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 Dædalus Fall 2005
arly in April of1958, my wife and Iarrived, malarial and dif½dent, in a Bali-nese village we intended, as anthropolo-gists, to study. A small place, about ½vehundred people, and relatively remote,it was its own world. We were intruders,professional ones, and the villagers dealtwith us as Balinese seem always to dealwith people not part oftheir life who yetpress themselves upon them: as thoughwe were not there. For them, and to adegree for ourselves, we were nonper-sons, specters, invisible men.We moved into an extended familycompound (that had been arrangedbefore through the provincial govern-ment) belonging to one ofthe four ma- jor factions in village life. But except forour landlord and the village chief, whosecousin and brother-in-law he was, every-one ignored us in a way only a Balinesecan do. As we wandered around, un-certain, wistful, eager to please, peopleseemed to look right through us with agaze focused several yards behind us onsome more actual stone or tree. Almostnobody greeted us; but nobody scowledor said anything unpleasant to us either,which would have been almost as satis-factory. Ifwe ventured to approachsomeone (something one is powerfullyinhibited from doing in such an atmos-phere), he moved, negligently but de½n-itively, away. If, seated or leaning againsta wall, we had him trapped, he saidnothing at all, or mumbled what forthe Balinese is the ultimate nonword–“yes.” The indifference, ofcourse, wasstudied; the villagers were watching ev-ery move we made and they had an enor-mous amount ofquite accurate informa-tion about who we were and what wewere going to be doing. But they acted asifwe simply did not exist, which, in fact,as this behavior was designed to informus, we did not, or anyway not yet.This is, as I say, general in Bali. Every-where else I have been in Indonesia, andmore latterly in Morocco, when I havegone into a new village people havepoured out from all sides to take a veryclose look at me, and, often, an all-too-probing feel as well. In Balinese villages,at least those away from the tourist cir-cuit, nothing happens at all. People go
Clifford Geertz
 Deep play: notes on the Balinese cock½ght 
Clifford Geertz, a Fellow of the American Acade-my since 1966, is professor emeritus at the Insti-tute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. At the time of this essay’s publication in the Win-ter 1972 issue of “Dædalus,” Geertz was professor of social sciences at the Institute for AdvancedStudy.
© 2005 by the American Academy ofArts& Sciences
on pounding, chatting, making offer-ings, staring into space, carrying bas-kets about while one drifts around feel-ing vaguely disembodied. And the samething is true on the individual level.When you ½rst meet a Balinese, he seemsvirtually not to relate to you at all: he is,in the term Gregory Bateson and Mar-garet Mead made famous, “away.”
Then–in a day, a week, a month (withsome people the magic moment nevercomes)–he decides, for reasons I havenever been quite able to fathom, thatyou
real, and then he becomes awarm, gay, sensitive, sympathetic,though, being Balinese, always precise-ly controlled person. You have crossed,somehow, some moral or metaphysicalshadow line. Though you are not exact-ly taken as a Balinese (one has to be bornto that), you are at least regarded as ahuman being rather than a cloud or agust ofwind. The whole complexion of your relationship dramatically changesto, in the majority ofcases, a gentle, al-most affectionate one–a low-keyed,rather playful, rather mannered, ratherbemused geniality.My wife and I were still very muchin the gust ofwind stage, a most frus-trating, and even, as you soon begin todoubt whether you are really real afterall, unnerving one, when, ten days or soafter our arrival, a large cock½ght washeld in the public square to raise moneyfor a new school.Now, a few special occasions aside,cock½ghts are illegal in Bali under theRepublic (as, for not altogether unrelat-ed reasons, they were under the Dutch),largely as a result ofthe pretensions topuritanism radical nationalism tendsto bring with it. The elite, which is notitselfso very puritan, worries about thepoor, ignorant peasant gambling all hismoney away, about what foreigners willthink, about the waste oftime betterdevoted to building up the country. Itsees cock½ghting as “primitive,” “back-ward,” “unprogressive,” and generallyunbecoming an ambitious nation. And,as with those other embarrassments–opium smoking, begging, or uncoveredbreasts–it seeks, rather unsystematical-ly, to put a stop to it.Ofcourse, like drinking during Pro-hibition or, today, smoking marihuana,cock½ghts, being a part of“The BalineseWay ofLife,” nonetheless go on happen-ing, and with extraordinary frequency.And, like Prohibition or marihuana,from time to time the police (who, in1958 at least, were almost all not Bali-nese but Javanese) feel called upon tomake a raid, con½scate the cocks andspurs, ½ne a few people, and even nowand then expose some ofthem in thetropical sun for a day as object lessonswhich never, somehow, get learned,even though occasionally, quite occa-sionally, the object dies.As a result, the ½ghts are usually heldin a secluded corner ofa village in semi-secrecy, a fact which tends to slow theaction a little–not very much, but theBalinese do not care to have it slowedat all. In this case, however, perhaps be-cause they were raising money for aschool that the government was unableto give them, perhaps because raids hadbeen few recently, perhaps, as I gatheredfrom subsequent discussion, there wasa notion that the necessary bribes hadbeen paid, they thought they could takea chance on the central square and drawa larger and more enthusiastic crowdwithout attracting the attention ofthelaw.They were wrong. In the midst ofthethird match, with hundreds ofpeople,
 Deep play:notes onthe Balinesecock½ght
Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead,
 BalineseCharacter: A Photographic Analysis
(New York:New York Academy of Sciences, 1942), 68.
