Download Interpreting Balinese Culture: Representation and Identity by Julie A

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‘save’ the Balinese.” (Covarrubias, 1937: 399) But, he also felt that Bali was not a place where
missionaries could “improve in anyway the moral and physical standards of the people.”
…it is hard to imagine, knowing the Balinese character, that [missions] will succeed.
Religion is to the Balinese people more than spectacular ceremonies with music, dance,
and a touch of drama for virility; it is their law, the force that holds the community
together. It is the greatest stimulus of their lives because it has given them their ethics,
culture, wisdom, and joy of living by providing the exuberant festivity they love. More
than a religion, it is a moral philosophy of high spiritual value, gay and free of fanaticism,
which explains to them the mysterious forces of nature. It is difficult to imagine that it
will ever be supplanted by a bleak escapist faith devoid of beautiful and dramatic ritual.
Covarrubias also creates a sense that Bali represents a time that is lost in most other
parts of the world. It is still, Covarrubias suggests, “one of those most amazing nations that we
shall never know again, one of the so-called primitive countries.” (ibid.: 400) This is reminiscent
of the views of pre-twentieth century scholars who, as has already been noted, saw Bali as an
unchanged museum of Hindu Javanese culture. In this way, he contributes to the continued
essentializing of Bali. He continues, explaining that he does not see the Balinese people as
primitive, but rather uses the word “to differentiate our own material civilization from the
native cultures to which the daily life, society, arts, and, religion form a unified whole that
cannot be separated into its component parts without disrupting it; the cultures where spiritual
values dictate the mode of living.” (Ibid.) For Covarrubias, it seems, “primitive” cultures are
much more spiritually based than so-called “modern” ones, such as early 20th century Europe or
America. This is a rather stereotypical cross-cultural comparison, but also quite typical of those
attempting to define the “other.”
Already, however, Covarrubias notes changes within Bali that have resulted, in his eyes,
from contact with outside civilizations. These changes, such as “trade, unsuitable education,