Bali is Ruined, I shan’t be back. Charlie Chaplin,1934 (Bali 2016)

Reading in Bali, Heaven and hell, a whole new image of this paradise island unfolds. The Balinese have been through some shit.

There were brutal feudal wars between the Bali Kings in the old days. Same old same old stories of  haves and have nots, of envy, power, riches and horror.There was the colonisation by the Dutch, in protest to which the king of Bandung and 1000 of his people, committed mass suicide, choosing a proud death, rather than being ruled by the bule, the white man. Others following suit, stabbing and slashing themselves with the Kris, the curved dagger. There was slavery. There was opium addiction. There was the commie witch hunt: after a so called communist coup failed on 30 september 1965, the massacres of 1965-1966 claimed 500.000 – 1000.000 deaths. In The Act of Killing, director Oppenheimer shows  a gruesome image of a once executioner recounting his horrible acts. Rather see a ‘romanticized’ version of the facts? Watch The Year of the Living Dangerously, starring young Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver (before she got infested by aliens.)

During World War II up to 1945, the Japanese occupied the island, ending the Dutch colonial rule. Then Bali saw the invasion of the hippies, and mass tourism.

Totally unaware of the past, we tourists frolic about on this Island. We sing, we dance. We eat, we pray, we love.The colonists created the image of the last paradise on earth,  where bare breasted native women await the white man on the white shores, with their apparently overdeveloped clitorises, eager to please.

Europe wanted to believe this myth of le bon sauvage, they loved, it, were curious, and many came to see the Garden of Eves. Adventurous filmmakers made documentaries, artists settled in this land of abundance, Walter Spies the most famous among painters, photographers showed the West the best of  Balinese women. But when Charlie Chaplin visited for a second time, he wasn’t so impressed anymore. Bali is Ruined, he said (or so it is claimed), I shan’t be back. This was 1934.

We visit some of Bali’s past: Pura Taman Ayun, the Hindu water temple of Mengwi. It is a half an hour drive from our Airbnb, traffic is slow, and I am getting bolder. None of our kids puke. Always a bonus. On the road, several groups of schoolgirls and boys are exercising, marching on the rhythm of the teacher’s flute. We get to Mengwi easily, and before the throngs of tourists arrive. The temple, build in the early 1600,  is surrounded by a moat and consists of different pavilions, the towers representing the mountains on which the gods live. Once a year apparently, the gods come down from Mount Agung, Bali’s highest peak, to bless the whole world. (Thank you for this kind gesture, gods of Bali. )The holy center of the shrine is, again, only accessible for hindu worshippers.

Much more than the temple, I like our stroll through the quiet streets of Mengwi. Every house is protected by a gate, demons, dragons, and the gods. Swastikas, the sign of life, are carved above every door. A big crushed beetle, I guess it was a flying deer, is being eaten by a colony of ants. A young man carries his baby brother outside to show him the strange tourists. A woman invites us into her courtyard. It is a beautiful traditional Balinese house, with the customary  family temple, a pavilion for private cremations, and another shrine for the evil gods, it’s door guarded by two fearsome hellish dogs. Cages with birds hang everywhere, for good luck. They were caught in the garden or bought on the market. We buy an icecream for a little girl, but she is too shy to accept it.




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