When David Bowie died on January 10, the eclectic musician and artist touched millions. Days after his 69th birthday, it's with both great sadness and admiration and awe that we remember the revolutionary artist's impact on the world. Bowie was a man of many talents and desires, and chief among those was his love for Indonesia. In our age of connectedness, we often forget how “foreign” Indonesia seemed in the 1980s.
In 1984, David Bowie and Iggy Pop released a song entitled, “Tumble and Twirl” recounting their experience in the magical country. The first verse goes as follows: I've seen the city and I took the next flight for Borneo. They say it's pretty, I like the t-shirts in Borneo. Some wear Bob Marley, others in Playbos or Duvalier. Make the last plane come, let me rise through the cloudy above. With a book on Borneo.
David Bowie would go onto visit Indonesia several more times, integrating the culture into his mind, body, and soul. Here's how you can embrace it like a rock legend:
What is Ngaben?
In his will, David Bowie requested his body be sent to Indonesia to be cremated and laid to rest according to the Indonesian custom of Ngaben. Elaborate, colorful and exuberant, the ceremony takes two weeks to complete. Borrowing elements from both Buddhist and Hindu cremation and funeral practices, the ceremony is practiced only in Bali. Instead of a coffin, a large structure in the shape of an ox is used to transport the body to it’s resting place. This procession is an elaborate affair with bands and mourners creating a parade-like atmosphere.
After the body is cremated, 12 days later the ashes are scattered into the sea. This represents the spirit's transition into Moksha. A sort of paradise where reincarnation, and, in turn, death, ends, Bowie didn't have a processional, but will have his ashes scattered in Bali.
Although Bowie never lived in Indonesia, he took design inspiration to his home on the secluded island of Mustique, incorporating many traditional elements of Balinese culture. One of the main principles of Java is that architecture embraces nature and most homes have an “open air” aesthetic. You'll see this in Bowie’s Javanese dining pavilion.
Another aspect of Indonesian architecture is the use of intricate teak wood patterns, along with stone for entry ways and public areas, representing an earthly motif that allows one to spiritual connection with mother nature. Bowie and Indonesia designer Linda Garland embraced this idea, incorporating teak formerly used in Kudus, along with water elements.
Discover Bali For Yourself
The Bali of David Bowie’s infatuation is a bit difficult to find after decades of mass tourism and development have stripped some of the charms. But there are still places that maintain the spirit of Balinese culture. Ubud is one of these. Although largely populated by western expats, Ubud remains an excellent place to explore modern spirituality in Bali. I recommend renting a villa outside of the city, near the Tegalalang Rice Terraces. The seclusion combined with the natural beauty of the area will surely appeal to those seeking refuge from the chaos of a big city.
Actually a rock formation, Tanah Lot is the pilgrimage destination, Pura Tanah Lot. A popular tourist attraction, it’s beauty and cultural significance can’t be denied. Hire a driver for this day trip and be sure to arrive for the stunning sun rise. Although lesser known, Tirta Gangga is a former royal palace that is an excellent place to explore Balinese history and architecture. Constructed in 1948, the “Bali Water Palace,” has rooms for rent and is a great way to experience the life of those who have passed on.
No visit to Bali is complete without a visit to at least one of it’s world-class beaches, and Seminyak Beach is one of the best. With resorts catering to a more upscale and luxurious crowd than the backpacker haven, Kuta Beach, Seminyak offers the crystal clear waters and an exclusive experience like David Bowie loved.