Bali's river spirits

March 14, 2016



Bali's unseen world - The river folk

Down by the rivers amongst the Luwak and lizards, betwixt creatures and canyons, the river people pace. Hear is the domain of the Tonya, communities of spirits which move between the river banks and the villages housing humans. The magical kingdom of Niskala, Bali's unseen world.

Having unbottled my fears for the land here in Ubud due to (quite specifically) the spiritual high rises accommodating a million new agers on a quest for enlightenment, I figured these guys should get a mention!

Traditionally in Bali, ceremonies must take place to 'open the land' before building begins, relocating the spirits and honouring their realm, so as not to piss them off, risking the huff and the puff of a house blown down! Everything and everyone has its place in Bali and boundaries must be honoured for peace to reside. However with all the recent development the spirits are being scattered and squeezed into smaller areas, and kicking off accordingly! The Balinese are experiencing an increase in social and economic tension of late and believe that it's surely being reflected in the Spirit world. In the haste to build, ceremonies are often forgotten or unconsidered, river banks are being hijacked by construction, polluted by rubbish, no temples built nor offerings made. Of course the Tonya are becoming irritable to say the least. Like having a bunch of squatters in your house!!! 

What do they look like these mystical beings? 

The Tonya look just like humans without the indentation between the nose and upper lip. They can move among the humans and live in both realms. They are said to be quite mischievous and more active during the day.

Then there are the Memedi. Hairy, red human looking creatures that reside in big trees and bamboo groves close to villages. Like the Boogie man, Memedi is often used to scare little children into being good.


Tuyul are naughty child spirits, often blamed for breakages in people's houses during the night.


Then there are the Dete or Moro. These can take real or mythical form, a strange smell may visit your senses before an encounter. They sometimes resemble the temple guardians, seen carved in stone. 

Leyak are humans who practice black magic and can take the form, of animals. The Leyak are associated with death, they haunt grave yards and practice cannibalism. Humans by day, flying animals by night. A Balinese man once reported that whilst toying with this magic, his sleeping grandchildren appeared to him in the form of succulent roasting piglets, crikey what a pikey! 


Related are the Lulut mas, a cluster of steamy, yellow worms found In front of gates and near water sources declaring uncleanliness. These are the only manifestations of Niskala found in the physical realm. 

There are specific regulations against building on riverbanks, sadly they are often ignored. Big trees are cut down and the homes of ancient spirits devastated. So call in the Mangku! The Mangku specialise in Tonya, the town planning of the spirit world, the local ju ju council, they will kindly negotiate with them and see to all necessary offerings, ceremony and purification pre build.

Here in Ubud I can quite easily imagine the increasingly antagonised river gods taking enforcement into their own unseen hands. We may get a little more spirituality than we bargained for - or didn't Bargain for at all....... 


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