unknown place filled with the watching eyes and Fang beasts waiting to devour you if you're not careful. Baron is the forest as a place teeming with life and protective, sacred, Banyan trees for that reason I always picture Baron as a friendly, fuzzy totoro like forest creature.
Amanda: That's amazing. And it's true, right? Like you, can't have the pretty parts of the forest without the danger too.
Julia: That is true. I think there's a lot of folklore that's kind of like that as, many protective forest tree spirits we have in mythology, there's always, you know, the will of the wisp of that is trying to lead people astray or the red caps or what have you that want to steal away people from the forest and suck them dry.
Amanda: I don't know, that always got me too about like Percephany or little red riding hood or any of these images we have of someone getting so close to nature or daring to move through it, that they're punished in some way and ultimately victorious through different means depending on the version of these myths that you're talking about. But when I initially read this stuff, I was like, oh, okay, well, you know, you dare to like have an interesting life and to go places and do things and this is the danger that may befall you. And I get how it's a cautionary tale. But also, I don't know, like that's how adventure happens to you is, is by trying things and doing stuff.
Julia: Yeah. See, and that's interesting because one would argue it's like, oh, you're not meeting the societal standards of what your life is supposed to be and therefore you're going to get eaten by a wolf.
Julia: Or what have you. And it's super frustrating just from the, perspective of someone who wants to lead an interesting life and wants to stray from the path, because I want to explore the paths that are less taken or less trodden, you know?
Amanda: Yeah. I mean, I've dealt with this too in just literal traveling, like convincing my parents that it would be okay for me to start traveling when I was in late high school and trying not to make them stay up late with worry, you know, going to different countries and continents in college. And ultimately, you know, I'm in Manhattan all the time, you know, like there's danger lurking everywhere. Growing up in post-9/11 in New York, it's just kind of always on your mind and you have to just weigh it, and decide how much you know, not fear will hold you back, but how much caution and adventure ... It is really a Yin and a Yang and everyone has to, I think, draw that boundary for themselves.
Julia: Yeah. It's all about keeping balance in your life, and as long as you're aware of the danger and what might be lurking around the corner, like you said, as long as you're aware of it, you can move forward. You shouldn't allow your fear of the unknown to kind of keep you trapped within your own safe spaces.
Amanda: Anyway, I want to learn more about this dance, Julia, but first I'm going to need a refill.
Julia: Amanda, beep beep beep, beep beep beep. Do you know who that is?
Julia: that's the alert. The timer that I set because it's time to learn.
Julia: You can learn pretty much anything if you go to SkillShare, SkillShare is an online learning community with over 20,000 classes in design, business, technology and more. And their premium membership gives you unlimited access to these high quality classes on must know topics so you can improve your skills, unlock new opportunities, and do what you love. Amanda, we're recording this after thanksgiving.
Julia: Just this week I was visiting my family for Thanksgiving. And you know what I discovered?
Amanda: Mm, what?
Julia: Everyone loves magic. Everyone loves magic!
Julia: Seriously, people. People love card tricks.
Amanda: They totally do, it's a strong move to bust out at a party.
Julia: So I checked out the fundamental of magic tricks and it's taught by a man named Hilar who has a very soothing voice and he's also been a magician for 12 years. So he teaches you basically everything you need to know to get started with magic- card magic, levitation, coin magic, mentalism.
Amanda: Whoa. Mind freak.
Julia: And it's basically all of this cool stuff that you can use to impress people at parties and also keep your family members from talking about politics at the dinner table.
Amanda: That is a great and compelling reason to take this class. And is it skillshare.com/spirits where people can get two months of premium membership for ninety nine cents?
Julia: It is! You can sign up by going to skillshare.com/spirits and getting two months of premium membership for just ninety nine cents.
Amanda: Thanks SkillShare.
Julia: Thanks SkillShare, we can start learning today!
Amanda: Today. But after this episode.
Amanda: Our other sponsor this week is a woman who has been beguiling me for years. It's my close personal friend, Mrs. Fields, Mrs. Fields the cookie and candy and snack person.
Julia: What's the weirdest thing you've ever gotten as a gift for the holidays?
Amanda: One of my brother's ex girlfriends once gave me a scarf that was identical to the one I was wearing at that time.
Amanda: Like I was unwrapping it and I was wearing a scarf that was exactly the same. Which I don't know if that was the worst gift or the best gift because she correctly like intuited that that was a color I would like-if I were her, I would not have given me the gifts at all after seeing what I was wearing. But, when I opened it, I was like a back up!
Julia: Amazing. But, my question is, would you rather she had just given you cookies instead?
Amanda: I almost always wished that anyone gives me cookies instead of doing or saying anything. And Mrs Fields is the one to go to. I made some cookie sandwiches the other day using Mrs. Fields cookies. We had a multitude business meeting, and the catering was provided by Mrs. fields in the form of delicious Blondie, like butterscotch blondies to go with our drinks. Oh my God. It was amazing. And that brings me to the most important part of this ad, which is my suggested cookie booze pairing for this box.
Julia: Please tell me immediately, I need to know.
Amanda: So the black duck porter is a delicious porter made by Green Point, a local brewery here to New York. And it pairs so well with the butterscotch blondie need that I- my mouth is salivating right now talking about it.
Julia: I'm so hungry. Please tell me more.
Amanda: And whether it's blondies, chocolate chip cookies, like frosted cookies, melt in your mouth brownies and blondies, Mrs. Fields, they have gourmet gift tins, they have baskets, they have individual cookies and sweets that you can buy. They're always baked daily and they arrive fresh and flavorful and no matter where you are shipping across the US.
Julia: And the best part is, Mrs. Fields even offers a 100 percent customer satisfaction guarantee. It is as sweet as their cookies.
Amanda: Absolutely. And you can add a personal touch. You can put your own message, a logo, a family photo, whatever it is that you might want to add. So listen, if you need to send a gift to pretty much anyone I think Mrs. Fields is the one to go with. So go to Mrs. Mrsfeild.com and enter Promo code spirits when you checkout to get 20 percent off any gift at mrsfeilds.com.
Julia: And again, that is mrsfields.com. Promo code spirits. Twenty percent off any gift.
Amanda: Thanks again to Mrs Fields. Thank you for letting us do a cookie-booze pairing in our ad because y'all are the best. Go to mrsfeild.com. Promo code spirits. And now, let's get back to the show.
Julia: So Amanda, I want to tell you another story about Rongda.
Amanda: Oh, okay.
Julia: And this is the fact that Rongda is associated with Colone-Arong who is a legendary witch that was said to be reeking havoc during the reign of the previously mentioned legendary King Aronda. See, everything circles back around, give me some time.
Amanda: Yay! Be my mom.
Julia: Ooh, well, you'll see. Ha ha ha. So-
Amanda: I love the look on your face when you're like herm, herm, my foreshadowing worked.
Julia: So Colone-Arong was a master of black magic using it to cause damage to crops and cause disease across the island. Part of her lashing out against the community was because she had a beautiful daughter who could not find a husband because people were afraid of Colone-Arong. As revenge, she stole a young girl from the village and sacrificed her to Durga on a specific day, Cajang Glueon, or the day of black magic. As a result, the village was flooded, and a mysterious disease spread among the survivors. The king heard about the fate of this village and decided to ask one of his advisors to deal with the problem. The advisor in turn sent his disciple to marry Colone-Arong's daughter, once she was married and there was a huge feast that lasted seven days and seven nights-that the whole village attended, the disease disappeared and everything returned back to normal.
Julia: Pretty solid. Cool. Cool. Cool.
