Ketut, a traditional Balinese healer in Ubud

traditional healer in Bali

Ketut, with a picture of his mother.

[words and photograph by Mark Eveleigh]

“I can’t cure black magic. I’m not a magician. I’m just Ketut.”

As he tells me this Ketut Jaya is massaging brown mulch that looks like soggy cowpat into my ankle. This “cow pat” is made from a recipe handed down from Ketut’s grandmother and it includes more than 50 different herbs. Balinese boreh massage is part of a tradition of rural medicine that is still used by fishermen and paddy-workers all over the island of Bali. When combined with a mesekeb (Balinese sauna made with the steam of no less than 80 ingredients) it is said to be the last stand against black magic curses.

“In your case I put a little extra kayu urip to draw out the dead blood,” says the 46-year-old healer, pointing to a nondescript looking plant at the edge of his lawn. “I learned from watching my grandmother. When I was tiny I just played with the coconut husks that contained all her ingredients, then I started actually collecting them from the garden – and later from the jungle – for her.”

But there were pressures on a young man to look for a more ambitious work in Ubud’s growing tourist industry and Ketut spent the next 20 years working as a driver, guide, construction-worker and an artist (he still pencils elegantly ornate images in his spare time – demons and goddesses that appear to him in his dreams).

“My mother was ill almost from when I was born,” he tells me as he passes me a glass of peppery jamu medicine designed to clear the sinuses (from a distance of three feet it seems). “Once she found herself naked and alone on a beach in the south. An old woman helped her. Because of that I decided to try to make a life helping others.”

Ketut’s family compound in Ubud is now equipped with modest spa facilities, that include an entire boreh pharmacy and a small sauna heated by a coconut fire. The place is building a reputation not only among yogis and expats but also among hard-working locals because Ketut refuses to set a price list that is out of reach of local people.

“It’s my philosophy that we are all put on this world to share,” he tells me. “I would like to help people but they have to believe in these old ways first. Even the plants have spirit. If you don’t believe in them why should they help you? But I can’t do magic…if they want that they should go to a priest. I am just Ketut.”

I twisted my ankle three years ago. It’s been the butt of family jokes ever since that I did it stepping down a rabbit hole while playing rugby with my 10-year-old nephew. After that I wrenched it several more times during a jungle expedition in Mexico, and it’s remained weak and swollen ever since. Then more recently I hammered it badly trying to duck into a West Balinese tube (…surfing that is) and was out of action again for several weeks.

By the time I’d had just one session of Ketut’s massage and boreh treatment the swelling and stiffness had almost completely gone. My ankle already seems almost as good as new.

I’m no judge. I’m just Mark…

…but there are those who say that Ketut’s traditional medicine is pure magic.

You’ll find Ketut at Boreh Pijat Salon & Sauna, Jalan Goutama Selatan, Ubud. Tel: +62 361 2021586



  • nylonliving says:

    Cool! I think a lot of these herbal remedies have a lot to recommend them. I was in Ubud 20 years ago and I would love to return.

    • Ubud must have been magical 20 years ago, and I’m sure you’d notice a massive difference between now and then. But it is still possible to find peace there, and I still enjoy going back there. I hope you enjoy it, when do you get back.
      Narina x

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