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Roy Thompson, The Bali Times, 18-24 June 2010

Roy Thompson, who lives in Ubud, writes that a new book on Bali is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the island and its culture.

The Bali Times, 18-24 June 2010

In the past few years there has been a plethora of books on Bali. Most of these books are primarily illustrative, for example, books of old photos of Bali, paintings of Bali, great homes and architecture of Bali, its arts and crafts, travel guides, and on and on.

Since Fred Eiseman first published what still remains the most important and definitive English language text on the essence of Bali, his brilliant work, Bali Sekala & Niskala, in 1990, there has been no other tome which has attempted to define and present the endless intricacies of Balinese culture and religion in an understandable and accurate manner.

Authors Jonathan Copeland and Ni Wayan Murni have bridged the gap between the scholarly and excessively detailed analysis presented by Eiseman and all the “fluff only” books subsequently published. Moreover, Eiseman freely admits in his seminal work that most of what he presents is based on his own studies in Jimbaran and thus not indicative or representative of other areas of Bali.

Jonathan Copeland and Ibu Murni present a broader picture, one which is based in what can arguably be called the cultural heart of Bali, which is Ubud.

Secrets of Bali is an insighful book which touches on virtually all facets of Balinese life and religion but is not a watered down version of Eiseman’s seminal work. On the contrary, Secrets of Bali is a very easy read dealing with an almost incomprehensible and most confusing topic. It is well organised, carefully thought out and, most importantly, accurate. It is a must read for anyone who considers Bali as beyond the playground that is Kuta, or who comes here yearning for more than sun, fun and sex.

Secrets of Bali is the best book about the island written and published since 1990 when Eiseman’s book was first published. And on a personal note, I have little doubt that it could not have been accomplished without the input of the Balinese “Dame d’Ubud”, a brilliant and wonderful lady who is well known to all “Ubudians” as Ibu Murni, Ni Wayan Murni.

While a seasoned Baliophile may be left with a desire to dig deeper into certain topics, this brilliant primer into Balinese culture will surely satisfy those who are more serious about their Balinese studies, yearning for more than is available in guide books or books that are outdated, and no longer representative of the Bali of today.

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William Dalton, Bali Advertiser, August 2010

Toko Buku

Bali Advertiser, August 2010

Incredibly, ancient Balinese cultural traditions remain intact today alongside 21st century modernity and a highly developed tourist industry. Yet few visitors ever begin to really understand the colorful pageantry and the origins of the ritual practices that surround them virtually everywhere they travel on the island.
Unpretentious and easily readable in its approach, Secrets of Bali is the key to this understanding. For succinct and wide ranging information about Balinese life, religion, festivals and offerings, architecture, music, dance, textiles, dress, carvings and paintings, manuscripts, food and much more, this is the book to which the visitor or the student can turn for answers which explain both traditional culture and the ever changing realities of contemporary life.
A close reading will reveal a great number of facts that are little known to even long-term residents of Bali, whether it be such fascinating trivia as Walter Spies introducing Balinese artists to picture frames, the earliest surviving photographs of Bali were taken between 1862 and 1868, or that food prepared using a mortar and pestle tastes noticeably better than grinding the ingredients with a blender.

The “secrets” revealed are not just about Bali but about the island’s historical and cultural significance in the larger universe of Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Did you know that Sembiran in northern Bali was visited by Indian traders as early as 210 B.C., that the first English colony founded anywhere was on the tiny island of Run in the Bandas, that there is no depiction of rice on Borobudur, and that wealthy homes in 18th century Batavia had cells to incarcerate Balinese slaves if they were disobedient?
Most readers are also probably unaware that a major sect of Balinese Hinduism is based on the Hare Krishna philosophy, how dark complexions evolved in tropical regions, the Pejeng drum is the largest bronze drum ever found, the first Christian missionary to Bali was murdered, many Balinese temples in on the west coast have shrines dedicated to Muslim ancestors and that 11% of Bali’s population are migrants.