Julia: But the new husband knew that Colone-Arong was a witch and stole her book full of magic incantations, the source of her magic.So Colone-Arong knew that the book was stolen and went to fight her new son-in-law, but because she cannot access her power, she was defeated and the village was "safe from her magic from then on"
Amanda: That's the end of the story?
Julia: That's the end of the story.
Amanda: Oh No. Also, like, what does black magic exactly mean in this case?
Julia: It doesn't specify. It's kind of one of those things where-
Amanda: Like a catch all.
Julia: Yeah, it's a catch all kind of like, Ooh, she was practicing magic and it's probably just a misunderstood, like religious practice or a folk magic of some sort, but people decide, ah, it's bad.
Amanda: It's different than the one I think is safe. It is.
Julia: She's following Durga. We don't like Durga so, ahh!
Amanda: Got it. Well that sucks.
Julia: It does, it totally does suck. But interestingly, there is an Indonesian poet named Toteharaty who in recent years has been portraying Colone-Arong and Rongda in a more sympathetic light.
Julia: She characterizes her as a victim of demonization within the patriarchy. She had a poem that is a full length book called Colone-Arong, the story of a woman victimized by Patriarchy.
And shout out to a friend of the show, Anna who was able to find me a translated copy of it online, which I then bought for like $5 for an ebook.
Julia: Worth it, totally worth it because it is 74 pages of just a full poem about Colone-Arong. And it's now my most treasured possession. But the poem portrays Colone-Arong and Rongda as like a three dimensional women who stand against the oppressive patriarchy but are perceived as a witch. So, I'm going to read the opening chapter of the book, bare with me because it's a little bit long, but I really do think it's going to be worth it.
Amanda: I'm ready, yes.
Julia: And I sent Amanda copy so she can read along with me here.
Colone-Arong, so people call her, Bali's symbol of evil opposing Baron, his victory, never assured the witches matted hair hanging loose, tongue protruding, fangs and claws grasping pendulous breasts a sway. She's just an old woman, a crone with anger overflowing.
Amanda: Oh wait, can we pause for one second?
Julia: Yes. No, we can pause and break it down as we go. Please.
Amanda: I mean it is just, it is so clear that women who are not constrained within the roles of marriage and can't be told what to do by a man, whether that's a father or a husband or a king or whatever, are so clearly-make people so uncomfortable.
Amanda: And that is why we have like, I mean, she's portrayed as almost like an like an animal here, you know, like, something that can sweep into your village, cause havoc and then leave unconstrained by the rules and norms.
Julia: And think about her name, her name, Rongda, literally just means widow.
Julia: It's her defining role in society, that she no longer has a man, and she's too old to marry again.
Amanda: I actually today saw the movie widows, which was fascinating and I cannot wait to talk with you about it. Maybe as a patron bonus. We can talk about this on Patreon.
Julia: I saw it over the weekend, I'm very excited.
Amanda: Oh yes. Oh good, good, good.
Julia: Okay. So continuing on, unless you have more things to say.
Julia: Her story begins with an outbreak of fear, spreading through the village called Dihra, the widow, Colone-Arong her magic powers so feared, nobody dared to court her beautiful daughter Ratna Migaldi. So angry, the widow. So shamed, the widow, Colone-Arong, in a never ending fury, spits fiery devastation from eyes, nose, mouth and ears. The village of Dihra in the 11th century lay in the kingdom of Daha, King Aranga's throne. At that time, divided into cadeity and dingala. If this story is viewed within the sequence of history. But the myth is simple, there was a beautiful maid, a widow's daughter, who nobody dared to court. The angry widow reeks disaster. A priest's son woos the daughter disclosing his mother in law's secret so the widow could be destroyed by the priest. All for the sake of King Arong's power. So the problem, finds its solution in a myth of mother's love versus the state's power.
Amanda: Ah! Freaking out, It's so good!
Julia: Do you want to talk about it a little bit more?
Amanda: No, I want more!
