Tales From a Charmed Life: A Balinese Painter Reminisces
264pp. March 2005
Tales From a Charmed Life: A Balinese Painter Reminisces
Author: Geertz, Hildred; Togog, Ida Bagus Madé;
Tales from a Charmed Life is the last in a trilogy of works by Hildred Geertz exploring the complexity of Balinese history, religion, and society. A landmark study by one of the most distinguished anthropologists of Indonesia, it centers around the stories and paintings of Ida Bagus Madé Togog (1913–1989), an artist and ritual specialist who played a significant role in the history of Balinese ethnography. In the 1930s, Togog was central to Mead and Bateson’s pioneering studies of "Balinese character" and came under the influence of expatriate artists Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet to emerge as a major representative of the Batuan style of painting. Togog’s art and anecdotal stories of his most memorable life experiences are here interwoven with Geertz’s illuminating commentary to construct an innovative framework for understanding Balinese culture.

Togog shares stories of his early life, relating dilemmas from his childhood and youth. Growing up in the wake of Dutch colonization, he came into contact with new languages, customs, and economic opportunities that presented him with puzzling and poignant experiences. He tells of his association with Spies and Bonnet and later Mead and Bateson and his role in the creation of a genre of painting for which Bali is now famous. This is a view of Bali from the inside—a vivid, highly personal look at a world where spirits, ancestors, and sorcerers have the power to intervene in one’s life. According to Togog, who narrowly escaped death numerous times, his was indeed a "charmed life."

The other volumes in the trilogy are The Life of a Balinese Temple: Artistry, Imagination, and History in a Peasant Village (2004) and Images of Power: Balinese Paintings Made for Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead (1994).


"A masterful book. This collaborative work represents the kind of richly insightful and thoroughly engaging anthropology of art to which many of us aspire but few achieve. This volume is the third in a series of interlocking books by Hildred Geertz and it is the delectable fruit of decades of ethnographic research and a particularly productive collaboration with the now deceased Batuan artist Ida Bagus Made Togog. . . . [It] belongs in the libraries of Indonesianist anthropologists and art historians, scholars interested in biographical projects, and general readers who relish lively story-telling." —Journal of Asian Studies (67:3, 2008)

"This is anthropological writing and publishing of a rare and precious kind. Hildred Geertz has been researching in Bali for nearly half a century: This alone makes for a rare depth of ethnographic knowledge. But her work is exceptional in other ways. Tales from a Charmed Life, along with its companion volumes Images of Power (1994) and The Life of a Balinese Temple (2004) is the fruit of an innovative ethnographic project in a village called Batuan. . . . The lasting significance of this trio of books will, I think, lie in their challenge to all students of Bali, local as well as foreign, in a time when the meanings of Balinese culture are deeply contested, to re-think the most fundamental levels of Balinese religious knowledge and practice." —The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 2006

Author: Geertz, Hildred; Togog, Ida Bagus Madé;
Hildred Geertz is professor emeritus of anthropology at Princeton University.
Read the introduction (PDF).