“The Balinese, the wonderful Balinese, are a people with a long and complex history. Their origins, lost in the mists of time, started not only on the island of Bali, but also from other islands and other countries.” The Chinese have long been visitors, as have Arab traders, Sufi mystics and millennia ago, Indian traders and mystics brought Hinduism and Buddhism to the island. Many of the visitors stayed, adding cultural beliefs and variations to the gene pool, all of which has resulted in the delightful blend that is today’s Balinese people.
Text & Photos by Ayu Sekar
“The Balinese, the wonderful Balinese, are a people with a long and complex history. Their origins, lost in the mists of time, started not only on the island of Bali, but also from other islands and other countries.”
The Chinese have long been visitors, as have Arab traders, Sufi mystics and millennia ago, Indian traders and mystics brought Hinduism and Buddhism to the island. Many of the visitors stayed, adding cultural beliefs and variations to the gene pool, all of which has resulted in the delightful blend that is today’s Balinese people.
Look closely at the faces of those Balinese you meet. You may see traces of an ancient Chinese mariner, a Javanese courtier or even an Indian mystic – some of whom traversed the island seeking spiritual solace some millennia before.
Occasionally you may encounter a village of folk that could be from a village in India, or perhaps a Bali Aga village. Some of these Bali Aga, the original people, remain ensconced in tightly knit communities, in their own walled villages, where they preserve ancient adat (or customs), and life continues on a smooth uninterrupted round of ceremonies and agricultural rituals. Others have connected with other communities outside and their original culture has become diluted.
But today most Balinese are on a tightrope – balancing the modern and traditional demands and trying to make it work. While village life and the banjar (village community) require attendance and attention, the other demands of a job with a boss that may not understand or be sympathetic to their responsibilities, is just one cause of friction.
Not only do they need to work for a generally insufficient pay, they need to run their families, keep the adat alive, serve the community, try to keep the traditional roles, attend ceremonies, make offerings, bear and raise kids, manage padi fields and work.
It is no easy manner and the fact that most people do it with such grace deserves respect. As more and more foreigners come to the island, they bring, along with the much needed cash, strange ideas and customs and disrespectful behavior, while the Balinese just keep smiling. Their flexibility and tolerance is often interpreted as weakness, but in fact it is a strength that also deserves respect.
On the good side as columnist Made Wijaya has noted more than once, the ceremonies just keep getting bigger and better. And it seems whether they are held in a temple, in the midst of Kuta or a remote, almost untouched part of Karengasem (regency) they are generally perfect. For the large part there are few, if any, tourists. The ceremonies are done for themselves, the Balinese, not their myriad visitors. And while a bikini clad girl may bend to take photos of a ceremonially dressed group heading to the beach in Kuta, on most parts of the island, visitors will be handed a sarong with a smile and a request for a small payment.
But one thing I have discovered amongst most Balinese is their raucous sense of humour. Like many visiting Australians, or other tourists, they like nothing better than a good laugh and a joke. Go to one of the temple festivals on a night when they have the slapstick performances and you will see what I mean. In fact many disputes can be more easily resolved when you inject a little humour into the situation. Try it and see.
We can only wonder at the resilience of this wonderful culture and hope that it will remain resistant to change for a long while to come.!
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