The moment we’ve all been waiting for with bated breath has come at last. Made Wijaya’s Majapahit Style has been released (the party vid is here), and what a book it is. More than a book. Like Made’s earlier masterwork, The Architecture of Bali, it’s encyclopaedic and opens many doors for further exploration.
Made’s an observer, a chronicler, a recorder of all things observed, a gatherer of facts and images, and an acutely intuitive drawer of lines between the proverbial dots. He did it with The Architecture of Bali and he’s done it again. This time he’s cast his net even wider. Made has sniffed the very DNA of the common cultural tap roots of Nusantara from ancient times to the present, and he’s graphed out a vast family tree from that genetic scent, reaching across the archipelago and beyond. And no, he’s not delusional at all. Scholars with the purplest stamps and seals upon their foreheads, from the most august institutions of higher learning, are all recognizing the same common threads of cultural DNA that weave a wide web across insular Southeast Asia, and through all the lands that also vibrated at the touch of early mainland Southeast Asian bronze age culture, and resounded in a harmonic thrill to the tones of early Buddhist and Hindu wisdom and lore that struck such brilliant notes throughout the region, again and again, over many centuries.
But I wax poetic. Back to the concrete stuff. The book is beautiful. Its contents are an exhaustive personal exploration of the themes and “cultural harmonics” I mention above, but always coming back to the anchor point of the material, architectural culture of the Majapahit kingdoms of Java. He explores at length in this volume, billed as “Volume I”, the persistence of Majapahit themes in the unique regional Islamic cultures of Java. This seems somehow timely, indeed. In a world, and a nation, where the only thing that holds us all together is basic human nature, and the only thing that seems re-engineered (malificently) to try to drive us apart is an illusion of religious enmity, Made is showing us that the family of man is still family. The brothers and sisters of the family of Nusantara are not such distant relatives as they might be told that they are. The thread that runs so true is the line of culture, and it is seen indelibly in buildings, stone, structures, the things that leave records of what mattered most, for the longest time.
Where various interests try desperately to “divide and conquer”, Made and other scholars and connoisseurs of the material and literary culture of Nusantara say, “Hold on there! This all looks so very familial. Let’s look at what’s beautiful, sublime, magnificent, and shared throughout the myriad people of Southeast Asia, and linked inextricably with their far-flung friends in India and elsewhere. Children of the same metaphorical fathers and mothers cannot possibly be right in regarding each other as alien and mutally at odds, culturally or in terms of basic core beliefs about life and death and everything. No point in smashing it all apart, so why not get it together on common, and very, very old and solid, ground?”
That’s my take on it anyway. But I’m still reading. I devoured chunks of the book, and nearly giggled with glee at the brilliant visual analogies Made has brought to our attention. And the wealth of relevant illustrations is incredible. Made is an imagemaker and image researcher extraordinaire. His library and his archives (on paper and digital) are a national treasure. And they are alive and growing, fecundly, every day. The man should have a phalanx of dutiful and diligent assistants provide by UNESCO. No, that’s not enough. He and his archives are a World Heritage Asset. No need to wait for UNESCO to stamp the declaration. It’s fact. And I’m not being hyperbolic here. It’s fact. Respect is due.
Anyway, I’m falling into another rabbit hole with this book. It’s really got me thinking, and connecting dots. I’ll be nose-first into it for quite some time, since Pintor Sirait delivered it personally to me today, relaying it with care from Made’s hands to mine. The roads and traffic of Bali have manifested a patent reversal of the progress of civilisation which flowed forward for some 50,000 years and now flows backwards. This results in the impossibility of Made delivering a book to me directly or sending a staffer to do so. It would involve a four to six hour round trip. And that’s sinful to even contemplate just for the delivery of a book. Made is in Sanur. I’m in Per-erenan. We are for all purposes as far apart as people in different provinces or different countries, such is the challenge of travel between our geographically proximous towns.
It was certainly so much quicker in the Majapahit era to gallop back and forth from Sanur to Pererenan on a horse than it is now in a Lamborghini. And thereon hangs a tale.
Tragically, I couldn’t attend the launch of Majapahit Style. Next lifetime.