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Balinese Character. A Photographic AnalysisPlate 47. Stimulation and Frustration

p. 157-164

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  • 1 Mead, Margaret, William Morrow (1928), William Morrow (1990), William Morrow (1935) respectively.

1The form of presentation used in this monograph is an experimental innovation. During the period from 1928 to 1936 we were separately engaged in efforts to translate aspects of culture never successfully recorded by the scientist, although often caught by the artist, into some form of communication sufficiently clear and sufficiently unequivocal to satisfy the requirements of scientific enquiry. “Coming of Age in Samoa”, “Growing up in New Guinea,” and “Sex and Temperament1” all attempted to communicate those intangible aspects of culture which had been, vaguely referred to as its ethos. As no precise scientific vocabulary was available, the ordinary English words were used, with all their weight of culturally limited connotations, in an attempt to describe the way in which the emotional life of these various South Sea peoples was organized in culturally standardized forms. This method had many serious limitations: it transgressed the canons of precise and operational scientific exposition proper to science; it was far too dependent upon idiosyncratic factors of style and literary skill; it was difficult to duplicate; and it was difficult to evaluate.

2Most serious of all, we know this about the relationship between culture and verbal concepts—that the words which one culture has invested with meaning are by the very accuracy of their cultural fit, singularly inappropriate as vehicles for precise comment upon another culture. Many anthropologists have been so impressed with this verbal inadequacy that they have attempted to sharpen their comment upon other cultures by very extensive borrowing from the native language. This procedure, however, in addition to being clumsy and forbidding, does not solve the problem, because the only method of translation available to make the native terms finally intelligible is still the use of our own culturally limited language. Attempts to substitute terms of crosscultural validity, while they have been reasonably successful in the field of social organization, have proved exceedingly unsatisfactory when finer shades of cultural meaning were attempted.

  • 2 † Bateson, Gregory, Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, 1936.

3Parallel with these attempts to rely upon ordinary English as a vehicle, the approach discussed in “Naven”2 was being developed—an approach which sought to take the problem one step further by demonstrating how such categories as ethos, there defined as “a culturally standardized system of organization of the instincts and emotions of individuals,” were not classifications of items of behavior but were abstractions which could be applied systematically to all items of behavior.

4The first method has been criticized as journalistic—as an arbitrary selection of highly colored cases to illustrate types of behavior so alien to the reader that he continues to regard them as incredible. The second method was branded as too analytical—as neglecting the phenomena of a culture in order to intellectualize and schematize it. The first method was accused of being so synthetic that it became fiction, the second of being so analytic that it became disembodied methodological discussion.

5In this monograph we are attempting a new method of stating the intangible relationships among different types of culturally standardized behavior by placing side by side mutually relevant photographs. Pieces of behavior, spatially and contextually separated—a trance dancer being carried in procession, a man looking up at an aeroplan, a servant greeting his master in a play, the painting of a dream—may all be relevant to a single discussion; the same emotional thread may run through them. To present them together in words, it is necessary either to resort to devices which are inevitably literary, or to dissect the living scenes so that only desiccated items remain.

6By the use of photographs, the wholeness of each piece of behavior can be preserved, while the special cross-referencing desired can be obtained by placing the series of photographs on the same page. It is possible to avoid the artificial construction of a scene at which a man, watching a dance, also looks up at an aeroplane and has a dream; it is also possible to avoid diagramming the single element in these scenes which we wish to stress—the importance of levels in Balinese inter-personal relationships—in such a way that the reality of the scenes themselves is destroyed.

7This is not a book about Balinese custom, but about the Balinese—about the way in which they, as living persons, moving, standing, eating, sleeping, dancing, and going into trance, embody that abstraction which (after we have abstracted it) we technically call culture.

8We are interested in the steps by which workers in a new science solve piecemeal their problems of description and analysis, and in the relationship between what we now say about Balinese culture, with these new techniques, and what we have said with more imperfect means of communication about other cultures. A particular method of presentation has therefore been agreed upon. Margaret Mead has written the introductory description of Balinese character, which is needed to orient the reader so that the plates may be meaningful. She has used here the same order of vocabulary and the same verbal devices which have been made to do service in earlier descriptions of other cultures. Gregory Bateson will apply to the behavior depicted in the photographs the same sort of verbal analysis which he applied to his records of Iatmul transvestitism in “Naven,” and the reader will have the photographic presentation itself to unite and carry further these two partial methods of describing the ethos of Balinese.

