Understanding about the Balinese culture is very important to us at Volunteer Programs Bali. When our new volunteers arrive in Bali, we brief them very thoroughly about all aspects of the culture, the do’s and don’ts, traditions and other important facts and information. As we are such a small and local organization it is important that our volunteers are aware of the culture they are living in and that they can respect it.
During the volunteer placement we also like to give our volunteers the opportunity to experience the Balinese culture. Whenever there is a local ceremony, we will take our volunteers to attend.
But we also give our volunteers the chance to really feel and learn about the culture by organizing a weekly cultural exchange.
Every Wednesday, our volunteers get to learn Balinese skills. Our local staff and helpers become the teachers and our volunteers become the students. And our volunteers really love these weekly activities. It is a great way for them to learn about aspects within the Balinese culture, to experience it themselves and to bond with each other over some fun activities. We’ve asked our volunteers which activities they love to do most, and they named the 3 activities below as their favorite!
- Making Balinese offerings
Everyone who has been to Bali couldn’t help but notice all the offerings everywhere on the streets of Bali. You see them on the ground in front of every house, on every small temple and shrine and you will see women with big offerings on their head on the way to the temple.
Making these offerings is a daily activity for Balinese women. They spend most of their time every day to fold the offerings from banana leaves and to fill them with colorful flowers. When there is a bigger ceremony in the village temple, bigger offerings are being made and the women are very busy preparing everything.
Considering this as one of the most important life skills for a Balinese, it is definitely something important for our volunteers to learn. During the cultural exchange the volunteers get the chance to make the daily offerings, also known as ‘canang sari’. Our local staff will show how it is done and every volunteer can make their own offering. It might look easy, just folding it and placing flowers, but it is definitely harder than it looks like. There is a specific order to put the flowers in and the banana leaves don’t fold as easy as you would think. But at the end our volunteers can proudly show their wonderful offerings and bring them home!
- Learning Balinese dance
The Balinese are very famous for their traditional arts. Almost every Balinese is able to do Balinese dancing. Balinese dance lessons are given to every Balinese child in the local villages from a very young age, and Balinese dance is a very important aspect at ceremonies as well. It is safe to say that every Balinese grows up surrounded by Balinese dancing. Although not everyone desires to continue their dancing lessons, most of the Balinese do like to expand their skills and perform in their local temples or community buildings.
There are many different kind of dances, both for women and men. Some dance solo while other dances require a couple (man/woman) or a group of women/men. During our weekly cultural exchange, we try to teach our volunteers the basics of a Balinese dance. Our local staff and helpers once again become the teacher and they show our volunteers the tricks on how to dance as a real Balinese.
For the Balinese these moves and poses feel super natural, as they have been doing this since they were little kids. But for our volunteers, being foreigner, everything is totally new and not easy at all! So the Balinese dance lessons are also a guarantee for some good laughs and fun for our volunteers!
- Balancing the offering box
Going to the temple is one of things that Balinese people do very often. There is always a ceremony somewhere. Whether it is at the local family temple, the village temple or a bigger temple in Bali, it is safe to say that Balinese go to a temple at least once a week. Going to the temple requires bringing offerings. These offerings are given for the gods of the temple for blessings, gratitude and protection. The Balinese bring their offerings to the temple by bringing them in an offering box. This makes it easy to carry and easy to recognize your own offerings in the temple when they are all gathered.
The box is being carried on the head, as the head being the most sacred part of the body and offerings need to be on top of the body as well.
Balinese women have the amazing skill of being able to walk with very big offerings on their head, without holding it! Well, that’s something our volunteers should try as well! Of course, while wearing a sarong, as the Balinese wear a sarong as well when going to the temple.
And it is all about the balance.. walking a straight line with the offering box on your head, without letting it fall! Some of our volunteers have great balance and can walk back and forth without dropping it, while others are not that balanced and struggle with this. One way or the other, it is a fun thing to try and practice and our volunteers truly feel as a real Balinese while doing it!