Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

A look at Bali’s Artistic centre, past, present and future.

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, January 2005

In the early Thirties, Miguel Covarrubias came to Bali, and said, “Undoubtedly Bali will soon enough be spoiled for those fastidious travellers who abhor all that which they bring with them.” Well, Ubud hasn’t been spoiled. Ubud is just getting better and better. Covarrubias got it wrong.

I am a Balinese baby boomer. When I was growing up in Ubud, just after the Second World War, our lives were hard. We didn’t have much. Not being able to afford pure rice, we added corn, jackfruit and sweet potatoes. Our protein was from rice-field eels, dragonflies or frogs.

Now, in Ubud, there are 24-hour supermarkets. A brand new one has just opened close to my restaurant. It has everything – well, nearly everything; it doesn’t have rice-field eels and dragonflies but it does have frogs!

When I was six, we were lucky to go to school. It was hard. Now all kids go to school. That is good. Many children go to university and some go abroad. Computer classes are available in Ubud for local children. That is progress.

There is progress for tourists too. Ubud has always welcomed tourists. There are excellent courses for them: cooking, batik painting, silver jewellery making, woodcarving, stone carving, gamelan and yoga. There are nightly entertainments and five dance groups perform regularly.

Ubud was a leafy place in my childhood. Tall lychee trees lined the main road. Where Ibah Hotel now is, mango trees grew and where Ary’s Warung now is, there were jambu trees.

Monkey Forest Road was a dirty, muddy track with rice fields on each side. Every day you would see farmers carrying produce on their shoulders and ducks on the way to the rice fields. At night you would hear frogs croaking and see fireflies flashing.

Nobody, apart from the Royal family, owned a car; most people walked. If you were lucky, you had a bicycle. I, and a group of friends, had bicycles. We cycled over pot-holed roads down to Sanur to sell our wares to cruise ships. In the evening we cycled back.
Now many families have cars. In fact, most do, and Ubud has a traffic problem. I was the first woman driver in Ubud. Originally only men drove cars. One small step for women! That was in 1976.

There have been other advances. Many activities were reserved for men; even painting, for which Ubud is famous, was traditionally a male preserve. When Puri Lukisan Museum opened in Ubud in 1972, all the exhibits were by men. Now there are many women artists and Seniwati Art Gallery, started in 1991 by Mary Northmore, is dedicated to women.

Gamelan music was exclusively male. In the last twenty years or so, several women’s gamelan groups have formed. My own group plays all over the island.

Our traditional ceremonies bring the arts together; their purpose is to please the gods and men. In my young days, there wasn’t the money to create lavish displays. Now, in Ubud, there are frequent ceremonies: maybe six gamelan groups, numerous dancers, shadow puppets, thousands, dressed in the finest Balinese textiles, attend our ceremonies.

Over my lifetime, and especially recently, there has been rapid development. When I opened my restaurant in 1974, there was no electricity – not until 1978. It was hard to keep beer cold but candles and kerosene lamps created an atmosphere beyond compare. Now, reputedly, there are over 300 restaurants in the area.

In 1974 there were only two hotels: the Tjampuhan and the Menara but everyone stayed at the Tjampuhan. Now there are many wonderful hotels and fabulous villas. There are hundreds of shops – including my own.

However, the time has now come to limit development; we don’t need any more shops, hotels, restaurants or supermarkets and we should concentrate on our strengths and our traditions.

In November we had a very successful Writers and Readers Festival and I am pleased that it is planned to make this an annual event. In December there was the Global Healing Conference at ARMA, which Desmond Tutu attended. We also launched the 50th anniversary of the book Dancing Out of Bali by John Coast at Murni’s Warung, where the star of the book, dancer Ni Gusti Raka, danced and signed copies.

I believe that for the future, we should focus on events such as these, and, of course, the temple ceremonies and exhibitions.

Ubud, Bali

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better