The Digital Adventures

Theo Meier-CH20

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Another arrival in Sabah after an arduous journey through Java was Theo’s good friend Ernst Schlager. We can only imagine Theo’s surprise when Schlager showed up at his doorstep in Iseh, tired and worn.

Schlager had been sent to the Netherlands Antilles to organize an agency for Sandoz, the Swiss pharmaceutical firm. When war broke out he tried to get on the last outgoing boat from Batavia, but there was no room aboard when he arrived at dockside. It was lucky for him. The ship was sent to the bottom by Japanese aircraft a few hours after it set sail. All hands were lost. The war brought an end to Schlager’s business activities.

Theo and Schlager immediately found a common interest-Balinese music.

The two quickly teamed up and began to make a study of traditional Balinese music. Besides helping Schlager as an interpreter and entertaining the many musicians they interviewed, Theo began to jot down songs and stories and notes about Balinese customs. These later formed the basis of a book he co-authored, My Bali, published by Silva Editions in Zurich.

Theo’s young wife Nurukan helped them in their work. She enjoyed the work as much as the two friends did. They were fortunate that the villagers in Eastern Bali were hospitable to them. Nevertheless, it was always a harrowing moment when a Japanese patrol with their rifles and fixed bayonets made an appearance. Nurukan kept out of sight when they came and Theo knew how to shuffle them off with a bottle or two of cheap rice wine.

It was during this time that Theo helped Schlager write his History of Balinese Music which was published in Encyclopedie de la Pleiade under the heading: History of Music. Schlager had the rare advantage of having both a doctorate of chemistry and a doctorate of philosophy which included the theory of music. In his own words: “Balinese music culture is so rich that the exhibitionists made no efforts to conserve it.”

Compiling the book was no easy task. Bali might share the gamelan and various other Indonesian musical instruments with other islands in the archipelago, but Bali has its own techniques and styles. One example is the Kecak, the monkey dance that Spies choreographed. Nowhere else but on Bali could one see a legitimate Kecak performance. In addition, the island was home to several unique kinds of gamelan, including the gamelan jegog, gamelan gong gede, gamelan gambang, gamelan selunding and gamelan semar pegulingan, the cremation music angklung and the processional music bebonangan. Theo and Schlager had to master them all. Fortunately they had the time to learn.

Balinese gamelan, they discovered, compared to Indonesian classical music, was louder, swifter and more aggressive than Javanese music. Balinese gamelan also featured more archaic instrumentation that included bronze and bamboo xylophones. Gongs and a number of gong chimes were used, such as the solo instrument trompong, and a variety of percussion instruments like cymbals, bells, drums and the anklung, a bamboo rattle. Like school kids they experimented with all the instruments including two sizes of bamboo flutes and two-stringed fiddles. The two white men made an odd couple sitting on the steps of the house in Iseh mastering many of these instruments. Often late into the night Nurukan served them rice wine urging them on. Neighboring Balinese came to join in and more often than not music sessions turned into all night parties.

The war came to an official end in 1945 and finally it was possible now for Schlager to bid his goodbye to Theo and Nurukan and leave the East Indies. It was a sad parting with many tears and promises. In Denpasar Schlager boarded a bus to Jakarta which, unbeknown at the time, happened to be the last bus for many months to come. The very next day, the Balinese frontiers were closed. Not until April 1946 did the Allied landing take place and they were opened again. In the meantime, a lot had happened. Under an agreement with the Allies, the Japanese, from their improvised fortified camps, had been made responsible for upholding law and order and halting feuds between villages that were beginning to flare up. A few traitors were put to death and a resistance movement was organized in the event of the Dutch trying to re-impose their pre-war colonial domination. The only thing that saved Bali from complete collapse in those days was the deeply entrenched structure of Balinese society.

It was during this period at the end of the war that Theo Meier and his wife Nurukan divorced. Slowly over the last months in Iseh they had grown apart. Nurukan wanted to return to her village and the life she had missed. Theo, on the other hand, longed to return to his house at Sanur and concentrate on his painting. The future did not look promising for Nurukan. The divorce, Theo wrote in his journal, was an amicable parting. What he didn’t say was that it was as amicable as any divorce could be. But it was one that Theo never expected. Those who knew Theo at the time claimed he was very distraught and saddened. It didn’t help matters when Nurukan took their daughter Leonie to live with her.

But Theo was destined not to be alone long, not after he laid eyes upon a Balinese maiden named Madepergi. She was the most beautiful woman he claimed he had ever seen, on Bali, on Tahiti or on any of his travels. He was not alone in his judgment. She was an exceptional beauty. Pergi, as everyone called her, was the woman that I had seen when I first arrived in Bali aboard the schooner Northwinds-the time she was marching in a religious procession above the hills of Ubud. She possessed something more than beauty, an almost ethereal quality, some intangible mystical quality that only the gods of Bali could have created. At that time I had yet to meet Theo.

Pergi became the great love of Theo’s life. She was his living goddess, the embodiment of every man’s dreams. That beautiful face, that lovely graceful body, those lines of elegant perfection, they would be etched forever on canvases painted by Theo. A year after they met they married, Pergi bore a daughter named Niwayan Anni Sugandi Nria. “Ni” indicated a girl; “wayan” meant the eldest-born: “Anni” was conferred by a friend of the family who acted as godmother; the name “Sugandi” was given by Sukarno, and Nria, the mountain, was the religious name given by the Brahmin priest. The name Anni was sufficient for Theo.

World War II came to an end but not the fighting. Indonesia wanted independence. On August 17, 1945, two days after the Japanese surrendered to the Allied forces, Sukarno read a Declaration of lndependence to a small group of people outside his house in Mente on Java. He demanded immediate independence from the Dutch. But the Dutch weren’t about to give up the Dutch East Indies. It took the Dutch four years of bitter fighting to learn that they were not going to get their colony back. Finally, on December 27, 1949 Netherlands recognized the sovereignty of Indonesia which became the Republic of Indonesia. Sukarno became the first president.

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