Professor Adrian Vickers
The University of Sydney
The idea that Balinese culture needs to be preserved presupposes that it is under threat. Building on my own and Michel Picard’s earlier contention that tourism strengthens Balinese culture, I wish to show that the main real threat to Balinese culture lies in environmental degradation. At present ‘culture’ on Bali is conceived of in very narrow terms as being identical with Hinduism and certain forms of dress, music and ceremony, and much of the focus of discussions of culture is concerned with the idea of modernity’s outside threats to a reified tradition. These discussions have been framed by notions of ‘cultural tourism’ since the term was first used in 1967. Balinese culture is in need of redefinition. The borders of ‘Bali’ have always been much wider than the shores of the island itself, but in the Twenty-First Century these borders are now global. The island of Bali is less a self-contained culture than a landscape to which Balinese throughout the world refer. The globalised dimension of Balinese culture demonstrates that ‘cultural tourism’ needs a major re-think, a revision that includes stronger attention to physical aspects of heritage and the environment.
Keywords: Culture, cultural tourism, tourism, Hinduism, tradition, modernity, environment
Balinese culture is in need of redefinition. Ever since the middle of the Twentieth Century there has been much discussion of threats to Balinese culture, particularly from elements identified with Western culture, such as hippies and drugs. In conversations Balinese also mention other potential threats that it is not wise to put into print, notably those threats that led to Bali being targeted by the bombers of 2002 and 2005. One of my Balinese friends best expressed the current state of the discussions when he recently emailed me about the idea of the whole island being declared a world heritage area, since this would be the only way to preserve Balinese culture. This idea that Balinese culture needs to be preserved presupposes that it is actually under threat, that Balinese culture has physically identifiable heritage features, and that external bodies can legislate such preservation. All of these propositions need urgent investigation, since there is a sense amongst people on Bali that over-development is reaching a critical junction, and this paper is intended as a small contribution to the discussions. Building on my own and Michel Picard’s earlier contention that tourism strengthens Balinese culture, I wish to show that the main real threat to Balinese culture lies in environmental degradation.
How does one identify Balinese culture? I have been a participant observer of Bali over many decades, but am always gaining new understandings. One of my recent ones came from an argument with a skinhead. Recently my friend I Gede Sanat Kumara started an email list (milis), ‘Bali-Bali’ (a Yahoo list) for Balinese throughout the world to discuss issues of concern, and did me the honour of inviting me to be a guest moderator. I have only had the time to get involved in discussions, not always about matters that would seem obviously to be about Bali. A young contributor was celebrating the arrival of ‘skinheads’ in Bali. As someone who grew up in a period when skinheads were at their height in Australia, the 1960s and 1970s, I did not consider this a very good development. As an aspiring Hippy I had spent much of my time avoiding skinheads, who were prone to beat up Hippies and anyone else who was outside what they considered their group, the Anglo-Saxon lumpenproletariat. Try as I might, however, I could not convince my correspondent that skinheads were violent racists, since he considered my own actual empirical experience of skinheads to be inferior to one paragraph of an entry on Wikipedia that described how violent racist skinheads were different from what he was doing on Bali. I eventually abandoned the discussion in frustration.
My correspondent’s position is very well explained by one of the freshest books to appear in Bali studies. Emma Baulch’s recently published book, Making Scenes, on Punks, Death Metal and Thrash on Bali, is probably the most important contribution to the field a long time, in that it is written outside the main analytical paradigms of philological and anthropological antiquarianism. Baulch shows how symbolic forms from international culture are appropriated on Bali, the ways that musical forms from elsewhere (and not just the West, as the case of Reggae shows) have important meanings within the context of Bali.
Baulch avoids some of the easy summaries that too often weaken other studies. So she does not jump to lazy conclusions that these expressive forms of youth sub-culture were evidence of ‘resistance’ to the state, Suharto or anything else. Rather, they are choices, based on taste, that people make. The book has some problems, it needed better editing for repetition, and would have benefitted from more general study of the way that Hippy culture brought new musical styles and subcultures to Indonesia in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Santana was all the rage in Bali and Bandung-based bands such as The Mercys and Koes Plus were even able to get some recognition in Australia, where the lead writer from the latter band had a hit single. It was this hippy wave that allowed Reggae to develop as a popular form in Bali in the 1980s, and so it is strange as well that the discussion of Reggae comes at a later chapter, rather than prior to the chapters on forms that succeeded it.
