Wouldn’t it be interesting to climb into a time machine and voyage back far enough in time to understand just how certain cultural legacies began. I mean, what event prompted the Vikings to begin sacrificing their own warriors to their gods? Who was the first man (or hey, woman) to sit down by a rock of obsidian and begin chiseling away to make the first arrow sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel? What prompted the first yogi to stand on his head or stick a foot behind his neck? Who was the first guy to say, hey, I’m not wearing this robe anymore, I’m going to invent me…hmmm…I’ll call them trousers.
On Bali, volcanoes are the spiritual center of the island. So much so that local people signal direction by whether they’re going toward the volcano or away—as opposed to, say, east or west. The volcano Gunung Agung is the most sacred place on Bali. We don’t know why, but we can understand why something as physical as a volcano and as powerfully destructive could conceivably need appeasing by mere humans.
The Balinese are a deeply spiritual people and devote a good portion of every day to religious concerns. The main religion on Bali is a revised version of Hinduism mixed with a heavy dose of animism. The religion tries to create a balance in the universe by bringing out the best in their gods, and the many spirits. Their gods are a union of the main Hindu gods with various ancient animistic gods.
You might think with all the tourism, the younger generation might begin to move away from their religion. But that does not seem to be the case on Bali. On any given day, you will see a whole village dressed for one celebration or another, perhaps the birthday of one of the over 20,000 temples on Bali. And everyone in the village—young children, teenagers, grandparents—is dressed up for the occasion and marching down the street on their way to one temple or another.
One of the things I’d like to go back in time to discover how the custom began is the reason why Balinese are so happy, proud even, to have their photograph taken by a tourist. Maybe it’s because the first photographers to visit Bali somehow created an air of positivity, or artistry, regarding having your photo taken. Or maybe they consider it a privilege to be a part of someone’s art. Or something like that.
I don’t want to sound sexist on any level, but another thing I’d like to see how it began is the reason why women on Bali started wearing the skin-tight, lace blouses they now wear during ceremonies, instead of wearing nothing above their sarongs. In many shops on Bali, you can find postcards of old photos in black and white depicting women at a well fetching water, or standing by a carved-stone altar, wearing only a sarong and no top. By the way, the word “sarong” comes from this very part of the world. Both men and women still wear them. In the heat and humidity, it seems the ideal piece of clothing for both genders. But, things change. And isn’t that the point. Why and when do they change? Say 500 years from now, someone might be writing a post on her blog and wondering just why and who was the first guy to decide to use corn for fuel. Of course, all she’ll have to do is Google it, but you and I are going to need that time machine.
The ladies in this photo are dressed up for Galungan, an auspicious occasion and one of Bali’s major festivals, ten days of celebration, and villages decorated in bamboo and palm fronds.