Category Archives: culture curiosities

Freedom to dance in the wind.

One of the things I love about living in this part of Asia is the super-abundance of dragonflies.  They are just so beautifully elegant to watch in flight. I am always amazed at their diversity, the huge range of colours and markings they come with.

Many people believe in animal symbolism and animals as totems.  There is a wealth of symbolism and meaning – both good and bad – associated with dragonflies.  Love, death, freedom, happiness and courage being just some of them.  It is often said that a dragonfly will appear in your life to convey a message to you.

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With my rational, nature-geek head on, I know that dragonflies appear often in my life because I happen to live and/or holiday in areas rich in habitats which are dragonfly and dragonfly larvae friendly. But then, according to one internet source, maybe it is my ‘rational’ side that needs addressing:

“If you’re being too rational and detached, the dragonfly’s appearance may symbolize the need for you to reconnect with the emotional aspect of yourself, to not be bogged down, to take flight and be free, to shed burdens and dance in the winds of life.”

I’m not a believer in animal symbolism, although I do find it interesting reading.  I certainly like the idea of freedom to dance in the winds of life! So that’s my take on Ailsa’s ‘freedom’ travel theme this week.

Christmas herbs and dew drops.

Did you know that the name for the herb Rosemary comes from Latin and literally means ‘rose or dew of the sea’? What a whimsically beautiful translation.

I read the other day that rosemary is a very Christmassy herb, which I was quite surprised by.  I have never really thought of it as such.  Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, yes, but I don’t think there is a single herb that I would instinctively think of as being particularly linked to the seasonal festivities of Christmas.

So I started to do a little investigating into rosemary.  I know it well as a culinary herb and a very useful essential oil, but why a Christmas herb? Well, it turns out there is a huge amount written about the traditions, customs, folklore and superstitions attached to rosemary.  It may well have Christmas associations, but this herb has so many other meanings attached to it besides.

Rosemary has been used since ancient times in marking the key moments in a lifetime – birth, marriage and death. Mythology links it to memory, so it has become symbolic for remembrance and fidelity.  Stems of rosemary were often placed in or near the cribs of young infants to ward off evil and nightmares.

A native plant of the Mediterranean and Asia, rosemary is a member of the mint family.  The essential oil it provides is used in aromatherapy for its uplifting and stimulating properties.  As well as giving us a quick lift when we need to stay alert and fight mental fatigue, it is also great for hair and skin care.  It is used in massage to provide pain relief for headaches and sore muscles, and it can also help with chesty colds and respiratory problems when inhaled.

One really significant reason to think of rosemary as an essential Christmas herb is its powerful stress relief potential.  Like lavender (another relative from the mint family), it has great relaxation properties.  Studies have even shown that inhaling rosemary essential oil can actually decrease our cortisol levels.  Cortisol is the stress hormone found in our saliva.

For many people the pressures of Christmas, the change in routine, and the demands of managing sustained periods of family politics can cause stress and cortisol levels to sky rocket. If this sounds familiar, then rosemary may just be your secret weapon.

Small pre-potted rosemary bushes would make great mini Christmas trees once adorned.   Keep one in the kitchen for that marathon cooking session on Christmas day, decorate the dining table with them, put one in the bathroom for when you just need to escape above all else (we’ve all been there haven’t we?)!  Just rub the leaves to release the oils, close your eyes and inhale deeply for a few minutes.  You’ll feel refreshed and ready to face the next round in no time!

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The antibacterial and health giving properties have long been believed in, and science is increasingly catching up with folkloric beliefs.  According to one website I read, rosemary was highly coveted as a form of protection against bubonic plague, which swept through England at the start of the 17th Century.  Against plague, rosemary sadly didn’t stand a chance, but desperate Londoners quite literally turned it into green gold for a temporary period in time:

“In 1603, when bubonic plague killed 38,000 Londoners, the demand was so high that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for a handful. To put that price increase in perspective, one price list from 1625 indicated that one could obtain 18 gallons of good ale or double beer with carriage (delivery?) for only 3 shillings or an entire ‘fat pig’ for 1 shilling.”

I did also find some very particular folklore, linking rosemary to Christmas, at this website. You may need a pinch of salt on the side, but they are quite fascinating nonetheless:

  • A rosemary plant with grow upwards for up to thirty years, until it reaches the height of Jesus Christ at his tallest.  After that time the plant will grow no taller.
  • Rosemary flowers were originally white.  They turned blue when Mary sought temporary comfort and shelter during their flight to Egypt, draping her blue cloak over a rosemary bush. The aromatic scent of Mary’s cloak also transferred to the bush.
  • Mary dried the baby Jesus’ freshly washed clothes on a fragrant rosemary bush.  The plant’s name, rosemary (the Rose of Mary), and its blue flowers are in remembrance of its humble service to the Holy family.
  • Anyone who smells rosemary on Christmas Eve will have happiness for the coming year.
  • I also read on this brilliantly named site that rosemary was used along with holly and mistletoe for yule decorations, and was given as a New Years Day gift, along with a clove-studded orange.

