The Soft Survive

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3

A few months back, I went to the Bali exhibit at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum.  The small island of Bali has been conquered over and over. But they keep incorporating their invaders’ strengths while maintaining their unique culture. As a result, their traditional and modern dance, sculpture, painting, leather, metalworking, and music draw visitors and purchasers from all over the world.

The words translated (by Ursula LeGuin) as “soft” and “weak” in Lao-Tzu’s poem might be better read as “flexible” and “adaptable.” The Balinese have always been supremely adaptable. About 90% of Balinese are officially Hindu, but it’s their own kind of Hinduism. It was brought to them from India, and they mixed it with Buddhism and nature-based traditional belief systems.

Starting in the 1840s, Dutch armies and navies arrived to take over the island. In the early 1900’s, thousands of Balinese came out to oppose the Dutch, unarmed, and were massacred. Before World War II, the Japanese conquered the island; the Dutch returned after the war. Finally in the 60s, the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia killed an estimated 80,000 Balinese opponents.

Somehow, the Balinese have made the best of horrible situations.  In their art, they incorporated ideas from Western painters like the Mexican Miguel Covarrubias and expanded their range of subject matter to create one of the richest artistic cultures in the world.

At the SF exhibition, organizers had brought puppeteers from Bali who explained their art and performed. I heard snatches of several languages (e.g. French, Mandarin) from the performers, who apparently play all over the world. Their ancient art spoke to me as if they were talking about modern life, which I guess they were in a poetic way. In spite of their suffering, the people of Bali have prevailed, more by including their conquerors’ ways than by fighting them.

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Soft Survive

  1. Roger Eaton says:

    Well, this is very likable, David! There is a Christian passage along the same lines as I recall, the meek shall inherit the earth. And even the toppled tree might send up a row of branches, adapting as it can. I’m not so sure we have generations though. It is looking more like we are the ones we have been waiting for, as the saying goes.

  2. Nice piece, thanks David.

  3. Nice piece David. Think Ghandi, think Martin Luther King. You could point out that they were ‘soft’ and hence were killed/murdered/assassinated by ‘hard’ forces, however they are still with us in the legacies they left behind; they have become part of ‘us’ even now.

  4. Bill Bruckner says:

    Thanks, David. Best wishes.

  5. Liz says:

    I love this, David.

    I had a wonderful experience in the checkout line at a fabric store this week! I happened to be behind a woman wearing a Canoe Journey sweatshirt. I introduced myself and asked if there was any way our kayak club could gather and salute them, and she said, “Oh, you should be pulling (paddling) alongside us!” So I’m going to try to make it happen somehow.
    The Canoe Journey is a tradition in the Northwest since 1989. All the Canoe families from native tribes or nations around the Puget Sound paddle to a different host each year: the Swinomish, the Makah, the Muckleshoot, the Nisqually, and so on. Then theyhave a big party! The families make and decorate their own ocean going canoes, and it is a fantastic way to honor and keep up the traditional ingenuity of the peoples of this region.

  6. Maureen says:

    Excited to read this! Unexpected freedom and resilience are pet obsessions of mine.

    As in Bali, I’m reminded of Laos — the most bombed nation on earth, not per capita, but in total tonnage, in spite of its diminutiveness — the much-trammeled hill tribes there are often described as regressive/primitive/non-aggressive, but have in fact flowed water-like from the grasping fist of state-authority, time and time again, throughout a long history of non-violence. Travelling there myself, I was struck by the people’s gentle psychological strength, their profound social equality (men and women, different but absolutely equal; people of different physical and mental abilities, different but absolutely engaged) and most of all, their common and absolute cognisance that if the state began to interfere too heavily in their lives, they would simply, “move away deeper into the mountains.” For further reading on this perspective of tribal Laos, I highly recommend James Scott’s book, The Art of Not Being Governed; similarly, his book The Weapons of the Weak discusses how mostly-overlooked “soft survive” methods of protest/rebellion are used by the world’s oppressed.

  7. That is one of my favorite chapters of Tao Te Ching. I’ve certainly seen some pretty lively soft-bodied people and some pretty lifeless hard-bodied people in my life.

  8. jim snell says:

    I read the blogs and excellent comments and ideas from the Tao.

    I have front row seat on this.

    My Mom was the “strong one” in our family unit, my Dad was considered the “weak” one.

    My mom passed away when she was in early 70’s with lung cancer from smoking.

    My dad lived on till he was in mid 80’s – quite a few years after my mom passed away.

    My mom was considered the solid oak while my Dad was the flexible willow bending back and forth in the winds.

    Thank you for the excellent thoughtfull comments as well as those from the Tao.

  9. Tim says:

    Hey, I just realized that from “VICTIM” to “VICTOR” is just 2 letters.

    Go figure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *