National Geographic : 1951 Jan
Republican Indonesia Tries Its Wings ence halted at the shores of Bali. Instead of raising mosques to the Prophet, the Balinese continued to build elaborate stone and brick temples to their Hindu gods-and still do. While Java, Sumatra, and other islands bear new war scars, in Bali it seems almost as if war never had been. The Japanese, I was told, had halted dances and large temple feasts, but again communities have organized troupes of dancers, and the rhythmic gamelans seem not to have missed a single beat of their gongs. Hindu temples, feasts, glittering dances, rippling music, weird stone gods, graceful golden-bronze bodies, cockfights, lofty vol canoes, and spectacular rice terraces-all are here. Bali is unchanged, unspoiled.* I traveled anywhere I chose and encoun tered only smiles and cordiality. The Balinese love their island and their gods. Tilling the plains and steep mountain terraces, they build temples to their rice god dess (page 25). Growing coconuts, coffee, fruit, and other nonirrigated crops, they dedi cate a temple to that agriculture. Dancing, they entertain their gods and at the same time entertain themselves. Many photographs and much copy have been made of the bare breasts of Balinese women. Balinese in turn are shocked at the revelation of legs by Western women wearing shorts and abbreviated bathing suits. Bali's civilization is ancient, its traditions and practices tested by time; their customs suit the Balinese, so why change? Twins of Different Sexes Bad Luck At a crossroads near Denpasar I saw a small temporary shack with matting side walls and a thatch roof, set near a grotesque stone god. I inquired what it was for. "It's a house for a woman who has given birth to twins," said the islander who was ac companying me. "A woman who has twins, a boy and a girl, has to move from her own house and stay at a road crossing or a ceme tery for 42 days." "What if the twins are both boys or girls?" I asked. "That's all right; it's bad luck only when they are a boy and a girl." I asked if the youngsters were well and who took care of the mother and children. Yes, the babies were doing well. Relatives and the husband took care of the mother and brought her food. "Let's go in and see them," the man sug gested. We went to the flap entrance, announced our presence, and were immediately invited inside. The father was there, fondling his young son; the mother, nursing the girl. Both babies were healthy and alert. "They have to stay here eight days more," the father said. When the 42 days are up, the thatched hut is burned and the mother has to go through a purification ceremony before she can return home; the dwelling in the meantime is rebuilt. Teeth Filed as Mark of Maturity Farther along the road, as we passed through a small village, we saw several people carrying gifts into a mud-walled enclosure. Inquiry revealed that they were going to a tooth-filing ceremony. In the courtyard of the household a raised pavilion had been built. In it was a bed, a man seated at the head. On either side of the pavilion were racks filled with offerings of fruit, meats, rice, and flowers, built into tall brilliant cones. Long decorative streamers hung from the pavilion. Over at the side of one of the houses a tall thatch-roofed platform of bamboo had been erected. On it sat a wispy-bearded Brahman priest, alternately chanting prayers and tin kling a small bell. Two youths in their early teens were to have their teeth filed as a symbol that they had reached maturity. The "dentist," who sat at the head of the couch, had the boys bite into a piece of sugar cane. After studying the "bite," he evened off the irregularities of the points of their teeth. The boys' teeth showed little difference after the filing, but they had attained mature position in the eyes of the community. As I drove about the island, I saw a fantas tic number of temples-village temples, family temples where members placed offerings to their ancestors, and personal temples, shrines to Siva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Tiny spirit shrines dot the rice fields. Many of the large brick-and-stone struc tures seemed hoary with age, but on their gateways and walls carvings pictured bicycle riders, policemen on motorcycles, a goggled airplane pilot zooming down among sculptured demons and gods, and a Dutchman drinking beer! The gray volcanic building stone is so soft that it weathers quickly in Bali's moist cli mate. "Ancient" shrines may be no more than 30 or 40 years old. I watched workmen carving gods, demons, * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Bali and Points East," by Maynard Owen Williams, March, 1939; and "Artist Adventures on the Island of Bali," by Franklin Price Knott, March, 1928.