Ritual Burdens is part of a series of ethnographic films on severe mental illness in Indonesia, based on material drawn from 12 years of person-centered research by director and anthropologist Robert Lemelson.
The film focuses on Ni Ketut Kasih who has lived her whole life surrounded by the complex rhythms of the Balinese ritual calendar. Here, participation in ritual events is both a spiritual mandate and social obligation for women who spend countless hours crafting offerings. However, the pressures of ritual requirements often overwhelm her, crowding her mind with memories of her difficult childhood during Indonesia’s war for independence. This may trigger Ketut’s bi-polar disorder episodes, for which she has been hospitalized over 35 times.
Ni Ketut’s case reveals the binding associations that may make certain burdens unbearable as cultural obligations, traumatic historical events, and personal experience overlap in unique schemas of stress that trigger cyclical episodes of mental illness. Ritual Burdens questions how communal spiritual obligations may be folded into personal schemas of stress to trigger episodes of mental illness.