The entire island of Bali, Indonesia, grinds to a halt one day a year. No planes may arrive or depart from the airport, and all commerce ceases. Even checking in and out of hotels is forbidden. The streets are deserted aside from patrols ensuring that everyone stays inside. The holiday takes place in March and sometimes April, depending on the lunar calendar. It is Nyepi, the Balinese New Year, a Hindu holiday and the national day of silence and self-reflection.
Inside their homes, people nap, pray and sometimes fast, resting from the festivities of the night before. On the eve of Nyepi, villagers parade ominous paper mâché giants through the streets, carried by grids of young men holding bamboo poles.
The giants are called Ogoh Ogoh, and often represent characters from Hindu mythology, particularly demons. However, each team of locals has their own take, collaborating together to produce creatures that can easily reach over 30 feet. One Ogoh Ogoh in a small village not far from the picturesque Tegallalang rice terraces is a giant “monkey king,” according to its creators, with prominent muscles and fur made from plant fibers. A tattered tarp protects it from the rain while the villagers wait for the festivities to begin.
In the town of Tampaksiring, known for producing intricate bone carvings, local artists have gone all-out, elaborate creations on every corner. One Ogoh Ogoh gives the crowd a gilded middle finger, snarl fixed on its painted face. In Ubud, a cartoonish topless woman careens out of control on her yellow moped — a different kind of monster.
The Ogoh Ogoh are believed to represent the evil spirits and malevolent forces plaguing human beings. Building them, ceremoniously presenting them throughout the town and finally burning them is thought to purify the natural environment in preparation for the new year. As the villagers carry Ogoh Ogoh through the streets, musicians play percussion and gongs in a traditional gamelan Baleganjur style, the same eerie cadence across all the villages in the region.
The parade is a community affair, often requiring careful navigation of power lines, which villagers prop up with long forked poles. Locals follow the Ogoh Ogoh or watch from the sidelines dressed for the occasion in sarongs, with long-sleeved lace shirts for the women and white head wraps for the men. Girls may carry torches in twin lines behind the paper mache creations. Officials direct traffic, waving lone mopeds through the crowd or stopping cars on the main road for long periods of time — roads with parades may be closed to traffic, and for some villages, this can be a significant portion of the town.
The actual date of Nyepi changes every year, being based on the Balinese lunar calendar. This year, it fell on March 8, ending at 6 am March 9. Next year, it will fall on March 25 and similarly continue throughout the night.
On Nyepi itself, tourists hole up in their homestays and resorts. Some resorts offer food services, and otherwise guests will (hopefully) have been warned in advance to stock up on snacks.
The air is clean, free from the smog of traffic. Because lights are also forbidden, when night falls, the sky is resplendent with stars — unless, like this year, the sky is cloudy.
Internet outages around the world
There are few instances when the internet of an entire island, region or country is deliberately shut down. Most of the time, the action is taken to silence dissent, or potentially even to stop cheating on tests. But limited, slow internet in certain locales has similar effects — one reason John Yunker, in our upcoming issue of MultiLingual magazine, advises global websites to slim down so pages can load quickly during times or places of poor connectivity.
Whatever the reason they’re happening, internet delays and outages can become a localization issue. Much of what we talk about in our industry is internet-dependent, with the underlying assumption that in this day and age, the internet is available to everyone all the time. I had been in the industry for a decade before I learned that one day a year, on the regular, the internet disappears in Bali. And I didn’t learn that until the actual day the internet was shutting down, as I was trying to send work email and getting a mysterious message in Indonesian.
At the least, Indonesia, in the interest of localization, maybe consider translating this message into English for the poor tourists text time — maybe even give them a heads-up the day before the outage so they can send any imperative emails.