If Children Lose Contact With Nature They Won’t Fight For It

Remember the ‘Go Green’ campaign? As the environmentalists worldwide struggle in the aftermath of the global environmental degradation since more than two decades ago—then used by many in recent years, their contributions to the smarter and greener future will remain less strong than before. How can this be true?

Well, in a world where billions of people are living in a concrete jungle, connected to each other by mobile devices, we seem to agree on one thing: the children’s alienation from nature. Children, the future generation of leaders, thinkers, and doers, are getting less and less familiar with their nature where many valuable activities are centered. With facts unfold that fewer parents—regardless their reasoning behind this situation—are prepared to take action, worse could occur. Children will soon realize that they got nothing to do with nature.

In answering this challenge, immediate responses are needed. Parents must be in the forefront of the struggle, while education—both formal and non-formal—should pave the way for a new, better approach of man-nature relationships toward the children’s mind. And for artists, let’s start consider that arts have to be relevant and useful to society.

This is an excerpt of the article entitled “If children lose contact with nature they won’t fight for it” by George Monbiot, published on November 19 2012 on www.guardian.co.uk.


If children lose contact with nature they won’t fight for it

With half of their time spent at screens, the next generation will be poorly equipped to defend the natural world from harm.

by George Monbiot
Published on Monday, 19 November 2012 for The Guardian

One woe doth tread upon another’s heel, So fast they follow“. That radical green pressure group PriceWaterhouseCoopers warns that even if the present rate of global decarbonisation were to double, we would still be on course for 6C of warming by the end of the century. Confining the rise to 2C requires a sixfold reduction in carbon intensity: far beyond the scope of current policies.

A new report shows that the UK has lost 20% of its breeding birds since 1966: once common species such as willow tits, lesser spotted woodpeckers and turtle doves have all but collapsed; even house sparrows have fallen by two thirds. Ash dieback is just one of many terrifying plant diseases, mostly spread by trade. They now threaten our oaks, pines and chestnuts.

So where are the marches, the occupations, the urgent demands for change? While the surveys show that the great majority would like to see the living planet protected, few are prepared to take action. This, I think, reflects a second environmental crisis: the removal of children from the natural world. The young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it.

We don’t have to disparage the indoor world, which has its own rich ecosystem, to lament children’s disconnection from the outdoor world. But the experiences the two spheres offer are entirely different. There is no substitute for what takes place outdoors; not least because the greatest joys of nature are unscripted. The thought that most of our children will never swim among phosphorescent plankton at night, will never be startled by a salmon leaping, a dolphin breaching, the stoop of a peregrine, or the rustle of a grass snake is almost as sad as the thought that their children might not have the opportunity.

The remarkable collapse of children’s engagement with nature – which is even faster than the collapse of the natural world – is recorded in Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, and in a report published recently by the National Trust. Since the 1970s the area in which children may roam without supervision has decreased by almost 90%. In one generation the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK has fallen from more than half to fewer than one in 10. In the US, in just six years (1997-2003) children with particular outdoor hobbies fell by half. Eleven- to 15-year-olds in Britain now spend, on average, half their waking day in front of a screen.

There are several reasons for this collapse: parents’ irrational fear of strangers and rational fear of traffic, the destruction of the fortifying commons where previous generations played, the quality of indoor entertainment, the structuring of children’s time, the criminalisation of natural play. The great indoors, as a result, has become a far more dangerous place than the diminished world beyond.

The rise of obesity, rickets and asthma and the decline in cardio-respiratory fitness are well documented. Louv also links the indoor life to an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental ill health. Research conducted at the University of Illinois suggests that playing among trees and grass is associated with a marked reduction in indications of ADHD, while playing indoors or on tarmac appears to increase them. The disorder, Louv suggests, “may be a set of symptoms aggravated by lack of exposure to nature”. Perhaps it’s the environment, not the child, that has gone wrong.

In her famous essay the Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, Edith Cobb proposed that contact with nature stimulates creativity. Reviewing the biographies of 300 “geniuses”, she exposed a common theme: intense experiences of the natural world in the middle age of childhood (between five and 12). Animals and plants, she contended, are among “the figures of speech in the rhetoric of play … which the genius in particular of later life seems to recall”.

