When you drive through Bali, you can see much of the commerce crammed up against the pavement, and get a sense of what’s important to the people here. Besides restaurants, hotels, and a few other touristy things, I have the impression that 80% of the Bali economy is devoted to religion. All the beautiful arts and crafts—cloth, statuary, carvings, and paintings—have their purpose in attending, building, decorating, and maintaining the temples, of which there are an estimated 11,000 on this small island. Likewise, food and flowers are major elements in the offerings, rituals, and celebrations. The Balinese go to temple daily and perform additional rituals throughout the day. Special celebrations occur at least monthly.
Almost all the rest is just the basics of living, and judging from what I can see in the shops, the needs of the people are very simple: a little furniture, some cooking utensils, some construction materials.
They grow most of their own food, with rice, of course, being a staple. Bali has an ancient, complex irrigation system called subak. Here’s the summary from Wikipedia:
Subak is the name of water management (irrigation) system for paddy fields on Bali island, Indonesia. For Balinese, irrigation is not simply providing water for the plant’s roots, but water is used to construct a complex, pulsed artificial ecosystem. Paddy fields in Bali were built around water temples and the allocation of water is made by a priest.
Even in this rainy climate, the Balinese don’t take their water for granted, and every special water place in Bali, such as a spring, has a temple associated with it. I don’t know much about the whole system and may have some of the details wrong here, but as I understand it, the priests manage the subak so that all the farms get their share of water, even if they are far down the system. The paddies are planted and managed communally by the village council. A rice paddy is harvested two or three times per year, depending on variety. The paddies are planted in rotation, so there’s always rice ready for harvest. After harvest, ducks are turned loose in the field to eat the snails, insects, and crop remains, and add a little fertilizer, of course. The paddy is then drained and burned, and the char is turned under to re-fertilize the soil.
It’s an ancient, sustainable system, a fine example of permaculture.
The one thing I left out of this economic picture is transport. We saw many newish minivans on the roads and in “carports,” and even in the poorer villages every home seemed to have a motorcycle or two. Gasoline appears to be subsidized.
I suppose this will change over time. There was a boom in tourism after Eat, Pray, Love became an international bestseller in 2006. The tourist industry can help preserve the environment and culture to some degree, while generating income for an increasingly cash-based economy, but it also has it’s negative impacts. Although the Balinese are poor when you use a materialistic standard of measurement, they are fabulously rich when it comes to art, culture, spirituality, and a wholesome quality of life. I would hate to see them trade that wealth for a bunch of plastic crap.This entry was posted in Honeymoon 2013