Nevertheless, the key points that Baulch raises point to inherently dynamic elements of Balinese culture, and an underlying issue that in order to understand Bali, one must also see it in the context of Indonesia. Just as Geoffrey Robinson’s acclaimed Dark Side of Paradise demonstrated that Balinese politics are inseparable from national politics, so Baulch shows how the popular music scene on Bali is connected to that of Bandung, albeit with some lapses in communication. Nevertheless, there are particular Balinese shadings to the sub-cultural forms discussed. This becomes clearest when Baulch discusses Death Metal, and is usually associated with Satanism or anti-religious sentiments in the West. The Balinese with whom Baulch spoke were neither atheists or anti-religious, rather Death Metal for them had strong elements of the Tantrism that is embedded in Balinese Hinduism.
A key issue, and one that helps explain my skinhead correspondent’s stance, is the arbitrary fashion in which symbolic forms are acquired by Balinese youth subcultures. Symbols from international cultures are appropriated on Bali, often without meaning. An example is the pogo of Balinese punks, which from the description involves all kinds of sideways and skewing movements, and is completely different from the ‘pogo’ (based on the idea of jumping up and down as on a pogo stick) of the original punks , presumably because no one has pogo sticks in Bali, so the English word is just a word without meaning, rather in the way that Balinese punks like to throw around English swear words such as ‘fuck’, but are far too nice to use the actual Indonesian equivalents! The translation of different forms is almost arbitrary, and there seems no clear reason why the Ramones, rather than say the Sex Pistols, are the best known punk band on Bali, or why Punk arose in Bali some twenty years after its hey-day in the West. Indeed I struggled to find any reference to the Sex Pistols at all in Baulch’s conversations with Balinese, something that may be related to the fact that Western recording companies are selective about what they push in the Indonesian market, and usually choose American over British bands.
The lesson that we have to take from Making Scenes is that Balinese culture as something far broader than many of the current discussions would warrant. Balinese culture should take in Punks and Death Metal as relevant cultural practices. It is a culture visible as much on the internet as in Balinese temples. Balinese culture is equated with Hinduism by Western and Balinese authors alike. But it is more than Hinduism, since an account of cultural practice on Bali has to include, for a start, the Christian and Muslim Balinese who have been on the island since at least the 1930s and the 1600s respectively, not to mention the Chinese Balinese who have been on the island longer.
The physical boundaries of ‘Bali’ were always problematic, since in the post-Majapahit to colonial periods they included Blambangan, and Pasuruhan under the slave-king Surapati, as well as Lombok, probably to Sumbawa. Jakarta has always had a strong Balinese presence (including a Balinese mosque at Angke), and since the 1950s a Hindu Balinese temple, varieties of which are also found all over Indonesia, in East Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi. I am not sure who cares for the Hindu temple erected in East Timor. Nowadays ‘Bali’ is equally the cruise ship workers in the Caribbean or the families living on the Australian Gold Coast of Queensland.
A number of recent studies of Balinese Hinduism also demonstrate that even within the framework of the majority religion, there is great diversity. The edited collection by Martin Ramstedt, which again looks at Hinduism on the national scene, and the study on religion and caste by Leo Howe, show that reformed Hinduism is difficult to put into a single category. Clifford Geertz argued from observations in the 1950s that there was a shift from orthopraxis (mainly the performance of rituals) to orthodoxy (attention to a core set of religious teachings). Ramstedt’s study shows that indeed doctrine has become the central preoccupation of public Balinese practice, as Geertz observed, but in different versions of doctrine. Since he put together this book this has become clearer as the Parisada Hindu Dharma has lost its preeminent position in public debates about Balinese religion, as new publications have arise to compete with the Parisada’s magazine, Warta Hindu Dharma, and key figures such as a few very public padanda have risen to prominence in television and newspaper reports.
