Anak Agung Made Djelantik: Balinese prince, physician, cultural savant and humanist

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Bulantrisna Djelantik as a small child with her parents at her tooth filing ceremony. (photo: Bulantrisna Djelantik)

IO – “Dr Djelantik was part of that golden generation of Balinese well-ed­ucated by the West who helped pre­pare Bali for the modern world and globalization. They were all concerned with the preservation of Balinese cul­ture. Their minds were Western but their souls were Balinese,” declared I Wayan Juniarta, a journalist who heads the Ubud Writers’ Festival in Bali at a book launch held at Udaya­na University, Medical Faculty this month on the book: Bening Embun, Perjalanan A.A. Made Djelantik or “The Crystal Clear Dew, A.A. Made Djelantik’s Life Journey” by Balinese historian Nyoman Wijaya.

Dr Djelantik stands next to a donkey in Iraq in the 1970s when he was
working for the WHO. (photo: Bulantrisna Djelantik)

So, who was Anak Agung Made Djelantik? He was a prince from Ka­rangasam who studied in Holland during the Second World War and returned to Indonesia as a medi­cal doctor. Later upon his return to Indonesia he was sent to different parts of Eastern Indonesia that were frequently quite isolated to help the people there. In the course of these postings both he and his wife con­tracted malaria but he also became a specialist in the treatment of ma­laria. This proved to be extremely useful when Dr Djelantik worked for the World Health Organization which sent him to Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. Later he became the head of Bali’s main teacher’s train­ing college in Sanglah and helped to found the Medical Faculty which he later also headed at the University of Udayanan in Denpasar.

Dr Djelantik playing the violin as a young boy. (photo: Bulantrisna Djelantik)

Dr Djelantik was a Renaissance man who was also active in the field of Balinese culture, both studying and promoting it. He was head of the Walter Spies Society with its Walter Spies Festival which focused on mu­sic and dance. Together with Fredrik de Boer, Hildred Geertz, and Heidi Hinzler he established the Society for Balinese Studies or Lembaga Pen­kajian Kebudayaan Bali in 1985. It held annual conferences in Bali and also abroad and according to Adrian Vickers Dr Djelantik was the natural leader of the organization. Via the organization he promoted both Bali­nese culture as well as the study of it. Dr Djelantik wrote papers on Bali­nese culture and a book on Balinese paintings which covers Balinese art history as well as Balinese aesthetics. Later he taught Aesthetics at the Ak­ademi Seni Rupa Bali or the Balinese Academy of Arts. He also wrote an autobiography called “The Birthmark, Memoirs of a Balinese Prince”.

Dr Bulantrisna Djelantik with a statue of her father, Dr A.A. Made Djelantik. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Dr Djelantik’s oldest daughter Bulantrisna Djelantik is a very fine dancer of traditional, classical Ba­linese dance. Her father was very proud of her dancing and always said that it was his very talented daugh­ter’s rendition of Balinese dance that brought him into the world of art and culture. Bulantrisna was a renown le­gong dancer in Peliatan who used to perform for President Sukarno.

“I never saw my father angry. Not once. My father was calm and he al­ways made others feel comfortable. In that sense he was a charming man. I think it was his deeply held Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. He was a very spiritual man and he believed that there was something good in every­thing and everyone.,” remarked Bu­lantrisna Djelantik who following in her father’s footsteps is also a doctor.

In the past Karangasem was a small kingdom of Bali that managed to expand into Lombok and large parts of northern and central Bali and for a while also east Java and Sumbawa. It tried to avoid confronta­tion with the VOC all the while trying to play Dutch and English interests against each other. As of 1906 the Raja of Karangasem was the stede­houder or representative of the Dutch government.

Dr. A.A. Made Djelantik was born in Karangasam on the 21st of July 1919 to the Raja of Karangasem, Anak Agung I Goesti Bagoes Djelan­tik who later was known as the last Raja of Karangasam. Dr Djelantik’s father became the stedehouder in 1908 and in 1922, he was granted zelfbestuur or autonomous gover­nance over Karangasem. In 1938 via a decree of the Governor General the title stedehouder was changed to Anak Agung Angloerah Ketut Karan­gasem for which he consulted with his Council of Priests.

In the period especially after the Ethical Policy of the Netherlands In­dies government there were a number of native princes and kings who like the Japanese emperors of the Meiji restoration and King Rama V of Thai­land, opened their kingdoms to mod­ernization from the West. Amongst these kings and princes were Anak Agung I Goesti Bagoes Djelantik and his close friend Mangkunegara VII in Solo. Anak Agung I Goesti Bagoes Djelantik was an extremely progres­sive man who believed in education (including education for women for Karangasem was the first Balinese royal house to allow its daughters to receive an education) and support­ed the Dutch in constructing irriga­tion systems, electricity, telephone, schools and Macadamized roads.

Anak Agung Angloerah Ketut Karangasam with his granddaugh¬ter, Bulantrisna Djelantik at the age of six. (photo: Bulantrisna Djelantik)

It was into this open and progres­sive background that Dr Djelantik was born. His father the King of Ka­rangasem married his mother Mekele Selaga (the title Mekele indicates that Dr Djelantik’s mother was a com­moner) and produced two children who survived into adulthood. When Dr Djelantik was three years old his mother gave birth to another baby. As she was giving birth three-year-old Dr Djelantik, suddenly gazed at the roof pointed towards the sky and exclaimed, “Goak… goak… liu goak e… Mek pelaibange…!” (Crows… crows… there are so many crows. They are taking mother away!) but the sky was empty. There were no crows in the sky. Shortly, thereafter his mother passed away from severe loss of blood during the birth. In the tense atmosphere of the palace the little boy’s remarks would have been seen as prophesizing the future and must have distressed the child. His daughter Bulantrisna remarked that, “not to have had a mother from such a young age would have had a lasting effect on my father. In the puri (pal­ace) the mother factor is very import­ant. My grandfather had ten wives. In order to get land, a house or anything else having a mother to fight for you made a big difference. I think the lack of a mother gave my father an add­ed drive to go out into the world and make a living for himself. This is why when he was sent to secondary school in Malang he determined that later he did not want to study medicine in the Netherlands Indies but that he want­ed to go to Holland to study. It was quite extraordinary but he did it.”

