National Geographic : 1939 Mar
BALI AND POINTS EAST Crowded, Happy Isles of the Flores Sea Blend Rice Terraces, Dance Festivals, and Amazing Music in Their Pattern of Living BY MAYNARD OWEN WILLIAMS « T THERE have you been this time?" "Netherlands Indies." S "Meaning what?" "Oh, Sumatra, Java, the Celebes, the Moluccas, Bali-- " "Oh, yes. How's Bali?" How's Bali? Some call it a paradise. The essential is that Bali suits its own people. They like their own side of the hill and consider expulsion from Bali the worst possible punishment. To the Ba linese, immortality means rebirth on their own beloved isle. Rich volcanic soil, a friendly climate, and control of water make misery uncommon and famine unknown. Leisure leavens toil; artistic skill is widely shared and generally appreciated, and there is a subtle harmony between the people and their island home. The gods are ever-present friends. Es cape from the numerous evil spirits is a familiar, exciting routine. Amusements, founded in the mythology of the people, are free to all, even to those babes in arms who stay out most of the night, drinking in the Hindu classics along with their mothers' milk. Absence of good harbors has retarded the entry of foreign influence, and native life, preserved within this circling sea, challenges the camera. EVERYDAY LIFE ABOUNDS IN COLOR My presence was regarded with uncon cern. Not the least of Bali's charm is that it enables one to gaze on beauty with de tachment. Balinese temples, brown bodies, grotesque idols, lush-green paddy, hum ming-bird fluttering of fingers and fan, fighting cocks in wicker baskets-all were there, not as made-to-order local color but as phases of normal existence. Everyday life rather than superficial glitter gives character to this amazing little island. Although its culture is old, Bali is not a ruin, rising above an alienated countryside. Brahmanism is here, but caste distinctions are less complicated than in Hindustan. Dotted with volcanoes, one of which spread death and desolation in its path only two decades ago, Bali, like the psalm ist, lifts up its eyes unto the hills, the abode of the island gods (map, page 316). These mountains, wringing rain from the tropical sky and spreading the fertility of volcanic soil, provide life for more than a million people in some 2,240 square miles. Western Bali, not so high, still belongs to the tiger, the wild hog, and the deer. Behind every photograph of Bali, picture a mountain, sometimes destructive in its fury but eternally beneficent in the part it plays in the agricultural life of the island. MOUNTAINS AND MUSIC Before a festival, our young dancer bows toward Goenoeng Agoeng, the Peak of Bali, and the farmers hang from curving bamboo shafts small palm-leaf temples which salute the Holy Mount as a graceful substitute for a pilgrimage (page 318). With every picture of Bali also imagine a background of music-rippling rhythm gay as that of a gypsy zimbalon. The music of the gamelan, the native orchestra, re sembles modern "swing." Around a classic theme handed down un written through generations, each leaderless orchestra gives its own interpretation. As an American swing leader, modernizing an old melody, bases his variations on the musical memories of his audience, so the gamelan orchestra weaves intricate, sophis ticated counterpoint on the sturdy warp of familiar themes. One who is ignorant of the underlying theme is confused by intri cate details of melody and rhythm over which a painstaking group of artists have toiled for months. Made up of farmers, artisans, and busi •ness men, a Balinese orchestra is a cross section of the Balinese population. The performers are so evidently having a good time that the Balinese gamelan is a note worthy exponent of light-hearted artistry. Whether there is a formal audience or not, be sure the orchestra is having fun.