Howe (also a contributor to the Ramstedt volume) extends Ramstedt’s interest by dealing with new varieties of clan religious groups, only previously written about by James A. Boon. Howe also shows the importance of Indian Hindu sects such as Hare Krishna (in Bali at least since the 1980s), and of later sects that take their departure from Hinduism, notably Sai Baba.
An antidote to Ramstedt and Howe’s accounts of ‘new’ Hinduism is Hildred Geertz’s recent edition and presentation of her conversations with the late Ida Bagus Made Togog of Batuan, concerning his life story. Ida Bagus Togog’s account of his religious practices and their relationship to his life is a different kind of Hinduism. It is more like the orthopraxis described by Clifford Geertz, but this is not a practice bereft of ideas. Rather in his art and his life Ida Bagus Togog demonstrated a sophisticated material practice based around key Hindu ideas, some of which would be apparent to a Hindu from India.
All of which leaves the idea of an essential ‘Agama Hindu Bali’ in confusion. Is it the ‘Agama Tirtha’ that was talked about in the 1950s and early 1960s when Christian Hooykaas was trying to document the religion, or the ‘Agama Hindu Dharma’, which went national under the leadership of the Parisada during the Suharto era (and which therefore might have to drop any reference to ‘Bali’), or now, as is being discussed in some Balinese circles, Agama Hindu-Buda?
At the same time ritual has not gone away. Paradoxically, the effects of tourism as display and the effects of the income from tourism have increased the amount, expense and intensity of ritual performances. Where twenty or thirty years ago temples could have ‘lesser odalan’ (odalan cenik) in alternate years, and people could be quite modest in their temple attendance and offerings, nowadays competition for conspicuous display means that everyone feels under stress to have more and bigger ceremonies. So Balinese Hinduism does indeed have orthopraxis and orthodoxy in great measure, the one has not replaced the other.
When in 2000, Nyoman Darma Putra and I published a collection of essays dedicated to the late Professor I Gusti Ngurah Bagus, I was taken aback at Nyoman’s reports on the reaction to the title, To Change Bali. There was strong feeling in the launch discussion that Bali should not be changed, and a resistance to the idea of change as a preoccupation, since it was seen by many Balinese participants as something to be maintained in a singular form. This seemed very much at odds with the original intentions of Balinese intellectuals from earlier decades. In the 1930s the leaders of the Surya Kanta magazine and movement opposed the Dutch attempts to turn Bali into a ‘museum hidup’, and in the 1950s other Balinese intellectuals strove to simplify rituals as a form of modernising influence, just as they banned the bare breasts that 1930s Western tourists were so obsessed with, and just as they attempted to ban cockfighting.
I interpret the idea of not wanting ‘to change Bali’ as coming from a number of sources: nostalgia for a Bali when traffic jams did not exist and life was simpler; or perhaps the idea that change always comes from the outside; or perhaps again the idea that there is some kind of cultural essence that can be preserved. For many Balinese the cultural essence is related to the features of Parisada Budaya, the dominant way of discussing culture as viewed by an outside ‘them’, and consisting of temples, ceremonies, rice fields and people walking around in traditional dress. To maintain this ‘unchanged’ cultural essence people are constantly renovating temples in grander and grander materials and style, holding bigger and bigger ceremonies, converting their rice fields into plots of land to build on, and have made ‘traditional dress’ the uniform of hotel employees.
How did Balinese culture get to be so narrowly defined? Michel Picard and I have talked about how tourism has helped to preserve Balinese culture. Picard’s argument is that Balinese talk about tourism has created a reified version of a Balinese cultural essence that is strengthened in reaction to the ‘them’ of tourism. So in discussing culture, only certain features of that culture are able to be contained in the horizon of the discourse. Punks and Death Metal do not fit.
A problem of defining Balinese culture in relation to tourism is that it leaves high culture in a difficult position, since tourism is inherently about commercialisation and reducing things to the lowest common denominator. Unlike anthropologists and postmodernists, I still tend to take high culture seriously as the most refined and highly developed art objects and performances that can be produced by a society. High culture is not typical of everyday social expression, but it does define the most serious efforts to concentrate certain aspects of a culture in a way that is affective for participants in that culture, but may also reach out beyond to other audiences through aesthetic values.
