Sunday, March 3, 2013

Seven Husbands

 A Balinese Folk Tale

In the leafy village of Babahan, not far from the city of Tabanan, lived a woman who had seven husbands. ‘Seven husbands!’ everyone always wants to know, ‘at the same time?’ and while I always want to answer, yes, maybe it was indeed so, all I can do is tell the story it as it was told to me.

One fine day, in the green ravine of the deep river that flowed past the edge of her father’s family compound, young Komang, on the way back from her mandi, discovered a secret. Lagging behind her older sisters, she had stopped to play on the mossy temple rocks beside the path. As she hopped from one stone to another an urgent itch arose between her thin brown legs, and scratching as a kitten or a puppy would without thinking or shame, she was surprised to feel a surge of pleasure in a part of her body she had no reason to give attention to before. Noticing she was well left behind on the steep narrow track and wanting to verify her discovery, she crawled into a gap in a bunga kerasi bush and lying down on the prickly twigs, scratched again. This time the sensation swept from the tip of her toes to the top of her head. She knew then it was no mistake, even meant to be, and that perhaps all girls were made like this.

That night when the last candle was dimmed and all the members of her family breathed heavily on their sleeping mats, she scratched again. Three times is a certainty she confirmed. This must be what married women giggled about late into the night as their fingers wove offerings for the temple from the succulent young leaves of the palm tree. This must be the pleasure of marriage she decided, and not wishing to use it up or exhaust it before its time, she deftly locked away her secret in the place it had been found.

A few years later, in the same leafy ravine, Komang, a child no more, crawled into the hollow of the bunga kerasi bush with a boy who whose teasing looks and flirting words had led them to this moment of anticipated pleasure. He was as good looking as she and their match as observed about the village was predicted to be a success.

Expecting to feel the sensation she knew to be her due, Komang was shocked when after a moment of clumsy grappling she felt as if a wood carver’s rasp had been dragged across her tender place and a hard pestle of stone, the kind she used everyday to make sambal for her family, was pounded into her as if to extract her piquant flavour.  Sorely dissapointed as she crawled out from the bush she determined ‘if this is what marriage promises, I will have no part of it.’ But a month or two later, when it was obvious to everyone (except her) that she was pregnant, her parents took her and her fiance, to consult with the Calendar Man.

Now this was not a shameful thing for everyone in the village of Babahan knew that that babies conceived in ravines or rice paddies and down by the smelly pig pen or the cheeping chicken coop, must be loved and protected and brought into the family of ancestors so everyone knows where they belong. And giving his blessing to their marriage, the Calendar Man warned husband-to-be that he must pay good ’attention’ to his wife or he and everyone around him would suffer. The family laughed at the innuendo, all except Komang. She was beyond laughing at anything. Despite her unexpressed misgivings (because how could she say – I won’t marry that man because he is not a good lover!) it all went ahead happily and Komang was glad to use her pregnancy as an excuse to take rest from her husband’s failings.

After the cute baby was born and the required ceremonies and days of abstinence were observed, her husband made his advances once more. Komang was full of hope that with time and effort they would find a new rhythm to their evening activities, but every night for a year the endless pounding continued. Until one day, Husband was gone. Where he went, no one really knew and neither did they ask for soon he was replaced by another and the family went on as before.

Komang had high hopes for Husband No 2 as his nature was kind and gentle and he lacked the arrogant confidence that had been her previous husband’s downfall. But in their marriage bed, Husband No 2 was so shy, nothing ever happened. If it did, it was over before it had begun. While feeling some amount of sympathy for his awkwardness and giving him some time to improve, after a much shorter trial period than Husband No 1, Husband No 2 also disappeared.

