Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reading in Bali

This short video is a great example of one type of reading practice in Bali and I think it is a great example of the totemic power of reading. The sermon is being read in Sanskrit, and translated and interpreted by a second "reader'" in High Balinese.

I used to think that it was unlikely that anyone, other than perhaps a few priests and priests-in-training, hearing these performance understood what was being read or the translation. But today our driver, Nyoman, translated some of the interpretation for me and said that most people understood High Balinese, but did not use it. That doesn't change the point though, what was important was to hear the words in the original and in a revered older language. Another example would be jewel-encrusted codices paraded through medieval European towns but not read, the Latin Mass, or Tibetan prayer wheels.

For an illiterate population or a primary oral culture (which is what Bali would have been when Hindu texts were introduced to the island, perhaps around 800 -- 1100 C.E) the technology of reading and writing -- which enables people to move information through time and space outside of the human brain -- was magical, and those that controlled the technology, the priests and the rulers who employed them, were anxious to keep it that way.

Mass illiteracy is not the case today in Bali, but remnants of these practices remain in this kind of activity.

1 comment:

Charlene said...

Fantastic! Reminded me of my Catholic church days...yeah, right!