A few misconceptions and misinterpretations are also exploded. For example, the sea is not seen as evil and unclean, an assertion found in much of the popular and even academic literature on Bali. Purification ceremonies regularly take place in the sea, ritual objects and a person’s ashes are taken to the ocean for purification, and the sea is the source of holy water.
The quality of the book’s index enables the reader to readily access information. Indonesian and Balinese words in italics indicate the page number where the subject is discussed and there’s also a nine-page glossary that gives even more thorough definitions. Topics not found in the index can be found in the contents pages. If you wanted to find out about tumpek (certain days dedicated to respect for objects) or the origin and choreography of the Kebyar Duduk dance, both the index and the glossary provide information.

Educated at the University College London, Jonathan Copeland spent 25 years practising law while traveling extensively in Bali where he researched and photographed all aspects of the culture. His formal university training is undoubtedly the source of his deep knowledge of the classics of Western literature and philosophy and of modern psychology which is so evident in the text. His many years as a lawyer taught him how to explain complex subjects easily.
Co-author Ni Wayan Murni, born in Penestanan, is a well-known personality on the Bali scene and a pioneer of Balinese tourism. In 1974 Murni opened Ubud’s first real restaurant, Murni’s Warung, and also established the town’s first proper gallery of antique ethnic artifacts. On numerous occasions Murni took the author to places and religious ceremonies where he was the only non-Balinese.
In many ways, the book is also a cultural and social history of mankind and the planet as seen through the microcosm of the tiny island of Bali, constantly drawing parallels and comparisons with other cultures. The author consistently explains phenomena – from the Big Bang to the Bali Bomb – as it fits in the larger global context. Thus when the author discusses Balinese history we get to learn about Chinese and Indian seafaring empires and 16th century Portugal; when he explains the Balinese calendar we learn about ancient Egypt and Rome.
Copeland takes us back to the beginnings of human life in Indonesia as he discusses Java Man and even devotes three pages on the discovery in 2003 of “island dwarves” (the Hobbits) who died out 12,000 years ago. The book is full of small essays like how Bali got its name, a chapter on the core beliefs of Bali Hinduism, and the dramatic story of Danish trader Mads Lange, the White Raja of Bali.
The last chapter, Summing Up, lays out the differences between Western and Asian cultures, the first step in avoiding misunderstandings, and the myriad ways in which the Balinese perceive and reason differently than Westerners.
Encyclopedic in its coverage, the product of prodigious research, difficult subjects from the sublime to the arcane are simply explained in this well written and up to date work. Secrets of Bali is a valuable and authoritative reference source as well as an entertaining read for the visitor, scholar and Bali aficionado.

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Michael Clugston, South China Morning Post, 22 August 2010

Michael Clugston

South China Morning Post, 22 August 2010

Any visitor to Bali with a shred of curiosity will wonder what, exactly, is going on: all that art, music, dance and celebration. Everyone’s a sculptor, painter or jeweller, it seems. Don’t these three million people know the world is supposedly hurtling towards a Western monoculture?
As Secrets of Bali makes amply clear, the profusion of visible culture is just the gateway to a complex inner world of belief and custom, based on centuries of bending outside influences to mesh with local ways. Secrets is a sort of love letter by Jonathan Copeland, a British lawyer who visited the island often during his 25-year working career in London. Upon retirement he set out to research and write the book with Ni Wayan Mumi, a knowledgeable Balinese personality and entrepreneur.
They produced about 400 pages of accessible, bite-sized entries on a host of subjects, but this is not a standard travel guide to gamelan and nasi goring – it’s an almost encyclopedic snapshot of a people and what makes them so startlingly distinct and interesting. Readers will find a host of interesting tidbits.

For example, Balinese architects scale homes and their courtyards to the size of the head of the family. “The architect measures the owner and transfers the measurements to his bamboo measuring stick,” Copeland writes. Imagine what Yao Ming’s house would look like.
Much of Balinese culture is a variation on Asian themes such as community-before-individual. The emphasis on sociability extends even to the ranking of animals as suitable offerings for the temple. “Pigs and chickens, which are highly individualistic in their behaviour, rank behind ducks, which are more sociable characters.”
Yet their table manners are puzzling for so sociable a people: very little talking is the rule. “A Balinese family rarely sits down to eat together. The concept of the family meal is almost unknown. They rarely (if ever) give dinner parties,” Copeland writes.
Secrets of Bali also delves into the island’s Hindu traditions with a profusion of ceremonies, and its sometimes grim history.
This book will definitely go with me on my next trip to Bali.