9Former students of Bali have approached Balinese culture as peripheral to and derivative from the higher cultures of India, China, and Java, carefully identifying in Bali to reduced and residual forms of the heroes of the Ramajana or of the Hindoo pantheon, or of the characters of the Chinese theater. All those items of Balinese culture which could not be assimilated to this picture of Asiatic diffusion have been variously classified as “Polynesian,” “Indonesian,” “animistic,” or “Bali aga” (a term which some Balinese have learned to use in contradistinction to “Bali Hindoe”). We, however, always approached the material from the opposite point of view; we assumed that Bali had a cultural base upon which various intrusive elements had been progressively grafted over the centuries, and that the more rewarding approach would be to study this base first. We accordingly selected for our primary study a mountain village, Bajoeng Gede, near Kintamani in the District of Bangli, where most of the conspicuous elements of the later, intrusive culture were lacking. In Bajoeng Gede one does not find use of Hindoo names for the Gods, the importance of color in relation to direction in offerings, cremation, caste, the taboo upon eating beef, or any relationship to a Brahman priestly household. Writing there was, but only a half-dozen semi-literate individuals who were barely able to keep records of attendance, fines, etc. The village boasted one calendrical expert who was skilled enough to advise the village officials on the intricacies of the calendar of multiple interlocking weeks and “months.” Furthemore, Bajoeng Gede was ceremonially bare, even compared with other Balinese mountain villages. There was a minimum of that reduplication and over-elaboration of art and ceremonialism which is such a marked characteristic of Balinese culture. Reliance on the calendar and complication of offerings and rites de passage were all reduced to a meager and skeletal minimum—a minimum which would nevertheless seem highly complex in comparison with most of the known cultures of the world. In this locality, itw as possible in the course of a year to get a systematic understanding of the ground plan of the culture.

10This undertaking was facilitated by two circumstances: the population of Bajoeng Gede suffered from a pronounced thyroid condition, with about 15 per cent of the population showing various degrees of simple goiter; and the whole population was markedly slow both in intellectual response and in speed of bodily movement. These circumstances, which are no doubt interrelated, provided us with a community in which the cultural emphases were schematically simplified, and upon our understanding of this base it was possible to graft—as the Balinese had before us—an understanding of the more complex versions of the same essential forms which we encountered on the plains. (It is important to remember that Hindoo culture came by way of Java, where the culture related to that of Bali, and that most of the elements probably reached Bali in a partially assimilated form, already somewhat adapted to Balinese emphases and social structures.)

11After an initial two months of exploration and work on the language in Oeboed (district of Gianjar), we selected Bajoeng Gede, and we worked there with only a few short absences from June 1936 to June 1937 and intermittently till February 1938. In November 1936, we established a second camp in Bangli in a palace built by a former Rajah, from which we were able during various short stays to participate in the family ceremonies of the ruling caste of Bangli. Finally in 1937, we built a pavilion in the courtyard of a Buddhistic Brahman family in the village of Batoean, form which position we participated in and studied Brahman family life, simultaneously collecting the work and studying the personality of the large group of Brahman and casteless painters in the school of art which had sprung up in Batoean during the last ten years.

12Through Miss Belo’s work in Sajan, a pesant plains village dominated by feudal Kesatrya nobles; Mrs. Mershon’s work in Sanoer, a coastal fishing village consisting mainly of Sivaistic Brahmans and casteless people; and from material provided by our Balinese secretary who came from a rising casteless family in Singaradja, the Dutch capital in North Bali, we were able to gather various sorts of comparative materials to round out the picture of Balinese culture which we had developed on the basis of observations in Bajoeng Gede. The discussions of Balinese culture in the book are based on these experiences, and short excursions by ourselves and our collaborators to other villages and cities in Bali.

13It is true that every village in Bali differs from every other in many conspicuous respects, and that there are even more striking differences between districts, so that no single concrete statement about Bali is true of all of Bali, and any negative statement about Bali must be made with the greatest caution. But through this diversity there runs a common ethos, whether one is observing the home of the highest caste, the Brahman, or of the simplest mountain peasant. The Brahman’s greater ease, due to the fact that there are fewer of those who know much more than he, is but another version of the peasant’s unwillingness to commit himself, of his “lest I err, being an illiterate man.” The most conspicuous exceptions to this common ethos are the culture of the ruling caste, the Kesatryas, and the culture of the North Bali which has been exposed to strong foreign influences during the last sixty years. In both of these groups may be found an emphasis upon the individual rather than upon his status, an element of social climbing and an uneasiness of tenure which contrast strongly with the rest of Bali. For this reason, reference to these two groups, except for occasional bits of ceremonial which they hold in common with the rest of Bali, has been excluded from this discussion.

