the old culture from balinese and all i know will show in this blog

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Balinese Culture and Traditions


It’s not a secret that the sensuous Balinese women bewitch a lot of men. Their sexuality remains firmly anchored in Balinese life, expressed in popular folktales, arts, mythologies and mystical rites. Yet, not many know that, behind their glorious outer looks, the Balinese women experience a rather not pretty story in carrying out their duties as a woman bounded by traditions and, most importantly, as the guardian of the traditions themselves.

Balinese women have somewhat became a trademark for Bali’s tourism industry. Glorious images of their strength, sensuality and elegance ornament every hotel brochure, coffee table book and postcard. Women participate in gorgeous pageantry of Balinese ritual, gracefully balancing tower of handcrafted offerings on their heads. They dance for the gods at the temple festivals, dressed in glorious costumes that show off their legendary beauty. Far from being secluded by tradition, the Balinese women can be seen working in the fields or at construction sites, buying and selling at the marketplace, and driving motorbikes all around the island.

The Balinese women are responsible for maintaining much of the Balinese ritual glory, which is so often immortalized in tourist snapshots. While men prepare certain ceremonial food, build cremation towers and march in ritual processions, the women are in charge of everything else. They direct family ceremonies and spend many hours a day crafting the offerings to the gods needed for daily devotions, holidays and life cycle rituals. The praise these women receive as ‘guardians of Balinese traditions’ often comes at the cost of aching backs and sore fingers. 

The Balinese wives handle money matters, paying food or school fees, or doling out cigarette money or cockfighting fund to their husbands. This, however, is hardly experienced as a privilege. Men reserve the right to approve major expenses – or to put the family’s motorbike at stake at a cockfight event. And Balinese women who work, no matter how prestigious their degrees or how high their wages, are still expected to be responsible for all that goes on in the household.

Before Bali became a tourist destination, Balinese women bodies were no big secrets. For the sensual way of the day was to wrap themselves tightly in a sarong, leaving their breasts bare. But today, modernity has requested these women to cover their breasts from the pornographic focus of foreign cameras. Even so, sexuality remained firmly anchored in Balinese life, expressed in popular folktales, arts, mythologies and mystical rites. It’s not a secret that the sensuous Balinese women bewitch a lot of men. For those who get bewitched and finally hooked, consider yourselves for being so fortunate because these women will serve their men with gentle grace. 

In Balinese society, descent status and inheritance are traced through the male line. While a high-caste man can marry anyone he pleases, a woman may only marry someone of at least the same standing or risk from becoming a social outcast. Arranged marriage is no longer common, thus a Balinese woman must choose wisely; because once she is married, it’s extremely difficult for her to turn back. Should she divorce, her husband’s family keeps her children and the property acquired during the marriage. Unlike customary law, the national law gives women the right to a share of marital property; hence, the Balinese men make sure their divorce is handled by the village authorities rather than in a civil court. Thus, a lot of Balinese women will go to extraordinary length to avoid a divorce or any related ‘shame’.

The good news is that things are now changing a bit for the Balinese women, especially those in urban areas. Many Balinese families become more aware of the need to educate and respect their daughters. Yep, today we have Balinese women doctors, lawyers, professors etc. In addition, all Balinese children of both sexes are now required to attend elementary school; and the numbers of girls continuing their studies to the middle and high schools are rising. The higher education level has also affecting the drastically lowering number of men with more than one wife, and polygamy, once glorious, is now often judged backwards. Balinese women with wealth can now open their own bank accounts to save against the possibility of divorce. Several local organizations are now offering supports for the Balinese women seeking divorce in civil courts.

Unfortunately, a coin is two-sided. Yep, the Balinese women still need to face new trials. For every Balinese woman who works, the responsibilities to make, as an example, ritual offerings is disturbed in a way. Modernity has created a widening gap between the “career women” who can afford to hire a maid, and the traditional women who devote their lives to her family and the gods. Even tourism has sometimes made a Balinese woman’s life even more stressful. The pressure many Balinese women feel to conserve traditions in the face of foreign influence means that the ritual calendar has become a lot busier, requiring additional labor from the women.