Monday, August 8, 2011

Name Post: Gusti (And His Thoughts on Balinese Feminism)

(Gusti leading a drum circle on the iconic Ubud football/soccer field).

Gusti Putu Sudibia (Goes by “Gusti” to me, “Biru” to his family)


-GUSTI: indicates he is a male in the “Wesia” or Tradesperson Caste.

-PUTU: indicates he is the first born in his family.

-SUDIBIA: Literally means “good spirit.”

Gusti loves his name. If you ask to hear the story of his name, you get the story of his life. The other day, I obediently followed a text from Wayan saying “Go see my wife at her work.” Once there, his wife Nunik informed me they had someone for me to meet who works with many “foundations.” Within minutes, Gusti appeared and he and I became engrossed in conversation about the NGOs he works for, his name, Balinese feminism and his ex from Holland. Nunik, Gusti and I shared some Bali Coffee and cakes from a street vendor and waited for tourists to come buy things in “The Drum Factory” where they worked.

When Gusti was born, everyone called him “Biru” which is the Bahasa Indoneisan word for “Blue.” He explained to me that this name was given to him at birth because he didn't have enough oxygen. Gusti was called “Biru” by his family but when he went to school at age 6, he needed to give the teacher a more formal name. His older brother decided that Biru should be called “Sudibia” because of his upbeat personality.

Biru/Gusti loves his name. He told me that some people think that blue means sad but to him, blue is the color of the universe. He says that he has had somewhat of a “soap opera life” and his name reminds him of all that has happened to him. When he finished high school he asked his mother for money to go to university, and she said she would give it to him, but if he went, there wouldn't be enough money left for his younger brothers to go. Gusti decided not to go. He's the only one of his brothers who ended up not going. Instead, Gusti decided to move to Ubud and try to make a living in the tourist industry. Rather than pay for an English class, Gusti had a friend who was taking one give him the lessons he was learning every day after class. Gusti says that as a teenager, he got into a lot of “bad situations.” According to him, he would be out on his motorbike with his friends all the time, drink too much and “have no respect for my body.”

He used to paint and the first big things he did were two portraits of Albert Einstein; one was a mural on one wall of his family’s home and the other was a portrait that hung in another room of the house. He says that one day he had relatives visiting from Lombok who were sleeping in the room with the Albert Einstein portrait. In the middle of the night, two of the relatives woke up screaming. A Priest was called immediately and it was determined there was something wrong with the paintings Gusti had done. The Priest made Gusti burn the Albert Einstein portrait and Gusti stayed up all night painting over the Albert Einstein mural that lined one wall.

The Priest told Gusti he had a bad aura and he was just floating on the water that was his life instead of swimming. Gusti said it was then he realized that he did not have a “satisfied heart.” He decided to stop working as a driver for tourists in Ubud and began working at a shop. He started to volunteer for charities (“foundations”) in the area for kids with mental illnesses. He said people in town began to call him “Gusti the Charity Man.” He said he has realized that by having a good spirit himself, he can bring good spirits to others. He tells me he has learned patience and honesty from the children he works with. As he puts it, “always always people wear masks. When I first meet you, I wear a mask. We’re always wearing masks when we talk to people. But these kids, they have no mask. They are just themselves."

Between these new activities and meeting his wife, Gusti says his he now has a “satisfied heart.” He still rides his motorbike but now he wears a jacket when he does because he respects his body. He says the name “Biru” represents his past and is like the water he was just floating by on and came close to drowning in. For him, it is a name that describes his journey, and now he has learned to live up to the “Sudibia” (good spirit) part of his name as well. For him, it was finding a balance between these two names, a balance which he feels he has now achieved.

He says he owes a lot to his wife, who he calls a friend and who he says understands him. He says he has a “lot of things in my head” and is a “nerd.” He says he wanted to marry someone who is also a nerd; someone who he can talk about big ideas with who will not find him strange. Gusti told me that in Bali “many men think the wife is behind” but he believes the man and wife should be “side by side.”

Gusti and his wife read books about feminism in Bali. He says that when they don’t have work they sit in separate rooms of their house and read all day, coming out only to eat meals together. They have been married seven years but have no children. A few months ago, his wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer and Gusti told her to quit her job. Now she stays home and reads every day. Gusti tells me Balinese women are the busiest women in the world. I believe it. He says between caring for children, parents, grandparents, cooking, making offerings and often having full time jobs, there is always more to do. Gusti thinks Balinese men are very lucky.

He says he has many friends who do not share his sentiments. He says when he is with a male friend and the friend says to his wife, “I need Bali Coffee,” Gusti reprimands him: “No no no. Say like this: I am doing something, would you bring me Bali Coffee darling please?”


1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! It's so interesting how names often function quite differently in different parts of the world, and how it is so less 'fixed' than in the West. This grey area between names and titles I find particularly interesting -- I was researching Burmese names the other day and finding a comparable situation there.