Why ethnic Balinese surfers are the most “local” of locals,

Well, duh, you might say.

But I mean something more than just ancestral identify.

First of all, though, I should say that many non-Balinese surfers (Indonesians of other islands and of mixed parentage) were born, raised, and live in Bali, and call this island home. They’re as “local” as anybody in the lineup. That’s not what I’m talking about. (Although it would be interesting to do an analysis of line-up pecking order, which I think would involve elements of local knowledge & presence, talent, fame, dedication, seniority, respect, and how many surf schools are in the water).

What I’m referring to is something a hot Balinese ripper brought up in the water the other day, about how a Balinese is tied to his island in profound ways.

Balinese have a social and spiritual and physical commitment, especially once they are married which in a way formalizes their status, to their community banjars, their village desa, their clan, their priests and royal houses, their temples. To a degree unknown by most other locals who call Bali home, the lives of the Balinese are both constrained and supported by a mesh of relationships—to the unseen world, to their community, and to physical locations, to the island itself. For example Mt Agung is always “north” to a Balinese (in Singaraja, my north would be “south” to a Balinese). Important rituals are carried out at many geographical locations such as lakes, rivers, woods, hills, and beaches. The ocean itself is vitally important to purification and cremation ceremonies.

In fact, as the island is becoming increasingly squeezed by development, access to these spiritually important places is turning into a contentious issue. (And I personally get the sense that a lot of Balinese are starting to feel more and more ruffled, as if they are being pried out of their island by a contractor’s crowbar.)

So this what I mean by Balinese being more “local”, in that they are deeply rooted to land and the sea in ways that other locals are not. A non-Balinese forced into exile can pretty much pack his bags and leave the island, as traumatic as that could be, without losing his psychic identity. A Balinese can’t.

(This sounds like a blog bite–the blog equivalent of a sound bite–punchy but superficial. But I will stick to it. While it’s true there are many, many Balinese who live overseas, some permanently, they still maintain ties. This is the reason why the traditional punishment of banishment from the banjar is such a heavy one. I remember a former governor of Bali, who pretty much wholesaled his island to Jakarta interests. He finally went a step too far on a certain project and his own village threatened to deny him burial/cremation rights. He backed off.)

As far as surfing goes, these relationships take priority over the waves. It’d pretty much unthinkable—in the real sense that it wouldn’t even cross his mind—for a Balinese surfer to skip out on a banjar or temple ceremony because the swell’s pumping.

(And there’s been a run of fun swell this past week, in the supposed off season, that once again underscores why Bali is such a premier surf locale. But stinking hot.)

((And a baby cobra from the rice field has sneaked under a fixed bathroom cabinet and we can’t hook it out, which will make going to the toilet tonight an interesting adventure –I think I’ll just pee off the veranda –another facet of life on this island))

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