It’s hard watching the mangroves of Benoa Bay disappear, bit by bit, as they are turned into heli-pads, cable ski enterprises and chain restaurants. They are the only green space left in South Bali and they provide a respite from the ugly urban sprawl.
Benoa Bay may soon be filled in with real estate: last month saw a series of massive demonstrations against the reclamation project by people from all walks of life. I was quoted in a Sydney Morning Herald article on the issue:
“The Balinese are fed up and they are finally unifying to express protest against rampant development. Imagine filling in Sydney Harbour — it’s pretty radical. It’s going to become like, heaven forbid, South Florida, with fake waterways and cheesy houses. And the last thing we need is more traffic in South Bali. It’s mindless, environmental vandalism.”
As a guest in this country, I can’t go out marching, as I would like to. As an environmentalist — and as a lover of real, not real estate Balinese culture — I feel obliged to write about these threats to the environment. Some Balinese have suggested that taking on Jakarta developers is like taking on the mafia. The Balinese used to believe that it is better to roll with the punches and just get on with the show, their ceremonial show, rather than wetting their pants over things that can’t be changed. But not any more.
Last month also saw a huge outbreak of puritanism in Jakarta, puritanism which might threaten Bali’s tourism industry. Homosexuality was declared a mental illness by the enlightened Indonesian Psychiatric Association. Days later, during a televised Javanese wedding, the male nipples of the groom were blurred out. The Minister of Defence likened the LGBT movement to nuclear warfare.
This all seems pretty weird coming from such a giggly, girly bunch of islanders — androgyny has long been tolerated, if not celebrated, in Indonesian culture — but the long arm (sabre) of Wahabbian is affecting many traditionally tolerant countries.
The Balinese are more liberal and western in their views on sexuality than the moral majority in Jakarta: they just roll their eyes at this latest round of hard talk. Bali’s fame was founded by a group of arty homosexualists in the 1930s.
Many of today’s leaders were active during the salad days of the sexual revolution. Big butch Balinese still scream ‘homo’ when nancy-boys sashay past, but it’s more venting excess testosterone than actual bigotry. Loafers becoming lighter on the Island of the Gods has been taken as part of progress. Gay liberation seemed to be accepted. Now this!
Developers screaming “culture neutral” is much more of a threat to the way of life than a Gay Pride parade.
On the day that the Islamic council of Yogyakarta issued a fatwa against LGBT —the movement, not individual gays and bisexuals and transgenders and transporters and trainspotters — I was invited to Yogyakarta for the opening of a retrospective exhibition by Sri Astari Rasjid, Indonesia’s ambassador to Bulgaria and a former resident of Bali. Astari’s best friend is a transgender princess from East Madura — a power-house of a woman whose only overtly feminine affectation is waving a fan. Like most Indonesian artists and celebrities, Astari is surrounded by gay men.
Before the show, the crème de la crème of Jakarta society gathered in the lobby of the Ambarrukmo hotel. They were all in pretty, form-fitting floral kebaya (chemise) and saucy sarong with their hair done up in the most elegant buns. Behind them, beyond the lobby back’s glass curtain wall, middle class sisters paraded in burkinis and baggy moo-moos — all very downtown Baghdad.
Quite a contrast.
I was reminded of Tehran, where femininity is still fashionable in broad swathes, despite the decrees; and where men walk around hand in hand smelling roses.
After centuries of graciousness you can’t just instigate petty-mindedness. It’s like telling traffic to go away, or trying to silence the sound of chainsaws in Bali.
Anyway, the exhibition, at University Gajah Mada’s art gallery, was a sensational celebration of sensualism — all the big smoke butterflies fluttered about the incredible installation, commanding gay walkers to take snaps as they progressed.
The climax of the evening was a performance of a contemporary Bedhaya Garba dance — choreographed by the great modern Javanese dancer Retno Sulistyorini who herself danced — in the presence of the Yogyakarta sultan’s wife, Kanjeng Gusti Ratu Hemas. The Jakarta queens all curtseyed when HRH swanned in.
Sri Astari is a consummate beauty warrior: Indonesia culture is now well represented on the world stage. Lucky Bulgaria!
28 February 2016: Breaking mystical news, candi sari, kalongan, Central Java
Dr. I Wayan Suardana, M.Sn, a lecturer at the prestigious Universitas Gajah Mada in Yogyakarta, had a pawisik (mystical message from the other side) a few years ago that there was a temple buried in the backyard of his house. When he dug he uncovered an 11th century shrine base with a naga (dragon) carved on it. A mystic (mbah) from Gunung Lawu appeared one day a year later, completely out of the blue, and decreed that a pavilion needed to be built, for ceremonial use, near the shrine. Pak Wayan then sold the house (and donated the shrine land to the Hindu population) to fellow Balinese-Yogyakarta lecturer Drs. I Gusti Ngurah Putra . The shrine is now re-consecrated and in regular use. I visited the shrine today and had a lively conversation with Pak Putra about the probability that there are many such Hindu shrines and temples still buried in the backyards of Yogyakarta. There was a hug eruption of Mt Merapi about 1000 years ago which would explain why so many shrines of that era are found under three meters of volcanic ash. (Photo courtesy of Drs. Gusti Ngurah Putra).