For weeks I’ve been reading and learning Indonesian history, discovering all sorts of the intriguing things — then last week an article reminded me of something that interested me decades ago and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I simply had to follow through and find out what new had happened.

The article is “Discoveries May Rewrite History of China’s Terra-Cotta Warriors.”

terracotta-army-china-inspired-greek-art_1-770x437“The 8,000 terracotta warriors that have kept watch over the tomb of China’s first emperor for more than 2,000 years were the result of outside influence, new evidence suggests. Based on DNA remains found on the site, archaeologists think ancient Greek sculptors could have been on hand to train local artists – a find that could overturn centuries-old assumptions about contact between the East and the West before Marco Polo.”

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the Emperor in 210–209 BCE.

Terracotta Warriors Group, Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CaliforniaThousands of clay soldiers stand in trench-like underground corridors, positioned according to rank, each soldier a unique individual with his own facial features, expression, hairstyle, the higher ranking of them outfitted with full bronze battle gear. Weapons (swords, daggers, spears, arrowheads) are included. Originally the statues were brightly colored but when exposed to air the paint and lacquer flaked off.

terracotta-warrior-knellingterracotta-warriors-portraitI once saw two of the terracotta soldiers. It was in 1988 and I had gone to the Cleveland Museum of Art specifically to see its collection of Indian paintings, unaware of the exhibition being held, “The Quest for Eternity: Chinese Ceramic Sculptures from the People’s Republic of China.” As I remember, the two statues were placed high, on display, maybe near the entrance, and walking by them, looking up, I was stunned by their presence. A friend had been waiting for me. She came over and hurried us on. Oddly, I can still see the statues in my mind’s eye, but not the paintings. Later, thinking of them and being outside the States, I somehow thought the terracotta army was from the Shang Dynasty and read a bit about it as background, all of which I’ve forgotten. An image of the soldiers returns as I read of them again, and with new information, they are even more interesting.



bactria-and-gandhara-mapThe evidence for Greek artists having participated in creating the statues especially interests me. I knew of  Gandhara art, but this wonderful Greek-influenced statuary was much later, in the first and second centuries CE., too late for the terracotta statues.  Besides, I wondered why a civilization sophisticated enough to produce the terracotta marvels would need input from a far distant culture and one less advanced than itself. Curiosity would not stop nagging at me so I finally decided that with this question, plus the importance of Chinese influence on Indonesia and its culture, I really should take the time to learn something of China and Chinese history.

rivers-of-china-mapWhere to begin? I make sense of ancient civilizations by thinking in anthropological terms, beginning with the basic era, the Neolithic. It is a period of people living in villages, cultivating fields of a staple, usually a grain, with the hoe, raising domesticated animals, using stone tools, making pottery and weaving cloth. For China, the earliest known Neolithic was along the Yellow River c. 8500 BCE., based on millet and the pig. Silk was being produced by 5000 BCE.

By 7500 BCE a rice-based Neolithic had developed on the Yangtze River, but that is another part of China. I will return to it when writing about the origins of Indonesian culture.

The next historic era is the Bronze Age, meaning that within a landscape of farming villages there developed a military ruling elite and a religious elite who lived in cities, often walled cities, in palaces, surrounded by specialists and craftsmen, by servants and laborers while keeping control over the peasants who sustained them with food, goods and labor. The military protected their peasantry from raids and attacks by other rulers, and with the religious elite, served as the ultimate judicial authority. The invention of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, had made possible weapons more effective for warfare and axes and blades stronger and more durable than stone tools for clearing and working the land. Metal-working required new sorts craftsmanship, and since the ores are rarely found together, it created the need for trade and for traders, a new occupation of men, and some women, who ventured out beyond the community, in contact and negotiations with people in other societies.

In China, the smelting of copper was discovered early, c. 5000 BCE, in several Neolithic cultures. Tin ore is relatively rare but small deposits were found along the Yellow River, accessible to Bronze Age civilizations. The earliest was the Xia dynasty. c. 2070 – 1600 BCE, followed by the Shang dynasty, c. 1600 – 1046 BCE, the earliest dynasty for which there is archaeological evidence. The Shang dynasty, a period of small kingdoms, was followed by the Zhou dynasty, c. 1046 – 256 BCE, characterized as a feudal society, meaning one with a military hierarchy in which a ruler or lord offers mounted fighters a fief (medieval beneficium), a unit of land, with its peasants and natural resources included, to control in exchange for a military service. The individual who accepted this land became a vassal, and the man who granted the land become known as his liege or his lord.

qin-shi-huang-di-portraitstate-of-qin-mapQin Shi Huang Di, the man whom the terracotta soldiers were to serve in the afterlife, came to the throne of the kingdom of Qin in 246 BCE at the age of 13. Within 25 years his military forces had conquered all of the other Warring States and unified all of China under the Qin Dynasty. He was the First Emperor of China. During his rule he standardized coins, weights, and measures; interlinked the states with canals and roads; and is credited with building the first version of the Great Wall. He died in 210 BCE.

The Han Dynasty, 206 BCE – 220 CE, followed the Qin Dynasty. It ruled for four centuries and is considered a golden age in Chinese history. China’s majority ethnic group refers to itself as the “Han people” and the Chinese script is referred to as “Han characters

A good article on the Bronze Age with pictures of bronze artifacts is here.

The Iron Age, the era when iron objects were first produced, is a third archeological Age based on technology but less consistently related to a type of social organization.  Iron tool and weapon use began between c.1200 to 600 BCE, depending on the region and on when the knowledge was developed for smelting iron ore, removing impurities, and for steel, regulating the amount of carbon in the alloy. Other Iron Age innovations were the potter’s wheel, the rotary quern for grinding grain, and the wood lathe.

In the Mediterranean region, c. 1300 BCE, iron technology developed during a time of disorder and violence known as the Bronze Age Collapse. Trade routes for tin ore were disrupted and bronzesmiths responded by turning to the more abundant and accessible iron ore. Meteorite iron had been known and used for making swords. As the technology evolved, iron became cheaper, stronger, lighter and forged iron implements eventually superseded cast bronze tools and weapons. For some reason, the process seems to have been slower in China than in Europe. Nevertheless, in the Yellow River region during the Spring and Autumn Period, 722 – 481 BCE, farming was revolutionized by the use of cast iron tools and oxen to pull the plow. The food supply increased and population increase followed. Iron objects, such as handcuffs and collars for slaves or criminals, were found in Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb but the terracotta warriors’ weapons were bronze, not iron.

terracotta-army-china-inspired-greek-art_3The Chariot and four horses fascinates me. I have here a picture and discussion of a similar chariot and charioteer in India being taken into battle by four horses, possibly in the 4th century BCE.

From the Cleveland Museum of Art website —

“Some of the most famous ceramic horses are those found in the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (reigned 221-208 BCE). In three separate pits, more than 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, and chariots and tens of thousands of bronze weapons (swords, daggers, spears, cross-bow triggers, and arrowheads) were excavated. They would have been brightly painted, though much of the color is now lost. In the center of the chariot, a chariot driver holds the reins in both hands. On either side of him are two chariot soldiers. Standing with their feet placed to balance their weight while the chariot is in motion, one hand holds the side-rail of the chariot the other a weapon. Since the charioteer has both hands on the reins, he cannot protect himself. He wears a special uniform with long-sleeved armor to protect his arms and hands and a high collar to protect his neck.”

