Guardians of Tradition and Culture – embracing the Wisdom of Elders

Posted by Christina Zipperlen on

In a fast-paced world dominated by ever-evolving technology and constant change, the wisdom of elders stands as an invaluable treasure trove of traditions, knowledge, experience, and life lessons. As society progresses in what often feels like light speed, it has become crucial to recognize the significance of preserving and honoring the wisdom imparted by those who have traversed the various stages of life before us and to find ways of modernised integration in today’s life with all of its challenges. There is a chasm between forgetting and remembering, the deep split between collective amnesia and ancestral memory. Untold stories are transmitted in bits and pieces through songs, folk tales, lullabies and legends, wisps of memories passed on from grandmothers to granddaughters, grandfathers to grandsons.

Imparting on wisdom and history is to see and hear both the words and the gaps between the words. At the fleeting threshold between what once was and what is to become, we feel the call to explore ways to keep alive what has been learned, trialed and proven to help and heal and how to make it relevant and preserving to our modern world.

The timeless essence of Elder Wisdom

Elders, often the bearers of accumulated life experiences and cultural insights, embody a wealth of wisdom that transcends generations. Their stories, traditions, and guidance offer a unique perspective that enriches our understanding of life. From navigatiing challenges to celebrating triumphs, elders provide a compass to help us manouever the complexities of the human experience. Elders wisdom comes with humility, respect for humanity, and our world, and discernment.

Who do we consider as an ‘elder’ today?

While the term "elder" often conjures images of grandparents or retired individuals, today's elders encompass a broader spectrum. They may be seasoned professionals, cultural custodians, or individuals who have excelled in their respective fields. Recognizing and honoring the wisdom of today's elders requires an inclusive approach that embraces diversity and acknowledges the varied life experiences that contribute to the collective wisdom of society.

The role of elders in Balinese culture

Our island home Bali is woven into a rich and intricate tapestry of culture, rituals and traditions, passed on from generation to generation. In Balinese culture, elders play a central and revered role, serving as the pillars of wisdom, tradition, and community cohesion. The unique blend of Hindu-Balinese customs, local animist beliefs, and a strong sense of community shapes the cultural landscape, and the wisdom of elders is pivotal in maintaining and transmitting these rich traditions. The Balinese people hold deep respect for the knowledge and experience that come with age. The role of elders in Balinese society encompasses various aspects, influencing family life, religious practices, and community dynamics.

What the team says:

Astrid (marketing)

From the Chinese-Indonesian Asian perspective, I see my elders as a “binding agent”. When my great-grandmother was still alive, we used to gather around three times a year at her house that's very far far away from where I lived. We had to drive 3 hours to get there. But I remember I was quite excited every time we went there. Especially during the Chinese New Year. I felt like her presence was the core of our family bonding, even though all of us have different financial and cultural backgrounds (we even have different accents). But after she was gone, that tradition slowly faded away. People would then come to my grandmother's house since she was the eldest of the 11 siblings, but slowly this also stopped.  I wish my generation could be more initiative and more caring towards each other. But the reality is, everyone's so busy nowadays. But the point is, I see that my elders are really important in keeping the tradition alive and the family together. Otherwise, I wouldn't have experienced such great Chinese New Years as I have in the past. This is from my dad's family side. But it's also happening on my mom's side. After my grandmother died, everybody literally stopped gathering at her house and I never experienced that bond anymore.



What function do elders contribute to Balinese society?

Cultural Guardians:

Elders in Balinese society are considered the guardians of cultural heritage. They hold a deep knowledge of traditional ceremonies, rituals, and art forms, passing them down through generations. This cultural continuity is crucial for preserving the distinctive Balinese identity and maintaining a connection to the island's rich history.

Spiritual Guides:

Balinese culture is deeply rooted in Hinduism, and elders often serve as spiritual guides within the community. They play a vital role in religious ceremonies, offering prayers, performing rituals, and providing spiritual counsel. Their wisdom contributes to the spiritual fabric of Balinese life, reinforcing a sense of harmony between the physical and spiritual realms.

Community Decision-Makers:

Elders are highly respected for their life experiences and are frequently consulted in matters of importance to the community. Their counsel is sought not only in personal or family matters but also in village-level decisions. The elders' collective` wisdom helps maintain social cohesion and resolve conflicts within the community.

Balinese Adat Law:

Adat, or traditional customary law, is a significant aspect of Balinese society. Elders are often the keepers and interpreters of these laws, which regulate various aspects of community life, from ceremonies to land use. Their role in upholding and passing down Adat contributes to the stability and order of Balinese communities.

