Business a la Bali Budaya

by Jack Michaelson

As we sat in the cool of the shady verandah, next to the open- walled kitchen I looked into the eyes of my Balinese host.The strong sunlight filtered through the shoulder-height woven coconut palm walls and mixed silently with the aromas from the cooking pot.

I had come to write the story of a Traditional Balinese Compound. Just look for a shop called Bali Budaya they had said at the office. Here it was, Sunday already, and I had only just made it.

Jack takes a business-like look at the mind of a successful artifact trader in Bali. He discovers more in the philosophy of Wayan Sila than he had imagined.

It was a large establishment full of woodcarvings of various shapes and colours. They were tastefully displayed and invited closer inspection. Behind the premises was a covered bale where artisans were working at their trade. Tourists who came to the shop, would watch with interest and discuss with their guides, the points they wished to clarify.

Walking in the heat through the carefully cut lawns and well tended garden I felt like Alice in Touristland."The Bali I know is not so well shorn," I thought. I arrived at the compound. What was so special about it?
Books describe the way the Balinese compound once was, and this one was laid out in the way the books described.

"There are so few traditional compounds left in Bali". Suddenly there was someone beside me. From nowhere, the owner had appeared and wanted to explain it all. This is the rice barn and this is where I sleep.

The stonework was elaborate.The woodwork was carved exquisitely and shone with gold leaf over the red paint. Plants grew from nowhere, as they often do in Bali. The buildings were all in the right place. The Sanggah, the holiest part of the compound, was used for the family religious ceremonies.

I sat with my host outside the kitchen. We drank coffee."Is this compound more than a status symbol and tourist attraction combined?" I asked. My host smiled a devilish smile. Quietly he answered my question.

We all have a body. Without any part of our body, we are not whole. My compound is like my body. My feet are at the end, they are the shop from which I trade. The house is the body and the Sanggah or house temple, is the head.

My culture is Balinese. My religion is Balinese. My life is Balinese. I wait for the time when the Gods come to my temple. I enjoy eating Babi guling.

In 1989 I constructed this compound. It is true that it is rare for someone to construct a compound along such traditional lines these days. The compound gives visitors a chance to see the Balinese style of building and understand a little of the philosophy behind it. It allows me to make a contribution to the understanding of the visitors. They help me by buying in my shop. I return their help, by showing them a little more of our culture.

What comes in through the feet - the shop, nourishes the body and allows the head to make contact with the spiritual world beyond. If all is right in the spiritual world, the feet will continue to provide sustenance. It is a cycle. No part can exist without the other.

Bali is special. It promotes Cultural Tourism. It is a different kind of tourism and could be described as a two edged sword. It has good and bad effects. In some ways it damages the culture and promotes changes which would otherwise be unacceptable. It also provides an income and a good living for many Balinese. Those of us who earn our living in this way should be able to express our thanks to the Gods and return some of our profits to the people who contributed them. It is another cycle. We take and give, we give and take.

Cycles are the key to understanding Balinese culture. As long as the cycle continues the body and the soul will be nourished. The feet must nourish the body. The body must nourish the soul. When the elements are in balance the cycle will be maintained. A good product does not need advertisement.

If we look at two rice fields which are adjacent and we watch the farmers in those rice fields carry out similar cultivation and care but we see that one rice field flourishes while the other gives a poor harvest, who can we blame for the result? The farmers have given the same care but the Gods have given the result. The same can be said for the business world, at least in Bali, where we can never lose sight of the spiritual importance of the relationship between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Business here, has little to do with show and everything to do with the performance of the daily tasks which become the culture which attracted the tourists in the first place. Another cycle.

Copyright 1991 Jack Michaelson

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