National Geographic : 1951 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine For two hours a circle of hundreds of intent Balinese and a few foreign visitors watched fluttering fingers and sinuous arms and bodies as singing and acting alternated between the young men and girls, while a small gamelan played from the banyan tree "wings." The djanger, I learned, began as the "be bop" of Balinese entertainment some years ago, after a Malay theatrical troupe visited the island. Today it has attained dignity and even at times includes episodes of classical folklore. Perennial favorite of Balinese dances, how ever, is the legong, performed by two or three young girls to the accompaniment of a large orchestra of brass gongs, cymbals, drums, and metal-keyed xylophones (page 12). In quick-changing tempo the girls move with angular motions of arms and swaying bodies or in smooth gliding steps (page 11). Their necks jerk from side to side and eyes flash. A reciter tells the legend they portray. Legong Dancers Trained from Childhood These young girls are no amateurs. They train almost from the time they are babes; their careers end before they reach their teens. Deeply exciting, too, were the massed chants of the men in the ketjak, or so-called monkey dance, I saw one evening at Bona. Two hun dred men, bare to the waist, sat in concentric circles about a light standard upon which coconut-oil flames burned. Their voices rose and fell; as notes trailed off in one portion of the circle, they were caught up in another. One moment the bronze-bodied players were in sitting position, in another they had thrown themselves back, circle against circle; then suddenly arms and fingers fluttered skyward as voices excitedly cried "Ke-tjak-ke-tjak -ke-tjak." Northeast of Bali, in Makassar and Am boina, disturbances had broken out; instead of going there I flew back to Djakarta and thence to Sumatra. Sumatra is big and, as we flew diagonally across its southern half to Padang on the west coast, it seemed almost uninhabited. Forests cover its plains and its rugged backbone of mountains. In only a few places did I see rice fields and plantations. About 3/2 times the size of Java, Sumatra has less than a fourth the population of that crowded island. Padang nestles amid coconut palms beside the sea. Its harbor, Telukbajursumatera, some three miles away, formerly called Emma haven, is an outlet for coal and for farm prod uce of the fertile Padang Highlands. At Padang I shared a hotel room with a young Dutch agriculturist who maintained large truck gardens and a dairy in the Ban dung district in the hills of west Java. He had built up a sizable business furnishing Djakarta hotels with safe fresh vegetables, sanitary milk, and butter. Quantities of vege tables, especially lettuce and cauliflower, were also shipped to Singapore. Now this enterprising man was waiting for a ship bound to Sibolga, where he was going to investigate the Tapanuli district south of Lake Toba (page 40). Batak village headmen there had offered him as much land as he wanted. The plan was to put hundreds of acres under mechanical cultivation to supply vegetables, beef, and pork to Southeast Asia markets. Except for its sunny beach and sea breezes, Padang's attractions are few. Close behind it, however, rears the mountain range into which twists a delightful highway that mounts to the Padang Highlands. Through the kindness of Padang's mayor, I found an interpreter companion and off we started in a midget car for Padangpandjang and Bukittinggi (formerly Fort de Kock). The road twists and squirms through the hills and up Anai River gorge, through which also climbs a cog railway. Luxuriant tropical trees and thick twining vines mantle the steep cliffs. At one bend in the highway a waterfall leaps from a cliff and plunges into a pool so close to the road that it spatters spray on windshields of passing cars. At Padangpandjang we saw a number of the strange upturned roofs of the Minangka bau homes. Hornlike gables rise so high above the middle of the roofs that the ridgepoles look like a broad U. Moslems Feast Before They Fast Mosques dot the highlands, for the Minang kabau people are strict Moslems. Many women dressed in their holiday best walked along the roads, carrying trays balanced on their heads. Brilliant handwoven cloths cov ered the contents of their head burdens. "They are taking foods to relatives," said my companion. "Young wives especially go to visit their mothers and mothers-in-law just before our holy month of Ramadan. Our fast month begins day after tomorrow and we do not eat during the day. Feasting and wed dings come before or after our holy month." We found the menfolk enjoying themselves in a different manner. Along the highways we passed scores of them with dogs trotting at their heels. Some carried guns. They were returning from a wild pig hunt; muddy and frayed clothes bore witness to the roughness of the countryside. Sometimes several hundred men of the district go on these pig hunts.