Saturday, December 17

I Made Brahma

Ida Bagus Dalem is driving us around in Bali. He solemnly hands me his card -- it states his name, his mobile phone, his village, and then, in proud red letters, "#1 Troublemaker In Bali."

Bagus is about 40, stocky and muscled, a curlicued dragon-tattoo covering his shoulder and biceps. The tourism food-chain in Bali is complicated, and Bagus is at its bottom; at the top are lenders from Java who finance cars, followed by rich people in Bali who import them, then there are fleet operators who manage them, tourist-agencies who make commission-based retail bookings, and finally the drivers who are paid daily wages. "I am a Brahman", says Bagus. "My whole village is Brahman. I work for a Satriya who runs an agency. A Wesiya leases the car. A Sudra in Kuta imported it. Most of the money you are paying goes to Muslims in Java." He seems happy with this arrangement, an inversion of the traditional Hindu caste-structure. Unusually for Bali, Bagus is single, and lives in his older brother's family compound. His sister-in-law feeds him every day, and his nephews sleep around him on those nights he is not out chasing girls.

We pass artisan villages as we head from Sanur to Ubud; here a clump of houses making silverware, there one carving statues. Prominent signs outside proclaim "I Made Rama", "I Made Budi", "I Made Indra" and so on.

This is not the pride of the sculptor, but a complicated naming system at work.

The European system of given name(s) followed by surname is a relatively recent template. In ancient times up to the middle ages people could be reasonably identified by one name: Aelfred, or Beowulf, or Cicero; you got by just as Socrates. Only by the 16th century did monarchs (Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England) require persons to take surnames. It is likely the change was fueled by increased population and increased mobility -- people were showing up in London or Paris from faraway parts and no one knew which Henri you meant. Leonardo? the one from Vinci near Florence? The Basque from Gama?

The Balinese naming system is different; it consists of rules that indicate gender, clan, birth-order, what their parents expect them to be, and so on. A baby is not named right away at birth -- parents will wait till specific days on the traditional calendar to name a newborn with a Balinese Hindu ritual.

If the child is chronically sick, or otherwise unlucky, it is felt the name was not suitable, and another can be chosen when the child is older. (Sukarno, who had a Javanese aristocratic Muslim father and Balinese Hindu Brahman mother, had to get his name changed from Kusno Sosrodihardjo to Su Karno, or Good Karna, after surviving a childhood illness.)

After marriage, the wife does not take the husband's name.

There is also widespread use of teknonyms -- when your first child is born you lose your birth-name and begin to be called "Father of Shiwa" or "Mother of Shinta". Again, when your grandchild is born, you become "Grandfather of Prayuda" or "Grandmother of Srikandi". Over time, all but a few of your contemporaries forget your birth-name.

As we drive cross- and circum-island (the owner of the agency calls every night to complain about the unexpectedly large number of miles being logged on his leased car), I have long discussions with Bagus about what goes into a Balinese name. Here are (as I understand them, no doubt imperfectly) the Balinese naming templates:

I or Ni signify gender - Male or Female.

The next part is a caste-name. Brahmans have the initial honorific of Ida, and males of the senior-most Brahman clan on Bali are titled Ida Bagus. The women of this clan are called Ida Ayu.

The Satria have caste-names like Anak Agung (male), Anak Agung Ayu or Anak Agung Istri (female); Agung means great or prominent. Putra, or Prince, for a boy, and Putri, or Princess, for a girl, are also used.

Wesiya caste-names are Gusti (meaning prominent-person, or leader, akin to the Sanskrit mahajan), Desak, and so on.

There are no special caste-names the Sudra. Traditionally they only add I for male or Ni for female in front of their names.

The next part of the name signifies birth order. Wayan/Putu/Gede/Nengah are used for the first born baby, Made/Kedek for the second born, Nyoman/Komang for the third born, and Ketut for the fourth born baby. For No. 5, you go back to Wayan, No. 6 could again be Kedek and so on. Obviously, if a couple have children there will be a Wayan, so finding someone called Wayan in Bali is like trying to find a Rama in India.

Subsequently, the name might be personalized with some circumstance of birth. If there was bad weather when the mother gave birth, a male second-born baby might be named I Made Kerug (kerug means thunder). If born on a Sunday, a male first-born baby might be named I Wayan Redite (redite means Sunday). If there are no remarkable circumstances, you name the baby after a deity or cultural concept -- e.g. I Made Wisnu.

