Traditionally the mediums between kings and gods, Bissu priests represent a sort of "fifth gender" in southern Sulawesi. In a part of the world that recognizes four genders -- a) men, b) women, c) men who live as women and d) women who live as men -- the Bissu priests fit e) none (or all?) of the above.
Gentle and endearing, their administrative duties are now largely restricted to wedding ceremonies, where they dance and impale themselves with their kris daggers, yet somehow remain uninjured. Their free time is spent practicing a mixture of animism and ancient mystical Islam, traditions now largely forgotten as more and more Indonesians rack up frequent flyer miles on pilgrimage to Mecca.
I shot these priests at a royal wedding in Pare Pare, alongside a documentary film crew in March 2003. As George W. Bush penetrated Iraq, our gaggle of Americans penetrated a devoutly religious corner of the world's largest Muslim population with concern and heavy hearts. By day three, the roaming wedding commentator (who announced the festivity's play-by-play over loudspeaker) brought the crowd to a hush. It was the ceremony's culmination, when the bride and groom approached to meet for the first time in their lives. "Ladies and Gentlemen," whispered the announcer, fixing his stare on me as the terrified teens sized one another up, "At this moment all I can say is... I am so glad our friends from America are here!!" Onlookers erupted and slapped me on the back and I knew I would never feel unwelcome in this country, though I sometimes wonder why not.
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Technical Note: Photographer Leonard Lueras and I shot our last slides by Day 2, so we ventured into town on a desperate resupply mission. To our horror, we found only HoroColor, a mystery print stock archived in storefront glass boxes blasted by the equatorial sun. When I snapped this colorful detail I had little hope I'd ever see it again. But to this day Leonard and I plot our return in search of that rare and hardy emulsion...
Critiques | Translate
mikhalych (1319) 2007-03-26 13:16
One cannot define their gender by these hands, that's true.
Beautiful colorful image full of interesting details.
Welcome to TE, Djuna, and thanks for sharing.
Glint (6171) 2007-03-26 14:10
such wonderful vibrancy.Gorgeous colour and interesting detail. Love your notes.
ckuhn55 (2670) 2007-03-27 11:32
Excellent Bio here and of course your POV> I climbed up a tree in Thailand over 6 yrs ago and fell into Bali, and more trips to Vietnam. I envy that you live there. Thanks for the notes on copyrights..that is how I found you. Tks
eversmile (11636) 2007-04-04 7:45
Beautiful colors, good sharpness and a lot of details in this successful composition. Interesting note too. Greetings. Marine