Studies in several nations show that children’s games are more creative in green places than in concrete playgrounds. Natural spaces encourage fantasy and roleplay, reasoning and observation. The social standing of children there depends less on physical dominance, more on inventiveness and language skills. Perhaps forcing children to study so much, rather than running wild in the woods and fields, is counter-productive.

And here we meet the other great loss. Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection. The fact that at least half the published articles on ash dieback have been illustrated with photos of beeches, sycamores or oaks seems to me to be highly suggestive.

Forest Schools, Outward Bound, Woodcraft Folk, the John Muir Award, the Campaign for Adventure, Natural Connections, family nature clubs and many others are trying to bring children and the natural world back together. But all of them are fighting forces which, if they cannot be turned, will strip the living planet of the wonder and delight, of the ecstasy – in the true sense of that word – that for millennia have drawn children into the wilds.

Read a fully referenced version of this article at www.monbiot.com

Conductor Barenboim turns 70

The Middle East conflict that flared up and caused civilian casualties on both sides in just recent days has ended with ceasefire. According to Al-jazeera, Israel and Hamas agree to truce after eight days of attacks in which 162 Palestinians and five Israelis were killed. The Egyptian foreign minister announced the ceasefire agreement hours before it took hold at 19:00 GMT on Wednesday.

But let’s set aside our typical opinion on the war; who started it, who is to blame, or whose side are we on. No, we don’t want to hear that. But let’s assume that most of us hate the war, especially the consequences it will bring. So let’s just focus on how to gain understandings and equality among conflicting people. And we believe that music can be such a way in bridging one.

Meet Daniel Barenboim, an Argentine-Israeli conductor and pianist, one of daring minorities who believe that music has the power to create more tolerance among people, even to those who are in conflict. Barenboim, who just turned 70 on November 5, brought together Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt musicians into harmony in his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. His view and belief in music’s roles and functions has led to an act of response upon unequality and disrespect among the citizens of the Middle East.

What Daniel Barenboim does since more than a decade ago up to his 70 years of age may not end the Middle East conflict in 5 or probably 10 years ahead. But with his persistence in passing the above values among the young Arabs and Israelis, let’s just hope that our children will live to see those days.


Conductor Barenboim turns 70

by Corina Kolbe
Published on November 14 2012 on www.dw.de.

Argentine-Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim aims to create more tolerance in the Middle East conflict with the power of music. We take a closer look at this unusual artist as he turns 70 on November 15.

Daniel Barenboim has repeatedly and impressively shown how music can bring people together. As a musical prodigy, he left Argentina for Israel and Europe at a young age. In the decades since, he has enjoyed wide acclaim as a pianist and conductor. The multi-lingual citizen of the world has demonstrated the courage of his convictions as he creates projects that assemble people to play music together, while simultaneously dispelling prejudices and bridging gaps between groups of people. However, he has no ambitions to become a statesman, preferring instead to remain the artist he is. The human aspect, and not politics, is what interests him, he says.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1942, Barenboim’s grandparents – as Russian Jews – fled to South America at the beginning of the 20th century to escape the pogroms of the Russian Empire. In Argentina, Barenboim learned to play the piano at the age of five, and gave his first performance as a seven-year-old. En route to Israel, where his family emigrated in 1952, they stopped in Salzburg, where Barenboim performed a Bach recital as a young pianist. Two years later, legendary conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler called him a “phenomenon.” Soon after, the nomadic life typical of an artist commenced for Barenboim as he gave his first performances in Vienna, Rome, Paris, London and New York. He also began recording albums.

A picture-book career

Following his conducting debut with the London Philharmonia Orchestra in 1967, he was soon conducting the world’s top orchestras. He became principal conductor of the Orchestre de Paris, conducted at the Bayreuth Festival beginning in 1981, took up the post as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and became General Music Director of the Berlin State Opera Unter den Linden in 1992. In addition, he became Music Director of Milan’s La Scala in 2011, having worked closely with the opera house in previous years.

Barenboim has not only concentrated on the works of Wagner, Beethoven, Schumann and Mahler, but also on contemporary music. At the Berlin State Opera, the conductor has led works by Pierre Boulez, Wolfgang Rihm, Isabelle Mundry, York Höller and the sole opera by American composer Elliott Carter, who recently passed away at the age of 103. Barenboim likewise regularly shifts from the conductor’s podium to the piano – such as in a recent concert series at La Scala in honor of his 70th birthday, during which he performed with his famous Italian colleague Claudio Abbado and others.

