Sunday, October 02, 2005


Bali Remembered

Bali is just a quick six hour flight from Tokyo, equivalent to a flight to the Bahamas from a northeastern US city. So when I lived in Japan I used to go there for vacation. Thailand was the first choice for most expatriates, but Bali was even less developed, more raw, a Hindu island in the middle of the Islamic ocean of Indonesia.

Most of Indonesia had at one time been Hindu of course as the ruins of Borubadur attest, and I wondered (aloud to local fast friends I made when visiting that massive structure, whose every surface is carved with Hindu gods) how it felt to look at the gods worshiped by your ancestors, even as you enter the local mosque. The inquiry was received with a polite silence. The Islamic wave has pushed the Hindu remnant back, century after century, to its last redoubt in Bali, where it long maintained its customary monarchy and aristocracy, still reflected in its social structure today.

There are not three but five different greetings given during the day, based on the time of day, "Salamat pagi," good morning, is the first. During rainstorms the locals pull palm and banana leaves to use as makeshift umbrellas. After a week there you can identify weavings by the Indonesian island that produced them, based on distinctive patterns. The Hindu mythology is reprised in six traditional plays, performed by masked dancers, including the famous young Balinese girl dancers. The locals seem to know every gesture of each play by heart and watch enthusiastically from the wings, where they all stand, allowing the seating in the main hall to be taken by the tourists.

I don't want to overly-romanticize Bali's Hindu culture, romantic as it feels to be there. It's not all flowers and fruitbowls, even if each day does begin with saronged women dropping small prepared bouquets at each doorstep, where they remain all day. They drive like maniacs. One Balinese told me of being badly injured on the street, and watching his fellow countrymen drive past him for hours. I had to bribe a taxi driver to slow down, shouting the Indonesian word (there is a Balinese language, but it is complex, and business is done in Indonesian) for slow, while showing him a fistful of rupees, and then shouting the word for fast and showing him only our agreed fare.

Still, they don't deserve to be bombed, indeed bombed again, by the same muslims who have already pushed them into an island enclave.

We perceive ourselves as strong and predominant, just as strong and predominant as I'm sure the Hindus once felt in Indonesia. But will our descendants find themselves surrounded, assailed, besieged, as the Balinese are today?


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