Written by on June 16, 2012 in Bali History with 0 Comments


never had a glimpse of Bali”. He spoke of his having missed the sight of it as if he had toiled for twenty years in vain. To visit Bali before retiring is the ambition of every Hollander in the Indies. My friend on the steamer had a family of four little children with him. “I couldn’t drag those along, you know”, he explained, with a look at the encumbrance that seemed an odd mixture of affection and regret. I had to agree with him there. For Bali is not a land of comfortable hotels where mothers find space and attendance enough not to feel embarrassed on account of the large family they bring with them. There are not any hotels at all, and I hope that the day will never dawn that sees the opening of a Balinese Commodore. For that day would be the end of Bali’s primitive charm, Those who seek the island must seek it for its own enchanting beauty, not for the pleasures of commodious hotel life to which the exotic scenery supplies an attractive background. They must be satisfied with simple accommodation in the Government pasangrahans. These are hostelries for the reception of Dutch officials and native regents who are on a circuit though the district under their rule. There is a front porch and a back porch connected by an oblong room which the Dutch call Binnengalerij, or inner porch. On either side of this inner porch are the guest rooms. The man in charge is a native, the man- door, who welcomes you with ceremonious politeness. He may only admit you inner orch. h after the controller of the District has sent him word. necessary to notify the controleur of your servants room. ` coming and obtain his consent for the use 1. of the pasangrahan. There is no need to call on this official in person. The K. P.M. has a representative at Booleleng, the har bor where one lands, who knows how to arrange one’s trip through the island. He will reserve accommodation for you by telephone, he will order your automobile for there are neither trains nor trolley cars in Bali – he will draw up an itinerary, and accompany your party, if you wish, as a guide and interpreter. Ball might be fittingly described as affording a picture of Java as it must have looked like in pre-Islamic days, five centuries and more ago. The Balinese are descendants of Javanese settlers, who in two mass migrations, one in the ninth, the other in the early sixteenth century, escaped from the political turmoil of their native land and peopled the island across the strait. They brought their Hindu culture with them, and whereas Java lost hers when she became Islamized, Bali was never invaded by Islam, so that Brahmanism is still the ruling religion of the Balinese, and Shiwa their highest god. There are Mohammedans among them, but they are outcasts in the literal sense, casteless waifs in a society that is built up on the caste system. A man without a caste is a man without a country in Bali. He exists, but does not belong to his habitat, he lives, but loose from all attachments that make life worth living. The caste system was imported by the Hindus and superimposed upon a native society which was democratic in spirit. That spirit is still alive and able to assert itself in many ways. The laws that have emanated from above, from the Hindu princes and the sacred books of Brahmanism, measure the punishment by the offender’s social status. The higher the caste, the greater the clemency of the law. But in the communal organizations which are of the people’s own making – spontaneous growths of their inborn sense of equity – no privileged caste is recognized. The inhabitants of a desa, or village commune, are bound together by strong ties, and the rights and duties of the community are enshrined in written laws. In the older villages membership in these desa societies is limited to heads of families whose ancestors were founders of the desa, and one of the advantages attached to this membership is the title to arable land. But caste has nothing to do with their privileged position, which resembles that of the landed gentry in mediaeval England. And in the villages of later date every head of a family is entitled to membership, and few and trifling advantages are attached to it. Besides these village societies the Balinese have soobak societies, formed by the owners of rice fields that are watered by the same irrigation system. Equality of rights and duties in both these types of organizations is stretched to such an extent that no caste has any privilege over another. As a member of a sakaha desa or a sakaha soobak a Brahman is the equal of a Sudra, and a poonggawa or district head has, as such, no greater authority than the lowest born villager. These sakahas are democratic bodies of spontaneous growth, which the Dutch government is careful to leave intact and to utilize. It would be incorrect to say that the Balinese are conscious of the caste system’s alien origin. It is bound up with their religious beliefs, and for them to assert that it had not existed from the beginning of time would be tantamount to blasphemy. But unconsciously the communal spirit, which is an inheritance of their pre-Hindu past, has softened the rigidity of the system and divested