Education and Mentorship:

Elders play a crucial role in the education of younger generations. They are the primary source of knowledge, teaching skills, and imparting wisdom through oral traditions. Young Balinese often learn traditional arts, dance, music, agriculture and craftsmanship directly from the elders, ensuring the continuation of these cultural practices.

Rites of Passage:

Elders guide and oversee important rites of passage, such as tooth filing ceremonies, weddings, and cremation ceremonies. These events mark significant milestones in an individual's life, and the elders' involvement adds a spiritual and cultural dimension, ensures the correct execution of these traditions, reinforcing the interconnectedness of generations. 

Balinese Family Structure:

The Balinese family structure places great importance on respecting and caring for elders. Multi-generational households are common, and elders often live with their extended families. This close-knit living arrangement fosters strong bonds between generations and ensures that elders actively participate in the upbringing of younger family members.

What the team says:

Disja (marketing)

In my Indonesian family, the role of elders is elemental, especially in resolving conflicts. They often act as the initiators of cultural and spiritual gatherings, serve as the glue that holds our extended family together. Our elders play a crucial role in reminding us of our origins, ensuring our heritage and traditions are passed down and respected.

Figuring out who I am and what I'm meant to do is a journey i'm still on. Having an older generation in my life, however, is of incredible help. Through getting to know the stories and struggles of my ancestors has been like finding pieces of a puzzle i didn’t even know i was missing.

For example, I’ve always felt a special connection to animals, especially horses, and an affinity for activities (or sports) that involve targets and require focus and aiming. One day I discovered that one of my great-great grandfathers was a revered fighter, whose companions were his horse and bow and arrows. Such revelations not only foster a deeper connection to my lineage but also offer a sense of continuity and belonging.

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned from elders in my family is how to navigate life's challenges and uncertainties. Their experiences offer a wealth of wisdom that, at times, may seem beyond the grasp of my younger mind. This has also taught me a deep respect for the elders, acknowledging that they possess insights and knowledge that come from a lifetime of experiences.


What are possibly ways to keep the wisdom of elders alive?

Oral Tradition and Storytelling:

One powerful way to preserve elder wisdom is through the art of storytelling. Encouraging elders to share their experiences, anecdotes, and life lessons with younger generations fosters a sense of connection and imparts valuable insights. Family gatherings, community events, or even digital platforms can serve as mediums for these storytelling sessions.

Recording and Documenting:

Embracing modern technology allows us to capture and preserve the wisdom of elders through various mediums. Video recordings, audio interviews, or written transcripts can serve as enduring repositories of their knowledge. Creating a family archive or contributing to community archives ensures that the wisdom is not lost with the passage of time.

Inter-generational Activities:

Facilitating interactions between different age groups fosters mutual understanding and appreciation. Organizing activities that involve both elders and the younger generation, such as workshops, cultural events, or collaborative projects, not only strengthens bonds but also allows for the exchange of wisdom.

Digital Literacy for Elders:

As technology becomes increasingly integral to our lives, it is essential to empower elders with digital literacy skills. This not only enables them to participate in the modern discourse but also provides a platform for them to share their wisdom through blogs, podcasts, or social media.


What the team says:

Gung De (sales)

According to Balinese people, just like other Eastern cultures and customs, elders are people who are respected and who are advisors on how to live life.

There are many things to learn. Maybe not always only about everyday life because times are always changing, but more about culture and religion, and how to continue traditions.

As time goes on, perhaps the elders cannot always keep up with the 'living of everyday life', but they lived earlier and longer, so their advice is still needed and valued.


Preserving and honoring the wisdom of elders is not merely a nostalgic endeavor; it is a commitment to fostering a resilient and interconnected society. By actively engaging with elders, embracing their stories, and integrating their insights into our lives, we not only pay homage to the past but also pave the way for a more enlightened and compassionate future. In doing so, we ensure that the torch of wisdom is passed on, illuminating the path for generations to come.

Elders in Balinese culture embody the essence of continuity and connection. Their multifaceted role extends beyond individual families to encompass the entire community, ensuring that the values, traditions, and spirituality that define Balinese culture endure through generations. The deep respect for elders in Balinese society reflects the understanding that their wisdom is not just a repository of the past but a guiding light for the present and the future. 

And so stories we must tell. Stories bring us together. Silences keep us apart.

And now you: What is your relationship to elders and what wisdom have they imparted towards your generation?

If you could share a piece of wisdom with a younger version of yourself, what would this be?

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