Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cremation Ceremony Blog and the best of YouTube

It is been too long since my last post. Returning home from Indonesia on August 1, I was slammed with backlogged work, and I am still digging out. I had about 1800 unread emails! Much was spam, but you still have to wade through them all somehow....

My other projects at work include going to lots of meetings, finalizing programs for the autumn exhibition on Afghanistan (I am very excited about the possibility of Rory Stewart coming to give a lecture, details still TBD), working on grant proposals, and trying to set up an online videocasting process for the Society for Asian Art's Friday lecture series, which begins on August 29, with our new director Jay Xu giving a talk on "Mysterious Creatures, Towering Trees and Lofty Figures in

Sacrifice: The Lost Civilization at Sanxingdui, China." One could spend a lifetime studying the various fascinating burial practices and attendant magical creatures found in the arts all across Asia.

I have been working at home to upload some of my Bali images--please take a look on my Flickr site. I will write some posts related to these sets.

Some of the most indelible memories of my time in Bali circle back to the cremation ceremony. There were 1000s of folks with cameras there besides me and many of them got great shots. There is a fascinating official press blog about the events to be found at
Of particular interest are links to some YouTube videos of such things as the artisans creating the tower (bade). You can go directly to the YouTube clip here

The other video link from the official blog is this very slick ad
promoting the cremation ceremony apparently to encourage tourism for the event. This is an interesting approach to marketing--come see us burn our dead, it's beautiful, peaceful, harmonious, sacred. Funny thing is that the video looks nothing like what I experienced. I am not saying that the actual event lacked in majesty or sacredness, in its way, but it wasn't so clean and controlled as the video characterizes. All for the better.

For a sense of the chaos and excitement of the actual event, better to look at videos such as this one posted by Schooo1980
of the bulls being carried down the main street in Ubud to the temple.

Or this one posted by putrasinggih of the flames in full force. Listen to the master of ceremonies, who switches to English and asks the crowd to calm down so that they can get the fire hose in position to dampen the flames.

Of course, these videos are only of the most public part of the cremation activities. I know that there were probably many quiet, private moments shared only by the family, quietly chatting while making offerings, praying in small groups, and the like.

To see my humble assortment of photos of the cremation, please click here
I have lots of video footage, which is less accessible to me until we upgrade our video editing station at work. But in a month or so I should have some clips of this footage that I will share on YouTube.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gamelan Sekar Jaya: Weekend Workshops in Balinese Music and Dance, Oct and Nov 2008

This posting is to pass along information about weekend workshops on Balinese music and dance in Oakland, CA in October and November presented by Gamelan Sekar Jaya, which hosts visiting Balinese master artists every year.


Learn Balinese Gamelan music & dance at Sekar Jaya’s NEW center in Oakland
Taught by renowned artists:
  • I Dewa Putu Berata – musician
  • Emiko Saraswati Susilo – dancer
Two weekends:
  • Oct. 4-5 10am-2pm each day, w/break
  • Nov. 8-9 10am-2pm each day, w/break
Either weekend can be taken independently, since each will start at the same level. Different material will be covered, for those who want to take both.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Bali: one of about 17,000 Indonesia Islands

I just returned from Indonesia tonight. It is a long journey. I left Bandung at 8am Aug. 1 Java time and got into San Francisco at 8pm the same day Pacific Time. Crossing so many time zones is really surreal--it defies logic somehow.

I spent the last week in Java, the island just to the west of Bali in the massive Indonesian archipelago. I recently saw a map of Indonesia superimposed over a map of North America and it was staggering--the 17,000 islands of Indonesia stretch from Oregon to Bermuda. Superimposed over Europe Indonesia stretches from London to Moscow, With population of 220 million it is the fourth most populous country in the world and is home to more Muslims than the nations of the Middle East combined. Indonesia's Islamic culture is more evident in Java than Bali, which remains the only majority Hindu culture in Southeast Asia.

From my personal experience, narrow American stereotypes about Islamic culture are all but irrelevant to Indonesia. Sure I saw a few women in full black veils, but I also saw many women without any head covering, some wearing short sleeves or shorts, and in between these two extremes, I saw many women wearing fashionable head scarves of every color, attractive long-sleeved tunics and jeans. People of different stripes seemed to mingle easily and I found folks to be quite friendly and laid back. In Borobudur I was woken by calls to prayer, but hardly heard them in Bandung. On the outskirts of Jakarta I noticed many small mosques, for the most part humble buildings, dotting the sky line. When I asked my friend Achmad about why there were so many, he explained that they were small and needed to have many to accommodate all the local residents. I asked if they represented different sects and he said no, all practiced the same version of Islam.

I never felt any hostility towards America during my travels in Indonesia. Several people expressed excitement about Obama's candidacy.

Java and Bali share lots of cultural elements--some foods, a national language, a love for music and dance and for performances of the great epics of the Mahabarata and Ramayana in traditional puppetry and theater forms as well as on modern TV adaptations. However, although they are close physical neighbors, the islands feel to the visitor to be quite different. In my next post I will share some of my experiences in Java, and then will return to the rich range of experiences I had and people I met in Bali. And will have had time to download some pictures and video by then as well.