To the uninitiated a Bali Dog is at best nothing more than a mere nuisance. At worst it’s a very unwelcome pest. Of course these reactions are understandable.
Bali Dogs in their natural setting are not that attractive when their natural setting is overrun by tourists demanding a different setting. In fact they can be completely ill mannered and annoying, especially around unnaturally occurring tourist areas. One of the reasons why Bali Dogs have become a rarity is down to their way of behaving. Their way of hanging around the perimeter of human gatherings has a way of unnerving people who are unfamiliar with the motivation behind such behaviour.
Thankfully there are untold areas where the Bali Dog is not regarded as an unwelcome. In locations numbering in the thousands they can be found guarding compounds in back street village locations, mingling with local people at early morning markets, following rice farmers to and from work, sitting with their human families in the coolness of dusk and attending ceremonies of every occasion.
They are still there in the multi-layers of Bali life. Not hidden away or shunned, not unwanted or maligned. Like a life between lives they move as if nothing has changed for thousands of years. Thankfully in the shadows, in the backdrop and beyond the scenes of unrecognizable change, very little has moved for them and their human companions.
Very little from what has always been to what will inevitably come.
On her first visit to Melbourne Australia a friend said. ‘It’s a beautiful city and so clean and the facilities are so impressive. But there’s something not right, something is missing.’
Asking Balinese people why they have Bali Dogs is futile. What their dog means to them? Now there’s a stroll into history.
Manifesting the same genetic blueprint with each evolving cycle the Bali Dog Bali People relationship has altered little at its historical core yet massively with the passage of time. Characters and their physicality are the only ongoing change in a play that has been running since the beginning of time. It’s a marriage spanning thousands of years and like any lengthy union a degree of blending overlapping and merging emerges. It can result in a hellish prison of resentment or a comfortable well established unspoken balanced partnership.
Invasion and colonization over the eons hasn’t broken the marriage and divorce hasn’t become fashionable or inevitable. None of this means that the marriage is perfect, no marriage is. But even with the obvious individuality within these species and pressure of modern and fast changing Bali, something unknown unspoken and unrecognized has cemented this marriage with a bond that to date is unbreakable. It just is.
‘But there’s something not right, something is missing. There are no dogs and for us Balinese, life without our dogs is not right, not normal.’
You don’t know what you don’t know …. Whilst this saying is a convenient way of explaining why people act, or don’t act in certain ways, it is true. How can you know what you don’t know?
The converse is also true. Sometimes you simply don’t know what you know. Cultural norms, entrenched behavioural patterns and rituals – we all have them to some extent and it’s not until we consciously think about them or when they are drawn to our attention by someone else that we become aware of them. We just do certain things or behave in certain ways and it’s during those times when we don’t know what we know.
Ask the majority of Balinese about the relationship they have with their Indigenous dog and you are likely to receive a casual shoulder shrug and a non-committal response. It’s not something that they tend to think about a lot. A classic example of when people don’t know what they know.
“Keeping dogs for the Balinese is just part of the way we are…”
Focus Group Participant, Widyastuti et al. (2015)
We have observed the relationship between these two groups of sentient beings for the past eight years. There is a definite way of rearing a puppy, a definite way of caring and a definite way of preparing them for life on the streets. Preparing them in an ancient fashion that in no way resembles the human pet relationship that is found in the Western cultural context. But it is most definitely a relationship. Do all Balinese follow these patterns? Of course not, just as not all western cultured people follow the fur baby regime of pet ownership.
“Balinese relate to dogs as independent subjects in their own society and not subordinates in a dependent relationship with human beings….. ”Orr, (2016)
Recently observing the journey of a Bali puppy into a compound has been a fascinating experience. From the moment of collection and after being picked up from the gutter for no other reason than it ‘felt right’ the puppy was cosseted and petted. Petted in the unique Bali style of dog petting, which basically constitutes firm whacks on the head accompanied by a high pitched noise, the puppy found itself the centre of attention. This attention was mostly positive until she began to develop a liking for rubber sandals. She soon learned that in order to remain living in the compound there are rules that must be followed.
Contemporary pet ownership behaviours were also observed with a collar being placed on her neck as soon as she was home. As she has grown her collar has been replaced as her people don’t want her to get ‘killed’ on the street. Plans are being made for her to be sterilised as the family don’t want any puppies around unless they choose to have them.
Most interesting has been the transition of the pup from being confined to the compound and being dragged back inside each time she has ventured out. Within one week of her arrival the male of the compound started to take evening walks to the end of his gang, encouraging the pup to follow him. There she and he would sit with him smoking and talking to others and her barking and learning how to hang out with the dogs of her neighbourhood. After a designated period of time man and dog simultaneously wandered back to the compound. Night after night this ritual has taken place and now the pup will wander outside the compound but will not venture any further than her nightly ritual takes her. She knows the neighbourhood and it knows her. She has become one with it and this will only continue to grow as her independence increases more and more.
Whilst her human family respect her independent spirit and the risks that go along with allowing her to be free, it does not stop them from worrying and caring for her. In repayment of their ancient union she now guards the family compound against all seen and unseen entities.
It is her way and their way. It’s the Balinese way.