A quick glance at the various architectural elements of Bali tells a lot about the lifestyle of the Balinese. The temple gates and shrines are elaborate, intricately worked, beautifully positioned and arranged. The village is an example of communal architecture at its best, large open pavilions, enormous village commons, the unifying obelisk of the Bale Kul Kul all reflect the “one big family” concept of Balinese village life.
In long rows back from the road run high walls broken at 20 meters intervals by tall roofed gates with thick wooden doors which are always firmly shut at night. Each gateway is the entrance into a family compound which may be composed of many brothers and cousins and their families. These thick-walled compounds, the Balinese say, defines and protects the “charisma” of each family. Within these walls each family member undergoes a series of life rituals. The greeting into the world at 3 months, puberty rituals, teeth fillings, weddings. With death the body will lie in state in the special pavilion (bale dangin) reserved for family rituals in the center of each compound. The compound consists of open or closed raised pavilions facing inwards into a courtyard where a pagoda or large tree provides share from the midday sun. The ground is dirt swept every morning. The compound is dotted with flowers shrubs and bushes. The houses of the tree higher castes are invariably made up of a number of interlocking courtyards which lead through to the family temple on the north eastern extremity of the complex. This is a walled off area reserved the shrines where daily offerings are made. Every family temple in Bali has its anniversary, a closed affair when the family pays homage to their ancestors and to Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, the supreme god.
The family compound awakens into life at the first sign of dawn. The wife or wives, tray in hand, walk to the nearest vendor, rarely more than 50 meters away to buy small leaf packets of cakes and sweetmeats which with coffee provide the morning meal. As the sun tops the palms the family members take their morning wash in turn in the river or at a spring. Before the heat of the day is felt everybody is out of the compound going about their daily routine. For the wives, these chores are shopping in the market or local store for the day’s supply of meat and vegetables to compliment the rice often already on the boil in the kitchen. The men labor in the fields or work in one of the town centers. The school day starts at 07.00 and throngs of school children proudly carrying brooms and buckets to clean the schoolyard gather around the school buildings usually situated close by the village center.
Most Balinese have their first rice meal late in the morning. The middle of the day is a time for resting in the shade of the village Banyan tree or sleeping in the cool of family compound or sometimes in Banjar Hall. As the afternoon cools, village activity picks up. Men gather, clutching their prize fighting cocks in tight groups outside their favorite cafe (warung) or they squat on the dirt in front of the temple. Every village has a “club” for those who like to enjoy the sunset in the company of a glass of palm wine. Once again, the river is busy with people taking their afternoon bath.
The last meal of the day is taken at or shortly after sunset. As the gentle harmonies of the gamelan practice waft through the thick night air those who are too tired to talk away the hours in the village haunts, retire to their respective homes. Within the walls of the family courtyard young Balinese receive all their religious training. From the generation to generation to complex code of Balinese order and etiquette is passed on. In an atmosphere of harmony and contentment, dissent never raises its ugly head. Young girls never ask their many religious duties and it is only natural for a son to take on the profession of his father.
The Balinese family compound life with its stress on love, respect and duty, has been the backbone of the survival of Balinese way of life and culture.