Born and raised in the largest archipelago country on the planet, I lived my whole life being told repeatedly the story about how magnificent the nature that God had placed upon this land of leisure. Therefore, it is no brainer that our national campaign to enhance the performance of tourism sector is centered upon the beauty of Bali. Call it an abuse of resource if you may, but I prefer to put it in the same bracket as “opportunist”.
I would rather experience something first hand before passing my judgement towards something. I have been living in Yogyakarta for quite a while (3 years to be specific), so I know that suburban life and sub-cultural heritage seem ubiquitous there. I would not say it is bordering “boring” – because I know as good as anyone else that taste is personal matter.
I have been to Bali a few times, but not enough times to gain a quite handful amount of experience and decide whether the Land of God really lives up to the hype or not. When I saw an opportunity to join a Community Service Program team that was set to take place in Bali, I was barely hesitant to ask for joining that team. My world of thoughts had been filled with hearsays that remarked how magnificent Bali was, and I am a hard-headed man to be persuaded. It’s about time I serve myself some curiosity. Vide et crede, so it goes in Latin. See and believe.
For the majority part, Bali are usually seen in two different lenses. The first image about Bali is the picture of foreign couple drinking a tequila while basking their body in a veranda of beautiful guest house by the beach at the midst of sunset. The second perception is the picture of exquisitely rich heritage and culture across every corner in Bali where it seems that you find the real definition of peace. The border between both lenses seems so vague to say the least, but there are no restriction that make one another mutually exclusive on its own term.
We arrived in small dorp called Desa Medahan. Never heard of it before? Me neither. It is a small village located in Kabupaten Gianyar, near South East Bali. Clearly, it is not the brightest diamond on the cabinets, but it has everything. Green paddy fields? Check. Beach? Check. Gym? Check. Traditional Bali tradition? Double check.
We were placed in a small house which is located only 5 meters in front of local government office. Since my knowledge about Bali was slightly above nothing, I made an attempt to socialize with local villagers on my first few days staying here. I was not familiar with this situation, but at that time I firmly believed that the best method to gain local insights was through a coffee-talks with insiders who had been used to this kind of environment for quite some time.
To socialize with strangers whom I barely known was not a new thing. But it surely was an entirely different cup of tea when I tried to do this to local villagers. I learned a thing or two about cults and heritage that are celebrated regularly here. The rest of it, though, I honed my knowledge by gaining firsthand experience through attending a local event hosted by the villagers.
The head of the tribes told us to attend an Odalan ceremony in Friday night. According to a credible source, Odalan is a ceremony held purposely to celebrate the birth date of a Pura (a place of worship for followers of Hinduism). For every 210 days, Odalan is celebrated distinguishably on each Pura. There is some religious ritual for those who hold Hinduism sacredly. We followed each ritual and event of the ceremony to pay homage for the villagers.
The most intriguing of them all is undoubtedly “Tajen”. At the land of Java, you may be more familiar with the term “Sabung Ayam”. I had been warned prior to attending the venue that “Tajen” are terrifyingly intense. Two roosters fuelled with anger and fight for it while the crowds scream through the match intensely might give me a horror glimpse for a milliseconds. And boy, it did.
Each of the rooster were equipped with sharp razor attached to their feet. This was in clear purpose that one rooster must rise against the other and only the strongest will live to see the end of the day. As a huge fan of vintage WWE, both roosters showed the kind of masculinity that seems a little bit intimidating.
The crowd was composed of males ranged from 15-65 years old. The lionshare of the crowd were putting a bet on whoever rooster they thought was going to win. They screamed and clapped and screamed again during the performance. Instead of a football game, the crowd resembled the kind of vicious and avid spectators that you can only encounter in movie like The Gladiator.
Living in Bali for 6 weeks has definitely gave a whole new lense to see the world through. After being accustomed to conservative environment where everybody will judge you for betraying the religion norm, this gave me new perspective in life. If we are going into moral debacle, one may say that “Tajen” encourages savagery and barbarism in modern world.
But on wider landscape, it taught great sense of humility that not everybody is gifted with the luxury to be taught about the rights and wrongs. About which one is the ethical behaviour and which one is not. To their credits, they make a lot of money from the betting activity alone. They force roosters to fights, they bet, they scream, they swear. And inside the arena, they are free to do such things. This is why I always refuse to see such delicate matter through monochromatic lenses.
And I believe that’s what makes Bali special on its own terms. For decades, tourist across the world has explored every corner of the island to discover hidden gems. But finding the essential joy that placed within the combination of its culture and people has truly bolstered Bali up to the top of my list. It doesn’t necessarily require a sophisticated camera with a pack of lenses to capture the essence of Bali. It never does.
But it starts with glorifying diversity.