When I first checked out the program guide for the 2014 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, I felt a little confused. Book launches and poetry slams: great, just as I had expected. Panel discussions about environmental artists, expats in Bali and dealing with drug addiction: incredible, but what does that have to do with anything?
Perhaps the festival needed a name change. A grand new title that honored it as a celebration of all things inspiring and creative and dispelled its somewhat intimidating cloak of literary prestige.
Since attending the event, the common thread and relevance of the 11-year-old title is palpable; the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is a celebration of all kinds of storytellers. Mediums and publishing history fall short against the significance of bravery and passion, the trademarks of every speaker at the event.
The story of walking across the Australian desert with a dog and four camels; the story of being a Syrian, lesbian, drug addict, criminal in New York City; the story of educating Indonesians on the issues their subjective media ignores; the story of making a documentary film about the murder of a friend and fellow journalist in East Timor. The enormity and variety was nothing shy of incredible.
And the audience’s response? They told their stories right back. In almost every session across the main program of the 5-day event, an audience member was moved to share segments of their own narrative during question time. From confessions of heroin abuse to plights with siblings and deep rooted political views, no topic was off limits and no tears were judged.
If you didn’t make it along to this year’s event, hopefully this sneak peak will inspire you to put your skates on and join the arena of creative passion in 2015.
Ubud Writers and Readers Festival: Fragments of their stories
In a session entitled “A Human Right”, a panel of intellects scrutinised, among many things, the impact of ego on modern journalism. Andre Dao, a young Australian whose works of fiction humanise voiceless human rights issues, discussed the notion that journalists need to “be more humble, step back and let the people’s stories rise up.” And to this idea, the panel seemed unanimous.
Mukesh Kapila – whose résumé spans crisis and conflict management, humanitarian affairs and AIDS work – went so far as to advise the panel’s chair, Aljazeera Foreign Correspondent Drew Ambrose, to reevaluate his career, suggesting he seek him out after the session for a little career advice.
On that note, we decided to take the powerful stories and thought provoking ideas of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival and – rather than assess them, twist them and make them our own – share fragments of them just as they were told to the festival audience.
Surf industry veteran, Phil Jarratt, on the history of surfing in Bali.
“Robert Coke had worked in film, and one of his recent jobs had been in Hawaii, where he spent 6-8 months and learnt to surf from the Waikiki BeachBoys. He imported a ridiculously heavy, redwood surfboard and started surfing at Kuta Beach. And he taught his staff – some of the houseboys that worked at the hotel – to surf as well. So they were the first Balinese surfers. And there weren’t any more for many years.
After the Japanese invasion in 1942, the bules were kicked out and they didn’t really come back in strength until the mid 1960’s. It was after the dreadful mass slaughters of September to December 1965, the period known as Gestapu, that people started to trickle back in, and some of those people were surfers. It’s still a mystery today exactly who were the first surfers of the modern era, but they were probably hippies who also surfed a bit.
In the late sixties, before the opening of the international airport, the people coming through were mostly on the drug trail, the 3 K’s as it became known: Kabul, Kathmandu and Kuta. They’d go through the 3 K’s picking up various illicit substances to support their lifestyle and they’d end up in Kuta, running around naked and taking copious quantities of magic mushrooms, having a high old time and doing a little bit of surfing. But they didn’t go much further than that. So when Alby Falzon, David Elfick and their team of surfers arrived, I think in the Australian spring of 1971, they knew very little about where the surf was. They spent their first few days at Kuta beach, and then they got a little bit gamer and went to Kuta Reef.
Then the surf went flat. And that’s when Alby Falzon went exploring.”
Check out some of the footage captured in Bali by Alby Falzon and David Elfick in their cult classic surf film, Morning of the Earth.
Hairdresser, musician and author, Rayya Elias, on whether sobriety gets boring after years of sex, drugs and rock n roll in New York City.
“As low as (I) got, there was always another trap door that sunk (me) deeper into desolation and desperation. But as you’re climbing back up, there’s also a rope that will lead you to another level of soul sensation. There’s always a higher self. There’s always more you can learn. There’s always more that you can do. There’s always more you can experience. No matter how good things are, there’s always another rope that can take you up to another level.”
Find out more about Rayya Elias and her book, Harley Loco, on her website.
Co-founder of Hubud, Peter Wall, on how expats can best contribute to Bali’s economy.
“The challenge is to make the economy here less tourism dependent and more dependent on activities like the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival – fostering a creative economy; and to bring the Balinese along with us as that happens; and to have entrepreneurial and tech organizations that encourage the Balinese to get involved in this new economy.