It may also have influenced his decision to become a doctor. The book says that what influenced him to become a doctor was when he ran through the night looking for a doc­tor for the wife of some Dutch friends he was staying with. He was so dis­tressed at his inability to get a doc­tor to come that it made him decide to become a doctor. Nevertheless, in the recesses of his mind must also have been the memory of his mother’s death without a doctor.

In Holland Dr Djelantik had to ad­just to the climate, the food and the culture but he seems to have seen it as an adventure. Added to that how­ever was that during the course of his studies the Second World War broke out and he had a harrowing time having to hide from the Gestapo who did not look kindly upon brown peo­ple but in this he was assisted by the Dutch Resistance and other students and friends, one of whom was Hans Rhodius, a lawyer who had lived in the Indies and who was later to write an important book on Walter Spies and work with Dr Djelantik in the Walter Spies Foundation.

In Holland Dr Djelantik studied at the Gemeente Universiteit Am­sterdam. He was the first Balinese to graduate as a doctor from a universi­ty abroad. It was here that he met the love of his life, Astri Zwart, a young student nurse. Dr Djelantik was a romantic and it was love at first sight when he delivered a pot of cherry jam from a mutual friend, as she lay ill in the hospital. He married her and they enjoyed a marriage that lasted nearly sixty years.

Dr Djelantik and his bride Astri Zwart ride a carriage after their wedding ceremony. (photo: Bulantrisna Djelantik)

“My mother was a Westerner and so was practical, straight forward and strict about appointments and com­mitments – and she never changed – but she had a heart of gold and loved both my father and Bali deeply. She was very attentive and always taking care of family and relations, especially the poor and people in need. My best memory of her is sitting in a chair knit­ting. She was highly intelligent and she was an intellectual and she was also a good cook despite the fact that she frequently had migraines caused by her past bouts of cerebral malaria and the heat. That is why my father built a small wooden vacation house for her up in Kintamani where it is cool.”

It was one of the first mixed mar­riages in Bali and especially not easy during the struggle for independence where many people looked askance at any Dutch person. So, what was the secret to the success of their marriage? “My father was a bit of a dreamer while my mother was very practical. They both came from very different cultures but they shared the same values and both were intellec­tuals, very humane people – and that was most important to them.”

There have been critics of Dr Djelantik who have said that he should not be considered a hero as he only returned to Indonesia in 1948 which they regard as having been too late to have fought for Indone­sia. They also criticize him as having been part of the Karangasem nobility who were pro-Dutch. Such criticism seems too harsh. Although he was studying medicine and gaining work experience in the Netherlands and so was not involved in the physical fighting surrounding the struggle for independence, his attitude was decid­edly pro-independence as can be seen from his attempts to speak to nation­alist prisoners held by the Dutch about what was truly happening and his continued friendship with I Gusti Ngurah Rai, an old school friend who was later killed during the Battle of Margana fighting for an independent Indonesia and for whom the airport in Bali is named. Dr Djelantik him­self was exiled to the island of Buru in 1948 for having been too close to I Gusti Ngurah Rai.

Dr Djelantik was often in a difficult position having to choose between his natural sympathies for the indepen­dence movement and his family who were under pressure from the Dutch. At the gala wedding luncheon held for him and his wife – which they both did not want – Dutch officials were invited. He was so distressed to see the Dutch flag raised before the recep­tion that he quickly ordered the flag lowered and the grounds covered with colourful banners of various colours of the rainbow. He ordered the staff to lie to his father and say that the rope had broken when his father was reprimanded by the Dutch military in­telligence officer for not flying the flag.

There are many ways to serve the country besides physically fighting for independence. Creating the na­tional flag or anthem or establishing a national language are also ways of helping the nation. After the Commu­nist Coup of 1965 there were many killings all over Indonesia. People also came to Dr Djelantik’s hospital to kill suspected Communist patients but Dr Djelantik courageously refused to hand them over and managed to talk the would-be killers out of taking them away. For this brave act alone Adrian Vickers the celebrated histo­rian said of Dr Djelantik, “If anybody deserves to be declared a ‘national hero’, then surely Dr Djelantik fits the bill.”

At the age of 80 Dr Djelantik fell into a coma for nearly 2 months as the result of a mishap during minor surgery. Fortunately, his daughter Bulantrisna is also a doctor and she brought him to Bandung and made sure that he received all sorts of ther­apies from water therapy to painting. Dr Djelanti was partially paralyzed with memory loss so that he could not remember his past. With the painting therapy he began to paint the story of his life and as he did so he began to remember his past. Idan­na Pucci, an Italian actress and writer later wrote the text for Dr Djelantik’s paintings and published them as “Against All Odds, the Strange Destiny of a Balinese Prince”.

“My father was a very special man,” says Bulantrisna. “I would like him to be remembered for three things. “He was born a prince but he was never ostentatious. In fact all his life he lived a very simple life. He was very successful in his career as a doc­tor. He became the chief health officer for the whole of Bali and head of the Medical Faculty at Udayana as well as the hospital in Sangla. He was also successful in his cultural activities. Finally, he was a very compassionate man, a very humane human being. He devoted his life to taking care of and healing others.”
(Tamalia Alisjahbana)