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Indonesia

Indonesian Society

Social and religious duty has, over time, been refined to form a code of behaviour called adat or traditional law. Islam is the predominant religion of the archipelago but it's somewhat tempered by elements of Hindu-Buddhism, adat and animism. In Java, especially, there are hundreds of places where spiritual energy is thought to be concentrated and can be absorbed by followers. Despite a lengthy colonial period, missionaries were only successful in converting small pockets of the Indonesian population to Christianity - the Bataks of Sumatra, the Toraks of Sulawesi and 95% of the population of Flores being notable examples. Over 300 languages are spoken in the archipelago and most belong to the Malay-Polynesian group. Within this group, many regional languages and dialects are spoken. The lingua franca of the archipelago is Bahasa Indonesia, which is almost identical to Malay. It uses a number of foreign words, indicating the long history of contact Indonesia has had with other cultures. In recent years, Bahasa Indonesia has been appropriated by teenagers into a new and trendy vernacular called Bahasa Prokem; it has proved mostly unintelligible to the older generation..

Indonesian Arts

Batik, the art of applying wax to cloth and then tie-dying in colourful and dramatic designs, is produced throughout Indonesia, and the centre of this activity is Yogyakarta in Java. Other craft forms include: ikat, which is a type of weaving with tie-dyed threads; songket, a silk cloth with gold or silver threads woven into it; and kris, artwork often decorated with jewels. Javanese wayang (puppet) plays and gamelan (hypnotic music composed mostly of percussive instruments) are also popular artistic forms

Indonesian Food

Many Indonesian dishes are Chinese-influenced, but some, such as Padang food from Sumatra, are distinctly home-grown. Wherever you travel in Indonesia you'll see vendors selling snacks such as potatoes, sweet nuts, biscuits or fruit. Rice is the basis of each meal, eaten as a soup or with an assortment of hot and spicy side dishes, salad and pickles. Nasi goreng (fried rice) is the most common dish, while sate (skewered meats with a spicy peanut sauce), gado-gado (bean sprouts and vegies in peanut sauce) and seafood are also popular. The variety of tropical fruits grown would make a greengrocer swoon. They include custard apples, durians, guavas, jackfruits, mangoes, papayas, starfruits and rambutans.

Indonesian Events

With such a multiplicity of ethnic groups, Indonesia has, unsurprisingly, a surfeit of cultural events throughout the year. On Sumba, mock battles that hark back to the era of internecine warfare are held in February and March. The day before Balinese Caka New Year (March-April) temple icons are taken to the sea to be bathed and drummers evil spirits back to the spirit world. During the Balinese festival of Galungan (moving dates) even the gods descend to earth and join in the revelry. There's a dramatic Easter Parade on of Larantuka, whip duels in Ruteng, Flores in August and Torajan funereal feasts are held in central Sulawesi, mainly between August and October. As most Indonesians are Muslim, many festivals are affected by the lunar calendar; dates are subsequently pushed back 10 or 11 days each year.

Men & Women

There are certain tasks clearly to be handled by women, and others reserved for men. Social life in Bali is relatively free and easy. In Balinese leisure activities the roles are also sex differentiated. Both men and women dance but only men traditionally play the gamelan. This also is changing with the emergence of many women gamelan in recent times. Today you do see some women painters, sculptors, and woodcarvers.

Community Life

Balinese have an amazingly active and organized village life. You simply cannot be a faceless nonentity in Bali. You can't help but get to know your neighbors as your life is so entwined and interrelated with theirs
. The Gamelan, gotong royong and ceremonies are all vehicles for social gatherings and community bonding.

Death & Cremation

There are ceremonies for every stage of Balinese life but often the last ceremony, cremation (Nyaben) , is the biggest. A Balinese cremation is an amazing, spectacular, colorful, noisy and exciting event. In fact it often takes so long to organize a cremation that years have passed since the death. During that time the body is temporarily buried. Of course an auspicious day must be chosen for the cremation and since a big cremation can be very expensive, many less wealthy people may take the opportunity of joining in at a larger cremation and sending their own dead on their way at the same time. Brahmans (high caste Balinese ), however, must be cremated immediately. Apart from Nyaben being yet another occasion for Balinese noise and confusion, it's a fine opportunity to observe the incredible energy the Balinese put into creating real works of art which are totally ephemeral. A lot more than a body gets burnt at the cremation. The body is carried from the burial ground (or from the deceased's home if it's and 'immediate' cremation) to the cremation ground in a high, multi-tiered tower made of bamboo, paper, string, tinsel, silk, cloth, mirrors, flowers and anything else bright and colorful you can think of. The tower is carried on the shoulders of a group of men, the size of the group depending on the importance of the deceased and hence the size of the tower. The funeral of a former rajah of high priest may require hundreds of men to tote the tower.
A long the way to the cremation ground certain precautions must be taken to ensure that the deceased's spirit does not find its way back home. Loose spirits around the house can be a real nuisance. To ensure this doesn't happen requires getting the spirits confused as to their whereabouts, which you do by shaking the tower, running it around in circles, spinning it around, throwing water at it, generally making the trip to the cremation ground anything but a stately funeral crawl. Meanwhile, there's likely to be a priest halfway up to tower, hanging on grimly as it sways back and forth, and doing his best to soak bystanders with holy water. A gamelan sprints along behind, providing a suitably exciting musical accompaniment. Camera-toting tourists get all but run down and once again the Balinese prove that ceremonies and religion are there to be enjoyed. At the cremation ground the body is transferred to a funeral sarcophagus-this should be in the shape of a bull for a Brahmana, a winged lion for a Satria and a sort of elephant-fish for a Sudra. These days, however, almost anybody from the higher castes will use a bull. Finally up it all goes in flames-funeral tower, sarcophagus, body, the lot. The eldest son does his duty by poking through the ashes to ensure that there are no bits of body left unburnt. And where does your soul go after your cremation? Why, to a heaven which is just like Bali!

 

   
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