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Working in Bali

February, 2003

Peoples lives are in many ways defined by the work they do. During our exploration of Bali, we spent a great deal of time watching the Balinese at work. Several of the pages of our report are focused on that work, including rice growing, silversmithing, and ceramics. On this page we present a few examples of the unique aspects of Balinese work that particularly impressed us.

Carrying cages.
1. Carrying cages
Construction crew.
2. Construction crew

1. Carrying loads —

Both men and women do hard work in Bali, including carrying heavy loads up and down the steep slopes that are so common here. Many of the homes are accessed by narrow streets called "gangs" that are too small for any kind of heavy equipment, so people carry things. The men carry things over their shoulders (see photo #1 at the left). Women carry them on their heads (photo #2). We saw surprisingly old women carrying very heavy loads, including this small woman carrying 3 cement blocks on her head.

Construction laborers will generally receive about 30,000 rupiah (US$ 3.30) per day.

Young workers.
3. Young workers

2. Family business —

Traditionally, sons in Bali are taught their father's trade, as the 5 boys are doing in photo #3. The girls learn to maintain the home, and move to their husband's home when they marry. There is no social security system here, and no pensions for the vast majority of people, so having sons to support you in your old age is important. We saw many very old men and women doing difficult work, as they must still work to support themselves.

As more young people move to Denpasar City to take new jobs, these old traditions are fading. There are less and less people staying in the rural areas to work in the rice fields or at other traditional jobs.

Collecting sand.
4. Collecting sand
Climbing the hill.
5. The uphill climb
The top of the hill.
6. The top of the hill

3. Sand Dredging —

The most amazing work we have seen here is the dredging of sand from the bed of a fast-flowing river. All of the workers are women. They carry baskets on their heads in which they collect and carry the sand. They also have a plastic bucket they use to scoop sand from the river bottom, as in photo #4. The woman must hold her breath, bend down in the fast flowing water without spilling the sand she already has in her basket, scoop up more sand, and place it in her basket.

When she has collected as much wet sand as she can carry, she climbs the slippery bank of the river and then walks up a steep walkway (photo #5), to deposit the sand in an ever growing pile at the top of the hill (photo #6). She receives a token for each load she delivers. The faster she can work, the more tokens she receives, and the more money she will earn. Although daily earnings obviously vary, these women will make about 50,000 Rupiah (US$ 5.50) per day.

Iwayan Renez, painter.
7. Iwayan Renez
Batik artist.
8. Batik artist
Weaving with the backstrap loom.
9. Weaving

4. Art —

In Bali, the traditional arts are much like crafts. Most art was originally intended for use in the temples or for religious ceremonies. The goal of the artist was to make a perfect copy of the intended object, as it was required to meet a precise religious standard. Creativity and novelty were definitely not desireable. With the arrival of European and American artists in the 20th century, this changed somewhat. However, one still tends to see the same carved figures or identical painted scenes in shops throughout Bali. In many cases, a more skilled artist will make the basic drawing and a novice will apply the color. In the end, the result can be quite beautiful.

Ketut's father-in-law, I Wayan Renes (photo #7), has been painting for decades. He trained with Rudolf Bonnet, a well-known Dutch painter who came to Bali in the 1930's. Like Bonnet, Wayan specializes in traditional agricultural scenes from Bali's past. Although he does really fine work, he cannot support himself painting, and still works in the rice fields. The long hours in the fields keep him from painting, so he now makes very few paintings. We were lucky to purchase one of his works. We have no place to display it on our boat, but we will keep it until we move back into a home ashore (some day).

Other arts that are well developed in Bali include batik (photo #8), weaving (photo #9), and carving. Although they all meet the needs of the Balinese for religious objects and ceremonial clothing, they have also been adapted for sale to the tourists.

Each specific craft is generally practiced within a village or group of adjacent villages. In some cases, this occured because the raw materials were only available in a limited area. However, even where raw materials are not an issue, the makers of particular products are often located together within a small area. The best craft items can be obtained for the lowest cost in the villages that specialize in producing that particular craft. For example, we purchased a songket sash (woven with a pattern of gold threads) in the village of Sidemen where they are traditionally made. We think we paid about half the cost of similar items in the tourist shops in Ubud, plus we got high quality and a chance to talk to the artist who made it.

Bali Index
A Month in Bali | Working in Bali | Walls
Ketut's Place | Silver | Pejaten Ceramics
A Taste of Bali | Temples | — Photo Gallery
Community Life | Rice Culture |  

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