Bali - "Island of the Gods"

Two visitors from Indonesia viewed our blog recently.  One from Java, the other Bali.  The latter brings back fond memories from earlier voyages of this volcanic, mountainous “Island of the Gods”. Even today, we often meet Balinese crew members from nearby-docked ships on their short shore stopovers. Indonesia is linked historically with the Netherlands.  It was one of several colonial “possessions” of Holland. Indonesia is composed of a multitude of islands, but of all, Bali is unique in the sense of the preservation of culture, art and traditional crafts.   
Not only are all the Muses represented, but each has its own village where that traditional art form is maintained. It would take a 1,000 plus page book to describe Bali.  We were privileged to visit these villages on several trips to the island. 
 Shrine, Bali
Everywhere you go, you see small household shrines to which the Balinese bring daily offerings.  Unperturbed by outsiders (tourists), the people attend to their spiritual traditions. Stone statues made from compacted volcanic material depict mythical figures.  Gates to Paradise, Buddhas, Garudas and other deities are often shown with textiles of black and white checkerboard pattern. These shrines or paras do not last long. Each new generation has to rebuild them. This way stone carving skills are kept alive too. Another village, Celuk, is entirely devoted to silver and goldsmithing. 
Classical temple dancers, Bali
Then there is Sukawati, the village of classical temple dancers, and shadow puppet theatre or Wayang kulit. Each wayang puppet is operated by one individual (dalang) who not only controls the puppet’s movements but provides the storytelling and plays a musical instrument. Almost always the stories are about battles between Good and Evil.  Children and adults alike sit spellbound for some 4-5 hours or more watching these mythological epics unfold on the ‘shadow screen’. 
Batuan is a village of painters.  Many traditional artworks depict stories from the Ramayana, often battles between the Gods and Demons.  Although all styles of painting can be seen in Batuan. Many of the paintings are incredibly detailed and intricate. Further on is the woodcarving village of Mas.  Here we see sandalwood, teak and even ebony carvings in all sizes, forms and shapes – created with a skill that seems to be in the genes of the master carvers. Striking textiles can be seen everywhere.  The traditional colours are rare today: blues from indigo, yellows and ochres from earth pigments.  Today, textiles are multi-coloured and rarely have been created with traditional dyes. 
Woman creating the rare Gerinsing, only made in the village of Tenganan Peringsingan

To see the classic Geringsing (or double ikat) textile, on one visit to Bali, an out of the way journey brought us to the village of Tenganan Peringsingan, where this almost incredible  style of weaving – a true work of art in itself – is still practiced. 
Then there are the Gamelan orchestras. Once you’ve heard the unique sound from these instruments, you will never forget. Of course too there are terraced fields of rice paddies, works of art in themselves.   
Bali - terraced rice paddies
(These remind us of the remarkable terraces of another island where we lived, Madeira. The inspiration for the many terraces and ‘levadas’ of Maderia came from Portuguese explorers and spice-traders that had seen them in Bali.) And last but not least, there is ever-present threat of volcanoes on the Islands of the Gods.

Henri van Bentum