Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
The Picton Castle and her crew stayed in Bali for 12 wonderful days. Since then I have been striving to find connections to link the stories of adventure and relaxation the crew have been regaling me with since we left that beautiful island. It turns out that the key to my own brief writer’s paralysis lies in the balance deeply embedded in Balinese culture. It is a fine balance that everyone noticed from the moment we motored into Benoa Harbour.
The island of Bali is one of approximately 17,000 islands which make up the archipelago of Indonesia. It is a country made up of thousands of islands, with thousands of histories and languages and dialects. It is hard to imagine a county of islands as diverse geographically as they are ethnically, religiously and culturally – finding any sort of balance. Indeed if one delves into the rich and fascinating history of Indonesia one will find stories of colonial conquest and prideful rebellion; massacres and communal healing; economic crises and continued resilience. Indonesia is truly worth a study and the history of Bali itself could keep one intrigued for a very long time.
Balinese culture is imbued with religious symbolism – and with influences from Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity it is a richly textured one. It’s landscape is equally rich. The volcanic mountains in the north are as helpful as they are destructive – for when they do erupt the lava blankets the earth creating ideal geographical and geological conditions for terraced rice cultivation – the island’s main source of livelihood and their communal way of life. The complex irrigation systems of the rice terraces are as beautiful as they are functional and they slope gracefully down to the outskirts of urban centres such as Ubud and Denpasar and all the way to the rocky cliffs and white sand beaches of the southern coast.
One of the common ties that bind all of our stories of Bali together is the duality of the Balinese way of life – as they strive to find cosmic balance in an ever-changing world. Their family complexes – and streets and temples – are built with a clear division, or ‘Kaja-Kelod’ axis, between north (good) and south (bad) and sunrise and sunset. Equally planned are the villages themselves – with temples to specific deities erected in strategic positions. There is a balance of vocal and instrumental harmonies and subtle and dramatic movement in ancient Barong dance performances. There is a balance between work and play and rest. There is a daily fight to balance the traditional way of life with the demands of a growing tourist and commercial economy – and consequently to balance the necessity of capitalistic business savvy with natural and heart-warming generosity. There is a balance between feeding a growing population in a family oriented society and safeguarding communal and spiritual land practices.
*Thank you to Pania for the use of her photographs.