Maurice Sendak must have visited Bali before he created the beloved children’s book Where The Wild Things Are, or maybe he was Balinese in a previous life – they do believe in reincarnation.
Check this out: Sendak’s wild things and traditional Balinese drawing of wild things. Uncanny, no?
A FOREST GREW, AND GREW, AND GREW UNTIL THE CEILING HUNG WITH VINES, AND THE WALLS BECAME THE WORLD ALL AROUND, AND AN OCEAN TUMBLED BY
Where The Wild Things Are is a story of duality: wild and peaceful, magical and grounded, unknown and familiar. Max, who is a king, and his mother’s little boy, has a wild streak and a peaceful side (like all children). Max creates a jungle dream world where he commands the big, not-so-scary wild things to romp, and when he’s through with the party (because romping is fun but even a child knows when enough is enough), he summons peace and quiet, and returns to his simple bedroom where he finds his dinner waiting for him AND IT WAS STILL HOT.
Romping through Bali with my kids, I felt like we could seek the wild or summon the peace as it suited us. Sometimes we were the wild things. Sometimes Bali was the wild thing. The local people tolerated our untamed children, and we were comfortable in Bali’s chaos. THEY ROARED THEIR TERRIBLE ROARS! AND GNASHED THEIR TERRIBLE TEETH! AND ROLLED THEIR TERRIBLE EYES! AND SHOWED THEIR TERRIBLE CLAWS!
Duality abounds in Bali. Some is visible:
- The rich in fancy villas living next door to the poor in bamboo huts.
- Flowers everywhere. Trash everywhere.
- Beautiful windy pathways beckoning you to wander aimlessly, full of dangerous holes in the ground daring you not to fall.
- A young girl in her freshly pressed school uniform walking hand in hand with her topless, barefoot grandmother carrying a basket on her head.
Sometimes the duality is less obvious:
Many Balinese that we encountered seemed happy. I know that’s a generalization, but just walking down the street we noticed it in every town we visited. People smile widely and their eyes beam. They laugh readily. Children are expected to play, and to wander around freely. Everyone knows everyone. There’s no rush. A shop owner will snooze in between customers. They celebrate! Even funerals are parties. We were told, “We have a good life.” “We live simply.” “We take care of each other.” “We are spiritual.” And these statements are truly evident. The center of village life is Balinese Hinduism, which is steeped in strong traditions of thankfulness, magic, music, and meditation. There is a gentleness about Balinese people, particularly the men, that is striking. I could literally feel the absence of male aggression when I walked the village streets at night. Wherever we went, from coast to coast, we found people to be warm, expressive, and proud of their culture.
As conversations with a few local friends lengthened, we learned that although in many ways they are content and proud of living traditionally, they also struggle with it. They wish they could offer their children more. Even if they work all their lives, they worry that they won’t have enough money for college. Those same traditions that give them full and strong spiritual lives can also make them feel trapped. Generations must live together whether they get along or not. The youngest son must live his life out in his parent’s home to take care of the family temple. Daily offerings must be made by the women, and the offerings can be very costly for a family. Many Balinese spend a large percentage of their family income on maintaining religious traditions and temples, and if they don’t, they believe bad things will happen to them. Bali is a strongly patriarchal culture, where boys are prized, property can only be passed to a male, and men can and do take second wives in order to have a son.
AND NOW, LET THE WILD RUMPUS START!A cremation ceremony is more of a celebration of life than a funeral. The event reminded us of a street parade in honor of one man. Every person in the village attended. It was wild and beautiful.
Balinese people believe in magic, from the doctor to the farmer. It doesn’t have to make sense or be scientifically proven; it just is. It’s faith. But as the modern world creeps in, through technology and tourism, some traditional beliefs become challenged. Bali is not a pristine paradise for the visitor or the local. It’s definitely magical for the Balinese, and can be magical to anyone who is willing to be the wild child, to romp and to relax, to let the magic in. We are so glad we did. Our little wild things will never forget Bali, and will hopefully return someday.
OH, PLEASE DON’T GO, WE’LL EAT YOU UP, WE LOVE YOU SO!
*read bro’s New additions to creative writing
Thanks for following our journey!!!!