Bali Beads – An Introduction (and a small rant)

Up until about five minutes ago, I thought I understood the meaning of “Bali Bead”…

… I was wrong (sigh).

I had thought, silly me… SOOOO naive… that a Bali bead was a bead made in Bali. Apparently not.

According to one article:

“Bali beads originated in India. The Indians taught the Balinese how to make the beads. The majority of Bali beads today are still made in India. Some people differentiate between Bali and Bali Style beads.

Bali style beads are made the same way as Bali beads, but do not come from Bali – instead they come from India.”

It’s the overall tone of the article that bugs me – The Indians taught the Balinese how to make the beads… you’d figure “the Indians” might have called them Indian beads, wouldn’t ya?

More importantly, for me (and I admit, I’m a little funny about stuff like this) the article seems to miss the point somewhat:

It’s true, of course, that Indian culture and religion has played a very large role in the development of this little island culture.

The Hindu religion and culture arrived in Indonesia about 2,000 years ago – probably by Indian traders from Gujerati who were attracted to the islands by their riches in gold, spices, and sandalwood. And why not? That’s exactly the way Islam & Christianity also arrived here… trade.

Indian script has been found in Indonesia dating back to the 5th Century and shows that there were several Indian-style Kingdoms in West Java and Borneo.

Today, you can still see the remains of ancient monasteries and temples in Bali. In these places, the Balinese prices were consecrated into the Indic family tree as god-kings. Balinese script, which many Balinese kids still have to learn, is derived from the Palava script of South India.

Now, I’m no expert on Bali or Balinese history – I’m just reading from other (hopefully more learned sources) but it seems to me that a person saying, “the Indians” taught the Balinese to make beads is kind of like saying the Romans taught Americans how to make bridges and buildings. So, really, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State are Italian but we call it American… maybe they’re Greek.

Let me put it this way: the Balinese have been working stone, wood and metal since the Early Metal and Bronze eras… BC, in other words. Between then and now, they’ve had just about every foreign influence you can point to or shake a stick at: Indian, Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, English, Japanese, Malay. In other words, just like America, England or Ireland, many foreign feet have left impressions in the sand.

In no way at all does that mean that a Bali bead is really an Indian bead (or vice versa).

For our Bali beads, which are all made in Bali (natch), wood, glass and .925 sterling silver are the most common materials.

Like any handicraft in Bali, the beads are really made by hand… really. There’s no industrial process, no huge factory spitting out beads by the million.

The handicraft industry as I know it has always been a cottage industry.

On one level, that means the beads differ very slightly – it could be a bad thing but I find the concept of a unique article to be charming.

We buy our beads at prices that are a combination of silver weight in grams (material) and workmanship – that means certain items are more expensive just because more work goes into them… I’ve been purchasing in Bali on that system with beads, statues and furnishings for such a long time that it makes total sense to me.

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