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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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UBUD, Bali, Indonesia—After lunch and a rest last Sunday we visited a Dutch painter, Mr. Bonnet, who has done much to help the young Balinese painters. His own paintings are delightful, and he also showed us his studio and his house. There were flowers growing in profusion in his garden, and he says there is no time of the year when flowers are not blooming. Mrs. Oka, our guide, tells me that in Bali you provide your servant with food and clothing and a place to sleep plus 70 rupees a month.

From Mr. Bonnet's house we went down a steep flight of stone steps, crossed the road and found two buildings being used to exhibit Balinese paintings and sculpture. Again my western eyes have to become accustomed to this type of painting, but I like the color and I am beginning to find the themes and execution more understandable. A crowd of teachers and other painters arrived by invitation, so we were asked to return to Mr. Bonnet's studio to see some dances.

Two young men danced what is known as the Dance of Self-Defense. In Scotland, it would be called a Sword Dance. The origin of this dance is Sumatran but the people know it in all the islands, and because Bali is an island where life is gentle the people do the dance more gently. The two men who danced with such beauty, force and grace were simple peasants who worked in the rice fields. Dancing is part of the life of the people and not something practiced only by the professionals.

From Mr. Bonnet's we drove to a distant village where a dance in which all the male population took part had been arranged. The story was the Indian legend of the abduction of the wife of a god and her rescue by Rama. It was dark, but in the center of the dancing group was a tree lighted with candles, which shed a weird light over the dancers and left all the spectators in deep shadow.

It was a most impressive performance and here in its native surroundings it seemed more so than it probably would on a stage in the United States.

On our return to Ubud we had dinner and then the Rajah invited us to listen to his private orchestra, which was playing in another courtyard. They were playing for a dancing class for little girls and boys. Only a rajah is rich enough to afford an orchestra of his own; when others want music whole villages join together to provide the various performers. The instruments are very expensive but in the rajah's case he provides them. Members of his orchestra however, are just people of the village, who work in the daytime at a variety of occupations. We watched and listened, entranced. I think the music is simple and sweet and very pleasant to western ears.

We spent the following morning idly driving about, looking at people as they walked along the road with tremendous burdens on their heads and yet moving gracefully and without effort.

Just to sit on the porch of our cottage, watch the endless flow of people was interesting. Some of them came to the rajah's place to ask for advice and many came to sell sarongs, paintings and beads. They would place their wares on the floor for inspection but would urge no one to buy. They simply stand and wait and, if you want nothing they leave without complaint.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Ubud (Bali, Indonesia) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, September 8, 1955

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Nevada State Journal, , SEPTEMBER 9, 1955

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a published My Day column instance. Nevada State Journal, SEPTEMBER 9, 1955, page 4