Jan 3, 2011
Rice terraces in Tegalalang, western Bali
The people living in Bali, the island off the eastern coast of Java, the main island in Indonesia, are Hindu. They left Java en masse when Islam arrived there, distancing themselves even further from their fellow Hindus in India, and gradually built a civilization very different from that in India, on the “island of gods and demons,” Bali.
“Bali people think only about religion,” say the Moslem Javanese dismissively, and in many ways that’s quite true. Any city block in Bali will have several statues of various gods and demons on each side of the block, each with a little basket of fruit and flowers and a burning incense stick in front of it.
According to Balinese Hindu belief, the people working the fields are not the owners of the land; the owners are the gods who do not die. Humans work the fields for a brief spell, and then pass away like a dream in the night, but the gods remain, and they reward those who exercise their stewardship well.
Rice terraces, a way of building a steep hillside into steps used to grow small areas of rice paddy, exist all over Asia, and take many generations to build and maintain. That’s the good stewardship.