I’ve been thinking about ants a lot lately, so I’m going to write a two-part post on them. The likely cause of this – the thinking about ants bit – is that they’re everywhere: the big red ones are on the kitchen counter and ready to spring if I leave any food unattended; the medium-sized black ones are on the floor next to me while I’m doing my morning stretch (it’s a new thing); and the tiny brownish-red and translucent ones are crawling up my forearms and giving stinging little nibbles when I’m writing this very post.
The omni-presence of these little buggers is at first vaguely worrying in the “We should do something about that soon” kind of way. This is especially the case when they’re boring into the walls and furniture and leaving little piles of their refuse/excrement at the entrance to their colony. And if I were in the West, I would probably do something like getting the house fumigated. But instead I find myself in a country where the ant (and probably the termite as well from what I’ve seen) is lived with in seeming tolerance, if not outright harmony.
I have a couple theories about this and both are probably incorrect and/or incomplete, but I’m going to give them to you anyway.
The first idea I came up with is that ants are a part of the Balinese Hindu universe. This struck me when I saw that ants (and birds and rats) all partake in the daily offerings that are left out for God.[i] Whether they’re meant to or not, these offerings – “a kind of self-sacrifice,” according to Fred Eiseman in Sekala-Niskala – provide a little boost to the bottom of the food chain and thus the bottom of the universe. I don’t think this is entirely theologically correct in the current incarnation of Balinese Hinduism, but I would like to believe it was (maybe) an original motivation. The Mahabharata and Bhagavad-Gita had to come from somewhere, right?
My second running theory is that the Balinese just don’t care about ants and the fact that they’re literally eating their house is inconsequential. This, I think (which I’ve said far too many times in this post), has something to do with the idea that homes are not seen as precious long-term investments (as they are, let’s just say, elsewhere). Fixing shit is easy because building costs, labor, and materials are incredibly inexpensive, so if a roof-beam or whatever is eaten away, just replace it. No harm, no foul.
So ants are pretty much just ignored and left to go about their business, which I might add, can be very impressive and in a lot of interesting ways mirrors Balinese society. But I’ll leave that to Part II.
[i] Here’s where you interject with, “Hey, doesn’t Hinduism have lots of gods?” To which I reply, “Yes, and so does Balinese Hinduism, except that in order to fit within the Pancasila (the five founding creeds of Republic of Indonesia) that requires a ‘belief in one God’, Balinese Hindus performed a feat of theological gymnastics and began using the term that Christian missionaries to Bali had invented in the 1920’s and 30’s, Sang Hyang Widi, as an all-encompassing entity. Now, stop asking questions with complicated answers so I can get back to ants.”