Some people know about it. Others wonder if it is real. Some might confuse it with the fabulous Bali Hai from the musical South Pacific. But there is a real Bali, a real island and real people more beautiful than anything Hollywood could ever dream up.
It has been called "The Morning of the World". The Balinese themselves call their home "The Island of the Gods". But no name can capture the true overwhelming beauty of Bali - a beauty so intense that visitors can go away with vivid memories and photographs and later still wonder "Is it real?"
Just east of Java, Bali is a small tropical island in the chain of thousands of volcanic islands that make up the nation of Indonesia and divide the South Pacific from the Indian Ocean. Bali is only a few degrees south of the equator and the weather is hot and humid year round.
Down the slopes of the volcanoes the Balinese have built terraced rice fields and intricate irrigation systems to bring the waters from the mountains through the rice fields and finally to the sea. The water blesses their island, keeps their island lush and green and their rice fields bountiful. Balinese are Hindu, but they often call their religion agama tirta, or "The religion of sacred water".
Their island is blessed by the rain; every waterfall and mountain spring has its own temple to thank the water, and the holy water from these temples and the myriad tropical flowers nourished by the rains make up the offerings that are presented to the Gods daily in every home and temple in Bali.
These temples inspire another name for Bali, the "Island of Temples". There are over 10,000 public temples. The family temples, found in every Balinese home, are countless. Village and family life revolve around the frequent temple ceremonies. And although the temple exteriors are lavished with exuberant and fantastic ornaments, at the centers are the quiet places, the empty spaces, where the offerings are placed and prayers are offered to the single ultimate spirit that unites all the many aspects of Shang Hyang Widhi Wasa, The One True God.
The carefully terraced rice fields, the endless multitude of highly decorated temples, the lovingly crafted offerings which are created and discarded daily - all speak to a characteristic of the Balinese people which strikes every visitor to Bali - their skill and love for the arts.
In Bali it seems there is nothing that cannot become a canvas for an artist's imagination. Every temple is exuberantly decorated with statues and reliefs carved of the soft volcanic stone that underlies the island. Every bridge and intersection is watched over by guardian statues. Wooden rafters and columns, furniture and doors are all carved in intricate patterns, and often brightly painted and gilded in gold.
Made Jati grew up the second child of nine in a poor fisherman's family in the beach village of Kuta. She recalls now how her father would come home from fishing with his catch in the early morning hours. Her mother would start the wood fire, while Made and her brothers and sisters sat up sleepily where they had been cuddled together on the large woven pandan mat that was their bed. Their hut soon filled with the delicious smell of the fresh fish roasting and they would eat their late meal to the accompaniment of the dull roar of waves breaking against the shore at the end of their lane.
They were poor and sometimes that roasted fish in the midst of the night would be their only meal of the day. Yet she and her sisters learned to dance, took part in the beautiful temple ceremonies, helped their mother make the intricate daily offerings that they placed in the family temple, at the gate to their home, at the crossroads of the path that led down to the sea, and at the shore to thank the sea for the blessings it gave.
Sometimes, when the family needed extra money, Made and her mother would gather flowers from the wild hedges that grew in abundance about their home, and early the next morning they would rise to catch the pre-dawn truck (there were no buses or cars then) into the market town of Denpasar. There they would set up on a mat beside the road to sell their flowers to the women hurrying to do their market shopping in the cool hours before the sun rose above the horizon. The flowers would save the women a half-hour gathering their own flowers at home for the day's offerings. Made and her mother would finish before the morning was well underway and then they hurried home again where Made could ready herself quickly to reach school still in time for the morning lessons. The money they made in the market was saved for the important holidays of Galungan which came twice a year, when each child would wait with mounting excitement imagining the new sarong with which their mother would surprise each of them on Galungan morning.
In Balinese there is no word for "stranger"; tourists are called tamu, literally "guest", a guest to one's home or to one's village. In the 1960's when foreign guests began to arrive in Made's village, the local people took them into their homes. In the hot afternoons when most Balinese took shelter from the sun, the guests would go down to the beach and burn themselves on the sand. No one knew why they did this and the Balinese felt sorry for them. Made would go down to the beach with a tray of cool drinks, fresh fruit and a few sarongs to offer them. The tourists bought the drinks and fruit to relieve their suffering, sarongs to cover themselves from the burning heat of the sun.
Made's mother set up a small shop on the edge of the sand, a simple thatch roof, a table with a row of soft drink bottles in the center, a bench for the guests to sit. The guests often stopped at Made's mother's shop for a cup of coffee or a soft drink and a bowl of her black rice pudding. Made remembers sleeping on the sand under the table while the strange looking foreigners talked their incomprehensible language far into the night. Sometimes she lay awake listening, making sounds like they did and pretending to herself that she could talk their odd language.
Some of the guests stayed for weeks, some for months. They became friends of the families that took them in. Some of them wanted to buy the local handicrafts to take away and resell in their own countries. Made helped them find things to buy, helped organize their purchases, schedule deliveries. And by the time she was 17, Made had her own small business making lace blouses for the guests to buy.
By the early 1980's, Made was in business exporting thousands of garments every month. A worldwide demand for Balinese lace developed. It was not just because of Made's company, of course - Balinese lace was perfect for surfer girl wear, light, fun and not too expensive, with lots of bright colored birds and butterflies. Made named her company "Uluwatu" after a temple that sits high above the sea and looks down on a surfing spot that was becoming world famous.
The new company became known for high quality and fun styles. Business was good, but by the mid - 1980's the surfer girl fad had died. And with it, most of the other companies producing lace turned to other types of garments.
Uluwatu stayed in business as a smaller company but with a new emphasis on design and quality. Uluwatu turned away from the surfer wear and began to reach back to the roots of Balinese handicraft to create something new.