Argentinian-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
Argentinian-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

Provoking fellow Israelis

Holding Argentine, Israeli and Palestinian citizenships, Barenboim experiences the Middle East conflict first-hand without taking a one-sided view. The musician created a scandal in 2004 when he was awarded Israel’s Wolf Prize. During his acceptance speech before the Knesset, he sharply criticized Israel’s course of action again Palestinians, and quoted from the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. Then Israeli President Moshe Katsav chastised Barenboim for offending Holocaust survivors by performing works by the anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner.

Yet Barenboim is convinced that music can break down the barriers of hate. In 1999 – along with now deceased Palestinian intellectual Edward Said – he brought together young Israeli and Arab musicians for the first time for a workshop in Weimar, Germany. Taking its name from a collection of poetry by German Wolfgang Johann von Goethe, the “West-Eastern Divan” arose out of that, becoming a multi-national, Middle East orchestra that has gone on tour every summer since.

Members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra come from Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. The musicians don’t just rehearse and perform together: they also discuss controversial topics, such as current political developments. “The most important thing is that people enter into a dialogue with one another,” Barenboim reflects in the documentary film ‘Knowledge is the Beginning,’ directed by Paul Smaczny and profiling the orchestra. “That doesn’t mean one has to adopt the other person’s stance. But in such a forum, the musicians have the opportunity to grow more tolerant.”

Overcoming boundaries

One of the highpoints in the existence of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was a much-celebrated concert the musicians gave in Ramallah, in the West Bank, in 2005. With massive security measures in place, the orchestra was only able to enter the territory with Spanish diplomatic passports. Israeli musicians came to the Palestinian Territories for the first time, and their Arab colleagues had never before traveled in Israel. It became evident to everyone during that adventurous trip just how greatly the seemingly insurmountable borders had prevented people from learning about those on the “other side.” As Barenboim explains, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra will have achieved its true dimensions once it has performed in all of the native countries of its members.

In ‘Knowledge is the Beginning,’ an Israeli reporter asks Barenboim if musical education could stop a Palestinian child from throwing stones at Israelis. He said he didn’t think so, but with music, he could give these young people something they would never want to live without. “And when kids go to violin or cello lessons three or four times a week, they don’t have time to ponder radical ideas.”

Involved in society

The Berlin-based Daniel Barenboim Foundation not only supports the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, but also numerous music and educational projects in the Middle East. Together with the Barenboim-Said Musical Center in Ramallah, it supports young musicians of various ages in Israel and in the West Bank. The Edward W. Said Music Kindergarden opened its doors in Ramallah in 2004.

Barenboim also founded a music kindergarten in Berlin in 2005, where members of his Staatskapelle – the orchestra of the Berlin State Opera – regularly stop by with their instruments. Barenboim’s vision of education by way of music, which can promote cooperation within society, evidently has a wide appeal: on his 70th birthday on November 15, he will perform with the Staatskapelle Berlin under the baton of his long-time friend Zubin Mehta in a benefit concert for his Berlin Music Kindergarden.


Gringsing amid Changing Times

by Adikara Rachman

This article is based on a snapshot research organized by Sacred Bridge Foundation in Tenganan Pegringsingan Village, East Bali. The focus of the research is to assess the ideals and reality of their ritual arts. Its particular relevance to our contemporary life is on how we should cultivate as well as empower our roots in dealing with changes often “coerced” by external forces. [Ed.]

A Long Tradition of Gringsing

Tenganan, a village in East Bali, was established over a thousand years ago. The Tengananese are known as Bali Aga, a term that most perceives as the native people of Bali although the factual meaning of the word “Aga” is still debatable.

Despite the controversy, the Tenganan people possess and practice a set of system that bores various manifestations known to the world, and among them are gringsing, gamelan selonding and gambang. The sacred fabric Gringsing – literally means disease and/or evil repellent – is an artistic “gift” from the God Indra and being handed down for generations exclusively to the women. Gringsing is presented in a unique weaving and a sophisticated coloring techniques using natural dye. The weaving is a complicated double-tied technique that requires precision and skills that may take fifteen years to master. Gringsing is quite central to the life of the Tenganan people; even the formal version of the village’s name Tenganan Pegringsingan carries the meaning of a village that produces gringsing. It’s only natural that gringsing has made Tenganan known to the world.