it of many traits that make it repulsive to westerners. The sudra, of the lowest caste, is in the eyes of the true-born Hindu an impure being, but the Balinese do not regard him in that light. Impure are only those who have contaminated themselves by an impure act, and that stain may attach to the members of any caste, the only difference being that the impure condition is sooner cleansed in the case of a high-born man. Impurity caused by the touching of a corpse lasts five days for a priest, ten for a Braman, fifteen for a kshatriya, twenty for a wesya, and twenty-five for a sudra, five days of unclean penance marking the difference between one caste and the next. The time-honored relation between caste and profession is not honored any more by the Balinese if it ever existed among: them The padandas, or priests, it is true, all come from the Brahman caste, but otherwise the accident of birth does not decide a man’s vocation. All castes take a share in the cultivation of the rice, which is the great national industry of Ball and, as in ava, an intrinsic part of their religious life. Woman has more to do than to say in this caste-regulated community. She is not treated, however, as an inferior being useful only as a breeder and a worker. Women of the Brahman caste may be come priests, and the wife of a padanda must be initiated into his learning. Knowledge is not considered a superfluous attainment for women; on the contrary, the Balinese are fond of education, and a large majority of the people, including the women, have mastered the three R’s. But it goes without saying that their duties are more numerous and their rights are fewer than those of the men. A man may take a wife from a lower caste, but a woman may not marry months old, on its first anniversary, at the naming, at the piercing of the lobes of the ears, at the filing of the teeth, at the first menstruation, at the wedding, at the beginning of pregnancy, at the death and the cremation. To cremate their dead is for the Balinese a religious duty, and since the ceremony is an expensive affair, they have an inducement to thrift in the desire to insure for themselves an honorable end on the funeral pile. In order to reduce the cost, a dead man’s body is often temporarily buried, until an opportunity occurs to have it cremated with others who have followed him into death. If the corpse has decayed during years of waiting, the dead one is burnt in effigy, a human figure engraved on a lontar leaf or on a piece of wood taking his place. Among the better classes the body is embalmed, wrapped up in cloths, coffined, and preserved under costly textiles upon a balĂ©-bandoong, a simple structure best described as a four-cornered band-stand. I saw such a temporary tomb within the palace walls of the regent of Karangasem. The body was that of an aunt of his, a sister of his predecessor. When the late ruler died, the Dutch Government would not allow his son to succeed him, as it had good reason to suspect him of disloyalty. He was banished and a nephew of the dead regent, the present ruler, I Goosti Bagoos Dyilantik, was appointed in his stead. This man had always been a favorite of his uncle, and was fully trusted by the Government at Batavia. The exiled claimant, as the nearest relative to his father’s sister, must give his consent to the cremation before the ceremony can be performed, and he naturally refuses to give it since he is barred from being present at the feast. And so the old lady has been lying there, for I don’t know how long, waiting for her nephew to change his mind and have pity upon her wandering spirit. The interval between death and cremation is a trying time for both the deceased and the survivors. For the spirit remains housed in the body and, while waiting for its release, haunts the dead one’s relatives. Hence the cremation is an occasion for rejoicing, as it brings release from fear to the living and release from the body to the dead. When a day for the cremation has been fixed, the relatives build a portable tower of bamboo and rattan, on which the corpse is to be carried to the pile. This tower, called wadah, varies in height according to the prominence of the candidate for cremation. I saw one building at Tabanan, which was especially remarkable on ac- count of the monster which was to decorate the front of the tower waggon, not unlike the figure-head at the bow of a ship. It consisted of a huge grinning mask made of rattan, to which a pair of lyre- shaped wings were attached, whose framework was covered, like a patchwork quilt, with gaudily colored bits of plush or wool. This monster is called Karang Boma and is a son of Vishnu, against whom he rebelled. Why this Hindu Lucifer should be chosen to escort the dead to their funeral pile was a question that the tower builders at Tabanan could not answer. They were not concerned about the why and the wherefore, they simply followed tradition, convinced that what had always been done must be right. On the day set for the cremation, the corpse in its winding sheets is carried to the wadah, and on the way thither the procession is attacked by a crowd of relatives and friends, who want to tear off a piece of the cloth, that they may possess