The third was said to have been trained in the ancient tantric techniques of a spiritual guru who lived with his followers on a mountain to the north. To build their stamina they followed certain dietary regimes and abstained from sex for six months of the year. The other six months they could make love but only on designated phases of the moon and were forbidden to spill any seed. So on the new moon, the dark moon, the full moon, the half moon, Husband No 3 would invite Komang into a specially prepared room to begin their ritual. As they began he would call out mysterious mantras, repeating them in a thunderous voice, building his energy to a steam train pitch, making grimaces and strange faces, so that in the shadow of candlelight Komang thought she was being ravaged by all the characters of the Wayang Kulit. After several hours of this activity Husband No 3 would fall over exhausted and Komang would crawl out from beneath him to get an hour or so of sleep before the dawn rooster started to crow. Satisfied and spent from the night’s activities, Husband No 3 didn’t seem to notice his tantric techniques weren’t working on Komang. I don’t have to tell you what happened next. 

Husband No 4 professed to be an expert on the fine art of tongue work and it is true - his methods were so effective that Komang could at last feel something akin to her expectation. His tongue flicked and licked like an avid cat and all was going well until the scrape of his stubble chin (Husband No 4 was unusually hirsuit for a Tabanan man) across her tender arousal ruined everything in a flash. Komang’s cry of despair was mistaken around the village for a cry of pleasure and they thought at last she had found her match! But in her great disappointment, she sent him from the marriage after only one night.

The fifth, an ex P.E. teacher and tour guide, loved to collect and read the holiday books American tourists left behind in his mini bus. Above the bed he made a bookshelf to house the battered pages of The Kama Sutra, The Joy of Sex and 425 Ways to Please your Woman. From the ceiling he hung a trapeze and Roman rings so every night they could try a new fandangled position. Komang, with an open mind and an interest in physical fitness, gave it a chance, but for all his avid research and physical prowess, Komang sadly remained unaroused and he too was gone within the month.

No 6 did his homework well before he entered Komang’s family. He talked to relatives and neighbours and studied the books left behind by poor unfortunate Husband No 5. He followed the discussion about clitoral versus vaginal orgasm and he was most interested to read that the G spot had been gazumped by the A spot and the U spot. He decided while a most common problem for men may be premature ejaculation, for women it must be premature penetration. A progressive thinker, he understood that some women needed a special kind of preparatory coaxing if they were to enjoy the marital pleasure men were accustomed to. He put himself in a woman’s shoes and imagined the to-do if all women demanded the sexual satisfaction most men thought was their right.

Husband No 6 admitted to a friend he was taking the marriage on as a challenge. Komang’s story had become famous as it spread from village to village up and down the mountain terraces of the district of Tabanan. Men and women alike were fascinated by how many husbands she actually had. Were they alive or dead? as they certainly were never seen again. Some said she kept them all in her compound - just like men who in days gone by had collected as many wives as they wanted. Where did she keep them? Who were the fathers of which children? Did it even matter? How many children did she have? In men’s eyes she became an unattainable conquest. He who could satisfy her would surely be a God. Women, instead of condemning her, cheered her on.  ‘Why shouldn’t a wife have her own taste of heaven,’ they proclaimed, supporting the stand Komang was taking for them. Only her family were fed up with all the comings and goings until they came up with money making schemes to fleece gawkers who happened to pass by their compound hoping for a look.

So when Husband No 6 came so well prepared, Komang laughed in his face. ‘You all think you are so thorough but did you ever occur to you to ask a woman how she likes to be touched?’ she exclaimed. ‘Perhaps you would like to conduct your research with ME.’ And so over a period of months during the long wet season, every night instead of making love, Husband and Wife talked. No 6 conducted his interviews as any research fellow would, with strict discipline and methodology, illustrating his findings with diagrams and graphs. When finished he compiled it all into a manual and gave it to Komang to read. She was impressed. Finally! Evidence of a man who really listened to her, right here on the page. Even reading it aroused her and she looked forward to their night of intimacy like it was her first wedding night not her sixth.

Everything started out well. No 6 began with a long massage. He had taken lessons from Komang’s aunty who had massaged her since she was young. He seemed to know exactly where to be gentle, where to be firm, when to pummel, when to stroke, and as he worked his butterfly touch in a circular motion towards her tender place, Komang almost allowed herself to think, ‘aaah yes, at last, this will be the one….’