More examples -- Ida Ayu Ngurah, meaning Brahman woman, of the most-high Long Life clan, whose personal name is Ngurah, or Gift from Heaven. Anak Agung Rai, meaning a Satriya whose personal name is King. I Gusti Ketut Rajendra, male of the Wesiya caste, fourth born, whose personal name is the Lord of Kings. Ketut Liyer, the fortune-teller from Eat Pray Love ("sometimes to lose balance for love is part of living a balanced life"), has a name that means Fourth Born Bright Light. (See here for a post-fame encounter with Ketut 'liar'.)

All over Bali you see checkered cloth (black-and-white, saffron-and-white) draped over trees or statues, or worn by people in ceremonies. The cloth is called saput poleng -- poleng means two-colored -- and it signifies the deep understanding that overcomes black-and-white thinking. The more enlightened you are, you see that sorrow is part of happiness, learn that a mistake is a path to the truth, understand that nothing is prescriptively bad or good, and accept both laughter and tears as gifts. Poleng is a common "given" name -- 'Gus Made, the most famous painter of the Balinese Pita Maha generation -- his famous tempera Legong Dance is below -- had as his full name Ida Bagus Made Poleng.

Once a child is born, the parents' birth names cease to be used. The teknonym appears; after the birth of their son Poleng, a couple whose names were Pudja and Deblog are now called Father of Poleng and Mother of Poleng.

The circularity after 4 stations -- Wayan to Made to Nyoman to Ketut back to Wayan -- also appears in the naming of generations. The word for great-grandfather -- kumpi -- is the same as that for great-grandson. This identity of generations reveals itself in prayers to the dead. The deceased's contemporaries -- siblings, cousins, friends -- will not pray to him as he is not senior to them. The dead get prayers from three generations below, but not from the fourth generation, i.e. the great-grandchildren; the kumpi are regarded as being cyclically linked back to the same generation, and not junior to the deceased. The 5th generation, i.e. consisting of the great-great-grandchildren, is regarded as senior to the deceased and would also not pray to him.

The Balinese kin group, in some ways similar to the Hindu gotra, is the dadia. We have encountered the Ida Bagus dadia. In the case of the three upper castes, the triwangsa, an illustrious Majapahit immigrant would be the common ancestor. (The Javanese conquerors of Bali in Gajah Mada's time contributed the Brahmans, Satrias and Wesiyas. 93% of the population of Bali, who represent wong Bali, i.e. the original people of Bali as distinct from the colonizing wong Majapahit, are Sudras.) Brahmans are, more specifically, said to be descended from Nirartha, the Javanese priest who came with the Majapahit and codified Balinese Hinduism.

The triwangsa are also referred to as wong jero, which means insiders (they lived inside the fortified walls of the conquerors) and the Sudras are referred to as wong jaba or outsiders (they lived outside the walls, in the country.)

Unlike gotras, however, dadia groups are not exogamous; by preference they are endogamous -- you try to marry within your circle of close kin. The ideal partner is a patriparallel cousin, which, for a male, would be his father's brother's daughter, that is, his first cousin on his father's side. The resources of the bride's family stay within the dadia, preventing fragmentation of scarce land. (In certain cases, you can pay a fine to the local ruler and be allowed to marry outside the dadia, as in the cases of elopement or abduction.)

Note that coupled-cousins are also common, for much the same reasons, within European royalty (list here). Charles Darwin married his first cousin Emma (their grandparents were also cousins), and Albert Einstein married his mother's sister's daughter Elsa, who was also his second cousin from his father's side.

The Sudra in Bali are not untouchable; while they are of lower status, the concept of touch-pollution does not exist. Inter-caste marriage is tolerated, and there always has been a certain amount of caste-mobility. The king of Klungkung, whose ancestors were installed by Gajah Mada, technically changes from being a Brahman to a Satria when he becomes the ruler (though he retains, uniquely among Satria, the title Dalem, see here.) Mixed marriages, however, still result in a change of status, and the rules concerning such status-changes are complex and reflect the power of patriarchy. A high caste triwangsa man may marry a lower caste Sudra woman; continued for three generations, high caste is lost. Till then, the children automatically receive their father's status; the wife enjoys a higher position, changing her title to jero (insider.) A high-caste woman, however, cannot marry a lower-caste man.