To members of Tenganan Village, the realm of Gods and their ancestors is a sacred territory manifested in their rituals and ceremonies that underlie the gringsing tradition. This is the very reason why the use of gringsing is restricted to certain occasions and rules. Such enduring respect, along with their long-practiced inheritance mechanism, evidently has preserved most of the antique gringsing. Equally important in safeguarding gringsing is the role of the village chief in sustaining the related rules and practice.

The aim of safeguarding the gringsing authenticity is driven by their faith in Gods, and respect to the ancestors. This is why gringsing is intended only for spiritually-related activities while its functions include representing both their history and cultural identity.

Girls (daha), boys (truna) to adults and the elders, are obliged to wear gringsing in various ceremonies, as a symbol of their devotion to the gods as well as respect to their ancestors.
Girls (daha), boys (truna) to adults and the elders, are obliged to wear gringsing in various ceremonies, as a symbol of their devotion to the gods as well as respect to their ancestors.

The Artistry of Gringsing

The authenticity and the artistry of gringsing are the ultimate achievement of its aesthetics since they are the interpretations of their religion, living, and natural surroundings. The artistry descended into 20 types of different gringsing, yet the principle about the life values within the society remains the same. The life values are being visualized into many symbols, with repetitive and geometric pattern. Pattern itself can be elaborated into motifs, colors, size and shapes.


Principally, the motifs of gringsing are the artistic abstraction of the surrounding environment. These various motifs consist of: 1] Tenganan’s residential area in the form of squares with bows in each sides; 2] Floral patterns which being symmetrically cleaved such as Chrysolite flower and vegetable fruits such as Paré (bitter melon or momordica charantia) and eggplant; 3] The balance of life concept presented in a form of cross signs, stars, and sun as a macrocosm; 4) Means of protection concept is symbolized with dog fangs, barong (lion-like King of Good Spirits in Bali’s mythology) teeth, and scorpions; and 5) A form of wayang (puppet) that refers to the epic of Ramayana.

Any of all the three directions—longitudinal, widen and diagonal—is a repetition of all motifs’ directions regardless of what size the gringsing is. All forms of motifs are geometric as seen from how they cross the same color of fabrics between the directions of both its length and width. The motifs can be categorized into two groups; first is the dual-motif mix such as batun tuung, cecempakan and wayang mixed with cemplong; tri-motif mix such as dinding ai, dinding sigading, teteledan, kelompok lubeng, sanan empeg and perembon.


The Tengananese acknowledges the authority of their great Gods such as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva who are represented in three different colors: white/yellow, red, and black. This is the reason behind the use of these three natural colors in every gringsing they make, and such usage is called Barak. In certain cases, the three basic colors may not “visible” to the eyes. In the case of gringsing wayang kebo and gringsing putri for example, there are only white/yellow and black colors found. The color of red is actually there, but it is processed so that it appears as black. So, in principle, the tri-color mix is still applied. Albeit it involves the three colors, this type of usage can no longer be called Barak; it is named Selem. The reason for using only “two” colors in this matter is to surmount the complexity of composition resulted from dense small motifs. Application of three colors would make it impossible to spread them evenly.

Each color, up to the present, is still made out of vegetation native to the village; white/ yellow is processed through the refinement of ripe hazelnuts, red is produced from the bark extract of Tibah tree, while black is originated from the extract of Taum leaves.


As for the size, Gringsing has five different ones such as petang dasa, kebo, putri, patlikur and sabuk; each is subject to various procedures and usages during the religious rituals, and other ceremonies like hair-cutting, wedding, and when attending other villages’ ceremonies.

In gringsing lubeng (left) shows the village borders are guarded by four scorpions on each side, the stars show the artistry of the God Indra being revealed to the women of Tenganan
In gringsing lubeng shows the village borders are guarded by four scorpions on each side, the stars show the artistry of the God Indra being revealed to the women of Tenganan.


Gringsing has two types of forms; cylindrical, worn only by men, and loose-sheet, worn by men and women. The only difference between these two types is the size.

The complex patterns found in gringsing is the result of not only the unique way of symbolizing life, but also the required geometrical precision. The binding determines the accuracy of the crosses, while weaving determines how well the motifs are structured.

All types of gringsing mentioned above are made by each family in the village. Wearing gringsing in religious ceremonies defines the integration among the people and their Gods and ancestors. At the same time, gringsing also symbolizes life cycle that covers birth, childhood, adulthood, marriage, death, and reincarnation.