In Bali there are some major efforts to present high culture, but these tend to be obscured. In painting and the plastic arts the best new works by Balinese are often produced, or at least presented and marketed, in Yogyakarta and Jakarta. The works of painters such as Masriadi are seldom seen by most Balinese, and there is only lip service paid to the highest products of the ‘klasik’ art of the village of Kamasan, the epitome of pre-colonial painting that is still actively cultivated in Klungkung. There are four museums run by private collectors, but the explanations in them are limited for tourists who do not know the culture, and they are seldom visited by Balinese. The semi-private Museum Puri Lukisan undergoes periodic renewals, as this year, and thus remains one of the major spaces for Balinese art history. The public collections of the Museum Bali and the Pusat Dokumentasi are little known, and few tour companies take tourists there. Guides do not usually take tourists to Kamasan village because the painters there do not want to pay the 60% commissions that guides insist upon. One of the only efforts to continually present new art is the Santrian Gallery in Sanur, which has a professional commitment to presenting aesthetic quality and is not limited by the nature of personal collections.
In the other arts there is the Pesta Kesenian, which should be supported because it provides impetus to performers from all over the island, although as studies by Brett Hough and Laura Noszlopy show, there are limitations to the audiences it reaches as it becomes more focussed on commercialism, basically because there is not adequate public funding for the Art Centre that houses the event. For those who come to Bali outside the time of the Pesta Kesenian, one has to ask where major performances may be viewed. There is a monthly performance of gambuh, the epitome of refined court art, in the village of Batuan, but few Balinese know about it to be able to visit, and tour guides do not take people there because they do not get a take of the proceedings, and say that they want the performances shortened so they can go home earlier—as if a Western Opera groups should cut Wagner down into a 10-minute performance in case it is too demanding! In both the plastic and performing arts there is very little in the way of accessible explanatory material for short-term visitors, and it is a matter of luck as to whether a tourist would get a knowledgeable guide or someone whose main knowledge is of the best sources of commissions.
When I was in Siem Reap last week with my Head of School, someone who has travelled extensively in Southeast and East Asia, and we were talking about Cambodia’s tourist development, he said he did not think that Siem Reap could move to resort development, ‘like Bali’. When I explained that the official policy on Bali is cultural tourism he was very surprised, because he had received the impression from the way Bali is presented to the rest of the world that its main focus was resort tourism.
Either the Balinese authorities are not getting the message out, or they have failed to come to terms with the realities of tourism in Bali since the 1990s. In that period, the tourist brochures moved away from a focus on Balinese culture to selling ‘properties’, ie hotel rooms. Another version of Balinese culture is that it has become the decoration of hotel buildings and interiors. So many who come to Bali prefer to stay in their hotel-resorts or go shopping in Kuta. ‘Bali’ then becomes a set of motifs decorating their resorts, the Made Wijaya Balinese style, based on generalised types of bale, certain statues and other ornamentation, and sets of garden plants. The bale are more found in foreign hotels than Balinese houses, and many of the plants that make up the Tropical-Bali style are not even of Balinese origin. The Bali style was assisted by the work of foreign architects such as Peter Mueller. Can anyone name a Balinese architect before Popo Danes? Even then the ubiquity of the Bali style means that this is not an experience exclusive to the island of Bali, but rather an experience had in Fiji, Thailand or indeed in one’s backyard in Sydney, where it is quite cheap to buy a bale.
For tourists who come to Bali the impressions of Balinese culture are now quite limited. When they step outside their hotel areas they are assailed by traffic and harassed by touts: “You want massage, you want special young girl massage, you want boy massage, just looking my shop, come just look, transport” etc. They may or may not get a tour at competitive prices (as opposed to the ones run by big hotels), but if they get taken to see Balinese ‘art’ it is the low grade products of the art shops. If they see beautiful landscapes they have to travel a long way, since most of Bali’s landscapes have long been obscured by artshops, and if they see Balinese performances it is the tired old legong and pendet of hotels and restaurants. There is little in the way of managed experience of Bali.
