Aug 2, 2015

Archipelago of diversity

The most striking occurrences that have assailed the senses during this quest are the astounding differentials and diversity of culture from one island to the next along the archipelago of our travels. Indonesia is about as culturally diverse as they come. With the 4th largest national population in the world there are over 700 living languages spoken across the 18,000 islands that make up this agglomeration on people. Different regions in Indonesia will be majority Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or follow various animist religious traditions.

Monolithic tombs and traditional houses in Sumba

I moshed with screamcore/heavy metal celebrants of Timor-Leste's 13th anniversary of independence. I went whale hunting with the stoic fishermen of Lamalera, Lembata. I danced at a wedding in Moni, Flores, where I tried to smooth my jerkily western dance movements at the behest of an elderly party goer. I toured the megalithic tombs of Sumba, where great care is taken for the comforts of the eternal afterlife that follows our fleeting animation. I marveled at the acapellic rhythms and flying embers at the performances in Bali. I have watch shadow puppet plays in Java enacting incomprehensible scenes from the Ramayana.

The shadow puppet play can be viewed form the front (to see the shadows) 

...or the back to watch the puppet manipulation and musicians

Pure and ancient cultures are indisputably worthy of our admiration and appreciation, but that doesn't mean that we can't create new and interesting meaning out of crossing cultural boundaries and creating new art forms and new ways of thinking.

Yogyakarta, home to Indonesia's most famous ancient temples was such a mélange of Hindu and Buddhist influences during the 8th and 9th centuries that it's common to see Hindu themes and imagery in the extensive carved relief work at Buddhist Borobudur and vice versa at the Hindu Prambanan temple complex.


What would 'Turning the Wheel of Dharma' Buddha say to these cultural cross-overs?

Candi Sewu near Prambanan

Another fantastic example of this is the Kecak dance that I witnessed in Bali. The Kecak performance as we are able to enjoy it today was largely the creation of the inimitable Walter Spies, whose name itself belies a somewhat clandestine appreciation for the 'other'.

Kecak dance and music performance in Ubud, Indonesia

Spies draw upon existing rituals and choral traditions of the Balinese people to create a modern performance art that I can attest is moving and enjoyable spectacle.

Creating our own spectacle at Prambanan

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