Just ask Nyoman Kelinced anything about the habits and mannerisms of the herons that roost in just about every tree in Petulu, Gianyar Bali and you will receive answers in such detail and depth that you might believe he was one of those herons in a past life. Born in Gianyar Bali around sixty years ago, he clocks up more than forty years of togetherness with the eel-eating herons, shrimp and small animals that live in this area.
“In September of 1965, a few days before the Sukarno revolution, the sky to west of Petulu village turned black. That night we all heard a strange sound, like rain drumming down, but it was not the rainy season,” said the father of three daughters. The next morning, Kelinced saw to his absolute amazement that there were hundreds of herons crowded into the many trees growing in Petulu village. Actually, it’s been confirmed that about 5,000 herons now peacefully live in Petulu village.
Due to his persistent care, maintenance and protection of the birds, Kelinced has received two awards for his environmental awareness. In 1991, he received the Kalpataru trophy from President Suharto and in 2000 he won a special banner for his rescue of the birds from several international NGOs.
“I did not really intend to collect awards or trophies through my care of the birds, but I believe that because I have treated “Pak Heron” with patient care, in return “Pak Heron” has, through his popularity with the tourists, provided our village with a means to educate our children,” expressed the grandfather of two.
Since the herons came to live in the trees of Petulu nearly forty years ago, life has been good. The government installed a permanent water line to the village so that the villagers could plant rice two times a year instead of only once during the rainy season.
From 1980 until now, tourists have shown up every evening to watch the herons return to their nests after a day of searching for food in far-away places. “I have even caught sight of herons from Petulu fishing for eels in the rice paddies of Mmelaya, which is nearly 100 km from the village here. The herons see me and flap their wings as a sign of recognition; it’s as if we’re greeting each other,” said Kelinced excitedly.
Being together with the cranes day in and day out over the years has helped the herons and Kelinced to get to know each other, as well he becoming quite familiar with their habits, temperaments and behavior.
“In December the herons build their nests; this duty falls to the male herons. All the bunut, coconut, teak and frangipani trees in Petulu will be filled with nests,” he said. The streets will be dirty from the debris of the herons’ nests and the monogamous male herons will work hard to please their wives. During this time of nest-building, the females will be foraging in the rice fields of Ubud or in the marshes of Jimbaran.
In the month of January, the female herons begin to sit on their eggs, while the males search for food in Karangasem or Gilimanuk from dawn till dusk. The roads of Petulu gradually become cleaner because the female herons are busy incubating their eggs during the day and so the herons aren’t out and about making a mess of the roads.
Meanwhile from April until August, after the herons’ eggs have hatched — usually two baby herons to a nest — the excrement in the road reaches a peak. Because all day long the female herons are teaching their young how to fly while the fathers look on proudly. “After that, whole families of herons fly out of the village, and the roads become clean again. It’s as if every tree has been stripped of life, with no sign of any birds anywhere,” he marvels.
The months of August through December are the months to watch the birds returning to Petulu from far away. Skies are blue, rice paddies turn gold in preparation for harvest and, as soon as the sun falls in the west, the herons begin arriving two by two; some are accompanied by their young as well.
“We’ve made a special stage just for the tourists who want to watch the cranes returning to their nests. Usually around sunset time, a multitude of herons will begin to cluster in the trees, just like the wasps that invade the flower beds,” explained Kelinced.
These months are also blessed with another generation of herons, chattering away while they learn to fly, and also a new layer of dirt for the roads! Tourists delight in seeing the herons tamely perched on garden walls, almost every tree in the village and on top of the roofs.
For Kelinced, sheltering and caring for the herons come as naturally as breathing. ” Petulu herons should not be caught or taken home by anyone, because they are special herons, not like any others. The Pura dalem in Petulu village even made a special shrine for their herons. On the temple’s birthday we make a special offering for them, just as we do for every citizen,” said the former (1971 – 2001) head of the Petulu banjar.
Another blessing is, because of the visiting tourists, that the entire village population has been working hard– making frames for paintings, wood-carving, and selling photographs along the road. Kelinced himself, due to his close observation of the herons, has managed to develop an assortment of carvings that are all about herons, even one of a heron entering its nest! But after looking at all of them, my favorite is the carving of the heron family fighting to get into their nest. I see a similarity in the brayut legend, many children can be troublesome but the good fortune from having them keeps flowing,” said Kelinced.
In everyday life, Kelincid is a consistently prolific sculptor. His work has been included in the Bienalle Indonesia; in 2004 he exhibited a statue with a strange, haunted face.
Besides being a caretaker of the herons, Kelinced is also a skilled dancer of different types of Baris dance ranging from the stronger representation to the softer one. He also can dance as different characters, for example Rangda or those that are connected with magical dances.
As well as being familiar with the herons, Kelincid also enforces rules about the treatment of the birds. Should anyone attempt to capture a heron, he will be required to make an offering at a temple ceremony in order to make amends to “Pak Heron”. And it is also forbidden to shoot or poison them. Due to the connection with the regular law, until now nobody has dared to harm the herons.
Since 1965 until the present, even with the large number of birds in Petulu, there has never been one killed for its meat, and their meat is actually quite tasty. This is because people believe that the heron is the reincarnation of a god who must be guarded and preserved.
“Moreover, our herons have improved the quality of our lives without us having to disturb “Pak Heron” himself. The tourists flock to Petulu both day and night, but they don’t notice the dirty roads or the smell of the birds’ droppings, ” said Kelinced.
And because of the presence of the herons, Kelinced brought the Kalpataru trophy home to Petulu to be paraded the day before the temple’s birthday. The Balinese believe that the herons are sacred birds who deserve to be protected and preserved and it wouldn’t have happened without a very important person. Thank you, Pak Kelinced!