Ketut Liyer: Bali Medicine Man

ketut liyer medicine man

Eat, Pray, Pay? Or, Eat, Pray, Love? Certainly, when I first set eyes on the famed Medicine Man from Elizabeth Gilbert’s best seller, Eat, Pray, Love, there was eating. Or, more appropriately, drinking. Breakfast for Bali’s Ketut Liyer was a milky concoction for easy digestion, as he went into great detail to explain, with a twinkle in his eye.

Thanks to the advice of my Balinese guide and friend, Kadek, I arrived at 7:00 am to be first in line at the famous house. One does not make an appointment to see Ketut Liyer. You simply arrive and take a number. Luck was on my side and, upon Ketut’s invitation, I cuddled up next to him as the first visitor of the day.

Behind the scenes with Ketut Liyer

As his family worked like busy bees within the richly adorned compound, I spoke with Ketut via intermittent translations with Kadek, about his one remaining front tooth, his kidney stones, his need to shower and dress before the arrival of the masses, and about the state of my own teeth, which he examined and pronounced to be very healthy and clean.

Over-sized butterflies fluttered above my head and landed gracefully on manicured plants, lizards sauntered across cool, shaded tiles and a spider expanded its web, precariously, deliciously, close to my head. The busy bee workers smiled each time they wandered by and Ketut’s ever-ready laughter sliced through the sweat-inducing humidity of early morning, as a rainstorm gathered force on the horizon.

“I have very bad life, you have very good life,” Ketut said while massaging his stomach, his eyes twinkling on their exploration of my face.

“But now, I go and make myself handsome, yes? But me very ugly, yes? You be my wife, but my wife will be very jealous. She very jealous.” He laughed, a warm belly laugh, extending and echoing among the decorative walls of the compound.

“You cover legs, or you make me dangerous.” This, coming from a 99, 98 (he doesn’t remember) year-old Medicine Man.

Kadek and I laughed. Ketut chatted with Kadek about Kadek’s village. Joviality, peace and a deep sense of ‘the present moment’ reigned. Until the first of many groups began to arrive.

The price of fame

Japanese tourists, American fans, Australian yoga fanatics, German sightseers, all took numbers from the famed hook on the wall. All were seeking their fortunes. All were ready to pay for an insight into the unknown.

And did they receive it? No, I don’t think so. Ketut offers catchphrases honed by repetitiveness, like, “Your lips are like sugar,” and, “You will live until 100,” and, “You are a Queen and very influential.”

I discovered this only when I, being number one in line, was called for my reading after waiting a further two hours for him to shower and meditate. Having done my research, I was well versed in the experiences of others and laughed as he launched into his ‘Eat Pray Love’ role. Laughed in a good way, that is.

Afterwards, collecting 150 000 Rupiah as a matter of standard business ($15), his eyes glazed as he looked towards the next tourist. Where was the man I’d sat with for over an hour, chatting blissfully about life’s mundane issues, as he turned them into a comedy sketch worthy of the funniest of comedians?

Does he make people feel happy? Yes. Undoubtedly so. His spirit is infectious. I can only imagine that, before the Eat Pray Love phenomenon, his reputation as a Medicine Man within the community was well-founded. And, in fact, better put to use than the farce that has now been created for the sole purpose of the tourism industry. But, if you’ve travelled to Bali, experienced the poverty, smelt the decay of an ineffectual economy, you can only smile at the profit gained by Westerner’s insatiable need to endorse and ‘be touched by’ celebrity.

Was it worth it? Resoundingly, yes. There was Eating, there was Praying, and there was a feeling of Love. Just get there early to see the man, then the illusion is obvious. Therein lies the lesson.

Update: Sadly, Ketut died in 2016, however, you can still visit the Ketut Liyer House, in Ubud.
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