Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, April 1999 )

Statue of the priest-architect Dwijendra, founder of modern day Hindu-Balinese


There’s definitely something in the air. To account for it the Balinese are busy (till April 17) at Pura Besakih, the ‘mother temple’ doing giant ‘universal appeasement rites’, called Panca Wali Krama, billed as "the last major rite this millennium". There’s even an official website, mysteriously called BALI ETHNIC, with the full run down.
Meanwhile us mere mortals with a more municipal perspective are plotting to explode a few planter boxes to help save the next 1,000 years from beautification programs.
This month also sees the last Day of Silence (New Years Day, called Nyepi) of the millennium: the stranger pauses to reflect on the major events that may have shaped Bali’s destiny over the past 1000 years:

Some time in the 10th Century
A Chinese trading vessel arrives in the North Coast port of Buleleng, with a cargo of soy sauce and vinegar in glazed earthenware jars. Also on board: a troupe of lion dancers from the court at Canton. The troupe seeks safe escort for a five days journey to Bedaulu in Central Bali: the Chinese Consul in Buleleng has reported the setting up of a new Hindu-Javanese vassal-state near the Buddhist Monastery, in the fertile Petanu Valley, near Bedaulu, and the King of Canton is eager to establish relations - including trade links. The troupe stops on the third day of its journey at the mountain village of Selulung to pray to the god of the mountain lake. Inside the walled and terraced sanctuary where the offerings are laid, an ancient Berutuk dance is performed: The shuffling ‘hippy-shake’ movements of the ancient hill tribe’s mask dance inspires the Chinese troupe’s leader.
Two days later at the Bedaulu court the Prince Udayana is much impressed by the Lion Dance (with its newly improvised hippy-shake movements) and the performance enters Balinese legend. The Chinese return to Buleleng full of stories of their extraordinary trip.

• • •

A week later the trading vessel leaves for Canton without its musicians: they have been detained by immigration and co-erced into teaching the local chieftain’s gambang (wooden xylophone) ensemble how to play the brass gongs, faster and better than the usurping Javanese prince south of the mountain. Thus are born the Barong Dance and the frenetic style of North Coast gamelan music.

The Tenth Full Moon, 1320, Peti Tenget Bay, Kerobokan (North of Kuta)
A Javanese Brahman priest arrives in a small boat at a tiny West Coast port near Kayu Aya village. He comes from the Hindu Kingdom of Daha in East Java with a small party of novices and servants. He cannot speak the local dialect so he uses the ancient trading language of Malay and seeks refuge with a local community of fishermen. He lives with the fishermen, learning their tongue: over time he builds a small Hindu temple at the estuary’s month. Before continuing on his holy pilgrimage, to the holy mountain sanctuary of Basuki (built by his great-grandfather Empu Sidhemen some two hundred years previously) he converts the village to Hinduism and leaves, as a momento, his betel nut box (called peti).

• • •

The priest, called Dhang Hyang Dwijendra, goes on to build many temples in Bali: Sakenan (Turtle Island, soon to be a Millennium Resort), Pura Goa Lawah (Bat Cave), the temple next to the Bungee Jump at Manuaba, and Uluwatu (where the priest achieved moksa or oneness with the holy force).
His box remains to this day in the temple, still called Pura (temple) Peti Tenget, (which means Sacred or Spooky Box, depending on one’s world view). The place is now the site of the West Coast’s trendiest eatery, La Lucciola, which means curried prawn, in Italian.

March 20, 1391
The first party of princes and priests arrive in Bali from the Javanese Majapahit empire - refugees escaping from the ‘new religion’ (Islam) sweeping the noble courts of Java. They set up a small ‘mini-palace’ in Tabanan, near their great-uncle Arya Damar’s palace. The refugees are surprised that many Balinese noblemen already converse in Javanese, and that all of the island’s religious texts are written in the ancient Javanese Kawi language (courtesy of the priest Dwijendra, now known as the Balinese saint Bhatara Sakti Wawu Rauh, enshrined at Uluwatu).

• • •

Over the next 200 years tens of thousands of Hindu loyalists seek refuge in Bali. A special day "Sugihan Jawa" is proclaimed in the Balinese calendar to signify this great migration. The Javanese language takes root as the language of the courts and the priests (and becomes, over ensuing centuries, High Balinese). Temples are re-built, using baked red bricks, along Majapahit lines - dances such as the Gandrung, the Baris Gede and Sang Hyang Dedari (at Ketewel) are probably introduced during this period.

August 15, 1566: The Dutch Van Houten Expedition Arrives in Padang Bai, East of Klung Kung
The first European expedition (recorded) reaches Bali. The ship’s artist does sketches of the Balinese King, on a chariot being drawn by a pair of albino water buffaloes and Balinese women jumping on their husbands’ funeral pyres. Balinese artists carve renditions of the Dutch ship and the sailors on temple walls under construction. Two sailors jump ship and start a chocolate business (Don’t be surprised: St Francis Zavier introduced basket-ball to East Timor 200 years earlier).
They stay for 30 years before returning to Holland where they take jobs as postmen.
Whoever said the Dutch were not sticklers for convention?!

