In a beautiful family compound behind a furniture shop on a main road heading north out of Tegalalang a 60yr old Ibu (Mother) resides with her human family, menagerie of assorted animals and her 17yr old Bali dog. In the Balinese calendar, their years could be plus or minus a few, but by the look of them her calculation is near enough.
Nothing on Bali happens in isolation, its one of the many realities of life that this Island is so determined to remind you about. Her old dog was the epitome of how long the first Island dog can survive when given care and comfort and safety. The average lifespan for a street dog doing it tough is generally 7 years, although there are always exceptions to that rule, especially if they reside in safe areas that are more conducive to their free roaming natural instincts.
Ibu was surprised that we recognized her old dog as a Belang bungkem, a light brown coloured dog with a black muzzle that is usually sacrificed in certain Balinese ceremonies. Not all dogs with such markings are used and this old dog had lived a very full life as witnessed by her numerous offspring. Ibu explained that although she loved her numerous foreign breed dogs, Bali dogs were very special and intelligent, but that their greatest quality was their ability and need to be Setia (loyal.)
She explained that for Balinese life without their dog is not something that’s considered, dogs are part of family, it just is. To prove her belief, she welcomed us into her family compound proper and showed us the statue they had built and erected in a central position within the compound. She explained that the story of Yudhisthira is a lesson to live her life by and that each day she gives blessing to the statue and what it represents to her and Balinese way of life.
In a world where loyal is becoming tribalized and used for division rather than unification meeting Ibu was a reminder that conflict and separation will always be unhealthy actions with disastrous consequences.
Setia is a timeless action with a quality of intent that gives old Bali dogs and their human companions many lifetimes of deep meaning and abundant purpose.