From a Shang Dynasty archeological site

“The light chariot, with 18 to 26 spokes per wheel, first appeared, according to the archaeological and inscriptional record, about 1200 BCE. Glistening with bronze, it was initially a prestigious command car used primarily in hunting. The 16 chariot burials found at Xiaotun raise the possibility of some form of Indo-European contact with China, and there is little doubt that the chariot, which probably originated in the Caucasus, entered China via Central Asia and the northern steppe. Animal-headed knives, always associated with chariot burials, are further evidence of a northern connection.”

greco-bactrian-kingldom-200-bce-map-by-talessmanxian-mapIn later centuries, about 200 BCE, other Indo-European contacts, this time Greek artists from the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, today’s Afghanistan, traveling north of the Taklamakan Desert, arrived in Xi’an, Qin Shi Huang’s city, to show his artists the art and science of modeling the human body. Men of Bactria had already led expeditions into Xinjiang, northwestern China. The historian Strabo wrote: “they extended their empire even as far as the Seres (Chinese) and the Phryni.” Several statuettes and representations of Greek soldiers have been found north of the Tien Shan, and are on display in the Xinjiang museum at Urumqi.

How often in considering the history of this region of the earth we are led back to Alexander the Great. In 330 BCE, with an army of Macedonian and Greek soldiers, he invaded territory in today’s Afghanistan as part of his war against Persia. Greek soldiers settled down in this fertile realm, defeated enemy armies and founded the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Although cut off from Europe, for three centuries they carried on with Greek culture. Greek was the language of government and the elite. One of their cities, Ain Khanum, excavated in 1970s, showed a complete Greek city with an acropolis, amphitheater, temples, and numerous statues. Their coins are among the most beautiful ever made. The Greeks of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, which included Gandhara, transmitted the art of sculpting human likeness to India, and most likely to Qin.

Quoting Lukas Nickel

Ancient Chinese records tell that 12 giant statues, clad in “foreign robes” “appeared in Lintao” in what was the westernmost part of China. (The word “Lintao” can also mean any place far to the west.) The records do not say how this appearance happened, who brought them there, or who exactly the statues depicted; they do reveal the statues were larger than life and so impressed Qin Shi Huang that he decided to build 12 duplicates in front of his palace by melting down bronze weapons that had been used for war. Thus, we know that he, unlike other ruling elites in China, knew of and favored a foreign mode of sculpture.



In separate pits near his mausoleum were found a few dozen statues of half-naked acrobats and dancers on which the sculptors attempted to render a bone structure, muscles and sinews to depict a person in movement. Further, “This comes close to an understanding of the human body that was employed at the time only in Hellenistic (Greek influenced) Europe and Asia.” Nickel argues that creating this sort of realistic sculpture is not something that a sculptor could learn without some practice, that it took the ancient Greeks centuries to master it, and “The creation of a believable human body preoccupied generations of Greek sculptors. It was a complex artistic and intellectual process that did not happen overnight.”

Researchers salvaged traces of European mitochondrial DNA from skeletons buried near Qin Shi Huang’s tomb, confirming the Greeks were there.

China had no tradition of building life-size figures with realistic details before the construction of Qin Shi Huang’s tomb, and none since then.

I love the 1st and 2nd century art of Gandhara, much of it Buddhist. More on that in another essay.

For people who are fascinated with words, how we borrow them from other cultures and how the meanings of a word changes through time and circumstances, I’m adding an addendum to a discussion in my previous essay.

It has to do with Musyawarah, a word I heard in Java in the 1980s and met again in reading about the decision-making process villagers in Bali use for organizing their many and complex community activities. It reminded me of my first cross-cultural experience with a community organization where I quickly learned my Anglo-American approach to organizing a meeting did not work in a Mexican-American community. The approach that did work was closer to Musyawarah, a word that has come into my personal vocabulary to replace phrases describing a complex process for group decision-making. I discussed that here.

Yesterday, talking with a friend about Musyawarah, he said that although he had never used the word, Arabic has Mushawara, and we wondered if the meanings were the same. Surely the word in Javanese derives from Arabic. As early as the 8th century, Arab merchants had sailed to the Indonesian islands to trade and often to marry and settle in, bringing Islam and Arabic with them, establishing Muslim communities, converting the royalty until finally, by the early 16th century, Islam had replaced the Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit dominance.  Mushawara as a word entered the Indonesian languages and was used, somewhat changed, for already existing behaviors the Indonesians had not as yet named.

I went on-line, searching for Mushawara, its meaning and how it is used. This is what I found –

— The Virtual Mosque defines Mushāwara as Consultation. Their translation from the Koran on the meaning of Consultation in private and public life is well worth reading. I summarize, briefly and in secular terms, this view on Consultation — A leader’s consulting with followers should be a standard practice within the family and the community. Consulting with followers makes them feel important and respected, generates good feeling toward the leader, gives the leader information and additional perspectives, allows the leader to better know his followers, and makes followers feel responsible for actions taken.

— In Kerala, India, the Muslim community, about a quarter of Kerala’s population, has an organization of Sunni scholars and clerics called the Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama. (Ulama is Arabic for a body of scholars with specialist knowledge of Islamic sacred law and theology.) They call their supreme body and working committee The Mushawara, The Consulate Body. It consists of 40 eminent scholars who are drawn purely on the basis of their Islamic scholarship, religious piety, faithfulness and devotion.

— The Tablighi Jamaat is a Sunni Islamic organization (Tabligh is Urdu for mission or to preach. Jamaat is Arabic for a Muslim religious assembly) that originated in India and has most of its adherents, numbering in the many millions, in South Asia but is increasingly global. It is a proselytizing and revivalist movement that focuses on urging Muslims to return to orthodox Sunni Islam, particularly in matters of ritual, dress, and personal behavior. It has been called “one of the most influential religious movements in 20th century Islam.” For a Tablighi Jamat congregation, during a Mushawara (discussion or Consultation), the Shura (consultative committee) decides on all matters, large and small. A Mushawara is held daily. (taken from “Islamic Revivalism: Encounter the Modern World, A Study of the Tabligh Jama‘at” by Jan A. Ali)

— Quoting the Muslim chaplain in a major U.S. Midwestern university —  In Muslim tradition, there is a deeply rooted sense of Mushawara (seeking counsel), and Naseeha (advice). Chaplaincy aims to advise and lead a community, which indeed is the concept of seeking Naseeha and Mushawara. In essence, chaplaincy is an integral part of service to our faith community and while we may not have the same name for the profession, we do have a similar practice in our faith tradition.

— The website of an Islamic financial advisory firm includes a Mushawara meeting in its services, as well as a meeting with Shariah Auditors and guidance from Shariah-Scholars.

And what are my thoughts on this? Apparently, for these Muslims, certain words are so central to their belief system that they must be expressed in Arabic in an otherwise English text. Clearly, Mushawara is one of those words; it is defined, illustrated and explained in the Koran. Nasheeha is less clearly defined.

“Consultation,” their translation of Mushawara, has a number of meanings in English. One part of the definition in my Webster’s dictionary has consultation being the act of consulting. To consult means to deliberate, to consider. Interestingly, though, in old English the meaning was more concrete; it meant to call together, as in gathering the senate (supreme council of the Roman republic) and asking it for advice. I like to search in my etymological dictionary for the origin of words. Consult, and related words such as Consul and council, originated in ancient Rome and had to do with government and formal organizations.

Given this original meaning, Consultation seems a reasonable translation for Mushawara in the Koran. The book is sacred but the activities described for Mushawara are secular; they relate to family and political relationships. They are of the wise patriarch calling upon his subordinates for information and for keeping them engaged as faithful followers.

A later meaning of Consultation was a conference of specialists, e.g. lawyers and medical practitioners, to discuss, decide, plan. Generally, when I use the words consult or consultation, it means seeking the advice of an expert on a particular matter. I wonder how the Muslim groups using Mushawara and calling it Consultation would describe the process of what they actually do and how they interact in their meetings. Is it in the patriarchal mode described in the Koran, or is it in the mode of a leader guiding a consensus-building, free-flowing discussion that includes an exchange of information and ideas?

In Indonesia, to suit the Indonesian culture, “Mushawara” was transformed into “Musyawarah.” In Bali it is a method of decision-making for a system of food production that evolved over the centuries in that particular environment, discussed here. No one individual or family controls the rice irrigation system; it is owned by all the communities and is managed by the landowning families talking to consensus when they gather at the temples to keep informed, make decisions and do the work required.

I had thought of Musyawarah as an effective approach to decision-making for small groups in small communities, but doubted it could be adapted to decision-making for large, complex organizations.  In a paper in the Social Science Research Network Kawamur Koichi argues otherwise.

“This paper analyzes customary practices of consensus decision-making, called Musyawarah-mufakat, as a basis of democratic stability in Indonesia. Musyawarah and mufakat (deliberation and consensus) are a traditional decision-making rule in Indonesia which has often been observed in village meetings. This paper argues that this traditional decision-making rule is still employed even in a modernized and democratized Indonesia, not only at rural assemblies but in the national parliament as well. Furthermore, this consensus way of decision-making provides an institutional basis for democratic stability by giving every parliamentary player, whether big or small, an equal opportunity to express his/her interests. On the other hand, this system of Musyawarah-mufakat decreases political efficiency in the sense that it takes a long time to deliberate drafted laws in the parliament.”

Hmmm. The word Mufakat – Is it Arabic or Indonesia? — —  but enough for now. I could go on forever thinking about the origins of words, and more importantly, about decision-making in modern, democratic societies — but haven’t finished thinking and writing about my time in Bali and what I learned there.

Update –

The friend who said Musyawarah could be from the Arabic Mushawara saw in the paragraph above Mufakat being defined as deliberation and consensus. He suggested I find out if Mufakat is also spelled Muwafakat. And it is. I found on-line “A Dictionary of the Sunda Language of Java” by Jonathan Rigg.

In the dictionary — Mupakat, Arabic, Properly Muwafakat, also Mufakat, to agree, to be on one mind, to unite efforts, to form a joint resolution

I continue to ponder over why Bali is so attractive to visitors, including myself.jawaharlal-nehru-and-rabindranath-tagore Jawaharlal Nehru called Bali “the morning of the world” when he visited Indonesia in 1950 and the poet Rabindranth Tagore said, “Wherever I go on the island, I see God.” But Bali is more than a beautiful landscape; the island is something of a Shangri La where outsiders want to live as well as to visit. And how did this come to be? I figured out the basics of Bali’s centuries old social and economic system, outlined here, and the impact of tourism here, then continued reading into the large and never ending literature on Balinese history until I felt I understood something of what made Bali different – and what that difference is, or was. Amazingly, I find myself engaged to the point where I cannot let go and move on to other places where I worked and was involved. I read about Bali and one memory after another occurs to me, of a similarity with another culture here or of a difference there, and I want to get it all down into writing.

For example, I read about how the Balinese organize their irrigation farming and community activities and encounter references to musyawarah, an Indonesian word I heard some thirty-five years ago in Java, and memories from even longer ago than that are revived.

Musyawarah is the name for a social process I first observed in the 1950s, and having no one word for what was happening, described it with phrases and sentences. I was studying the urbanization of a Mexican-American community of migrant farm workers, Spanish speaking, who were taking jobs and settling into a Midwestern city rather than return as usual to their home base at the Texas border. In my second year of being with them, a number of the younger women asked me to help them organize a woman’s social club for the community, and it became quite an experience for us all. Among other things, it was when I discovered my expectations for how a meeting should be run were a product of my Anglo-Saxon culture. In meetings as I knew them, if an issue arose and different points of view were expressed, the members held a discussion, then took a vote and the minority accepted the outcome, the majority view, as that of the membership. In our Mexican-American club, in our early meetings, when we needed to make a group decision we held a discussion and took a vote, after which those who lost the vote walked out of the meeting, emotionally if not physically, without comment, angering the majority and leaving each side with secret, and not-so-secret suspicions.

I could not understand what was happening, so Consuelo, my close friend, explained for me the factions in the community and the older women and their feelings. When I expressed the idea of the minority staying on and maybe later even persuading others to their point of view, it drew a blank with her. Obviously, the concept of the loyal opposition was not in their culture and to save our club we had to work around that fact. With another woman, we devised a set of procedures that suited our Mexican-American women; essentially, every group decision had to be discussed until we all agreed on the same thing. It was a time-consuming, tiresome process and sometimes resulted in an action so innocuous it meant almost no action at all, but we stayed together, had good times together and accomplished good works, such as persuading and helping Mexican-Americans get to the polls and vote during local elections, have their voice heard. It was the first time Spanish was heard in the municipal hall. Unusual for that community, our social club survived for years, for long after I had left.

I called the procedures we invented “talking to consensus.” With some added features it was “musyawarah,” the process for group decision-making used by the Balinese. In later years, I observed the same process being used elsewhere, in other cultures, in tight but stratified groups, as with medical teams. The discussion went on and on and on until finally the decision reached usually was what the top man (almost always a man) wanted anyhow, but at least everyone had a say and was heard, small concessions were made along the way to the hard-to-convince, no one lost face and everyone was responsible for the outcome of actions taken. Musyawarah became part of my personal vocabulary.

Another feature of Balinese society I think about is the way in which foreigners respond to the place of art in Balinese culture. I read here that  “Life in Bali is based on art. It’s so essential that there is no word for “art” in Balinese. It is difficult to explain the relationship that the Balinese have with art to someone who has never seen it. The Balinese carve, weave and paint beautiful objects for daily use – they become objets d’art in the most pristine sense of the word. The Balinese have a kinetic, green, tangible relationship to art.”