But alas she thought too soon, for just at the crucial moment, just in the crucial place, he pressed too hard with the rough part of his hand, and mistaking her moan for pleasure plunged it in and didn’t stop until his own enjoyment was satisfied. Komang’s screams didn’t stop either. When he opened his eyes he realised to his horror, they were not screams of pleasure.

Komang didn’t stop screaming as she threw him out of her room, out of her house, out of her street, out of her village. She screamed at her family, she screamed at the neighbours, she screamed at the tourists, she screamed at the pig pen, she screamed at the chicken coop.

‘That’s it!  No more! I will live my life like a widow or a nun if I must. Since not a single man in all my life has been able to please me. I will please myself!’

And for a while she did, living without a husband, caring for her children and minding her own business, until one day the leaders of the banjar came to talk to her. To be an unmarried woman by choice was unusual, they explained. It was unsettling the men of the village and was giving the wives unhealthy ideas. For the sake of community stability they asked her to take a new husband and this time stay married for life.  And since she had decided to live as a widow, they continued, they had found her a perfect match - a widower. She would never be expected to consummate the marriage, for the man they had in mind was three times her age, toothless, blind and impotent!

That is how Husband No 7 came to Komang’s bed. Old Joko was cute as far as old men go with a cheeky boyish countenance which endeared him to everyone. He wasn’t fat, he wasn’t smelly, his white hair stood out from his head like rabbit fluff on a baby’s bottom and when he smiled his toothless baby grin you couldn’t help but love him. His wife had died many years before but he was very independent and you wouldn’t even know he was blind, for most of the time he didn’t use a stick.

Komang took old Joko in and looked after him as if he was her own grandfather. To share the bed with him was not a problem, in fact she was glad of the company, and for a laugh she often read to him from books the other husbands had left behind. 

Now most times they kept to their side of the bed with the dutch wife between them. But one cool night when unseasonal winds and rains swept up the valley, dampening the sawa and muddying the pig pens, Komang and Joko snuggled close for warmth. When old Joko reached over to pull the covers around them, Komang snuggled closer. How nice just to cuddle, she thought, and not worry that the man would soon be climbing all over you wanting to satisfy his need. She drifted to the edge of sleep and found herself in a blissful dream. Down in the the green ravine of the deep river that passed by the edge of her family compound, in the bunga kerasi bush near the ancient temple stones, old Joko lay by her side, pleasuring her in the way she had always imagined it could be. He didn’t once rasp or scratch or scrape or tear. He didn’t assert his need over hers but waited for her to lead him into all the mysterious places of her pleasure. He didn’t pound as he had no rising to pound with and he wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere. Like a busy honey bee he nudged and buzzed and poked his pollen laden nose in here and there, opening Komang one petal at a time, until at last her delicate flower bloomed.

All night Komang’s moans kept family members awake. Neighbours gathered outside the compound and crowded close to listen. When the bright night clouds drifted high over the bamboo, when they couldn’t listen any longer, they went home and made love to their wives as gently as Joko, as softly as moonlight on the sawa.

In the morning Komang’s family members looked tired and drained from their late night. Komang was in excellent form and announced she would be moving to Joko’s house that very day. Her family agreed at once. Indeed it had been unusual that on her insistence every other husband had lived in her parent’s house, but as there had been such a high turnover of them, village leaders had waived normal protocol. Now they claimed the success as theirs.

That day the family ferried Komang’s belongings to old Joko’s small house on the mountainside near the pagoda standing like a papercut against the sky. They settled in quickly, living a simple life, toiling hard by day and going to bed by dusk.  Farmers coming in from the rice paddies knew exactly when, for every night just on sunset when the evening mist began to curl over the walls of the temple, you could hear their moans on the wind. And even though by now they both must be very old, so old you would think they must have passed on and been reborn several times,  it is said you can still hear their song as it drifts across the sawa. Some say it is just the moan of the she-oak or the hoot of the night-owl, but we know it is Komang and Husband No 7, the one she saved her pleasure for.

(c)  Jan Cornall 2013

Glossary for Seven Husbands
mandi - shower
bunga kerasi bush - lantana bush
sawa - rice paddy
dutch wife - long sausage shaped pillow

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