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Dr Rob Goodfellow, Jakarta Post, 5 September 2010

robDr Rob Goodfellow

Jakarta Post, 5 September 2010

Bali is one of the world’s best-known “tourist brands”. It is not just an island, but a phenomenon. Ironically, until recent times, most Americans, Europeans, Japanese and Australians knew something about Bali, but were not sure where Indonesia was.

Yet, increasingly, Bali is the prism through which the world sees and judges Indonesia, one of the most important countries on Earth.

As far as the pervasive global media industry is concerned, if all is well in Bali, then all must be well in Indonesia. The world-wide media coverage of the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings is evidence of what happens when this tranquility is disturbed. Suddenly, Indonesian home-grown terrorism was thrust onto the world’s conceptual radar screen, where it has remained ever since.

This perspective has come into sharper focus as “the West” has become increasingly concerned with the advent of a pan-Southeast Asian Islamist movement — one that combines a collective base of 200 million Indonesian Muslims, mistreated Muslims in southern Thailand, internationally organized Malaysian Muslims, the wealthy Muslims of Brunei and the Muslim guerrilla fighters in the southern Philippines.

On the outer rim of this potential ideological “ring of fire” is the extraordinary outpost of Hindu culture and religion known as the Island of Bali.

Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru once poetically called Bali “the morning of the world”. The island gives us a glimpse of what Indonesia might have become had the Java-based Islamic Kingdom of Mataram not defeated the Hindu kingdom of Majapahit over five hundred years ago, irrevocably changing the character of the then “East Indies”, and in turn, modern Indonesia.

For this reason Bali is sometimes referred to as a “living museum of Hindu-Buddhist Java”. However, for many visitors the fascination with Bali is not about the past at all, but it is about the right now — today.
Bali can teach us many lessons. One lesson is about the values of an ancient culture that has stood the test of time despite the forces of globalization and cultural homogenization.

Above all, Bali represents the hope that human diversity can survive the 21st Century. For reasons not completely understood by anthropologists, Balinese culture remains vibrant, complex and colorful, both in spite of mass tourism and because of it.

Bali has not withered into a pale brochure-like parody of itself because of the onslaught of mass tourism, but instead has thrived and prospered by continually reinventing itself in parallel with, and not in isolation from, other influences.

Human cultures are never static; they are always changing. They may be in decline like some tribal cultures in Africa, the Indian sub-continent, China, Russia and Australia, or they may be in ascendancy, like the American consumer “Coca Cola culture”, none of which ever stand still.

Bali is changing, but in ways that often surprise and delight.

In Secrets of Bali, Jonathan Copeland and Ni Wayan Murni present a wonderfully fast moving account of Bali from the outside in and from the inside out. Secrets of Bali places Bali into the warp and weft of a rich historical tapestry of ever changing contemporary life.

The book explains, clarifies and reveals. It generously offers us a feast of rare and passionate insights from a man who has so obviously fallen in love with Bali, and from a woman, who in so many ways, is Bali.

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Ni Luh Dian Purniawati, Bali & Beyond, January 2011

Ni Luh Dian Purniawati

Bali & Beyond, January 2011

When I reminisce back to my childhood days, I remember how the Balinese people were so proud of their ‘Bali-ness’. There was one joke they frequently brought up. It goes that when a Balinese asks a tourist, “what do you think of Indonesia”, tourists back in the day would often look confused and say that they had no idea, “Indonesia? Which side of Bali is Indonesia?” No offence to their depth of geography, though.

The joke is still relevant up to this day. There are still some who know Bali, the island, far better than Indonesia, the nation. Small wonder that Jonathan Copeland in a chapter in his book wrote, “Bali is a small island with a big reputation.”

