Saturday, November 19, 2011

Balinese traditional dress

Visiting Bali during the festival of Galungan is a feast for the eyes. Elaborate offerings adorn every temple, large and small. Beautifully decorated bamboo poles grace the entrance of each family compound. And, of course, the people are wearing traditional ceremonial dress. The men typically wear crisp white, button-down, short-sleeved shirts with sarong and scarf around the waist, and they have a special cloth tied on their heads. The women wear their hair in a ponytail and over the sarong, they wear a lace shirt called the kebaya.

We learned that the central government in Indonesia, which is Muslim (while Bali is mostly Hindu or animist), has declared that the traditional Balinese lace shirts are against sharia law because you can see through them to the women's bodies and undergarments. They are no longer allowed, though people who cannot afford the new fabric shirts can still wear the lace.

This is not the first change to Balinese traditional dress. First, men and women only wore sarongs. Men wore animal motifs, and women wore vine or flower motifs. There was no shame about exposed breasts. All members of the community bathed openly. There was (is) a common belief that multi-gender, multi-generation body is beautiful, and there were no crimes between men and women. The government declared this indecent, and women were required to wrap or cover their breasts with cloth though men were allowed to continue only wearing the sarong. Then, the lace shirts on temple days became the norm, with men and women both required to wear shirts all the time.

While the Balinese may not be happy with these changes being enforced from a far away place whose culture is not their own, they accept that change will come and do not resist it.

1 comment:

  1. gosh I didn't know that! I wore a lace shirt to the temple that the 'mother' of the house we stayed lent to me... I remember I felt beautiful dressed like them. So feminine..