But — except for their highly productive agriculture in an unusually benign setting that allowed them far more leisure time for crafts and religious rituals than any other peasant society I know of, the Balinese are essentially like everyone anywhere else. It is a basic fact of life that peoples everywhere and throughout human history have “… a kinetic, green, tangible relationship to art.” Balinese art is folk art; people in all the societies I know and know about have folk art but rarely have a name for the artistic beyond the functional.

cave-art-aurignacianConsider early Homo sapiens painting on the walls of caves, c. 30,000 BCE, propitiating the spirits of animals they hunt and incidentally producing great art. In college, in my first anthropology course I was impressed with the beauty of ancient tools used by the hunters, like the Solutrean point in France, 22,000 years ago,

clovis-pointsand Clovis points in the Americas 13,000 years ago, beautiful beyond any functional requirement. In Neolithic villages with agriculture and domesticated animals, beginning some 12,000 years ago, craftsmen/women made tools and weapons, pots, baskets, cloth, objects for religious rituals, structures to live in, all useful and many pleasing to the eye. In towns and cities of the past,

a lady's needlework

a lady’s needlework

women with leisure handled cloth with care and imagination, adding beauty to ordinary useful items, and women today continue those crafts as hobbies, to sew and quilt and do embroidery as a craft and an art. Today travelers collect those lovely items people from traditional societies made for use; we display them in our homes and call them art.  (I wrote here about my collection of women’s artful craftwork. )

Why do I, and other people, find ordinary objects from traditional societies so much more attractive than things we have around us today? Could it be because through long experience with shaping and firing a pot, heating and hammering metal, weaving and decorating fabric, doing a dance, playing a musical instrument, singing ancient songs, performing a ritual, doing ordinary activities within the community, people naturally understood the materials and ideas from which they made things, things that “have stood the test of time.”acrylic-sofa-table-in-acrylic

We live today in a world of the continually new. When plastics, for example, came on the scene in the 1940s I found things made of it downright ugly, but gradually the nature of the material, its limitations and potentials, became better understood and now some items in plastic, such as a table made in clear acrylic, can be quite attractive. (but most aren’t)

My first encounter with folk art being collected, and sold, was in 1962, in Oaxaco, south Mexico. It was also the first time I was in a traditional peasant village. Ravi and I had driven to Oaxaca with our two small children to visit a friend, an anthropologist doing a study in the villages, and we stayed in the city with a middle-class family from the old urban elite.

black-ware-from-oaxacaThey were a family who had centuries-old ties with certain villages, probably a landlord-sharecropper relationship that modernization had severed. Nevertheless, the husband/father knew the villages and used his knowledge and love of the local craftwork to stock his popular tourists’ shop with relatively simple but exquisitely shaped and textured pottery. I was struck by the means through which he acquired the pots he sold. He found in the surrounding villages the potter he considered to be an artist as well as a skilled craftsman, agreed to buy every pot made for him and displayed for sale only those he thought had turned out well. The price and lifestyle differences between village, city and tourist economies allowed him to support the folk artist while running a business to support him and his family.

Balinese village economy remained intact into recent decades and the crafts never ceased being part of the farmers’ lives. Weaving, metal working, ceramics, painting, stone masonry, wood working did not move, as it did in Europe after medieval times, to the city to become the full-time occupations of independent craftsmen organized in guilds. In Bali, a highly developed, centuries old folk art remained in the villages, as if ready for foreign artists in the 20th century to discover and to set up artists’ colonies around them in Ubud and Denpasar. Here for a discussion of Balinese art after there arrived in Bali new materials and new ideas for creating works of art, plus outsiders to purchase the art.

In my very first hours in Bali in 1978, walking about in Denpasar, near my hotel in Sanur, a boy, maybe twelve years old, came along beside me, speaking English. He had across one arm a pile of paintings done on cloth and was trying to talk me into buying. bali-hanumanIt was my first time seeing Balinese art and the paintings of pretty girls he showed me I dismissed as overdone and touristy, bali-barongbut two paintings did catch my attention. On the way from Paris to Jakarta I had spent time with family in Delhi and naturally noticed the paintings with Indian themes, one of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, and a second vaguely Indian. When I bought them the boy asked me if I would like to come to his village and meet his grandfather, the artist. Sadly, I could not arrange it. Ravi had the paintings framed and I keep the Barong hanging in my study. (I’ll try to do better photos of them.)

The dance and myth around the Barong is explained here. Here for a touristy but fun presentation in Ubud.

Temple_detail_in_baliThe Barong is a truly ancient myth, a male spirit in the likeness of a boar, a tiger, a serpent or a lion. The lion form is from the Gianyar Regency subculture; Ubud is located in Gianyar and therefore the lion Barong is most familiar to tourists. In an important ritual dance Barong protects the community against a powerful evil witch, Ranga, who is aided by Durga, Indian goddess of death. (I resist the temptation to do a psychological analysis of the myth.) Hanuman is part of the culture introduced through the India-influenced Majapahit Empire, beginning in the 1300s. He is in both the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Craftwork from traditional societies intrigues me. Over the decades I acquired, besides my collection of fabrics, things of copper, bronze and brass; baskets; some pottery; a few knives; a bow and quiver of arrows; an ancient handmade gun; a Dayak blowgun (but no kris) and other items, not really a collection, just things I enjoy seeing and thinking about. I will comment next on the Bali crafts and folk art.

Continuing the discussion of why Bali’s villages are so different from peasant villages elsewhere — The answer lies, as discussed in the previous essay, with the Subak, a unique system of irrigation agriculture, and the Banjar, the community the Subak supports. The next question asks how it was that Balinese villages, despite being surrounded by the commercialism of sun and sand tourism, had remained intact, had not been undone by the time I saw them. However, that was some thirty years ago and I needed to catch up on the current situation. Fortunately, from what I read and the photographs available on-line, the villages seem basically the same today as they were then, more expensively dressed, changed and maybe set for greater change, but still intact.

The villages of Bali are the most studied of peasant village societies anywhere, beginning during the 19th century, under Dutch colonialism. The anthropological, journalist, artistic, casual and admiring accounts of Bali are too numerous to list or to cite. Two of the articles I read are from early anthropological research, Margaret Mead’s study of Balinese psychology and Clifford Geertz’s “Tihingan: A Balinese village.”

Balinese art contemporaryBali stone carvingGeertz describes the traditional social system and its subsystems — Subak, Banjar, kinship, status identity called caste but different from caste in India, various volunteer groups for work or other activities – and how these multiple subsystems with the memberships and identities they create manage to mesh and interact in the person’s social and psychological life. “A Balinese ‘village’ is a very busy place, and the complexity of the ways in which people are, even in formal terms, related to one another is staggering. If one were to apply stylistic categories to social structures … the Balinese would surely be classed as rococo.”   Perhaps this is reflected in its traditional art.

Since Geertz’s time, the village has grown in size and it encompasses any number of Banjars, each Banjar varying in size from about fifty to two hundred land-owning, Subak-participating households, and each person there by heredity, by being born into it, or by marriage. The Banjar defines the boundaries of the kinship-based community and has a governing council to which the couple of each household belongs and must participate. The Banjar works so well that it has been formally, legally incorporated into the national village level government. For descriptions by admiring foreigners of how the Banjar functions, here and here.

