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The story of the development of Balinese art

The art history of Bali runs parallel to the history of the island itself. When Bali became a colony -of Java, the conquering aristocracy brought their art with them and every political event in Java has had a powerful influence in the development of Balinese culture. Thus, the early classic period of Javanese art corresponds also to a classic period in Bali, and when the mother country suffered disturbances and transformations, these were reflected in Balinese art, until Islamism and political chaos severed all connections between the two islands, and Hinduism had to find refuge in Bali. As the island became the center of A, new empire and no longer a province of Java, the Balinese natives took over the art of the exiled aristocracy, transformed to suit their taste, and a typical Balinese art came into being.

Nothing definite is known of the art of pre-Hindu Bali, but we know that the old Indonesian had a culture of its own, perhaps like the present one of the people of Nias and the Bataks of Sumatra, to whom the Balinese are in many ways akin. They worked metals, especially iron for the. making of magic krisses cultivated rice, had a well-organized administration, kept domestic animals, and made splendid textiles. Outside of a sarcophagus, some bronze bracelets and arrow-beads found" Petang, probably belonging to people of Hinduistic affiliation no material traces of their megalithic monuments remain, or have yet been found, perhaps because archaeological excavation has hardly begun in Bali. But a great deal of the old Indonesian spirit has remained in the daily life of the people, not only among the Bali Agas, but also alongside the Hinduism of the ordinary Balinese. As we shall see later, there are definite traces of what could have been the art of pre Hindu times found today in the offerings, in the patterns of textiles, in certain sculptures, and the like.

Antiques are scarce in Bali, although there are thousands of mossy and battered statues all over the island., often of a more primitive style than the usual contemporary art. But a newly made statue appears of great age after six months of exposure to the damp climate of Bali, and, on the other hand, many ancient statues resemble those made in recent years. Many of the innumerable remains found in the temples, in jungles, or imbedded in the trunk of a waringin may easily be contemporary.

We made a sport of going out with Walter Spies into, remote districts to find objects of what we called " native " Balinese style, and often located figures in wood, stone, and evea clay that showed no trace of Hindu influence. There were demons, girls, primitive animals, and alarm-drums with faces carved on them that were reminiscent of Dyak, Batak, and Polynesian art. Spies is an enthusiast for the "' megalithic " art and he has discovered many strange stones with primitive carvings, . such as the stone in Bebitera, or the magnificent stone altar in Batukandik in the little island of Nusa Penida: a pyramid twelve feet high surmounted by the torso of a woman with large breasts, supporting on her head a, stone throne like those from Nias, with two roosters standing on her shoulders, their heads resting on the palms of her hands. The style of the monument is decidedly Indonesian and so are the two little shrines, also in the same village, with well-defined signs of being one male, the other female. I was invited to accompany Assistant Controler Grader and Spieg on an expedition into the wilds between the mountains Batur and Bratan; descending slippery ravines, into jungles, and up steep hills, we found many old statues overgrown with vegetation, some of which seemed from early Buddhist days, while others looked as if Hinduism had never penetrated into those districts. Particularly interesting were the pyramids and strange carvings in wood in Sanda and Selulung or the Polynesian-looking statues in Batukaang and Pengadjaran.

Perhaps the most remarkable of antiquities in Bali is the great bronze drum kept in the Pura Panataran Sasih in Pedieng, the former home of the demon-king Maya Danawa. Some Balinese say that it is one of the subangs (ear-plugs) of the moon, while others say it is a Sasih, the " moon " itself, that fell down to earth and was caught in a tree. It remained there giving a blinding light, preventing some thieves of the neighbourbood from performing their nocturnal work. One of them, bolder than the rest, decided to extinguish the source of fight and, climbing on the tree, urinated on it. The " moon " exploded, killing the thief, and fell to the ground in the shape of the present drum, which explains why it is broken at the base. The people rescued it and placed it on a high latticed shrine in the temple. The drum is of the style of the so-called Chinese drums of the Han dynasty often found in Indo-China and even in Java, but it is the largest and most beautiful I have ever seen. The Pedjeng drum differs somewhat from the usual Han drums; it is elongated, with three great handles, rather like the bronze drums found in Alor, the island near Timor, where they are still used as money, some being worth as much as three thousand guilders.' The drum is decorated on it§ sounding surface with a beautiful star in high telief surrounded by a border of sweeping spirals, and on its sides with borders between parallel lines rather like the popular design called "spears" (tumbak) by the Balinese. Furthermore, there are strangely primitive, or rather conven tionalized, human faces in low relief that have no obvious relation to Chinese art and that are strongly Indonesian, with the characteristic leaf-shaped ornament worn behind the ears, the lobes of which are exaggeratedly distended by the weight of unusual ear-rings. The general style, the motifs, and the workmanship of the drum are all definitely related to the unique bronze axes from the island of Roti, also near Timor, which were unfortunately destroyed in the fire of the pavilion of the Netherlands in the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931 where they were exhibited. The axes and the drums seem to belong, rather than to a definitely Chinese culture like the Han, to an ancient, mysmysterious Indonesian bronze age.' The Pedjeng drum is regarded with great reverence, and people often bring it offerings.

Another motif which appears to be of native origin is the figure called tjili, a silhouette of a beautiful girl with a body shaped like a slim hour-glass (two triangles meeting at their apex), with rounded breasts, long thin arms, great ear-plugs, and wearing an enormous bead-dress of flowers. Tjili shapes are made in wood, of Chinese coins sewn together, woven into textiles, modeled in clay to surmount tiles for roofs, and made into clay banks for pennies. They are painted on rice cakes for temple ornaments in Selat, and made out of palm-leaf for certain agricultural ceremonies of the old mountain villages or as containers for the soul of the dead (adegan) for cremations. Tjilis form the central motif of lamaks, those beautiful but perishable ornamental strips of palm-leaf, about a foot and a half wide by some ten to twenty feet long, made for feasts by the women, pinned together with bits of bamboo strips of busung, the tender yellow blades of the sugar or coconut palm, taken from the tree before the leaf opens. This is decorated with a delicate geometric pattern, a mosaic of bits of the green leaf of the same palm, cut with a knife into elaborate ornaments which are pinned on the yellow background, forming borders like the ones on the Pedieng drum, ornamental strips (bebatikAn) , groups of rosettes called 94 moons " (bul6n) , the tjili, and a stylized tree (kayon) -. These magnificent ornaments, perhaps the purest examples of the Balinese native art, last only for one day, and after hanging for an afternoon on an altar or a rice granary, by evening they are completely wilted. Spies has collected every different type of Jamak design for a period of years and he has hundreds of them. He claims that every community has a peculiar design not found elsewhere.

The figure of a tjili seems to have a strange hold on the imagination of the Balinese, perhaps because it is the shape of the " Rice Mother " (ninil pantun):, a sheaf of rice dressed into the shape of a tjili. This would indicate that the mysterious figure was connected with, or derived from, the deities of rice and fertility, either Dewi Sri or Melanting also goddesses of beauty and seed respectively. Again If the shape of. the great offerings , a pyramid of fruit topped by a. fan of flowers and palm-leaf, is also a tjili, so stylized however that only the pyramidal skirt and the flower headdre'ss, remain. This became evident when we saw in Kesiman, alongside-. the usual form of offerings, one six feet tall made into realistic tjili her skirt of melons ears of corn, oranges, jambu, and salak

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