|Beraban, a village in Bali - 2003
While Bali can be touristy, Trish and I had the good fortune of getting to know a truly traditional Balinese village; its people,
schools, temples, artisans and homes. Beraban’s surrounding rice paddies are some of the most beautiful and extensive in Bali.
We were introduced to Beraban by Made*, a Brahman who gave us an explanatory tour of some of Ubud’s many Hindu
temples. When he saw our genuine interest in Balinese culture he asked us if we would visit a distant village and help with a
business plan to develop a small local tourist industry, as well as the school’s English program. We left the next day.
Though only about an hours drive from the major population/tourist centers of Bali, Beraban is an isolated village. It, and four
nearby villages, is literally at “the end of the road”; a single paved track, wide enough for motor scooters to pass, and just barely
enough for the few cars in the area. It’s a rice growing community with beautiful traditional Balinese homes.
Upon arrival, we were introduced to Wayan*, the leader of the project, and the village elders. They described the village, and
told us about what they were trying to do. The fifteen hundred or so people of Beraban would like to welcome a limited number
of tourists as guests, to their community. They are in the first stages (with the help of government loans), of setting up
individual rooms in homes. They want to attract relatively sophisticated tour groups for a few days visit each. They also asked
us to help them with the equally important and related project of bringing in native English speakers to help in their schools.
After a delicious lunch and a short drive around the village Made drove us back to Ubud.
Trish and I returned a week later for the first of several visits. We met with the local political, religious, and neighborhood
leaders and took a tour of the village and its surroundings. The leader of the Subak, or irrigation system showed us how their
extensive and sophisticated ancient irrigation system delivers the needed water to the rice paddies in the area.
Local artisans showed us the traditional methods they used in the construction of Hindu shrines; the Gamelan instrument maker
not only showed us his wares, but also gave us a private concert!
We shared a traditional Balinese home and ate delicious, if a bit hot, Balinese food. After spending a lot of time on the floor,
we still can’t sit in the half lotus position, but we sure tried!
On the third morning we taught English to two classes in the secondary school**.
On our second visit we had lunch and lead a seminar with some 82 teachers or “gurus” who had gathered from the surrounding
area. After a session working on pronunciation, there was a long discussion period. After describing our trip so far, I was asked
the challenging, and potentially embarrassing question: “How can you possibly afford to travel around the world?” After a short
explanation of my perception of world history and global economics, my answer was that Trish and I were very fortunate to be
able to spend our very valuable American dollars in relatively poor countries. If we had delivered newspapers in Bali for 35
years, we probably would have had about the same standard of living, but the money we earned would not be as worth as much
in other countries of the world.
We did manage to get a break and stop by the local warung, or store for a couple of cold beers, combined with lessons in
On our third visit we had a business plan prepared for them. Because we were better prepared and were able to contribute
more, this was the most rewarding visit. We really felt we were among good friends.
Our main agenda was to see all of the homes that they were preparing for “guests”, and to constructively critique their
accommodations. Trish and I were welcomed into some 15-20 traditional Balinese homes, a special pleasure for us. All the
large, extended family homes have a Pura – a sometimes-extensive compound with many beautiful shrines roofed in beautiful
black palm fiber, covered with intricate carvings, many with gold leaf.
Each compound also has a high-pitched thatched-roof granary with a one-year supply of rice for the family. All the homes were
very beautiful and bring the outside into the surrounding rooms, with lovely gardens and ponds. They were constantly cleaning
them with their palm frond brooms.
Early in the evening, we dressed in our ceremonial garb, sarongs, sashes and special head covering; and joined a ceremony,
which began out in the rice fields. The women were dressed in their elegant kabayas, all the men also in their ceremonial garb.
Men playing the gamelan and pounding on large iron gongs surrounded the ancient sunken shrine. There were many offerings,
much incense and smoke.
After the ceremonies in the field were over, beautiful Balinese girls dancing backwards led the procession to the central village
temple. Our friend, Nguyen, the village gamelan composer, performer, and instrument maker, then led the way while dancing
an intricate Balinese dance and swinging a burner that emitted clouds of bitter smoke. We were followed by the marching
gamelan and gong orchestra of thirty some men in full costume.
Afterwards, Trish and I spent most of that evening at the temple watching pretty young girls dance to the music of the gamelan
Our second day was spent at the school teaching English, eating a fantastic afternoon meal and visiting more of the houses that
were being prepared for “guests”. After dinner, we made our presentations to the village elders and the project’s “Steering
Committee”. Then it was suggested that we go to the neighboring village where they were having yet another celebration! We
dressed, and piled into probably the one car in the village. The neighboring village has a reputation for being especially religious,
surely a relative term. It was special indeed, with costumed dancing, chants, and plays. Trish and I were the only non-Balinese
among the 300-400 participants; but as we had already met many of them in their homes were made to feel welcome and
comfortable by everyone. Before we were able to enter the inner, holiest, part of the temple, we were blessed several times
with holy water, then had rice applied to our foreheads.
We slept that night at the home of Nyoman (a common name*), the head of the village. We were very comfortable, as we had
had many meals there and knew everyone well, even the pigs.
On our last day, we had a few hours to ourselves in the morning after breakfast. It was hot, but we relished our freedom and
walked out among the rice fields. Everyone knew us, and stopped to say Good Morning! “Selamat Pagi!” How are you? “Apa
Kabar?”. Where are you going? “ Mau pergi ke mana?” (Of course we answered “Jalan jalan”, Just walking about.)
It seems rather inefficient, but the farmers go out into the rice fields everyday to cut the grass that grows on the boarders with
their scythes. This is placed into large baskets that are connected by bamboo yokes. The full load is then hoisted on their
shoulders and carried back to their cows at home. One friendly man was carrying his load barefoot down the road. He sort of
hopped on the hot pavement. We walked with him for a while, and when he stopped to rest I asked if I could try and pick up
the yoked baskets. They would not budge! Several bystanders offered the estimate that the load weighed some 80 kilos, or
We had to rush home for a much needed cooling mandi before our last teaching seminar. Mandi’s consist of bathing by pouring
water over your head and body, with a ladle, from a (usually) tiled tub. It is more refreshing then a shower, but does take
getting used to.
After the seminar, we stopped at the warung for a last beer with our friends, and then a very special last luncheon meal at
Nyoman’s home, Wayan drove us back to the noticeably greater hustle of Ubud with its traffic and tourists.
We will miss our many friends in Beraban, and certainly hope to keep up with them. It will be difficult, as there are no
telephone lines in the village, therefore any possibility of inter-net. Hopefully our suggestions will help them with their truly
*Balinese names. There are no last names in Bali. To add to the confusion, there are only six names used;
Made, Ketuck, Wayan, Putu, Nguyen and Nyoman. These names are used by both the men and women.
**The school includes students from Beraban and three other neighboring villages. As we had helped fifteen
or so children with their homework the previous night, we realized that they needed help with the
fundamentals. We started with a story about “Bob is fishing” along with a drawing of Bob. It took a while to
get them to understand “who” was fishing, and “what” Bob was doing. We finally graduated to “Bob went
fishing in Sanur last Monday.” and added “where”, and “when”. The kids were very enthusiastic; and there
were a lot of fun digressions.
Since the “sh” sound is particularly difficult for them to pronounce, we told them a story about Bob’s wife
Mabel, who had to make money on the beach while Bob was fishing. This developed into a story they could
all recite at the end, “She sells seashells down by the seashore”. For homework, we asked them to teach
their parents, grandparents and the others in their extended families