In the mid-1930s, the great Margaret Mead, anthropologist, having determined they were typical of the island, studied two villages and a town, focusing on psychological aspects of the culture. She wrote that Balinese culture was in many ways less like her own than any other culture yet recorded. She was a social scientist and regarded the Balinese objectively, but nevertheless, I think she had trouble relating to a culture so sharply different from the American in terms of individual independence and individual expression. For the Balinese, all activities were done in groups; their arts reflected a love of being in the crowd; they were not a verbal, analytical people. So different, but she admired them; they were good managers and they got things done.

And the village economy? Mead saw it in an historical context.

Gate in Gelget, old royal capital of Bali

Gate in Gelget, old royal capital of Bali

Before the Dutch arrived, in the mid 1800s, there were several small kingdoms on the island and villagers recognized the Rajah who ruled over the kingdom in which they lived. From his elevated position he acted as patron of the arts, protector of religious activities and gained his living by levying taxes in kind, probably part of the rice harvest; by the corvée, a labor tax from the peasant; by commanding the work of craftsmen and artists, and of servants and soldiers, for his palace; and maybe, on occasion, by seizing land. The money in circulation was Chinese coins. For the vast majority of the people, the villagers, rice and goods were sold in markets and in the villages. Services were paid for in coin or in food, or most likely, through bartering of goods and services. Nearly all adults were engaged in farming and farmers became part-time specialists in a craft or art or service – in music, making and repairing instruments, dance and dance equipment, teaching dance. Villages specialized in making pottery or baskets or metal objects or cloth or stone cutting. The Dutch governed through the ruling caste, the Rajahs; they had little impact on ordinary life but did build roads, introduced their own money and brought in new things to buy, especially cheap calico cloth, lamps and bicycles.

We have pictures of daily activities from Mead’s 1930s ethnography: “ … pennies given children for snacks and sweetmeats … children come with their pennies to buy food at the vender stalls …. market places where shoppers can hardly thread their way among endless trays of carefully sorted and arrayed fruits and foods … little stands where ready-made offerings to the gods are sold…. in the temples, children scrambling on the floor for dropped pennies … boys gamble for pennies they find in offerings …”

Geertz, writing some twenty years later, reported that families kept gardens and they made things to sell. Men cut down coconuts to earn money. Craftsmen were paid for making and repairing the gamelan instruments. Social class differences seemed based more on ritual status than on wealth and consumption. However, Mead remarked: The Regents/Rajahs have begun to express their prestige more and more in terms of automobiles and less by patronage of the arts.

I found this information from 1996 on economic life. — —

Bali kamasan painting 2The local economy was based almost entirely on agriculture and government employment in offices and schools.

In tourist areas, carvers and painters produce objects for sale to visitors, often on consignment from art shops. Most of the objects are simply that – a tourist’s souvenir, but a modern style of Balinese art has evolved, influenced by the European artists who came to Ubud in 1920, bringing new materials, new ideas and a market for local artists’ work.

In 1996, and possibly still today, villagers went to the nearby market town to sell agricultural items they had grown or things they had made and to buy vegetable, fruits, packaged and other foodstuff. Men sold cattle in a central market. Merchants traveled to the villages to buy agricultural goods or to sell such items as cloth, patent medicines or soap.

Life on Bali has changed since 1996; villagers are working outside the Banjar but they continue to identify as farmers. At harvest time, students return from the university, clerks leave their offices and professionals take their vacation time, all to help with the harvest and to participate in ritual activities in the temples and in ceremonies.

bali tourist map -- Kuta and SanurBetween 1978 and the mid-1980s I visited nine Balinese villages, each time flying into Denpasar and proceeding from there to stay for a day or two in each village, always focused on how the health care program in question was faring. In 1978, new to the scene, I naturally heard of the two prime tourist locations, Kuta and Sanur, and once visited Kuta because my interpreter/assistant friend was young and curious about this hippie hang-out on a beach where spectacular waves came crashing in at a sunset like none other I have ever seen. I was totally unaware of the village around which the tourism was building. My information about Kuta village is from a study done in 1984 by Antonia Hussey. She describes Kuta as a very poor farming-fishing village.

It is instructive to consider the consequences of tourism for Kuta village, a village with no land suitable for irrigation. They grew cassava, soybeans, groundnuts and coconuts, raised cattle and pigs and also fished in waters where fishing could not have been easy, even after they had the outboard motor. As described, the village, population 9000 in 1970, looked similar to other Balinese villages and was organized into Banjars, twelve of them, but did not, could not, belong to the Subak system. Tourism began after 1970, with explosive growth. Land became valued for commercial development rather than agriculture and villagers began acting as individualistic entrepreneurs who invested, built, sought employment, gained income. Outsider investors arrived, bringing development but also theft, prostitution and drugs. The Banjars, traditionally responsible for maintaining peace, surrendered their authority to the newly augmented provincial police force. Kuta village became a town and one of the chief tourist destination sites in Bali.

Traditional Bali fishing boatEventually a surfing colony was established in Kuta and it included boys and men from the original village. Alex Loenard, an anthropologist, did his dissertation on the society that took shape around the surfing at Kuta Beach. He wrote of the Balinese: The sons of fishermen, they were used to playing in the sea, and even knew and practiced a form of wave-riding themselves. “We called it serup,” a Kuta surfer in his early fifties told me. “Or another way of saying it was myosor umbak. We lay on pieces of wood and rode already broken wave to shore. We also used parts from the fishing boats that lined Kuta Beach then – the lengths of bamboo attached to the sides of the boats, the pangantang. So we understood the foreigners’ surfing.”

Kuta is not a place I would visit, but it is popular. In a good description for travelers — Once the sun goes down, Kuta is the rough and ready party zone of Bali.  I found on-line one tourist advising other guys on how to have fun in Kuta. He warned them against wasting time on the smiling Bali girl venders; they aren’t the ones for sale. Margaret Mead wrote that many women kept roadside stalls from where they sold food they had prepared and “ the vender girls who skillfully make a persuasive art of repartee …” Smiles, charm and talk, that’s all.

I stayed in a Sanur Beach hotel for two nights in 1978. The organization’s staff placed me there, probably thinking I would enjoy it, while they arranged my visits to the villages. Instead, I was annoyed; I wanted to start working, or at least be around the office where I could gauge what was in store for me. Still, I had a stack of documents to read — and a small adventure at the beach, described below.

Bali cock fightingBali gamelon practiceExcept for two villages in northern Bali, near Singaraja, I went into villages within driving distance of Denpasar and in each village stepped into another world, but one in tune with the larger society. I met with health care volunteers, interviewed, checked program records, etc. walked about and took photographs, such as those of the men with their fighting cock roosters, without offending anyone. In fact, the dancers’ group gathered for me to take their picture. Bali dance groupEveryone was pleasant, outgoing and cheerful. In a letter to Ravi I wrote “On Sunday I watched boys practicing a dance. They were quite good. The gamelan and the dance are part of life. The women in batik sarongs are wonderful to watch, especially walking in a row along the road, each carrying on her head a basket of food to be blessed in the temple. The society is tight, though, and control over the individual is thorough, from the top down. All quite gentle but firm nevertheless.”

