The World Is An Amazing Place.
2020 was undoubtedly 'slow.'
It was a time when sloth and procrastination, to which I have been addicted to for a few years now provided me with ample time to bring these two laconic bedfellows to a state of absolute perfection.
During the really 'slow' days (read; most days) I poured over the thousands of photographs we have taken over the decades, bringing back memories of times I had mostly forgotten, gazing at friends, long-vanished and gone or at faraway places that I still long for.
These images presented a chronological progression of our children's early and middle years depicting them and us in various counties where we lived. This photographic montage made me realize it has been almost ten years since we took a chance and moved to Indonesia and settled on the small island of Bali clinging to the great southern archipelago.
The laconic pace of life has meant that time has slipped by almost unnoticed, which re-enforced the notion that it is indeed a rather splendid place to live.
The word Indonesia means Indian Islands, stemming from the Greek, Indos (India) and nesos (island) 'Indonesia,' coined by the Englishman, J. R. Logan, in 1850. It is a singular term that denotes a particular nation, but there is nothing uniform about its culture.
Indonesia geographically is a country the size of the United States of America except that 60% of it is underwater. Nature ensured that this vast landmass became a nation of islands, all 17,000 scattered over sixty - one separate archipelagos.
It is a wild, diverse country comprising over 300 separate ethnic groups who somehow co-exist peacefully. There are seven hundred and fifty languages and over one thousand five hundred dialects and a bewildering mix of cultures. The population of almost three hundred million are a diverse lot living their day to day lives in unity in diversity.
Tolerance here is a way of life.
Indonesians on the whole, live their lives in their breezy indifference towards the wider world. Their unchallenged certainty that they live the best of all possible lives in the best of all possible locations. I think they believe that God or the many Gods have somehow marked them out for special favour, by placing them where all of life's blessings seem to be gathered together in one unassumingly hallowed spot.
What binds the people of the fourth most populous population on earth like industrial glue are two critical factors, religion and family. No matter how old or independent they are, Indonesians keep tight relationships with members of their family. For instance, youths, moving out of their parents' house, are not even contemplated even if they have a stable income of their own. It's not necessarily a sign of dependency; it just shows the nation's values and principles regarding the family structure. Unlike western cultures, here, as parents age, children fight amongst themselves to be the ones who care for them in their dotage.
Greater Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in
the world, despite being a secular country by law. Islam is just one of six
official religions acknowledged, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism,
Buddhism, and Confucianism.
The complex diversity has given rise to various belief systems across the scattered islands with many communities still living traditionally, upholding the spirit of their ancestors. The deeply ingrained belief systems draw deeply from animism, dynamism, and totemism. In some cases ancient practices interact with other 'western' mainstream religions for the Catholic practices and teaches would make the cardinals in the Vatican shudder.
The tectonic processes that created the county's structure, the volcanoes, mountains, hills, and rivers are well understood. However, Indonesians go beyond the scientific theories of the tectonic plates and erosion to explain how the natural landmarks came to be. Indigenous elders will tell stories of gods, spirits, royals, or hermits that contributed to forming a particular volcano or a mighty river.
Indonesia has special ceremonies for even the tiniest milestones, from a child's first step on the ground to celebrating certain months of pregnancy. Life events like weddings, funerals and cremation ceremonies are performed with mesmerizing and colourful displays involving hundreds if not thousands of participants.
These beliefs are not restricted to those living in traditional, remote villages. Even within the giant metropolises, the inhabitants integrate their traditions and cultural values alongside contemporary 'modern' lifestyle. Even the multi-nationals still consult almanacs or spiritual elders to determine the best day to do business or begin significant construction projects. Young professionals will hold ceremonies for their weddings or birth of the first child, whether following the family's demands or of their own volition. Traditions, fortunately, live on.
They are a creative lot.
Indonesians chronically depict their rich culture in their art, sculpture, literature, music, dance, theatre and architecture drawing inspiration from the rich archipelago's culture and values.
If I lived here for a thousand years, I would still not comprehend their ingrained traditions and value systems; however, they have welcomed me into their lives, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Tabanan, West Bali December 2020
Paul v Walters is the best selling author of several novels and anthologies of short stories. When not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali he scribbles for several international travel and vox pop journals.