Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, October 1999)

The History of the Male Peacock in Bali,

The Stranger has always been at the forefront of the fashion stakes: he championed the revival of the batik headdress; recorded the first ruby buttons (on best man Warwick Purser’s cream flannel Nehru jacket at Prince Raka of Gianyar’s 1979 Royal wedding); and patented the out-sized chequered bum-bag-come-ceremonial sash (see photo opposite) which is now the rage at South Bali festivals. This month the Stranger turns historical with his sartorial sarcasm …………… READ ON:

Friday, August 27, 1999: Jero Dalem, Kepaon — More Deaths in the Village
I arrive early for a body-washing and sit in the airy outer court of the Kepaon mini-palace. I watch the arrival of the (mostly male) invitees for this sad occasion: the deceased, A.A. Ngurah Dharma Kusuma ("Gung Ngurah"), a friend since my first week in Bali 27 years ago, had been ailing for some time so the palace courtiers are restrained in their grief. He had been much loved in the community as a pencaksilat guru, a card sharp and a comic wit.
Watching the parade of Denpasar nobles trotting across the narrow bridge, culminating in the arrival of the much-loved King, I record subtle ‘shifts’ in costuming — only royal dukes wear tan teteron safari suit jackets this week, for example, with Timor ikat cummerbunds; all others wear black shirts over sombre plaid sarongs (rather than the traditional batik). I register ‘trends’: it seems Harley Davidson is the flavour of the month — the empathic eagle and Hello Hollywood logos are everywhere; they come as embroidered breast plates, heavy as Tiramisu, and screen printed heraldic crests.
I recall a 1986 cremation at the Pemecutan Palace in Denpasar (see photo bottom right) when the whole town was a sea of men in black — indeed, all cremations since have been black affairs — and am conscious of the effect palace trends still have on greater Bali.
Other fashion trends are moulded by mega events: the bold chequered temple sash which first hit the streets of Sanur during Megawati’s Ben-Hur-like congress, for example (see "Stranger in Paradise" June ’99) has lately been re-invented as a handy cummerbund for hand phones, Oakley glasses and cigarettes (real Men in Black chain smoke).
I muse on the history of men’s dress in Bali — always louche if one believes the 19th century photographs (see below) — and am determined to write a primer for the fashion conscious New-Balinese ceremonial groupies who now populate the land.

Wednesday, August 28, 1999: TNT’s Cable’s Homage to Busby Berkley films turn up an intriguing 1936 film called "Gold Diggers in Paris", starring Rudy Vallee and Idanna Pucci. In a Bali-inspired production number I catch the following refrain:
"I wanna go back to Bali"
"They don’t have a word for no"
Well of course they do, it’s yes, but that’s not the point of it. The point of the song is that Bali’s reputation during the 1930s and 1940s was as a brazen land of free sex and bare boobies! When Indonesian’s first president, Soekarno, came to power he ordered Balinese woman shield their perfectly formed breasts from the prying lenses of German tourists et. al. Male peacockry (never on the wane) was thus rocket-boosted to the forefront of fashion excellence — for the ensuing 50 years it never lost its dynamic edge.

The last year has seen huge developments in Balinese men’s traditional garb: hemlines have plummeted, now scrapping the floor "for a learner silhouette"; opalescent silk brocade wraps, once the exclusive domain of Rajas and Sultans, is now de rigeur at temple festivals from Jimbaran to Jembrana; jackets are worn tight and T-shirts (preferably heraldic) are worn with sleeves rolled (see "Tatooes" in the Accessories Section opposite).
While Gianyar grandees comb their burgundy velvet sashes the new kids on the blocks of ceremonial Kuta want the latest wrap-around frames and Birkenstock footwear (Orange the end of the millennium’s hottest colour).
These days one needs to go to Tenganan in East Bali to see truly traditional men’s mufti — no shirt, dark sarong, red waist sash and white cotton thread belt (with a wee dragger tucked in (see photo opposite)) — worn daily by the aristocratic Tengananese.

While the East is famous for elaborate costumes and the enormous variety of spectacular ceremonial dress, it is in South Bali — particularly the wealthier enclaves of Sanur, Kuta and Jimbaran with their five star hotels and tourist-related industries — that one today finds real fashion flair.
Choosing the right ‘look’ is a function of one’s own station, one’s relationship to the ceremony, one’s individual style and charisma. I once turned up, late, for Gusti Lempad’s cremation in overly refined garbed and was mocked by a group of Ubud celebrants. "Hey, handsome, have you paid for that sash yet." Since this embarrassing incident I have tried to pitch my dress sense to reflect my standing at an event: as groupie, guest of honour, cub reporter, ex-fan, devotee or faux-grandee (de rigeur with the Tjokaholics of Ubud).

The Balinese are most adept at wearing their heart or their sleeve and its quite hard keeping up.
Hopefully this primer well help you in keeping up with the Gustis.



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