The globalised nature of the ‘Bali style’ of hotels and gardens has taken place in parallel to the global spread of Balinese people. If we can talk of a Balinese diaspora, then it can be found in many sites: in Melbourne or the Gold Coast of Australia; the Maldives and other resort areas; on cruise ships in the Caribbean; in Germany or the Netherlands. I Gede Sanat Kumara’s recent effort to establish the ‘Bali-Bali’ milis was made with the diaspora in mind, and many of our correspondents have written about their desire to discuss what is happening in Bali now, and the future of Balinese culture. A major concern that emerges from the correspondence is that the sale of land and the destruction of the environment in Bali—such as significant removal of large trees in Buleleng and near the airport at Tuban—along with a lack of positive action by political leaders, is threatening the island. For these Balinese, culture is defined by the sense of place, by a physical location that is being built over with villas for non-Balinese, where golf courses encroach on major temples.
If Balinese temples have changed, so too have the main sites of Balinese production, rice fields. The rice fields around Denpasar have mostly all disappeared. The original 1971 Tourism Master Plan for Bali recommended containing the sites for big hotels, and tried amongst other things to stop ribbon developments, building too high (it stated that buildings should only be 2/3 of the height of palm trees), building too close to beaches (buildings should not be more than 100m from the shore line). All these have been ignored, as Bali, or at least South Bali, has become an unplanned urban sprall. Part of the over-development of the island comes from the current wave of money-laundering activities in hotel building. These started in the 1990s with the Suharto family, and are now being continued in environmentally-destructive villa developments. Where is the maintenance of Balinese culture as the product of a unique physical environment in this?
So what should be done to ‘preserve’ Bali? The declaration of Bali as world heritage site would have mixed results. At the beginning of the millennium UNESCO and the World Bank funded a large ‘intangible heritage’ project. It seemed mainly to consist of lots of consultancy money, an expensive conference and lots of discussion, but looking around I find the results as ‘intangible’ as the concept, and I wonder what the citizens of Indonesia got in return for a major increase in their national debt. In the case of the Angkor site that I visited recently, world heritage status has been granted. There is a state authority (Apsara) and an International Consultative Committee that constantly monitors, discusses and supports heritage. The physical environment in the greater Angkor area is preserved, as well as monuments being restored, and heritage is monitored in terms of attempting to engage local people in rebuilding, cleaning and maintenance of the area. People in Siem Reap province are not allowed to cut down trees, so it is a leafy and pleasant environment. They even have frogs in abundance, something I have not heard in Bali since the 1980s when these important monitors of the environment were killed off in large numbers.
Could Angkor’s heritage maintenance happen in Bali? One of the problems is that Bali’s main temples, Besakih and others in the Sad Kahyangan, are constantly being renovated, which means that they are physically quite different from how they looked twenty or thirty years ago. In recent times temples have been rebuilt keeping something of their old shape, but in new materials, most recently a heavy black stone that has become ubiquitous and replaced the old bricks that go back to the Majapahit era. So we cannot talk of temples being ‘preserved’ in the sense of maintained in their original state, just as cannot talk of culture being preserved. Bali, as the proponents of Balinese cultural modernity argued in the 1930s, cannot just become a Museum. Is this what world heritage status would mean? Should buildings around Balinese temples, be removed, or buildings around some temples, for example should the bird market that occupies the outer court-yard of Pura Satria be taken away?
Balinese ‘culture’ is not in need of preservation, it is dynamic and constantly meeting new demands. Bali as a physical space defining culture, however, is not in good shape. If there is to be a preservation of Balinese culture, then it needs to be a physical action as much as an intellectual one. Bali should be a pleasant place for Balinese to live in a healthy environment, rather than a set of pleasant villas and hotel grounds for non-Balinese. I hope that out of this Cultural Congress we will get some commitment from the candidates for Governor of Bali to helping to make the environment in which Balinese live one that is inhabitable and pleasant, so that Balinese can enjoy their culture in an equal and democratic fashion. [b]
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