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Sea Sacrifice to Fight Bird Flu: Bali

Alarmed by the spread of bird flu, the Bali provincial government and Hindu spiritual leaders have announced they will hold ritual animal sacrifices at sea to ward off evil influences. Governor Dewa Beratha said he had already talked with Bali’s religious leaders about the “spiritual measures” necessary for the island to free itself from the disease.

“We plan on holding a pakelem ritual in the Bali Strait and the Lombok Strait. We’re just waiting for the elders to tell us the right time to do it,” the governor said Wednesday.

Pakelem is a traditional Balinese Hindu ritual that involves the sacrifice of live animals by throwing them into the sea.

The ritual is aimed restoring nature to a state of equilibrium and follows the confirmation of the bird flu deaths of two Balinese women and thousands of chickens on the island.

“We are going to sacrifice black goats,” Beratha said.

Animal sacrifice is often used in Balinese Hindu rituals.

Similar rituals and sacred offerings, which draw on the influence of the Bhairawa and Tantrayana teachings of Sivaistic Hinduism, were also held after the 2002 and 2005 bombings in Kuta and Jimbaran.

Many Balinese believe such rituals draw positive energy to the island and its people and believe earthly problems can be solved by divine powers if appealed to by acts of faith.

The island’s Hindu high priests have yet to find a date for the ceremony in accordance with the Balinese lunar calendar.

Beratha said the administration would in the meantime focus on raising public awareness of the virus. He also said his administration would promote safe methods for raising poultry rather than more extensive culling.

“We are going to conduct limited culling only,” Beratha said, adding that Balinese Hindus needed a large number of chickens and ducks for rituals in the fourth month of the Balinese calendar, which falls in August and September.

The administration launched an interdepartmental team on the prevention and eradication of avian influenza in 2005. The team was later merged with the Regional Committee on Avian Influenza and Pandemic Preparedness.

The administration has also set up Participatory Disease Surveillance and Participatory Disease Response teams in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), whose members are spread across the province.

“We have provided Rp 1.6 billion (about US$177.7 million) to be distributed to all regencies for the purchase of necessary medical equipment and another Rp 300 million for public campaigning,” Beratha said.

Public education efforts appear to have failed so far to convince the public to keep their animals in cages. According to the administration, chickens and ducks have been found with bird flu in 193 of the 702 villages on the island since 2003.

Live fowl have been banned from entering the province since 2004.

The import ban brought chicken prices in Bali to twice the level of prices in Java, which in turn lured smugglers to bring chickens to the island.

“(Chicken smuggling) is one of our great challenges,” Beratha said, urging the public to help monitor the movement of poultry in their local areas.

The Bali Tourism Agency said tourism arrivals had so far not been affected by the recent bird flu scare. Around 5,000 foreign tourists continue to arrive on the island each day, a figure largely unchanged since the first human bird flu death was confirmed on Aug. 12.

Ary Hermawan