And this returns me to my second question — How has the Balinese village survived the commercial lure of tourism? I was most concerned with the dance and wondered how changed it had become through its profitable catering to tourists, how, by being performed for money outside its ritual context, it could remain meaningful. Then, reading Margaret Mead’s study I discovered she had paid the villagers to allow her to photograph them as they practiced and performed the dances, and that was all right.

Dancer -- from an antique painting

Dancer — from an antique painting

Dance in a village

Dance in a village

She wrote: “Payment for theatrical performances is the economic base upon which the Balinese theatre depends.” The Rajahs once paid for theatrical performances. Next the Dutch paid for the same and many Dutch colonialist studied Balinese arts and religious rituals and pleasing ways and wrote books about them. Tourists are the most recent audiences eager to pay to hear the gamelan and see the dancers perform and leave them alone afterwards. Here for photos of a tourism performance and of the village volunteers.

Margaret Mead wrote: “… two characteristics of Balinese culture are the ready acceptance of those small details of customs and technology which can be absorbed without changing the basic premises of life, and the utter inability and unwillingness to contemplate any other drastic changes.”

With foreign investment changing the landscape, I wonder how long the village culture can last. The negative impact of tourism — rice fields sold to foreign investors to build luxury resorts, villas, residential complexes … malls and shopping complex built on a wetland … Subak organizations threatened … irrigation channels closed by buildings and roads … … And above all, rising individualism among the young … …

Finally, the small adventure on my first day in Bali –

I was stuck in the Sunar Beach hotel but had documents to read, so after lunch left it to sit in a chair at the beach. A beautiful place and no one around. I read for awhile, then went for a walk and came upon a group of girls, some ten of them about 7 or 8 years old, playing while their mothers were out in the water collecting seashells to sell to the tourists, and as I remember, seaweed for the family. The girls surrounded me and began asking questions in the little English they knew. Bali dancer RamayanaAs I coaxed out information from them I realized they would be the ones selling the shells later that day and decided they needed more English. bali dance face 2I had them stand in a line, repeat after me each new word and indicate they understood it. It was a cooperative exercise that for some reason included words for features of the face. Could their dance have been the reason why? Bali dance faceOur classroom exercises were fun and we played school for an hour or more until the mothers arrived and moved the girls on. They had work to do. I returned to my chair and documents. Later, when I was heading back toward the hotel, the girls came by, each with a basket balanced on her head. My favorite, the girl who had been the most eager to learn new words, stopped and came to me. With both hands she lowered her basket onto the sand, reached in, picked out a pretty small shell and handed it to me. “You are my teacher.” Of course, I still have the shell. What is better than a student’s appreciation.


bali in indonesia map

The villages of Bali were different from any I had ever seen anywhere else, and I soon became yet another visitor totally charmed by the Balinese and their lifestyle.

In 1860, the famed naturalist, and Charles Darwin’s co-author for The Origin of Species, Alfred Russel Wallace, sailing from Singapore, landed at Singaraja, the Dutch port in northern Bali, and Bali, Tabanan, Jatiluwihtraveled inland to study the flora and fauna. He wrote of Bali: “I was both astonished and delighted; for as my visit to Java was some years later, I had never beheld so beautiful and well-cultivated a district out of Europe. A slightly undulating plain extends from the seacoast about ten or twelve miles (16 or 19 kilometres) inland, where it is bounded by a fine range of wooded and cultivated hills. Houses and villages, marked out by dense clumps of coconut palms, tamarind and other fruit trees, are dotted about in every direction; while between them extend luxurious rice-grounds, watered by an elaborate system of irrigation that would be the pride of the best cultivated parts of Europe.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the 1930s, anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson lived in a mountain village and in a town, Ubud, in south Bali, studying and writing articles on Balinese culture.

Ubud Palace

Ubud Palace

The artists Miguel Covarrubias and Walter Spies, and musicologist Colin McPhee all spent time there, with Ubud as their center. Their accounts of the island and its peoples created an image of Bali as “an enchanted land of aesthetes at peace with themselves and nature.” Western tourists began coming to the island, first arriving by ship at Singaraja and after 1966 at the international airport near Denpasar.

I had barely heard of Bali before going in 1978 as a consultant to evaluate a national health care program being introduced there and in villages across Indonesia. This was the first of four visits to Bali, the last in the mid-1980s, always on an assignment, staying in an ordinary hotel, during the day walking about in a village observing and interviewing, always too busy to do much as a tourist, which was fine with me. Being with the ordinary people was entertainment enough. Pictures here.

But what was it about the villagers that charmed me so? Why was Balinese traditional life different, why the physical and social environment so orderly, pleasant, egalitarian, so much of it touched by art? One explanation occurred to me. It had to do with the effects that irrigation farming has on a society (I wrote about that here, in discussing the original city of Bangalore) but I needed to do some reading and additional thinking. To begin –

Borobudur, late 7th century, plow and bullock

Borobudur, late 7th century, plow and bullock

Central Java

Central Java

For more than 2,700 years Indonesians have used wet rice farming to grow their basic food crop. Javi and Bali, especially, are suited by their soil, climate and water sources to achieving the high yields that support a dense population, the prerequisite for a complex civilization. The climate is hot, averaging over 25°C all year round; the volcanic soil is fertile; rainfall is high during the west monsoon, from October to April, so the rice fields are naturally flooded for one crop, and from December to March, during the dry season, water is brought to the fields from a river or springs to grow second crop of rice or maize, sweet potatoes, lentils. Steps in the farming cycle are explained here.

bali terraced rice fieldsIrrigation is used throughout Indonesia but Bali’s is different. Beginning in the 9th century and continuing through the centuries, the Balinese developed an irrigation system known as Subak, the components of which are the forests that protect water flowing from the mountain tops; terraced rice paddies connected by a system of canals, tunnels and weirs; people from village communities using handmade tools to build, plant, harvest, drain and maintain it.

topography map

Bali topography map

Lake Batur and temple

Lake Batur and temple

Management of this large system, some 20,000 hectares, is exercised through a hierarchy of temples, the centers of control located at critical points either high on the mountainsides at the source of water or at points along its way downhill to the paddies below. No one person controls the system; it is owned by all the communities and is managed by consensus among the landowning families when they gather at the temples to keep informed, make decisions and do the work required.

Critically, Subak is imbued with symbolic and religious meaning, especially at the temples, expressed in the philosophical concept of Tri Hita Karana, which brings together the realms of the spirit, the human world and nature. The system became sacred, as do objects and ideas when they symbolize the good for everyone, the social above the individual. In 2012, Subak was enlisted as a UNESCO world heritage site. An article here on protecting the Subak.

