Happy, Smiling People

(Dana)  As advertised, the Balinese are lovely, smiling people who welcomed us warmly to their island.  Some thoughts from our 12 days:

* Rice fields still dominate the landscape and still represent a major part of the economy and food.  Growing rice remains a very labor-intensive process as terraced rice paddies do not easily support mechanization.  During the 210-day growing cycle, the fields are alternatively flooded and emptied through a complex system of irrigation ditches, which support a large number of family paddies.  Sadly, rice fields are disappearing as families sell their land to villa owners and commercial developers.  This sends even more islanders into the tourist industry.

* Balinese are very spiritual, practicing their own flavor of Hindu which includes animism and ancestor worship.  Animism is the belief that souls/spirits dwell in large stones, trees and other powerful-looking natural objects. Across the country, there are major temples, village temples in each village and family temples in each compound.  Checked fabrics adorn the statues representing the balance between good (white checks) and evil (dark checks). Huge statues adorn the roundabouts.

Piles of offerings at the ready

* As testament to their beliefs, Balinese spend a large percentage of their earnings on offerings and ceremonies.  Daily, small palm trays are filled with flowers, rice, crackers, and sometimes, small bills are placed on the ubiquitous stone statues to honor gods or ancestors or on the floor or street to appease demons or evil spirits. They are everywhere!  Festivals necessitate large baskets of fruit and meat be brought to the temples, gracefully perched on women’s heads.  And the cost of major ceremonies such as baby naming, marriage and cremations has escalated as wealth has grown on the island.

* Bali maintains its historical caste system – first class are priests’ families, second is royal descendents and third/fourth are the workers.  Today, caste no longer impacts wealth; capitalistic success is open to everyone.  However, it still impacts ceremonies (the higher the class, the larger the ceremony) and it determines your name.  Men never move class; women can marry up, but will likely elope if they choose to marry down.

* Names for men are determined by caste and birth order.  Within the third/fourth class, a firstborn male is Wayan followed by Made (second born), Nyoman (third) and Ketut (fourth).  A fifth son would be called Wayan Balik for Wayan “turned-around” or starting over.  A second and/or third descriptive name would be bestowed on each child, for example, the area of the island where grandfather lived or “large” or “happy.”  There are no family names.  Women have a similar, but less rigid tradition and they don’t need to change their names when they are married!

* There are no homeless on Bali; families take care of each other.

* Thousands of dogs roam the streets and family compounds.  They are tolerated but kept at a distance as they are thought to consort with evil spirits or even be the reincarnation of nasty humans.  We marvel that more aren’t hit by vehicles.

Emergency fuel for the scooter on the edge

* Scooters are the primary transport based on the small roads, warm climate and high petrol prices.  At $1200-1500 per vehicle, they are within reach of most Balinese.  Emergency petrol is sold at many road-side warangs (stores).

* As with many places, water will be a long-term problem.  Local Balinese still drink the water that comes from rivers or underwater springs.  But as the population grows, sewage continues to be put underground and asphalt replaces fields, the quality of the water supply may be in jeopardy.

    Despite the growing population and construction, the island still has a fluid feel and relaxed rhythm.  It probably can be summed up in our favorite line: “Om, santé, santé, santé, Om” which means “to the gods, peace in the heart, peace in the world, peace in the heavens, to the gods.”

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    One Response to “Happy, Smiling People”

    1. Happy Valentine’s Day! I am wondering what genius ‘goody bag’ idea you shared with those around you today…had to be amazing :). Funny, we just ate off the square plates the other day. The names have long washed off in the dishwasher but the memories remain.

      We miss you and are thinking of you as your oldest turns 14, halfway around the world. Enjoy! Xoxo Lisa