 Dædalus Fall 2005
 Dædalus Fall 2005Clifford Geertz
including, still transparent, myselfandmy wife, fused into a single body aroundthe ring, a superorganism in the literalsense, a truck full ofpolicemen armedwith machine guns roared up. Amidgreat screeching cries of“pulisi! pulisi!”from the crowd, the policemen jumpedout, and, springing into the center of the ring, began to swing their gunsaround like gangsters in a motion pic-ture, though not going so far as actual-ly to ½re them. The superorganismcame instantly apart as its compo-nents scattered in all directions. Peopleraced down the road, disappeared head-½rst over walls, scrambled under plat-forms, folded themselves behind wickerscreens, scuttled up coconut trees. Cocksarmed with steel spurs sharp enough tocut offa ½nger or run a hole through afoot were running wildly around. Every-thing was dust and panic.On the established anthropologicalprinciple, When in Rome, my wife and Idecided, only slightly less instantaneous-ly than everyone else, that the thing todo was run too. We ran down the mainvillage street, northward, away fromwhere we were living, for we were onthat side ofthe ring. About halfwaydown another fugitive ducked sudden-ly into a compound–his own, it turnedout–and we, seeing nothing ahead of us but rice ½elds, open country, and avery high volcano, followed him. Asthe three ofus came tumbling into thecourtyard, his wife, who had apparentlybeen through this sort ofthing before,whipped out a table, a tablecloth, threechairs, and three cups oftea, and we all,without any explicit communicationwhatsoever, sat down, commenced to siptea, and sought to compose ourselves.A few moments later, one ofthe po-licemen marched importantly into theyard, looking for the village chief. (Thechiefhad not only been at the ½ght, hehad arranged it. When the truck droveup he ran to the river, stripped offhissarong, and plunged in so he could say,when at length they found him sittingthere pouring water over his head, thathe had been away bathing when thewhole affair had occurred and was igno-rant ofit. They did not believe him and½ned him three hundred rupiah, whichthe village raised collectively.) Seeingmy wife and I, “White Men,” there inthe yard, the policeman performed aclassic double take. When he found hisvoice again he asked, approximately,what in the devil did we think we weredoing there. Our host of½ve minutesleaped instantly to our defense, pro-ducing an impassioned description of who and what we were, so detailed andso accurate that it was my turn, havingbarely communicated with a living hu-man being save my landlord and the vil-lage chieffor more than a week, to beastonished. We had a perfect right to bethere, he said, looking the Javanese up-start in the eye. We were American pro-fessors; the government had cleared us;we were there to study culture; we weregoing to write a book to tell Americansabout Bali. And we had all been theredrinking tea and talking about culturalmatters all afternoon and did not knowanything about any cock½ght. Moreover,we had not seen the village chiefall day,he must have gone to town. The police-man retreated in rather total disarray.And, after a decent interval, bewilderedbut relieved to have survived and stayedout ofjail, so did we.The next morning the village was acompletely different world for us. Notonly were we no longer invisible, wewere suddenly the center ofall atten-tion, the object ofa great outpouringofwarmth, interest, and, most especial-ly, amusement. Everyone in the villageknew we had fled like everyone else.

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