something worn by the deceased whereby his good qualities may pass on to them. This scene, though a legitimate part of the ceremony, often develops into a regular fight between the carriers and the holders-up. Arrived at the tower, the corpse is placed on the top storey, whereupon the high scaffolding is carried by a shouting crowd to the place of cre- mation. There is no funeral pile in the strict sense of the word, only a kind of platform made of earth and sods upon which a wooden animal, a steer or a lion, is waiting to receive the corpse. The body is lowered into its hollow belly, the lid that forms its back covers it up, oil is poured over the monster, and the weird coffin is ignited. The flames are stirred by the bystanders with long bamboo sticks, while they screen themselves from the scorching heat behind their payongs, When at last the wooden animal collapses and the body has been turned to ashes, they poke among the remains for the skull and hammer it to dust, so as to make sure that the spirit shall escape to heaven. Not until it has gone thither can it come back to earth and migrate into another being. The soul of an uncremated body would join the unsubstantial host of spooks, ghosts, and spirits, which is the fate of women who die pregnant and of those who die of leprosy and small-pox. 7] A people to attached to its religion, so assured of the efficacy of prayers and rituals, and so conscientious in their performance, is not easily accessible to the teaching of another faith. Christianity has never made headway in the island. Three missionaries have been preaching in Bali, but had to give up their work as a hopeless task. One convert was all that was accomplished, and this man, in a fit of frenzy or remorse, assaulted and killed his converter, That was about fifty years ago. At present the Dutch Government does not allow any mission to enter this field. Both Protestants and Roman Catholics are anxious to resume their activities among the Balinese, but so far the Government has remained firm in refusing to admit them. That does not mean that the people must remain without the blessings that the missionaries bring with the gospel. Schools, medical aid, sanitation, are among the many boons that Dutch rule has brought to the Balinese. The shocking and repulsive things that early travelers described have been stamped out, and the present policy is to preserve the good and the beautiful that make Bali a precious relic of the past. A Dutch official whom I met at Karanga sem called the Balinese “a people without a future”. “A future”, when applied to a nation means to us Westerners, I take it, extension of one’s economic power. In that sense the Balinese are, no doubt, a futureless race. For they are content to remain as they are, and immune to the contagion of Western restlessness, which always chases after something new. The ship on which I returned to Java left the harbor of Booleleng about sunset. The island soon became part of the falling darkness and lost to view where I stood on the deck. But when the moon arose and cast a silvery sheen upon the water, the island seemed to rise from its depth, a fairy garden afloat upon the glittering sea. Even so the life of these people drifts along, careless of the future because the present is too happy and serene to make them long for change, and without regret for the past, since the past is the present in the changeless tenor of their existence. I had come to the end of my cruise through the Malay Archipelago, and returned on the SS.,,Patria”, of the “Rotterdam Lloyd”, to Europe and western civilization. The comforts and the company on board made the voyage seem short, and when I landed at Marseilles I wondered at Java’s proximity to Europe. Several of my fellow passengers hurried off to the Italian lakes and the Swiss Alps, to recover there from the effects of a protracted residence in the tropics.,,Why did you go to Java?” one of them asked.,,Aren’t Switzerland and Italy more beautiful?” I did not deny it. But the charm of modern travel is in the search for contrasts, in the sight of scenes that are different from those that are familiar. Otherness is the traveler’s aim, and the stronger the contrast, the greater his Zest. Hence the present-day interest in the life of primitive races, and the fascination of fiction such as Conrad’s, that takes the reader to their distant shores. He knew those isles and wrote with an artist’s love of Bali’s “terraced fields, of the murmuring clearntis of sparkling water that flow down the sides of great mountains, bringing life to the land and joy to its tillers”. And he also knew that, in spite of their otherness,,,there is a bond between us and that humanity so far away. For their land – like ours lies under the inscrutable eyes of the Most High. Their hearts like ours – must endure the load of the gifts from Heaven: the curse of facts and the blessing of illusions; the bitterness of our wisdom and the deceptive consolation of our folly”. It is in that perceptive mood that the traveler should visit the East Indies, keenly interested in their otherness and yet aware of the common humanity that binds East and West together.

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