A long bus ride through some rather distressed but scenic areas gave us the chance to hear a lot about Bali. For example, Indonesia has 17,000 islands, which begs the question of who counted them, and 250 million people. They were a Dutch colony until World War II, when the Dutch got out. They wanted back in after the war but the Indonesians declined the offer.
(1) Eighty-five percent of Indonesians are Muslim, since about 8th century. Before that, they believed everything had a soul. They did not worship trees or animals but they did worship the spirit that was in them. While human sacrifice was not mentioned, they did do blood sacrifices (but who didn’t); the only vestige of that is cock fighting but now it doesn’t seem to matter to the gods if the blood comes from the fighting or from fixing dinner. But roosters are still admired for their fierceness and every household had one or two in cages in front of the house.
Unlike the rest of Indonesia, 80% of Balis are Hindu followed by Muslim, Christian, and Chinese and traditional religions. Following Hindu custom, there are four levels of temples: personal, village, professional, and public. Every home has a personal temple and there seems to be a competition to have the most impressive. The streets were lined with shops making and selling the appropriate statutes. They aren’t the kind of things tourists buy and stick in the luggage. Besides being large and bulky, they seem intended to scare something away.
(2) In contrast, the Balinese language doesn’t have words for greetings, like ‘hello’, ‘good morning’. Instead they smile and get on with the conversation. So they smile a lot. The expressions and the eyes in particular are very important, which we already knew from watching the dance yesterday. To deal with tourists, the Balis have adopted and adapted greeting from several other languages, most of which are some form of “God be with you.”
(3) Every village has four temples, one to the god of prosperity and three to the three main Hindu spirits. Every Hindu business has a temple, rather it is a souvenir store, car dealership, or KFC, slanted toward the god of prosperity. The public temples typically are the large, elaborate versions everyone uses for important life events like births, deaths, marriages, and girls starting menstruation.
(4) Traditionally, marriages are of three types: arranged, kidnap, and request. Under request, the families get together and work it out at the couple’s request. Arranged don’t require the couple’s involvement and are becoming less common. Which brings us to ‘kidnap.’
Kidnap is considered the most romantic, at least by Harry, our male guide. Historically, Bali had a caste system, like India. The only way one could marry outside the caste, was to ‘kidnap’ the bride from her family. It wasn’t clear why it had to be the bride. Clearly, it had to be really serious to even consider such a drastic action. (By ‘drastic,’ I mean marrying outside the caste, not kidnapping.)
Under the Indonesian constitution, castes are illegal but it lingers, at least culturally. People are aware of the traditional caste of their family but it doesn’t matter much, except for love.
In the modern world, there is a fourth type of marriage that is becoming more popular, or at least more common. Harry used the quaint term “shotgun.” A child born under such circumstances without a wedding would face a hostile village. We didn’t hear anything about the types of divorce.
(5) Elephants are revered because they have a trunk that covers their mouth, so they don’t talk. They have big ears so they listen. And they have a big belly, which holds knowledge and wisdom. That changes one’s perspective a little.
(6) There is one building on the island taller than five stories; it is a ten-story hotel built in the ’60s. The building code now does not allow anything taller than a coconut tree. Seen form a distance, towns and villages look like the forest.
(7) We saw a couple public temples and palaces, which were interesting but from Doré’s perspective not worth all the steps and walking involved. But the Tirta Gangga water garden was worth the effort with many pools, statues, fountains, and flowers. Plus an outstanding lunch of mostly Bali food in an open-air restaurant overlooking the gardens. We have pictures, one on facebook.