Julia: Okay, but history is not as simple as that because we need scholars who study at Gajong Reda University, writing these. Colone-Arong in Balinese tradition, so titled, because the story of Arongda's kingdom had become Balinese an analysis of Balinese script. The manuscript of Colone-Arong has earned someone a doctorate in literature. Our cultural heritage has endowed an expert with the title of philologist. In Bali, Colone-Arong is called Niranga, Baron's adversary. Yet another tale. Can this legend clarify the dilemma of the old woman? How many life cycles have passed us by until today? Only a horrifying tale remains, as if she, the widow, had no life story. She who, as a young child played in the village and grew into a lovely maiden, just like her daughter Ratna Manggali, thence widowed. What other disaster did befall her? Do you know what it is like to be a widow? Do you know what it means to be an old woman? Imagine if someone asked you these questions. Who can give the right answer? Scientific textbooks mention only the lifecycle of man, elaborated as one sole paradigm.
Oh, Colone-Arong, what an unhappy fate. An entire country punished for love's sake, but your own child betrayed you. For love, you became a fury. For love, you were destroyed by a priest. This is a problem between man and woman, also between widow and widower. The former statistics say seven times more numerous. There are young widows and wealthy widows both, preyed upon by men-some luckily avoid consequence even more difficult in times of unemployment. Among these widows, not young, not rich, there she was, Colone-Arong. It was not her, but her daughter who fell prey, her mother, her only protector. Now I understand how she became a victim of patriarchy. Anger and fury consuming her. No need for a holy priest. She burned with such vengeance. Her brittle body engulfed by fire.
Amanda: Wow. I want to read this whole thing.
Julia: I will send you a link to it. I'm very, very happy with it.
Amanda: I mean, I'm just like, I'm scanning back over the stances that you read and I love the Meta textual. Like I love poems that talk about poems. I love, you know, books that examine what it means to write a book and write one in this kind of tradition, whatever it is. But this is so ... oh, I'm at a loss for words almost.
Julia: I will say that the publication of this is also illustrated. So there's a small little picture on every page and the imagery that they use for Colone-Arong is really, really evocative and really, really fascinating.
Amanda: Yeah. Like this is so clearly seen as an evil narrative, right? Or like a narrative of destruction by people who have the privileges of richness or youth, or a gender or marriage that legitimizes quote unquote like "being a woman". And without those tools, you know, this is like Rongda's story sounds like any kind of movie we see where a down on their luck hero, you know, decides to break rules and make things right and like seek justice despite the costs. And it's just, it looks different because she occupied the body of an older woman, without the trappings of wealth or societal heritage to make her worth listening to in the eyes of most people.
Julia: Yeah. The Lens that I was looking at this story through, is one that I've been feeling a lot personally. And it's this idea that like- sometimes I just have these moments where I feel like I'm the villain in someone else's story. Do you know what I mean?
Julia: Where there's just like certain people in life that kind of make you feel like your feelings are not valid because they don't align with the way that other people feel-
Amanda: Or they exist at all, and there's no space for feeling in a world that's driven by, you know, accomplishment or accumulation of wealth or, or compliance.
Julia: Yeah. And this is something that I associate with, because I'm someone who has ADHD, but one of the symptoms of that is something called rejection sensitivity, and it's basically this idea of like, I'm very hard on myself because when other people are hard on me, I take it very, very hard.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Julia: And so reading the story of Rongda and specifically the way that Totiharati kind of tells the story, she absolutely does some morally objectionable things. Like she kills a child. She makes a entire village flood and kills people with disease and ruins their crops and stuff. That's not good things that are done.
Julia: But she's lashing out because of the rejection she faces from that society. And so I feel as though Totiharati really captures in that poem that she writes about Rongda and Colone-Arong, that when society, whether it actually is or in your perception is against you, it's natural that people would want to lash out. And I think that like when we see injustice, in kind of an ideal situation, when we see injustice, we want to be able to fight back.
