John Hughes was born in Northern Ireland and left home aged 17-years in search of adventure. He has travelled extensively taking a number of overland trips from London to Australia and New Zealand, driving and hitching from Alexandria in Egypt to Cape Town and across Canada from Halifax to Whitehorse in the Yukon.
John has produced travel guides for Sri Lankan Tourist Office, travel book and video for the Ghana Tourist Office and a guide to tourist sights in Beijing. Other projects included travel and culture coffee style books for St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and the Grenadines, Dominica and India.
As a result of first hand experience attending his friend's cremation in Bali, over the period of a week, John felt he should record the event for those who will never have that opportunity.
John Hughes lives in London and his company Buzzword UK currently publishes children's books.
Why did you write An Unusual Cremation in Bali?
I was a guest of the family having the cremation, Mr Putu, a friend and head of the family, had invited me in London to visit Bali and film and photograph the events of last five-days of rituals and ceremonies leading up to the family cremation. I put together a two-man UK film crew assisted by Balinese hired helpers and I would take the still photographs of the cremation. When we arrived at the north Bali village on the Monday evening, we were briefed on the cremation program by Mr Putu, there was an outline of the day-to-day programs, but exact times were dependent on 'Balinese time'. When that meeting was over the Balinese hired helpers stated that they would not to go with us into the graveyard - at any time. I was annoyed and curious to find out why? The entire cremation program was packed with rituals and ceremonies almost everyday from early morning to late at night. It was an exhausting experience for the film crew and for many of the Putu family as catching a nap or snack (or beer) was never easy. Family members and villagers seemed to be on the move all the time - sometimes it felt like I was standing still in busy Oxford Street, in London watching the people moving in all directions in slow motion and in silence. The rituals in the graveyard after midnight were tense, and as I did not understand Balinese language, I could only closely observe what was taking place. The entire experience was fascinating, often mysterious and occasionally the atmosphere was overpowering. As Mr Putu had asked his dead family members for permission for me to film the cremation and they had agreed, being the only European present during the various events did not seem to bother anyone. When it all ended with the cremation tower falling in an Easterly direction and I finally got into a bed in a Denpassar hotel on the Saturday night - I could not sleep. I relived the entire experience and decided to write about it. I wrote about the cremation over the following six-months and in the course of moving home I lost the hard disks and my manuscript. On a family visit to Ireland in early 2014, when searching my stored collections of books and notes, I found some really old IBM hard disks labelled with Bali notes. I took these back to London and using a data transfer service, managed to recover the long lost manuscript and notes - almost 18-years later. I just had to write about An Unusual Cremation in Bali.
Are you religious or atheist?
I was adopted at the age of 18-months by a Catholic family in Northern Ireland. So for me religion was a lottery. My parents were hard working and they attended Mass every Sunday and the various annual Catholic festivities - so did I. When I left home as a 17-year old and moved to England I drifted away from practicing religion and like most people only prayed to God when I was in deep trouble. But always inside I have been a believer in God and have felt a strong sense of right and wrong. Wherever I have traveled I always spent a little time in the silence of a church, mosque, gurdwara, temple or sacred place, even mountain tops, to pray and thank God for my life.
An Unusual Cremation in Bali is about a family cremation in 1996 when this family had to remove the souls and remains of their four dead family members from their private graveyard where some had been buried for almost twenty years. Many fascinating rituals and practices took place to please the spirits of the dead and to ward off evil spirits and all black magic attempts to ruin the cremation.