June 26, 1772 : The First Balinese to Visit Europe Returns to His Palace in Karangasem, East Bali
Prince Gusti Djelantik (1745 – 1799) spent much of his youth in the court of Mangkunegara in Surakarta, Central Java. There he learnt the Dutch and French languages, European History, horsemanship and European etiquette. In 1770 he visited the Loo Palace, in Holland, and helped the prince lay out his garden (thus was born Indonesia’s TAMANISASI landscape movement of herbaceous borders).
The Dutch called him "brownsche", which was not nice, and when he got home he told of the Dutch peoples’ unhygienic lifestyles. Near Karangasem he built a European style garden replete with fountains and arbors. It inspired many others across the land, in fact ‘europeanoeserie’ was to become a trend for the next two hundred years until it became fashionable to copy the taste of the TOW-KAYS (Chinese tycoons) in Taiwan and Manila. Some princes, like the Prince of Mengwi, mixed the great European park look with Hindu Javanese cosmogony - in works like the Taman Ayun park in Mengwi.

(Footnote: Indonesian Tourism Minister Yoop Ave’s 2000 white stallion statues across the land (a millennium project??), completed in 1992, was the last flourish of europeanoeserie).

March 17, 1904
Dutch artist W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp arrives in North Bali and immediately starts sending gorgeous drawings of "Beautiful Bali" back home - Baliology & Balinese Tourism are born in the same instant.
Thirty years later Miguel Covarrubius updates the image, of the "glamorous", the "wondrous" and the ‘magical’ in his epic book ‘Island of Bali’, inspired, one must suspect, by the tales of his friend Walter Spies the legendary German painter based in Ubud. Spies’ and Covarrubius’ friends — Charlie Chaplin, Doris Duke, Lady Diana Cooper and Margaret Mead — visit their Balinese dream homes and are totally enchanted by their lifestyles, and that of their Balinese hosts. The myth of ‘Bali Hai’ is born.

(Footnote: In 1994 garden historian Adrian Vickers writes a book "Paradise Created" which documents the myth-manufacture)

"Puputan!" A European view of the tragic occurrence.

January 10, 1906
The Dutch military arrive in force in Sanur. Within weeks, the House of Denpasar has fallen to the Dutch in an horrific Puputan battle: the entire royal family takes their own lives, on their kris knives, rather than surrender. Surviving Dutch witnesses still suffer from the ‘shell shock’ of the atrocity.
In 1994, the one surviving Denpasar royal, I. Gusti Mayun, who, as a five year old, took three bullets during the skirmish, was cremated with a magnificent PELEBON ceremony. Since this day the Balinese have worn black at cremations.

August 17, 1945 : Soekarno and Hatta Proclaim Indonesian’s Independence
Bali is proud to be part of the "one country, one people, one language" ideal of modern Indonesia. Javanese once again becomes the ‘language of the courts’. The Japanese and then the Dutch (who have had minor colonial influence on Bali - compared to their 350 years on Java) are repelled. Soekarno (who becomes Indonesian’s first president) is beloved in Bali as his mother is Balinese. He loves art and culture too — subjects close to every Balinese’ heart 54 years later. His daughter Megawati is loved in Bali because she believes, strongly, in truth and justice.

"I want Freedom" poster by Djarum Cigarette Inc.

October 1967
Soeharto seizes power from Soekarno in a bloodless coup.
Soeharto’s GOLKAR party is popular in Bali for the next 30 years: the Balinese know that Soeharto is a moderate Javanese-Moslem who will preserve and respect their autonomy as the only Hindu island in the world’s largest Moslem country. During the Soeharto era, Bali slowly grows from a quiet cultural microcosm into a world product - many legong dancers leave the stage for a life on the juice blender. But survive the culture does, due to its resilience: the urban environment is less fortunate.
Hotels become the new "temples deluxe".
By 1990s merchants and real estate ‘carpet-baggers’ have replaced anthropologists and artists in the expatriate community. ‘Hindu intellectuals’ prowl the streets looking for signs of cultural prostitution in an urban Bali that looks like a whore in party dress.
In 1999, choreographer Guruh Soekarno’s dance spectacular, "Reformasi", is a resounding success: the young Balinese are now ‘screaming’ for more autonomy.

• • •

Mercifully, Bali is today ‘cushioned’ from the social unrest affecting many other parts of Indonesia, due, in part, to its affluence and internationalism.
Bali will enter the 21st Century more fully integrated than ever before, and with a strong sense of its destiny.
On, On!

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