Is listening part of Balinese culture? By Vaughan Hatch


Go to a meeting or take a Balinese to a music concert and you’ll quickly learn that Balinese prefer talking to listening.

Over the past 20 years living in Bali, I have been to numerous local meetings and they’re pretty noisy spectacles indeed. Very few people  sit in silence listening to the speaker but prefer to chat with someone next to them or, these days, absorb themselves with a gadget. Surprisingly few people say anything and the speaker just rambles on through seemingly oblivious. I wonder if anyone ever learns much about what the speaker wants to say!

The Bali Arts Festival is a month-long annual event that features hundreds of gamelan and dance performances, but most Balinese go to watch rather than to listen. People chat, answer and eat through performances and sometimes kids run across the stage or peep through the curtains.

Culturally Bali is a very noise oriented place. Even the way Balinese talk is lively, dynamic, excitable and onomatopoeic. People sing while they work and sing to babies and small children constantly. Balinese look after noisy roosters and constantly barking dogs. In the monsoon the croaking of mating frogs can be deafening. The rice fields have clackers and other paraphernalia to scare the birds; the beaches have their wind organ sunariand pindaken on towering bamboo poles. Even the kites buzz as they fly. Indeed little room for silence.

I believe that all this noise has made Balinese immune to it. In fact, silence perhaps  makes a Balinese uneasy. Nonetheless, silence is slowly being imported. There are meditation groups and retreats, sermons on TV and in villages like those in churches and mosques. Modern gamelan composers and traditional gamelan activists are encouraging audiences to listen by closing their eyes as they “watch”.

Personally,  I feel that learning to listening is a positive foreign import among the many negatives that have come with globalisation.

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