An anthropologist, Stephan Lansing, using his considerable analytical skills and listening to the people of Bali, came to understand the Subak system and has explained its genius to the outside world. It is a system in which upstream owners of land share equally with downstream owners because they would lose if they did not; all of the owners must coordinate planting and fallow in complex ways to control the flow of water and to prevent an outbreak of pests that would destroy all the crops. Everyone contributes equally to the inputs and benefits equally from the harvest. The complexities of Subak are explained here in a brilliant summarization of Lansing’s writing, plus an account of how he helped save Bali’s heritage from international misinformed agricultural engineers. I highly recommend your reading it. This near debacle of an efficient, effective traditional system had me remembering why so many Third World socio-economic development programs failed.

I think it no coincidence that the Subak system began and took form in a time preceding the series of HinduBuddhist influenced Balinese kingdoms that ruled Bali and the Lesser Sunda Islands from the early 10th to early 20th century. The high yielding agricultural system supported population growth, prosperity and the establishment of cities, each with a ruling class and a sophisticated court culture.

Majapahit architecture

Majapahit architecture

Buddhism and Hinduism came to Bali through contacts with the larger and more powerful kingdoms of Java, from the 9th century  Medang Kingdom, the period of Borobudur, to the 13th to 15th century Majapahit empire. As the Majapahit empire waned, Islam spread in Java, primarily through increasing numbers of traders from the Indian state of Gujerat bringing their Muslim faith with them. I can picture them marrying local women and settling down, establishing small communities, building mosques, all analogous with what the Portuguese did, less successfully, in Makassar a century or two later. It is known that Muslim traders married into and converted royal families. However, Bali remained Hindu and became the refuge for fleeing Hindu courtiers, nobles, priests and artisans. (During my 1980s travels across Sumatra, Java and Sulawese, when I went walking in the towns where my hotels were located, looking into the shops, I found Chinese and Indian shopkeepers. The Chinese stayed separate in marriage and religion. The Indians were Muslim and married locally.)

Oddly, I have found no concrete evidence of Indonesian empires spreading through warfare, no paintings or carvings of warriors and battles. The one archer in a Borobudur bas-relief is a scene from the Indian Ramayana. How unlike what I have been reading about civilizations in India and further west.  I will return to this. It fascinates me.

Wayang, puppet theatre

Wayang, puppet theatre

Bali dancers 1929

Bali dancers 1929

So – I have the outline of an answer to my question of why Bali is so special. It is because of the basic Balinese community, the Banjar, that evolved within the framework of a unique system of irrigation, the Subak, that produces an abundant and a dependable supply of food for everyone in the society on a schedule that allows for a great deal of free time and leisure. And there was no need to arm against aggressors from outside. With influences brought to them from India via Java to add to their original culture, the Balinese developed and elaborated a rich artistic tradition. In the village, as a folk art, the boys play in the gamelan orchestra and both girls and boys dance. They are taught and they practice and practice; ordinary boys and girls acquire the skills of professional performers, and they put on performances to celebrate ritual occasions. The court culture has the puppet theatre and painting and the carving of wood and stone.

The Banjar community, about a hundred households, continues as the hereditary owners of the Subak. I think it may have historically been the village but is now is a sub unit of the larger village. Importantly, it remains the basic social unit in the society and has retained its unity as Bali grows in population and has become part of the modern world. A picture of the banjar today and how it controls interaction between tourist bars, nightclubs, shopping and the local society is here.

I have a second question: Why, at least in the years I was in Bali, had tourism not undone that traditional culture, detached it from its roots, changed the people and the culture, as had happened elsewhere? I think I found part of an answer to that question just a few days ago, reading Margaret Mead’s ethnography.

I’ll consider the second question next. — —




indonesia mapIndonesia was different for me from other countries where I had worked, and different also because in Indonesia I was in my empty-nest years, no longer a mother and wife keeping house and managing an active family social life while teaching part-time at the university or engaged in a research project. This had been my lifestyle in the U.S., in Somalia for two years , in Turkey for four years — mother, sometime home-school teacher, wife, housewife and part-time professional working in the environment that was also our home. In India I did not keep house but we did stay for extended periods of time in the homes of Ravi’s extended family; things Indian were woven into our lives. Then the children were off to school and I went to Indonesia as a full-time consultant, a place and culture unconnected in any way to my past or present. For thirteen years, from 1978 to 1991, I did consultancies there for health care programs, each time with a different international organization. Flying in from Ravi’s and my Paris apartment, I arrived in the Jakarta airport (clove scented cigarette smoke in the air) to be officially met and driven to the organization’s office that would be my base and from where I would go to meet my Indonesian colleagues, the persons who shaped much of what I saw and learned about their people and their land.

Fortunately, I liked my colleagues, enjoyed being with them, and will write about that, but first must make sense of the hundred or so photographs of Indonesia scattered over my desk. I rarely carried a camera when traveling; Ravi did that for us, but for my six months long consultancy across Java, Madura, Bali, Sulawesi (known also as Celebes) and Sumatra, probably because Ravi insisted on it, in the Singapore airport stopover I bought a camera and film. It also happened that my interpreter/assistant, Loung Ie, liked taking pictures and I went along with it. He took on the responsibility of getting the film developed for us. Unfortunately, I failed to write information on the back of most of the photographs, so now sit here, going through them, some of me sitting with people in a meeting, others standing with people at a vehicle, others walking with people along a road, trying to remember who they are, where we are. I’ll figure it out, even though I spent only two or three days in each village, then had to move on. I have my fieldnotes and the report I wrote and am matching photos to activities. These were fine people and we were doing good work together, which is the reason I wanted a photo memento of each occasion.

Usually, to get to a particular village I was scheduled to visit Loung Ie and I stayed in the District town hotel or government facility and commuted by government vehicle. On occasion, however, a village family could host us, and such a time was where we took these photos. It was in South Sulawesi, north of Makassar, in the rural area of what had been the Makassar Kingdom and other urban centers the Dutch encountered and also photographed. The village headman and his family took us into their home for two nights and helped me during the daytime with my interviewing.

I have to remind myself that the international organization and/or the Ministry of Health street scene from the villagesent me into a village to observe its health care program, not to analyze the people’s social system and economy. Nevertheless, knowing a little background information helps. As the street scene indicates, this village was relatively prosperous. In other villages, houses were built with more bamboo and less wood, and as I have in other photographs, not many villages had so many houses so neatly surrounded with a fence. I talked with the teachers, so knew the village had a primary school, and I heard that besides rice the villagers grew a cash crop, tobacco. Like villages generally in Indonesia in those years, it did not have electricity. Water was from traditional shallow wells.

