Some rather shrill voices have been heard on Facebook lately — most emanating from pale-face poolside progressives — regarding the burden on the Balinese of customary or traditional law (adat).
Adat responsibilities are a huge part of every Balinese life and they are obligatiory; dissent is just not tolerated (well it is tolerated, but one may end up with one’s coffin thrown in the gutter on cremation day).
One expatriate champagne socialist pointed out that her housekeeper had complained, bitterly, about being forced to pay thousands of Rupiah for the renovation of her village temple — in the new Darth Vader Gothique style — when in fact the temple building is still in good shape.
This highlights a few issues currently raging in Balinese society: one is the island-wide stampede towards temple and banjar restoration (some call it vandalism); another is expatriates gossiping with their servants and the subsequent trend to take on Balinese society’s problems (well-meaning but often under-informed).
The high-handed and expensive tastes of some temple priests and adat chiefs is another raging issue; but thus has it always been, some would say.
For the Balinese, adat makes the hurt feel good and the time fly by
between incarnations; Kow-towing to banjar bullies with bad taste
is just a part of it.
As a paradise, Bali is far from perfect — the rights of women under Balinese family law are woe-ful, for example, and the traffic sucks — but it is widely accepted amongst cultural observers that adat is the glue that binds together all the factions that brings us all the gorgeousness and loveliness, and harmony.
Adat keeps the spring in everyone’s step and the universe eternally blessed and the malign influences placated. Unlike other Asian cultures with hyper-active adat — one thinks here of Japan and Thailand — the Balinese actively encourage foreign participation; any foreigner can sit in the banjar numbing his bum scraping coconuts for the rest of his life if he wishes.
It astounds me how expatriates avail themselves of the Balinese free-wheeling policy towards adat ‘rental’ — “You too can have your garden shrines blessed or even be cremated as a Hindu” with full rites and everything but a certificate of guarantee of re-incarnation — and then go home and gripe about the unfairness of adat.
“Bali is over,” I overheard one real estate punter exclaim, to my horror, in Sydney recently, “the return on investment is piss poor.”
I would suggest that Bali never started for these people who came to the island only to import their values and export carved ducks and not partake in local community life. Too much banging on about plastic and orphans and uglification may one day just make our hosts fed-up; the Balinese’ legendary tolerance for aberrant expatriate behavior may crack.
But what shields the whinging classes from retaliation is perhaps what also prevents the Balinese from serious introspection and better governance and planning — they are just too busy with ADAT.