The tiny island of Bali has a way of coming to life that’s almost magical. An escape from the bustle and noise of everyday life, Bali is a place where old traditions thrive and locals go about their daily lives without worrying too much about the future. Balinese culture may seem very different from your own, but in fact we all share the same basic needs for happiness – things like love, laughter and good food. There are many aspects of Balinese life that seem strange to visitors at first: Hidden away on almost every hillside in Bali is an upland village known as a ‘Hidden Village’ or ‘Village of Spirits’. They are well hidden because they are home to ancestral spirits called ‘hyang’. These spirits need to be appeased by regular offerings and rituals performed by local priests known as ‘pemacu’ (or witch doctor).
WHAT IS BALINESE TRADITION?
Tradition is what we inherit from our forefathers, the ideas, customs and practices that have been passed down through many generations. In Bali, most traditions have been passed down orally, with very little written record. These traditions are an important part of daily life in Bali. They provide the guidelines for how people should behave in all situations, from the most everyday activities to the most important life-cycle events. Traditions are not written laws. They are more like guidelines or ‘suggestions’ that allow people to express their personalities and creativity as they go about their daily lives in Bali. Traditions are therefore an important source of identity for the people of Bali, linking them to the past, defining them in relation to other societies, and giving them something to pass on to future generations.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY IN BALI
Family is extremely important in the Balinese culture and blood relations are respected and honoured above all else. The Balinese have a complicated kinship system (known as ‘calon’). The calon determines who is related to whom and who has certain obligations to whom. There are numerous rules that need to be observed within this system, and violations are punished with fines or even banishment from the family. The family compound is the centre of Balinese village life. It usually consists of two dwellings: The main family house (the ‘pendopo’) where the ‘kepala desa’ (head of the village) lives (there are no village officials in Bali, just an informal meeting of elders), and the ‘balé banjar’ (the ‘gathering place for the village’ – a large open-air meeting place with a roofed platform on one side).
RITUALS AND FESTIVALS
Life in Bali revolves around the calendar year and especially around the ‘tahun’ (or Balinese calendar). The tahun is divided into 12 ‘mangga’ (or lunar months), with a 13th month added to make the calendar match up with the Western calendar. Bali has a number of important annual or periodic ceremonies, some of them are: – Galungan: Celebrates the victory of good over evil, celebrated in July or August. – Balinese Rice Festival: Celebrating the rice harvest in August/September. – Kuningan: Celebrating the end of rice harvest in September/October. – Idul Fitri: The end of the fasting month in October/November. – Idul Adha: Celebrates the end of the annual pilgrimage to the mountain, celebrated in November/December. – And our favorite, Nyepi. This is the Hindu New Year festival, also known as the Hindu day of silence. For 24 hours people abstain from material pleasures and physical activities and at the end scream at the top of their lungs to scare off evil spirits before the celebrations begin.
THE ART OF SINGING AND DANCING
Bali is famous for its traditional arts, especially dance and music. Balinese dancers are renowned for their grace and sophistication, and their art form is unique to Bali. The music is played on an instrument called a ‘gong’. Balinese dancers usually wear a long ‘sarong’ (a length of fabric wound around the body like a skirt) and a ‘songket’ (a silk cloth embroidered with gold and silver thread). Balinese dancers are often accompanied by female vocalists known as ‘duduk’, who use a kind of bamboo flute. Balinese dance is not just a performance, it is also like a prayer – a form of meditation.
FOOD IN BALI: CELEBRATING LIFE WITH FOOD
Food is an important part of Balinese life and is celebrated during almost every festival or special occasion. The Balinese have a very close relationship with the earth and their environment, and therefore have a very healthy and nutritious diet. Bali is famous for its ‘soup’, or ‘soup with rice’ (known in Bali as ‘soto’). There are many varieties of soto, including chicken, duck, fish and seafood. Bali is also famous for its ‘satay’, or barbecued strips of seasoned meat or fish on a bamboo skewer.
Bali is a special place to the people who live there, and it is a special place for visitors from all over the world. It is a place where the past and the present can be experienced side by side. That is why Bali is a place where you can experience so many different cultures and traditions. Yet at the same time, there is a sense of timelessness about Bali. While much of the world has changed over the centuries, Bali remains much as it always has been – a place where life can be lived at a slower pace, where people can connect with one another, and with nature, without distraction, and where you can experience nature’s rhythms and cycles in all their beauty and simplicity.