Today, modern economies and politics have upended the power structure of caste, but it still manifests itself in language. "For you can not speak the same Balinese language when you talk to a Sudra as you do when you talk to a Brahman like me." says Bagus. "It is a taboo."

There are three caste-contexted dialects of the Balinese language; they are Bali Alus (from halus, decorum; the highest level), Bali Madya (middle level) and Bali Sor (the lowest level). Bali Madya and Bali Sor are spoken in Balinese daily life, and can be used amongst friends or people of the same caste. Bali Alus must be used when talking to someone of a higher caste.

"Have you had your lunch?", in each caste-contexted dialect is:
Bali Alus : Sampun ngrayunang?
Bali Madya : Sampun Ngajeng?
Bali Sor : Sube medaar?

Think of the difference as being that between English greetings based on the tone of familiarity the speaker wishes to strike:
Good Morning, Sir!,
'Morning!, and
How's goes it, dude!
Only, in Bali, the entire language is so stratified, and all speech must follow the caste-context. Even a waiter or a bellboy, if suspected to be a Brahman, would normally be spoken to in High Balinese as a mark of respect for his caste.

When a Sudra meets a Brahman he reflexively bows his head. Pavilions in palaces and houses are tiered to allow people to sit in accordance with their status -- a delicate way to ascertain a person's caste is to ask where they want to sit -- "Oh, I'd prefer downstairs." At meals, the highest-caste-rank person eats first, and it is not polite to leave until he gets up. This makes Ida Bagus Dalem very uncomfortable, to the point he refuses to eat with others.

In India, caste is, theoretically, an outcome of one's karma in previous incarnations; and, practically, it used to denote distance from political power (after becoming Chhatrapati, Shivaji brought Gagabhat of Varanasi to establish his lineage into the Rajput Kshatriya Sisodias.)

In Bali, caste does not have much of a theoretical explanation, but indicates (in ways similar to Aryan peripheries) how much one's Majapahit paternal line has mixed with aboriginal Balinese maternal ones.

As we drive to Singaraja, we pass a number of shops belonging to the Pande clan: Manik Pande's Kris Daggers, Sidarta Pande's Blades. In India, Pande would be a Brahmin surname, but in Bali the Pandes are a hereditary clan, set apart from the caste system. They are the smiths; the most influential among them being blacksmiths: Pande besi. You can learn how to make steel, but you cannot be called a blacksmith; the only way to become a blacksmith is to be born a Pande besi.

In Bali, many clan groups wrote lontars, formal religious charter documents, to codify, and amplify, their right to status greater than mere Sudra. The Pande clan's lontar, called the Prasasti Sira Pande Mpu, offers a history that is vivid and full of the molten-metal-worker's hubris. The Prasasti Sira Pande Mpu outlines a pre-Hindu mythology that describes the creation of Brahma, who appears in elemental Fire -- here, truly, 'I Made Brahma.' Mpu Pradah is proclaimed the first head of Pande clan. The lontar states that the Brahmans obtained their knowledge and power from the Pande, that the Pande are older than the Brahmans, and that they are of greater power and prestige. Pandes are not permitted to obtain holy water from Brahman priests because such priests are the inferior younger-brothers of the Pandes. Pande areas have their own temples and their own pemangku lay priests, who make their own holy water for use only by the Pande people.

The document also includes a declaration of independence, for those skilled clans who had the knowledge-base to refute agama Hindu hegemonies. The lontar contains warnings to other caste-less people, that, rather than follow the triwangsa, they should emulate the Pandes.

In the old days, even Brahmans spoke to those working as smiths in High Balinese. Pandes are also permitted to have 11 tiers on their cremation towers, an honor only accorded to persons of very high caste.

Bagus claims, half-preening and half-sheepish, that young Brahman single men like him are the playboys of Bali, able to catch girls easily; a Sudra girl still dreams of climbing the hierarchy and becoming a Jero, a newly-minted Brahman woman; she will, fantasizes Bagus, offer herself to any young Brahman who beckons with a finger. What about Sudra boys? "Their goal, every weekend," says Bagus solemnly "is to bring a Brahman girl into their arms. That is a very nice target for them."

And what language would be used? He guffaws -- "In bed? Of course the most familiar!"

Below - Bagus takes us into the Uluwatu temple.


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