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