This small island has indeed become an inspiration to many of its visitors. Many foreigners have come, fallen in love with, and then stayed on in Bali. There are also those who came and left but still keep Bali in memory, be it in the form of paintings or books. One of the latest to have put Bali down in writing is Copeland through his book, Secrets of Bali.

Copeland was born and went to school in Belfast, Northern Ireland before going to London to study law at University College London. He practised law in two major law firms in the City of London for 25 years. Throughout that time he traveled to Southeast Asia.

He came to Bali with a travel survival kit in hand and knew nothing about the island. Soon he found out that there were so many things that he did not comprehend about Bali. Indeed, Bali has many things that seem to not fit into mainstream logic and cannot be easily comprehensible to the western way of thought. The latter, being identical to individualistic living patterns and logical thinking, while the Balinese live a communal life with their banjar community groups being the smallest social group and at the same time the strongest. The Balinese are also very inseparable from their rituals and have strong beliefs in dynamism.

Many things remain incomprehensible. This reminds me of the big question from a German friend. Back then she saw me preparing offerings for rituals. There were many fruits, flowers, and young coconut leaves used. Also a great deal of time used in arranging them.

She asked, “What are these offerings for? It looks like a frittering away of time and resources.” It is not surprising that she asked, because it was not the first time, but many times she had seen such a procession.

This question would never be asked by a Balinese due to their perspective differences. Offerings or banten in the local tongue is derived from the word ‘enten’ meaning awakened or conscious. Offering banten can be defined as a form of self awakening that humans are subjects of a universal energy. All that exists and humans possess come from God.

Ceremonies are not processions that are meant to waste money. Besides attaining meanings, what’s left of the rituals can be taken back and enjoyed by the offering’s arranger.

Copeland perhaps had the same question. But luckily he met up with Wayan Murni, a lady from Ubud who had and ran a warung there. Murni is a Balinese woman with a keen insight on tourism. She realized that Bali has many unique aspects that invoke foreigner’s curiosity. It seems that the realization of the many hidden secrets Bali keeps pushes them to dig up explanations and record them in books.

This 412-page book tries to summarize every aspect of Bali. Starting from the creation of the universe from a Hindu approach (the major religion in Bali), Balinese architecture, rituals, and the arts and up to the paradigm shift among the modern Balinese. All are explained in the 60 chapters.

This book is very interesting in particular for those who want to know about Bali and are eager for answers to general questions.

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Hello Bali, 5 February 2011

Hello Bali

5 February 2011

The production of books about Bali isn’t driven by the identification of a hole in the market, but the never-ending curiosity for the land of enigmas. “Secrets of Bali: Fresh Light on the Morning of the World” is an excellent book that examines almost everything about the island.
When it comes to books covering Balinese culture, Fred Eiseman Jr’s three volume “Bali: Sekala & Niskala”, a collection of detailed essays first collated between 1985 and 1988 – revised twice since – is hard to beat. Any ventures into similar territory are bound to be compared to it. But that is not to say there isn’t room for more forays into the arena.

Indeed, there would seem to be no stopping them because what really drives visitors to write books about Bali is not the identification of a hole in the market, but the intense love and curiosity the island inspires. “Secrets of Bali” is an excellent and welcome example of this. It is a book whose encyclopaedic scope and many fascinating detours are enlivened by a passion for the subject matter and the awareness that there is always more to know.

For a number of reasons, the definitive reference on all things Balinese is yet to be – and may never be – written: Bali’s fabulously arcane and frequently opaque cultural and religious life continues to evolve and throw up new enigmas. Eiseman’s essays, as he himself admitted, are so specifically about the community near his house in Jimbaran, every other region will have differences and idiosyncrasies worth recording, especially as we venture away from Balinese Hindu heartland. Lay-cultural anthropologists and their informants furthermore, frequently have very different interpretations of the same practices or rituals.