Julia: We don't want to feel helpless. We want to feel as though we can do something and those consequences will impact those who have wronged us. I want to embody that anger that burns inside of Rongda because so often in a patriarchal society, we aren't allowed to feel that way.
Amanda: Yeah. And a lot of really, really smart journalists have written about how this sort of idea is also helping to form the political moment that the US and a lot of other places are in. Where people who feel justly or unjustly, ignored or maligned, lash out. And that looks like xenophobia, that looks like reactionism, that looks like nationalism. That looks like hatred against all kinds of groups of people that may be thought to be your enemy.
Amanda: And I find myself almost wanting to look away when I see examples of people in such grief, whether that's over a loss of a child, a home, a state, like, when the loss is so big, you know, I want to look away because it's too much to handle. But I'm really trying to challenge myself to sit in that, and not just in my own feelings, you know, when the feeling is big and I want to push it down and squish it away and distract myself with something else.
Amanda: And sometimes you have to for survival, but I'm trying really hard to look into that because I don't know, like even though, you know, there are lots of ways in which I am complicit in other people's suffering and that doesn't go away by ignoring it.
Amanda: And looking at refugees or people who have lost so much more than I can even think about. I have to think about it and I might not be able to totally get it, but I really want to hold myself at least to give them the courtesy and dignity of trying.
Julia: That's such an interesting perspective to look at. So I'm curious, do you think that in these kind of situations, like if we look at Rongda and Colone-Arong, what are we supposed to do to help those people who are being persecuted? Besides, like, potentially use our voice in a way that doesn't silence them?
Amanda: I don't know, I mean I think to listen and to try to understand. I'm drawn over and over again to stories with like Antihero's, or with people who, you know, are thought to be a villain but actually have their own motivations and whenever you can- it's in comic books all the time where like the villain that you followed for dozens of issues you suddenly start to see their backstory and then, you know, you come to understand and not excuse what they're doing, but to understand how a person can get from a to b.
And I just think every time I see something like that, it's like expanding my own capacity to understand what human beings can do and how, you know, how important it is to reach out and to try to empathize and do those small acts of courtesy and kindness and community building, that are easy to overlook especially, you know, living in a gigantic city like this with my headphones on every day. It's easy not to engage and look up and make eye contact because I don't know ... that's what it looks like a lot of the time to me. It's not just informing myself and, you know, donating to causes and voting, but just trying really hard to engage with the people around me, even when I'm tired, even when it's hard, even when it's raining and I had my headphones on, I don't know. I don't know if it helps, but I like to think does.
Julia: Yeah. And I think that when facing a certain amount of persecution or perceived persecution, the two kind of instinctual ways that people react to it is either by lashing out, like we see in the story of Colone-Arong, or just a feeling of hopelessness.
Julia: And sometimes it's hard to- I find a lot of times I tend to numb myself and kind of fall into that feeling of hopelessness, which is why the idea of Colone-Arong lashing out, it appeals to me so much because that's just who I am as a person.
Amanda: It's that Yin and Yang, right? Like, it's those two things that, that fall together and it just-
Amanda: It seems so dangerous to me to feel a feeling that big. And part of the way that I experienced my depression and stuff is like small things that should not make me feel like quote unquote should not make me feel "devastated", devastate me. And so I have not experienced a lot of emotions that did not completely devastate and destroy me. You know, it's part of, part of the thing is that there, there are very few just like medium sadness's, and so, you know, in my recovery and my wellness, that's part of what I'm trying to do is realize that feeling uncomfortable is not going to kill me. Again, whether that's like in service to someone or just allowing myself to process and to feel the injustice of something bad that happened to me or the sadness and empathy at the suffering of a friend or family member. It's very, very challenging and I don't know. I don't know. I don't have the answers.
Julia: I just, I really kind of think that the way that you just described how there's no small feeling, all of your feelings are large. Reminds me of the last line of Totiharati's thing, where it's just, for a holy priest she burned with such a vengeance. Her brittle body engulfed in fire and like, just the feeling that your emotions can just kind of erupt out of you and consume all of you is something that I can kind of relate to and something I feel like-I feel like sometimes my anger gets the best in me and it kind of takes over everything that I'm feeling in that moment. And it's probably my own mental health issues and my own neuroses that kind of make me fall into that category. But it's something that I just, I wish I could do something with, you know, instead of just feeling that burning, I want to direct it towards something.
Amanda: Yeah, and the easiest target is just destruction of everything around you. Right?
Amanda: Like, you know, that really is, and I, I love this last a couple of lines as well because it juxtaposes, you know, no need for a holy priest. Like, you know, there is not a need to go through a previously channeled conduit and the trappings of, you know, like organized religion and ritual because there is enough within her that she can connect to whatever it is, herself. And it's that, you know, it's passion, it really is so much the story of a person on the outside of a system trying to reform it, burn it down, deal with it live, you know. And in this case it looks like destruction.
Julia: Yeah. And it's interesting to, it might just be my reading of it, but it also, I think implies that, you know, the story ends with her being burned by the priest and they're saying there's no need for that. She can burn all in her own.
Julia: And so like the idea that what would be her destruction she's creating into a destructive force in return is just like, oh man, that is like the Jean Grey is the phoenix levels of like emotional, like plot point and emotional arc to me.
Amanda: Yeah. I thought the same thing in the-early in the poem where they're talking about in never ending fury spits fiery devastation from eyes, nose, mouth and ears. That made me think of plague and in diseases where if they're very bad, stuff comes out of places.
Amanda: Especially thinking of plague in particular or disease as a means of her revenge. Again, awful like not excusable. And I think that the like poetic justice of, you know ... I don't know, like there's something about like being like overflowing that seems to be a motif here. Where you're overflowing with rage, with power, with desire to act and to be independent and the avenues that you want to go down are not available to use. So you freaking flood it, you figure out a way, you know, that kind of emotion will out.
Julia: Yes. I think Andrea's title of "Cool motive, still murder" but for this story is very much valid. Or perhaps end. I think that we can learn a lot from Rongda about how we utilize our desire to destroy, I suppose.
Julia: Our desire to revolt against the Patriarchy and the things that bind us into a position that we don't want to be in.
Amanda: Yeah, like civility is a tool of the state, you know what I mean?
Amanda: Conforming to, as society's rules, is a tool of the formers of that society to keep the status quo the way it is.
Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Amanda: Cool motive, still murder is a great phrase because it-you could have a cool motive but it's still murder, right? You can have very good reasons for doing what you're doing and it can still be, you know, a crime, or morally objectionable, however you wanna define it. But that's something that, again, a lot of people have written really eloquently about in the last two years, is don't let go of your anger and don't let civility stand in the way. As a white person, I try not to let my discomfort about bringing up and challenging people who make racist remarks in my presence, it's uncomfortable. It's like, you know, uncivil, it's disrupting the peace or whatever and, it is completely necessary to do. And, you know, justice and education are way more important than the civility of the dinner table or ruining the holidays, you know, if it has to come down to that.
Amanda: It's hard, it's hard. And it's so much easier to be peaceful and nice and you know, with big quotes, and not to draw attention to yourself and again, it can be an issue of safety sometimes, but like wearing my little rainbow pin on my coat, you know, is a little act of incivility and refusing to laugh at a joke that will be easy to laugh off is a little act of disobedience. I think I'm going to enjoy having Rongda's kind of example, and that image of her, you know, frail and small and combusting as a bit of motivation.
Julia: Absolutely. And I will leave that with our listeners. A reminder to perhaps take your act of incivility and make the world a better place using it. And to remember to stay creepy.
Amanda: Stay cool. Unless you're on fire, then you're cool afterward.
Julia: Yeah. Cool down, take that cool down period.