We have someone doing a Digital Programming course called “Ruby on the Beach” right now in partnership with Hubud, and he is going to have very marketable skills that people all over the world would be anxious to have. The more ability we have to create opportunities like that, the more likely it is that the Balinese can stay in Bali, join the new economy and move forward while keeping their culture.”
Find out more about Peter’s work on the Hubud website.
Indonesian journalist, Wayan Juniarta, on whether there is truth in Made Wijaya’s statement that being Balinese is the most important thing to Balinese.
“I think that you are being too romantic about the Balinese. I was born in Denpasar… into let’s say quite a modern Balinese family. A family where I had access not only to the Hindu scriptures, but also to the holy books of other religions, and a family where ceremonies are not a major part of our daily life. Having fun is the major part of our daily life. Especially since the arrival of televisions, radio stations and computer games – we do have a lot of distractions.
Right now, we can define Balinese into 3 major groups.
- One who is still the original concept of Balinese – who still thinks and believes that culture and religion are very important things. Lots of them adopt a sort of cynical view towards the outsiders – not only the Westerners but also the Japanese, the Muslims, the Christians – and who believe that these outsiders will try to corrupt Bali and erode our cultural integrity.
- And then there’s the second group, people like myself, who think: okay, that is important, but somewhere along the way we have to think whether spending one billion rupees on holding a ceremony is logical in this modern world. We have to question…whether we are doing a sort of deliberate suicide in economic terms. Bali is one of the richest islands in Indonesia and we spend most of our revenue organizing ceremonies. At the same time, forgetting that we have so many illiterate children that need schooling and we have 150,000 people living under the poverty line. We have to do some serious thinking about how we will adapt our culture and our religion.
- And then there’s the third group, mostly comprising of Balinese people, but also Chinese people, Japanese people and Westerners, working in the tourism industry, that believe that the culture and religion of Bali is the only selling point they have. So they have to maintain, preserve, protect and integrate this culture and this religion in order to sustain the tourism industry.”
Other highlights of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival
Dara Puspita: the greatest girl group that [n]ever was
Julien Poulson and Anthony Lefferts, owners of Phnom Penh’s Space Four Zero gallery, are on a mission to revive 1960’s Indonesian female rock group, Dara Puspita; the group they call “the Pussy Riot of 1960’s Indonesia“.
The women of Dara Puspita – Titiek Adji Rachman the lead guitarist, Susy Nander the drummer, Lies Adji Rachman the rhythm guitarist and Titiek Hamzah the bass player – were all born in Surabaya, the capital of East Java, and became fondly referred to as the Flower Sisters of Surabaya. A step ahead of their time, the women composed much of their own music and played all of their own instruments, offering the world timeless tracks representative of the tropical surf-rock beats of their era, which have gone on to inspire groups like Best Coast and La Femme.
The group’s formation and success occurred during a time when Sukarno was the President of Indonesia. Sukarno, being the leader of his country’s fight for independence from the Netherlands, saw rock music as a destructive Western influence, and a number of Indonesian musicians wound up in jail during his time in office. Consequently, Dara Puspita left their Indonesian shores and in 1968 they spent 3 years touring Europe – an escapade that ultimately lead to their split in the mid 70’s.
For the fortunate folk at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Poulson and Lefferts unveiled a limited edition Dara Puspita screen print and archival photograph collection at the Casa Lunar TV room. Matching bangs, funky high-waisted mini skirts and tambourines made their way across Amsterdam, Paris and Indonesia in a visual, vintage wonderland.
Despite the fact that Dara Puspita played to over 23 thousand fans at their Indonesian shows, much of the world doesn’t know the band ever existed. And the ladies, now approaching their 70’s, don’t seem interested in making a comeback, leaving us to live vicariously through the glittered imagery on tour.
If you missed the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, keep an eye out for the exhibition’s in Sydney and Melbourne via Sticky Fingers Art Prints.
The Poetry Slam
When the sun was away, the wild poets would play. Without sign of trepidation or insecurities, they took to the spotlight of the Betelnut stage and graced the heaving two story audience with their raps and rhythms.
From winner Tah Riq‘s hilarious delve into the psychopathic realities of on-line stalking, to host Jesse John Brand’s reference to Dr Dre and super speed list of every important figure known to mankind, the lineup of talent was all sorts of eclectic and astounding.
We will leave you with this video from the talented Carlos Andres Gomez, who opened the slam with a piece called “Gifted” about his sister’s battle with dyslexia.
Thanks to all the team at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival for bringing the island of Bali such an incredible event. In the words of Carlos Andres Gomez, you are like a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory in our own backyard.