The quality of the relationship between knowledge seekers and their informants is a major factor in the success of any book like this. While Copeland has assumed the greater responsibility for the book’s authorship, his avid curiosity has clearly been ably abetted by his good friend of 25 years, the Ubud insider and restaurateur Ni Wayan Murni of Murni’s Warung fame.

The result is an eclectic, lively and very accessible account of Bali since the Big Bang, one that dips into such diverse, foundational subjects as geology, DNA, and prehistoric migrations, as well as culture, history, politics and religion. Mixing up rocks, biology, archaeology, language, ritual and culture offers tantalising possibilities, but at the same time it also presents organisational and structural challenges.
The book’s ambitiousness does occasionally open up some small weaknesses. Its attempt to touch on all there is to know from the pre-Cambrian era to the present day stretches it thin in places, particularly in some of the earlier sections, yet there is something entirely admirable in a book whose eyes are bigger than its stomach, an enthusiasm that is infectious.
My only criticism is for the book’s designer and editor: the captions to the numerous line drawings repeat verbatim passages that appear just millimetres away and were read just milliseconds before. At first this seemed like serial déjà vu, but then it just seemed like a waste of precious space on pages already packed with information.
A book of these modest dimensions can’t afford those sorts of redundancies. This was a slight annoyance more than anything else but it did sometimes disrupt my reading pleasure and unnecessarily detract from what was otherwise the perfect travel companion: a playful, informative and easy-to-read single-volume introduction to Bali – which I now know, if I was ever in any doubt, to be a relatively young island in geological terms but one already crammed with scintillating and complex mysteries.

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Andrew Charles, Tropical Life, September – December 2011

Andrew Charles

Tropical Life, September – December 2011

It isn’t often that a reviewer has the time to read a book from cover to cover, but Secrets of Bali is an exception for me as I was asked to edit the text and therefore had to devote many hours to the work but please don’t feel sorry for me because I enjoyed every minute of reading through this excellent book and I am very happy to recommend it.

The author, Jonathan Copeland, is probably one of the most unlikely people to produce a book on the history, culture and traditions of Bali, as he is a Belfast-born lawyer with many years experience of practising law in the City of London. However, he is also an inveterate traveller and has acquired a great deal of knowledge about Asia and Bali in particular. The subject matter has been meticulously researched and the latest findings carefully analysed. His forensic skills are apparent on every page. He has also had the great advantage of being able to consult Ni Wayan Murni, the famous Ubud personality, who has lived through, and contributed to, many aspects of Balinese culture; especially those relating to tourism.
He wanted this book to be useful for both tourists and students of Southeast Asia and he has achieved this aim by writing a very easy to read account of so many aspects of life in Bali. Local residents, expatriates or otherwise, will all find out something they didn’t already know and the style of writing makes everything so easy to understand. As the noted medical anthropologist, Angela Hobart says, “it is eloquent, enthusiastic and jargon-free.”

There are so many books on Balinese culture and traditions but Secrets of Bali is the single most comprehensive approach to the important aspects of Balinese life; including religion, offerings, architecture, music, dance, textiles, dress, carvings and paintings. The book also gives detailed explanations of how things are made; including shadow puppets, musical instruments, textiles, masks, paintings on glass and palm-leaf manuscripts.

Fascinating Western parallels are drawn, from Darwin to Palladio and from the ‘Big Bang’ to the treatment of witches. I am not aware of any other book on the market attempting such an analysis. Learn some Balinese recipes and not just how to cook the food but how to eat it and how to comply with Balinese etiquette.

The book is divided into 60 self-contained chapters and most of them are fairly short, which makes it all the easier to read. You can either read it straight through or check in the index for whatever interests you. The final chapter is perhaps rather controversial, but fascinating, and I haven’t seen it tackled elsewhere: ‘Do the Balinese think like Westerners?’

Numerous line drawings by a talented Balinese artist save a lot of explanations and are a delight in themselves. There are no colour photographs and this is unfortunate but colour adds to the cost of production and it is important that this book be available to as wide a readership as possible at a reasonable price. I think, however, that it may be an attractive proposition to publish a future edition lavishly illustrated with colour photographs for those who enjoy that kind of thing.