Indonesia plowing field in bangkalan 2014Indonesia rice cultivation bangkalan maduraI did not walk out into the fields around the houses but think these photographs of rice farming taken in Madura, off Java, but would be similar to the way the people of Sulawesi farmed.

with the health care program volunteers

with the health care program volunteers

under the houseI can attest to the house being a pleasant space for spending time and for sleeping. The gentleman is relaxing under his house in the morning. The girl is sitting on a ramp that leads to the kitchen area attached to the rectangular of the house itself. The entire structure rests on pillars and can be, and on occasion is, picked up and moved elsewhere by as many men as there are pillars. The form and traditional materials of the structure are in a graceful balance, ideal for the climate. The use of wood and glass presents an updated version of the traditional house.

the district health centerNaturally, I met with the doctor and staff at the District Health Center and recalling all this has me thinking again of how difficult, with even the best practices and intentions, it is to remain healthy in the tropics without the aid of modern technologies. The continual heat allows insects and other disease vectors to breed and grow at rates unimaginable in a temperate climate where a winter freeze keeps much of that in check. And water – In the rather rainy U.S. state where I live, the average rainfall for most months is between 80 and 90mm, 10mm or so higher in March and in August. In Makassar monthly rainfall is near or over 200mm, a bit below 150mm in Sept and Oct. Think of the consequences for malaria and for water carrying parasites. Sanitation is a continual problem. People defecate on the soil where they also walk barefooted, being exposed to intestinal parasites and diarrheal infections. In cold climates people wears shoes, and have since at least the Iron Age, more than three millennia ago. For Indonesia’s preventive health program volunteers promoted the digging and lining of a pit called comberan for disposing of household trash and the digging and construction of pit toilets for sanitation. In America, when I was a child, many, maybe most, rural households had an outhouse, a deep pit under a small one room structure built of wood with toilet seats and a door to close for privacy. As for household trash, before the era of plastics, it was thrown somewhere away from the house and composted into the soil. In the Indonesian villages, floods or heavy rain frequently destroyed the comberan and backed up the pit toilets. Another concern for the health program was hygiene; people washed themselves but soap was expensive and not generally used. (On a later consultancy I saw women using a harsh detergent for laundry, and also for washing themselves, which I thought had to be hard on the skin.)

The headman and the teachers actively set examples for others in the village by adopting the preventive health program’s recommendations, one of which affected my stay with them. The headman had built, attached to the house, a small enclosure over a pit toilet with an important innovation: a floor level pan set in a cement slab over the pit. The pan was made of light plastic and shaped for a water seal called a gooseneck that prevented gases from rising into the enclosure. In this private space, a container of water was included for cleaning oneself and for flushing the toilet. If the price of cement is not too high, if the pit can be maintained and if water is readily available, this is an appropriate technology for a household. From what I read, it is used in parts of rural Indonesia but I find no mention of it in any other country.

Sanitation remains a huge problem in much of the world. The villagers I knew in India and Indonesia were much healthier then than they had previously been and certainly healthier than previous generations. Smallpox was eradicated and the incidence of tuberculosis, leprosy and malaria had gone down. Antibiotics were hugely important for treating infections. Access to modern medications through rural health clinics and doctors with private practices made a difference, as had, in Indonesia, the widespread acceptance of boiling the drinking water, but several basic causes of preventable diseases were still not being addressed.  I once repeated to a village headman what the District Health Center doctor had told me, that 90% or more of the children had intestinal parasites, and asked him why it did not worry people enough for them to take serious action to protect the children, such as wearing sandals, installing pit toilets and insisting on everyone using the toilets. And antihelminth medications were not expensive. The headman responded that formerly a child was a head and a big round belly with arms and legs like sticks, and now children look normal.

boys with Ascariasis (2)In two little boys I noticed the extended belly I was told is a sign of intestinal parasites but said nothing about it to anyone; it would have been inappropriate on my part, so I simply took this photograph to add to my fieldnotes. How very sad. I read that in Indonesia 37% of people in urban areas and 43% in rural areas still practice open defecation. I describe here my experience with this problem in India and wrote here of its devastating effects in India. For solutions to the problem here. For Indonesia here and here.


rice knifeI close with a photograph I took this week of my ani-ani, a souvenir, other than photos, of the villages. I had seen it lying discarded in a corner of the house and remarked on it, calling it by name. I am not certain how I recognized it and knew its name, maybe from having read years before I ever dreamed of going to Indonesia a famous, in anthropological circles, study of Indonesian culture. Whether there or elsewhere, for some odd reason I knew that women harvested rice by carefully cutting the grain off the stalk with a knife called the ani-ani. My host family explained that with the new strains of rice the yield was more abundant and people were harvesting with the sickle, freeing women from their slow, frugal salvaging of every single grain. He and the family were so amused by my recognizing the ani-ani that they gave it to me.

Oh my, not only is this a continuation, it is a correction. In a box of Indonesia photographs coming out of storage, there they were: photos from Makassar, twenty of them, some I had taken and others taken by Loung Ie, the student who became my interpreter and friend, assisting me as I crossed the major islands — Sulawesi, Bali, Java, Madura and Sumatra — to evaluate a nation-wide rural health care program. He was ethnic Chinese. I call him Loung Ie, but that was not the name he ordinarily used; he had a regular Indonesian name but at home his parents called him Loung Ie, so I did, too, except when we were in work situations with other people.

I now know I was in Fort Rotterdam and Loung Ie had to have taken me there to see it. Medical school indoor roomI have several photos of the buildings and grounds, which look in my snapshots much as they do in professionally taken photographs but the buildings shaggy and the grounds not so well manicured. Later I will post a few photos of Dutch colonial architecture. In the meantime, here is one room from somewhere at or near the medical school. This is the way to construct walls and roofs for being comfortable in that climate — shade and space for air to circulate.

professor and studentsObviously, I enjoyed being in the medical school with the professor, doctor, students and staff or would not have so many photos of them. Medical school outdoor roomThe open roofed area with the tables was typical of the indoor-outdoor spaces I later saw in homes and in public buildings. The man in the tan shirt, missing an arm, was an epidemiologist, remarkable in his knowledge and understanding of public health programs. I turned to him more than once to hear his views and seek his advice.

I had not gone alone from Jakarta to Makassar. The Ministry had provided me with a counterpart, a medical doctor who spoke English and knew his way around through the governmental bureaucracies. He was a charming man, always helpful. He arranged my contacts with government officials in the Provincial capital cities and accompanied me in the meetings when I was being informed about various aspects of the program. traditional transportationRegarding the photo, he liked using the beja, bicycle rickshaw, in the cities where they were available. I preferred taking the three-wheel cab, a modified motorcycle. In rural areas, where no sort of public transportation was available, a government vehicle usually took us from one official location to another. During stays in Jakarta, I walked from my guesthouse to the U.N. office building where I was based and to all the shopping I needed to do. Otherwise I took taxis. (except once had a motorcycle) Incidentally, along with the recovered box of photographs, I found my fieldnotes. In the first notebook, on the first page is a long list of words and phrases in the Indonesian lingua franca, Bahasa Indonesia, I would need to know. After the words for yes and no, the list begins with the numbers and I could still count to five before reading it.

Loung Ie's parentsFinally, I add photographs to my previous post on the site Loung Ie had told me was the remains of an ancient port. Makassar walled areaIt turned out to be of the Makassar Kingdom, not Portuguese. The photograph here to the left is of Loung Ie’s parents walking onto the site, probably from the ocean-side road. The next, unattractive as it is, I thought might be what remained of a gate or the entrance to a building. Makassar wall and meFinally, a picture of me standing at the wall on which I was sitting, on the other side, in a previous photograph. I do hope someone who knows and cares about Makassar will find this interesting and explain to me what these objects that caught my imagination thirty-six years ago really were.