So there you have it, whether you are using rosemary for its therapeutic and de-stressing powers, its culinary magic with lamb or potatoes, or just for decorative purposes, rosemary definitely deserves a place in your home this Christmas!  Perhaps it has one already?


Word for Wednesday: T is for truculent.

Part of the expat lifestyle is getting used to the community ebb and flow, and the new patterns of daily living.  December here is a real shut-down month. There’s a frenzy of Christmas related activity and socialising during the first two weeks, and then there is virtually a mass exodus as the schools close for three weeks, military personal take block leave, and anyone who can, either heads off on holiday or returns home for a brief break.

My usual ‘are you doing anything nice for Christmas?’ question has thrown back a whole host of exciting travel plans from friends out here.  A lot seem to be going to Bali this time; possibly due to the new availability of a direct flight. Bali is one of my favourite holiday destinations to date.  It is such a beautiful country, full of fascinating culture and lovely people, and there is so much to see and do.  There really is something for everyone.

The first time we visited, we took a trip out to a traditional Balinese village called Tenganan.  It is a Bali Aga, where ancient Balinese traditions and customs still live on.  It was an incredibly interesting insight into Balinese culture, and gave the opportunity to see Balinese artisans at work.

There was also a whole row of these tall woven baskets. Inside each, a brightly painted cockerel.  They might look pretty, but these birds were seriously feisty! They eyed each other with contempt and hostility as they strutted about in their confinement cage, awaiting their moment in the fighting ring. Cockerels in baskets which had been spaced inadvertently close to the next were pecking fiercely at the sides of their baskets nearest their enemy, as if they’d like to get an early start on the fight.006a_893 copy

Truculent (adj).

  • easily annoyed or angered and likely to argue
  • disposed to fight; pugnacious
  • expressing bitter opposition; scathing
  • disposed to or exhibiting violence or destructiveness; fierce
  • aggressively self-assertive
  • fierce; cruel; savagely brutal
  • brutally harsh; vitriolic; scathing
  • aggressively hostile; belligerent.

Derivation: Latin truculentus, from truc-, trux savage; perhaps akin to Middle Irish trú doomed person. First Known Use: circa 1540.

“He strutted, stiff-legged and truculent about the body of the fallen enemy”.
 (Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Son of Tarzan).

Cock fighting is an ancient spectator sport, which is still found in many countries around the world. It can be pretty bloody and barbaric, and in Bali as in many other countries, it is no longer permitted for gambling purposes (although many illegal cock fights do still take place each year).  Unlike cock fighting for sport and gambling purposes, ceremonial cock fighting remains an essential part of Balinese spirituality and religious ritual.

Animal symbolism and spirituality is a significant feature of Balinese Hinduism. Cock fighting, known in Balinese as ‘tabuh rah‘ (‘pouring blood’), is a revered form of animal sacrifice.  It is a religious purification ritual, believed by the Balinese to expel evil spirits.  As such, cock fighting is an integral part of temple festivals and religious ceremonies all over Bali.

Cockerels in their woven pre-fight baskets are a very common sight in villages all over Bali. They are highly prized by their breeders and owners, and the more truculent of character and brilliant of plumage the better. In many villages, their presence is inextricably interwoven with the fabric of traditional living there.  Speaking in an interview with a reporter for the Jakarta Post, one village head said in an interview with the Jakarta Post that :

“After we harvest our rice or other crops, we can’t dig the soil before we have sacrificed the birds.  When the soil is dry, it must be left fallow for a few months and we are not allowed to plough at this time.  Our rule is after the ceremony we can start to plough and plant again. This occurs every year and is special to our village.  Our belief is that this is the traditional way to farm. We must make the ground holy so that hopefully we will have good harvests. This belief is ancient, but we still hold it to this day.”
(I Ketut Ludea, head of Malet hamlet).

I have never seen a cock fight, for which I am grateful.  As interesting as I find the religious and socio-cultural significance of it for Balinese tradition, I don’t think I could stomach the sight of two animals literally trying to rip each other apart, in a fight to the death.

I feel deeply divided about cock fighting as a continuing practice.  Obviously I am appalled by the vicious brutality of cock fighting, and find it quite upsetting to think that this is something that is widespread in Bali, both legally and illegally, to this day.  But I am also impressed by the conscious effort that the Balinese make to preserve their tradition and culture, which is so unique to the island and their very special brand of Hinduism.

Have you ever seen a cock fight?  How do you feel about cock fighting as social and religious custom and ritual?