Being Balinese

What makes a person a Balinese? Answering this question will need a closer look on the characteristics of the Balinese. With no further ado, I present you, the Balinese. Balinese are bound by their family, local banjar (community), their desa (consists of a few banjar), various temple organizations, rice growing groups, a multitude of special interest groups, and even the ancestors. Balinese are not independent people, they are connected to various social and religious organizations; and these connections define who they are.

It is not just that Balinese are influenced by their connections, but that they form a part of the Balinese. A Balinese is composed of all his relations. There is even a saying that when someone marries a Balinese man, she not just marries her Balinese lover but also marry his whole family and community, since she will also help her husband in fulfilling his role in his community, family, desa, temples, etc. These organizations are the ones where ceremonial action is required, for instance, to hold a cremation for someone in the banjar, or to celebrate the gods coming down to a particular temple.

At these times, everyone in the banjar is expected to freely participate, sometimes pitching in and working for several days at a time, perhaps requiring a person to take off from work. These responsibilities are not viewed as a burden but as an investment of each Balinese knows that when the times comes that he has to hold a ceremony, cremation for example, he cannot do this by himself, and so if he has helped others, then he knows that the others will help him in his time of need. Indeed, the greatest punishment a village can assign to a Balinese is a kind of banishment in which others are disallowed to help him in important ceremonies concerning his family or his ancestors, central ceremonies that cannot be carried out without the help of others.

A Balinese has to participate in every activity of all social and religious organizations he belongs to. His presence in a ceremony is enough to show his participation. He does not have to know which god was being worshipped, and understand the details of the ceremony when asked why Balinese finds it so important to participate in the ceremony if he lacks the information on the ceremony he will say that participation is a mark of being Balinese. Another characteristic of a Balinese is his multiple identities. The identity of a Balinese depends on place (desa), time (kala), circumstance (patra).

A Balinese in his workplace he may work as gardener but in the temple he may be a priest that has to be revered even by his employer, and at the time of temple ceremony he may be the officiating priest that his orders have to be obeyed by all temple congregations, in the community he may be just a member of the banjar which has to put a respect to the head of the banjar. The identity of a Balinese in an organization only valid within the sphere of the respective organization in another organization or place he assumes a different identity.

When you ask a Balinese “who are you?” he may question back “where and when?”

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