14In the Plates, each single illustration is dated and placed, and it is not safe to generalize from its detailed content for other parts of Bali. The form, however, the ethological emphasis which is implicit, may be taken to apply to all those parts of Bali of which we have any knowledge, except for North Bali, the Kesatryas, and the Vesias, a lower caste which mimics the Kesatryas and upon which we did very little work. These groups we explicitly exclude and we avoid all detailed negative statements as such statements are virtually impossible to make about a culture which has found it possible to combine such extraordinarily divergent content with such a consistent ethological emphasis. There is no apparent difference in the character structure of the people in villages where trance is shared by all and those in villages where no one ever goes into trance; people in villages where every other woman is believed to be a witch and those in villages where no one is believed to be a witch. In most of the cultures of which we have systematic knowledge, such matters are intricately and inextricably part of the personality of every participant member of the culture, but in Bali the same attitude of mind, the same system of posture and gesture, seems able to operate with these great contrasts, and contrasts in wealth and poverty: the mountain people are dirtier, slower, and more suspicious than the plains people; the poor are more frightened than the rich, but the differences are in degree only; the same types of dirtiness, of suspicion, and anxiety are common at all levels.

15This volume is in no sense a complete account of Balinese culture, even in its most general outlines. It is an attempt to present, at this time when scientific presentations are likely to be widely spaced, those aspects of our results and those methods of research which we have judged most likely to be of immediate use to other students. A less pregnant period of history might have dictated another choice of subject matter for our first presentation. Balinese culture, even that of Bajoeng Gede, is very rich and complex, and our two year’s work, with two American collaborators and three Balinese secretaries, can only claim to be a “sampling” of the Balinese scene. We attempted to make systematic samples of village organization, calendrical ceremonial and rites de passage, trance, painting, carving, the shadow-play puppets, death rituals, and child behavior, so as to provide a series of crosscutting pictures of the culture which could be fitted together and cross checked against each other. The discussion which follows is a synthetic statement based upon these various samples; the photographs are a carefully selected series, analyzed on the basis of the same sampling.

16Finally a word about the relevance of such researches to the period of history in which we find ourselves. Balinese culture is many ways less like our own than any other which has yet been recorded. It is also a culture in which the ordinary adjustment of the individual approximates in form the sort of maladjustement which, in our own cultural setting, we call schizoid. As the toll of dementia praecox among our own population continues to rise, it becomes increasingly important for us to know the bases in childhood experience which predispose to the condition, and we need to know how such predisposition can be culturally handled, so that it does not become maladjustement.

17Meanwhile, we are faced with the problem of building a new world; we have to reorient the old values of many contrasting and contradictory cultural systems into a new form which will use but transcend them all, draw on their respective strengths and allow for their respective weakness. We have to build a culture richer and more rewarding than any that the world has ever seen. This can only be done through a disciplined science of human relations and such a science is built by drawing out from very detailed, concrete materials, such as these, the relevant abstractions—the vocabulary which will help us to plan an integrated world.

18We have already noted (PL. 38) that the child’s responsiveness is played upon by the mother. In practice, this means that the give-and-take of stimulus and response between mother and child lacks the sort of climax structure which is characteristic of love and hate in our own culture. The Balinese mother stimulates her child, but when he responds, she is unresponsive and never allows the flirtation to end in any sort of affectionate climax.

  • 1 to 9. About two minutes of inter-personal behavior between mother and child. Extracts from M. M.’s verbal record:
  • “12:20 P.M. Men Goenoeng (the mother) calls I Raoeh (her son) over to her. He goes to her, and holds her breast; holds his penis; hold his knee, and begins to fret.
  • “Men Goenoeng bumps her head against him (figs. 1 and 2).
  • “Men Goenoeng settles I Raoeh astride her lap and I Raoeh plays with both nipples (fig. 3).
  • “I Raoeh sucks (fig. 4) and holds the other breast (figs. 5 and 6).
  • “Men Goenoeng pats his back rhythmically, and I Raoeh screws the right breast way over to the center of the Body.
  • “Men Goenoeng traces a pattern on the side of her foot with her own hand (figs. 7 and 8).
  • “12:22 P.M. I Raoeh looks around; hand still on breast” (fig. 9).

19In this sequence, the mother’s gesture in figs. 1 and 2 was in response to the child fretting, but when he responds with affection her attention is away. Immediately after her advance, her face goes completely blank (fig. 3) and later she laughs at some unrecorded outside stimulus (fig. 4). It is probable that the “rhythmic patting of his back” recorded in the notes was performed without paying any attention to the child. In fig. 7, the camera records he with her hand in a caressing gesture on the child’s head, while she looks up, laughing at something else (cf. PL. 44 for the connection between spectatorship and sensuous skin contacts).

20At the end of the sequence, both mother and child appear bored (fig. 9).

21Men Goenoeng and her son I Raoeh, aged 580 days.

22Bajoeng Gede. Aug. 19, 1937. 14 G 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, last.

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1 Mead, Margaret, William Morrow (1928), William Morrow (1990), William Morrow (1935) respectively.

2 † Bateson, Gregory, Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, 1936.

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