The panel was tasked with considering the proposition that:
From busloads of tourists and bustling beaches, to Balinese Hinduism and a global voice, Bali is a place that knows how to adapt.
This is a summary of my introductory comments and a little more that there was insufficient time to express.
As the only foreigner on this panel I’d like to say a little about misunderstandings.
Recently Melbourne Barrister Jim Mellas posted this anecdote on. His Twitter stream.Uber driver: what sort of work do you do?
Jim: I’m a barrister
Uber Driver: I like coffee! Where you work? I come for coffee.
When I first came to Bali such misunderstandings were common enough for me.
One day I was asked
Ke mana, Russell
Saya ke pasar, mau mendapat penjahat
Oh, maaf Penjait
My friends were very forgiving.
Misunderstandings arising from language were common in those days and continue but I was determined to learn as much as I could about Bali.
So when I’m confronted with a statement as blunt as Bali is a place that knows how to adapt, in the interests of clarity and efficient communication many questions arise. First, what is adaptation.
In biology – the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment. In evolutionary terms this is predicated on the existence of natural selection.
In a social sense: the process of changing to better suit a situation.
Now that makes sense Desa, Pala, Patra – adapting to time – place and context is a commonly understood principle in Bali and therefor a potential strength.
There its no doubt that the connectivity and creativity of Balinese society affords a degree of resilience in the fast of major changes offering many opportunities for social adaptation, many creative solutions.
Indeed the early emergence of cultural tourism in the Gianyar Regency, Ubud in particular, is one such positive adaptation, so too is the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival now in its 13th year. Events such as this add value to tourism, strengthen local capacities to respond and adapt to a changing world, to make a creative response to the the globalised industrial and post industrial economic system now so predominant.
Where I must question Bali’s adaptability is in the domain of the biophysical environment, it’s management and the associated environmental mangement economics or the green economy where the answer to the question is problematic.
At this stage I contend that Bali isn’t successfully adapting in this domain, but retain a significant degree of optimism, given the creativity of the human resources on this small island.
I shape my answer to this question with spiritual, scientific and economic perspectives.
Spiritually my position accords with that of Patriarch Bartholomew when he writes:
“. . . to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin.
For human beings to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests, or by destroying its wetlands; for human beings to injure other human beings with disease; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances – all of these are sins.”
As a corollary he adds:
The way “. . . we treat the earth and all of creation defines the relationship that each of us has with God. It is also a barometer of how we view one another.”
When I first came to Bali, I hadn’t developed such insights, I brought my background in Geography and Economics but it wasn’t long before I came up against a Balinese spiritual tool Tri Hita Karana.
In simple terms it asserts that there are three causes of prosperity and happiness and that these states proceed from harmonious relationship between:
(1) Humans and God – Parhyangan;
(2) Humans and their neighbours – Pawongan,
(3) Humans and the natural world – Palemahan.
Its roots are far more ancient, although this doctrine only came into wide use as recently as the 1966. My sense was that Tri Hita Karana could be applied in a material as well as a spiritual sense yet I saw many examples of lack of material harmony or equilibrium, particularly in the relationship between humans and nature.
What I wasn’t understanding was the application of another set of understandings Sekala and Nislala. In the simplest sense this means that reality, is an interaction of the Seen and the Unseen. In time I came to accept this idea and have now completed my first book of short stories with this as the part of its title.
Yet in accepting this idea it gradually became plain that harmonious relations between humans and nature were often mediated through ceremonies, through the Unseen realm and that for many this represented sufficient regard for the environment.
This worked well enough in the pre-industrial world even though Bali was by no means sealed and impervious to outside influences. Fortunately, such external influences were for the most part environmentally non-disruptive, by comparison with the present.
Things changed in the 1970s with the growth is wide bodied jet travel and the dawn of the era of mass tourism.
In Bali before this era forces like Bhoma played their part within the unseen realm. As the child of Vishnu and Ibu Pertiwi, Bhoma is an entity whose place is intrinsically connected with the conjunction of earth and water. In terrestrial environments, earth, water, atmosphere and biosphere all meet. All four domains are present in a space where energy is exchanged and fundamental transformations in states of matter occur.
In pre-industrial Bali it was easy for humans, much of what they did was in harmony with nature, so natural processes remained intact and unimpeded. All remained in equilibrium and Bhoma was free to carry out his work skimming across the earth and transforming rubbish into the food of life.
So where are we now? Well Bhoma has indigestion, the heartburn of Tri Hita.
The Bali I encountered, when I first came here has gone. My greatest fear is that given the high demand elasticity of budget tourism in South East Asia, and the mounting numbers of tourists escaping the polluted cities of eastern China and headed for Bali, that they will settle for tarmac, concrete and plastic, a Bali of Benoa Bay canal estates, an artificial and unsustainable paradise.
The solution is in valued added tourism. I’ve always believed that cultural, environmental and educational tourism is something Balinese society can do well. Perhaps there is hope in the Bali Clean and Green Program. What it must deal with and how effective it can be, I hope we will confront, in discussion. If it isn’t effective the answer to the question is an absolute no.
I still want Bali to be the morning of the world, even if it’s moving into the siang, towards midday.
Read more of my work by either picking up a copy of Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific from me at UWRF16 or from Toko Buku Ganesha in Ubud. It’s also available through Amazon and as an audio book through CD Baby. Visit my website for full details.
Seen and Unseen a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific is reviewed by Bill Dalton in Toko Buku on page 17 of the Bali Advertiser for October 26, 2016.
View a Pecha Kucha on my work here.