Story and photos by Greg Hontiveros
Ubud, a small urban town-village in Bali, Indonesia, my good friend, Ramon Jorge Sarabosing told me, is the place to be. If one wants to understand the soul of Bali, it would indeed be worthwhile to spend more time there than elsewhere.
Not that the impact of over two thousand years of Hinduism could only be found in Ubud-it could be found everywhere in this island. But this upland area holds is the stubborn and variegated roots of the aesthetic and spiritual bounties of this most ancient civilizations that spread all over Asia.
Monching knows where he speaks of, having spent months as he studied Bali’s artistry and even its wellness program.
On the road to Ubud which is just a short distance from the capital of Denpasar, one finds stretches of ateliers, a throwback to the medieval guides of painters, sculptors, building craftsmen and weavers. Almost every household have elaborate family shrines of favorite deities and annual festivals of Balinese dances and theater and weekly worship in colorful temples.
I have special interest on Bali’s culture because it coincides with the ancient cultural influence from the same Hindu-Buddhist provenance as reflected in our everyday words with Sanskrit origin, the amazing gold ornaments crafted in Butuan and discovered in archaeological sites, and a good number of Hindu-Buddhist figurines from humbler materials found in Caraga Region over the years.
I presented a paper that was published in the Journal History in 2017: Beyond Gold: Hindu-Buddhist cultural influences based on Tangible Finds in Caraga Region. It is this cultural stream that once watered the civilization of Southeast Asia- think of Angkor Wat, Bagan, Funan, Champa, Sri-Vijaya, Madjapahit-and definitely affected our collective souls.
In my paper I have concluded that this commonality of the Asian experience must now be reexamined as we define our collective national identity. Learning from our past and the aesthetics of the found objects should make us feel as one with our neighbors.
The colonial interval of almost four centuries has loosened our ties with our neighbors, as Asian nations were disconnected according to their colonial masters and this sense of isolation has removed our historical consciousness with our neighbors.
There is something more profound when we consider that the ancient religion we adapted was far, far longer than our encounter with Europe and America.
It is this intermediate layer, between our indigenous cultural roots and our cultural experience that we should once more be placed in the forefront of our cultural concerns for their lies a greater understanding of ourselves.
Deep in our consciousness we still retain our cultural affinity and we evince such in our celebrations, our music, dances and the colors and swirls of our paintings and sculptures.
The great novelist Ernest Hemingway once wrote about the aesthetic influence of Paris, France in his memoirs: “If you’re lucky enough to have live in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Even in old age, Bali is our moveable feast.
Editor’s note: The author is a respected historian nationally and internationally. He is an inspiration and perennial adviser to local young artists.