Photo: Gorgeous birds.

Petulu Heron Colony

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If you were freaked out by Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds, you may prefer to give a visit to the village of Petulu a miss as every afternoon thousands of herons and egrets (locally collectively kokokan) descend to roost in the trees that line a 400 metre stretch of road through the village. To add to the spook factor, the birds are believed to be the souls of the departed.





The political events during 1965 in Indonesia and the subsequent coup d’état which contributed to Suharto taking power (portrayed eloquently in Christopher Koch’s book as The Year of Living Dangerously) resulted in a mass purge of “suspected” Communists (PKI) (or anyone accused of being such) around Indonesia including Bali continuing through 1965 and 1966. As many as one hundred thousand people are believed to have been killed in Bali alone and the fields near Petulu were reportedly one such massacre site.

Settling in for the evening at Petulu Heron Colony. Photo taken in or around Petulu Heron Colony, Ubud, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Settling in for the evening at Petulu Heron Colony. Photo: Sally Arnold

Shortly after the killings, the birds are said to have appeared en masse for the first time and have continued to roost in the trees every evening since, and the widespread belief in Bali is that the birds are the reincarnated victims. However the folk of Petulu (and the brochure they hand out to tourists) portrays another tale, that the birds arrived as a symbol of prosperity and good luck after the village performed a special ceremony in the temple. The massacres have been swept under the covers of Indonesian history, even in myth. Two thought-provoking documentary films by Joshua Oppenheimer The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence explore this period.

Petulu lies about three kilometres north of Ubud along the north-south road leading to Gunung Batur, the telltale white splattered tarmac beneath the trees marks your arrival. During the day it looks like any other small quiet Balinese village, but in the dimming afternoon light it’s quite the spectacle, even for non-bird enthusiasts, to watch the birds flying over the paddy fields and returning to their nests, as the trees blossom with a multitude of snowy ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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