David:

`Ten years ago’, said Anak Agung Raka, `Ubud was very beautiful. There were no motor-cars. You would see farmers carrying their ploughs and flocks of ducks walking along the middle of this road’.

As the days passed, our vision of the village changed. The picturesque remained picturesque, but had less impact for us. The village was no longer a stage set built for our own act and the people no longer bit players. We were the exotics and we began to realise it.

Life had been adapted but not changed; not yet at any rate. Every three days was the market; every day, the people carried water from the spring, worked in the fields, placed offerings of flowers in temples and shrines. Tourist buses seemed incidental and so did we. The rhythm of village life goes on. Life begins, life ends.

At Puri Kawan, there were preparations for a wedding. Two men with a pig for the wedding feast, trussed in a basket and slung on a pole, ambled towards Puri Kawan and passed four laughing men who carried a log to be the coffin for the man who had died so recently.

Men prepared the wedding food. They were split into groups: one making pork sate for Hindus, another preparing chicken for Muslims, another making plates from palm leaves, another preparing little mountains of rice (they are called mountains, gunung). A man pounded pork in a vat with a heavy pestle, which rose and fell rhythmically; another stoked a fire under a cauldron. Curly tailed, white dogs sniffed about and little brown, straight haired children wandered. I took several photographs, (which, like most, did not come out) and drew the scene to the great amusement of the children.

Among the workers was a large and genial man, Njoman Roda, whom l already knew quite well. As l was a suling student, he had written out, in his own style of notation, the suling part for the Legong Dance. We had asked him if he knew a frog song (Betty loved the musical frogs of Bali) and he had immediately written out a two part song, not in notes but in proaks and prouts. He decorated the whole thing (an exercise book) with charming drawings of frogs and at the end put in some information about the betting system at cock-fights. `How much do you want for all this?’ we had said. He put up his large hands, palm forwards: `You decide’.

Now, in the compound, Njoman put his educational turn of mind to use and took me around the working bees. `Here, we are making plates from banana leaves.’ They were square plates, green, clean and disposable. `Here the men are making mountains of rice.’ The white rice grew in tight, high mounds on the green plates. ‘Here, they are preparing pork sate.’ Under a thatched roof, a large group of men were shredding pork. It went then to a tub where a man pounded it to pulp with a great pestle, and from there to a vat over a roaring fire. `Here they are preparing chicken for muslim guests and here you see is your friend, Raka.’ It was Raka Suling, master of music, taking meat from the bone and smiling widely.

I reported all this excitement to Betty, but she was suffering from an upset stomach and did not want to see pork being pounded. Betty had in fact been suffering with her troubles since shortly after our arrival. I always sympathised; but I noticed she chose and enjoyed the spiciest food. While she rested I was free to sit in the sun to draw. The children came around me and  giggled at my work. I took a few photographs which did not come out and had a good time.

Nyonya was with the other women, at the hotel where the wedding would be held. They were making cakes and coloured rice wafers. She brought us small glutinous rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. They were very good and I ate Betty’s as well as my own.

For lunch, we had mountains of rice and pork sate (pork grilled on skewers). This time Betty could not eat hers. Nor could she go to the reception held that night, the eve of the wedding. It was a quiet and dignified affair; not many people. We drank soft drinks, ate biscuits and sat talking. I was the only European and the Indonesians, wonderfully polite, talked slowly and carefully so that I might understand. The bridegroom was a handsome boy with slightly aquiline features. The bride was a beauty in the Balinese tradition; small features in a small, round face. She was a well known Legong dancer.

On the next day, the wedding day, we saw them both in traditional finery and looking wonderful. On his back, the bridegroom carried a sacred dagger, the kris. The wedding was held on the hotel veranda. A long table was decorated with fruit, flowers and rice offerings. A Brahmana priest sat, with his wife longside to assist him, chanting mantras (incantations) while his hands performed mudras (visual prayers), the beautiful movements from which dance movements derive. The veranda was crowded with guests, Indonesian and foreign. The Gamelan played tirelessly.

Misguidedly, Agung Raka had suggested that I take photographs. I joined the crowd of photographers and I jostled and craned. The light was bad, everyone else seemed much taller than I, so I had very few hopes of success. Much later I found that a smaller lever on the camera was in the wrong position: I had wondered why the film lasted so long.

Balinese landscapes are still. The earth dominates as it does in Balinese painting. You might look across a gorge to another hillside and the figures of farmers on the terraces are as small and as brave as ants. Rivers cut deep ravines through the black soil. The colours are rich and sombre: blacks, greens and ochres.

The Balinese care for their land with tenderness and awe. The terraces may be centuries old, but little of their soil is lost. Women harvest the rice: because women, like the earth, are the bearers of life. And the women hide their blades in the palms of their hands so as not to frighten the live rice stalks. They cut the rice gently, with respect.

Religion is woven through every day life. In the fields, are tiny thatched temples slung between pairs of living trees. Each village has three temples; representing birth, life and death. Each family compound has its temple. Offerings of rice and flowers in small, square trays of plaited palm are made from morning to night. Old women sell offerings to passing motorists and to the drivers of bemos.

In parts of Bali, the life is relentlessly hard. From a mountain village the farmers, men and women, might carry their produce over a mountain range to market; this takes one day; the market itself spends another day; there is a day for work in the fields, then the produce must be carried over the range to market.

 Life is designed carefully to fit in with nature. Before the buildings in a compound are erected, a priest advises where to place them so that they are in harmony, so that the thoughts of the inhabitants will be in harmony and there will be peace.

 

 

 

SPICE AND MAGIC is also available on Kindle and as a paperback. If you would like to buy the paperback edition on Amazon, click: SPICE AND MAGIC