Coverage of historic events is very informative and written in a way that anyone can understand. Several chapters deal with life in Bali under the Dutch colonialists who, despite their brutality, left some long-lasting benefits. The author explains how the caste system was enforced by the Dutch in order to keep control of the population and perhaps this was one of their less wise decisions but it has resulted in a hierarchical order that will probably endure for a very long time.

It seems that the majority of books about Bali have been written by foreigners and most people will be familiar with the writings of people such as Miguel Covarrubias, Fred Eiseman, Urs Ramseyer, Angela Hobart and Hugh Mabbett, to name just a few. I feel that Secrets of Bali will join the ranks of the definitive and authoritative volumes of reference books for lovers of Bali everywhere.

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Professor Michael Hitchcock, Aseasuk News 50, Autumn 2011

Professor Michael Hitchcock
Member of Executive Board
Academic Director & Dean of Faculty

IMI University Centre, Lucerne, Switzerland

Aseasuk News 50, Autumn 2011

This is the second time that I have been asked to comment on this book as my positive assessment of the pre-publication draft appears in the foreword of the published version. However, what I did not have chance to examine was the overall appearance of the book and, in particular the charming and very accurate line drawings.

What I wrote in my original review was that fortunately for the reader Secrets of Bali was not in the slightest bit secretive and that the outcome was an accessible and wide ranging guide to the island’s culture and history. I also noted that the casual reader could dip into it to answer specific questions, while an enthusiast could read the book from cover to cover with equal pleasure. My viewpoint has not changed with publication, but what has is my realisation that the addition of the drawings brings a whole new feel to the book.

The drawings rely on spare outlines, sometimes with shading, and remind me of the illustrations that were once common in ethnographic treatises until the rise of inexpensive photography and in particular digital photographs. By the early 1990s electronic drawings and diagrams were also becoming quite common in ethnographies of Southeast Asia and it appeared that the hand drawn illustration had largely fallen into abeyance, though I included line drawings alongside photographs in my book on Bima, Sumbawa (Hitchcock, 1996).

What this volume shows us is that the drawing is far from obsolescent as an analytical and communicative aid since it guides the eye to key elements of material culture in a way that the photograph cannot. This author is well aware that this kind of debate has been around since the 19th century, but it is refreshing to consider it in the context of a user friendly compendium on Balinese culture in the 21st century.

The drawings work because they focus on key details much in the way that a limited depth of field excludes visual confusion in photography. We may liken this to the very helpful observation by Clifford Geertz (1973), namely that one of the ways of interpreting culture is through the use of what he termed ‘thick description’.

The drawings in Secrets of Bali work in a similar way as they provide us with insights that strengthen our understanding alongside a well informed text. Geertz was largely thinking of ‘thick description’ in terms of the written word and he was writing before the rise of the critical debates on visual anthropology that appeared in the 1980s. Interestingly, the drawing seemed to slide out of these debates, though it has a very long history in the interpretation of culture.

This book serves therefore to remind us that hand drawings can do certain things that other media cannot do so well and this is particularly the case with regard to mythology. The artist can, for example, imagine what a demon or a goddess might look like thus providing the reader with the fullest possible insight. A drawing can also lay out the intentionality of a site’s design revealing very clearly the orientation of great temples such as Pura Besakih, something that this reviewer has tried very hard to capture in photography with limited success.

The drawing is not a substitute for the written word in ethnography and what makes this book a delight is how the two work together so well to provide an accessible and very accurate overview of Balinese culture. I would imagine that like one of its forerunners, Miguel Covarrubias’ Island of Bali, which also makes widespread use of drawings, Secrets of Bali will be around for some time. It is a delightful and highly informative book, and it is a pleasure to have this review copy.

References

Covarrubias, M. (1937) Island of Bali, New York: Knopf (Reprinted by Periplus Editions 1999)

Geertz, C. (1973) The interpretation of culture, New York : Basic Books Hitchcock, M. (1996) Islam and identity in eastern Indonesia, Hull: Hull University Press

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