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Bali: A Paradise Created Paperback – June, 1997
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Vickers starts out with about 30 somewhat lacklustre pages tackling the topic of how the Balinese themselves recorded their history. He does an admirable job of garnering what details he can from what little must still be in existence of pre-Dutch Balinese historical texts. Then Vickers turns on the heat with his isolation of who it was that "discovered the Balinese breast!" (A European doctor who did plenty of homework)!
Much amusement and fun follows, along with profound explorations of the evolution of Bali's image as both a paradise on earth and a land of strange magic and the supernatural... the so-called island of the Gods.
Vickers' book really makes the reader aware of how historic and cultural details get lost along the way to progress and prosperity. It is a complex series of actions and decisions that have shaped today's Balinese culture. Vickers shows plenty of sympathy for artists ignored by influential Baliphile Walter Spies (who, possibly more than any other westerner, has shaped the 'look' of what we think of as traditional Balinese arts and crafts). Yet this isn't a treatise from a bleeding heart, and he shows how forces other than western colonialism are as much to blame for that which makes people use the tired exclamation that Bali is not what it used to be.
Vickers shows the importance of WHO observes, catalogs, records, and promotes a culture. There is plenty of food for thought about the shortcomings of a plan to make a culture sit in a vaccuum instead of evolve with the ideas of its people.
This book however suggests rather alarmingly that the reverse is the case. Bali is an island in Indonesia which is famous for its culture. Unlike the rest of Indonesia it never converted from Hinduism and the island is vibrant with art and dance.
The author of this book suggests that a good deal of this culture has been created by the west. His evidence is that some of the "tradional" dances such as the monkey dance were actually invented by a western film maker in the 30's. The argument is stronger in suggesting that the growth of art and culture in the Island has blossomed and been made possible by the influx of tourists interested in buying it.
The author compares the basically fuedal society of the 1030's when art existed but was limited, to the current situation in which the market has exploded.
The book also shows how western ideas of the island as a tropical paradise were developed by early travellers with a romantic imagination, no doubt influenced by previous customs of woman not covering the upper torso of their bodies.
All in all and interesting and challenging read if you have been to Bali and have been expossed to the normal propoganda.