Gringsing and the Changing Reality

Bali has undertaken transformations in the last 30 years of its development, with tourism as the main economic engine. Such changes implicate the way people perceive and practice the interrelation between culture and economy. Cultural manifestation is now seen not only as the outcome of the set of systems within a culture, but also as the production means to make a living*. In facing this “new” reality, gringsing seems to struggle to uphold its cultural values and functions. The strong presence of tourism somehow adds the supply and demand perspective to the cultural perspective of gringsing making.


In the past three decades, gringsing produced by the Tengananese has exceeded the amount needed for ceremony purposes. The production is centered in two areas: Banjar Tengah and Banjar Kangin, the arrival points of incoming tourists. In theses two places alone, gringsing is produced by 40 out of 140 families.

This high production (due to meeting the market demands) impacts the required volume of raw materials. Today, most of the raw materials are imported from other villages, and even another island. In this condition, gringsing makers have to buy the raw materials with the price that they are unable to control. Rivet cotton and Tibah roots are among the raw materials that they need to import. The provision of Taum leaves faces a different problem; it is prohibited to plant new seeds since the trees disrupt other plants’ productivity as it is regulated in the Awig-Awig (written custom law). Moreover, these are not the only things that are dependents of outsiders; some produce that were once self-produced are now bought from outside.

These raw materials may actually be self-produced if the community exercises certain approaches. The limited area, for instance, may be divided into several designated zones. If the area for the raw materials is still not sufficient, then finding the suitable agro-technology may be the answer. To be self-reliant is fundamental in any economy; it guarantees not only the supply of basic needs, but also the price control to be on your side.

The cultivated land area is about 80% of the overall area of 900 ha, which treated as a source of living that is maintained since 1000 years ago.
The cultivated land area is about 80% of the overall area of 900 ha, which treated as a source of living that is maintained since 1000 years ago.

The purpose or motivation behind the making of gringsing is also challenged. Motivation that was once purely spiritual is now “imposed” by meeting the sales target. Regardless of whether this is a good thing or not, this situation will (in certain cases already have) change how the Tengananese (particularly the young) view and value their gringsing.

There is also a noticeable change on the supply side. Gringsing used to be produced by families for cultural and spiritual purposes. Members of the families shared the surplus of the income if there were any. Today, gringsing may be made by hired workers, a condition subject to wage system. As a result, the intra-relation among members within a family, and interrelations among families in the village have changed. Let us hope that these changes will enrich the culture of Tenganan instead of permanently damage it.


In the early 80s, government of Indonesia positioned Tourism as one of the main engines in the national economic development. Bali, with its long-standing international popularity, naturally leads the tourism campaign. All potential areas in Bali then were “developed” and promoted as tourist destinations, including Tenganan Village. Gringsing was indeed immediately treated as the most feasible income-generating tool for Tenganan. Transfer of employment* then began to take place. More and more members of the village, since then, have left their farming to concentrate on craft-makings. As mentioned briefly previously, this condition has caused the Tengananese to be dependent on others when it comes to not only gringsing making, but also their basic diets.

Tourism is not meant as a bad thing, but its practices often solely focus on wealth (actually money) creation, and completely neglect other equally or more important aspects*. The funny thing is that when the balance of spiritual-material living is disrupted, no one steps up, claims the responsibility and then corrects it.

Tourists spend their time in Tenganan for two to three hours long. They are generally considered to be potential buyers of gringsing.
Tourists spend their time in Tenganan for two to three hours long. They are generally considered to be potential buyers of gringsing.

Intellectual Property

The spiritual leader of Tenganan said,” Gringsing does not need to be patented. The purpose of producing it is for the ceremonies, and ceremonies are meaningless without it.” How should we take this statement?

In the past twenty years or so, intellectual property has shifted from a symbol of respect to the creator or inventor to a tradable commodity*. Patent then has become the vehicle to ensure both the income and profits go to the creator. Motivation behind most of creations today, including cultural manifestations, is to make money*. Most individuals and many nations are now in the race (if not war) of claiming who hold the rights. Individuals today can even claim the rights over a community or even a nation that has exercised the pattern, motif, design, or technology of things for hundreds or thousands of years. Countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are often in dispute with regards to cultural heritage. UNESCO’s Heritage List, although carefully issued, adds to the complication of the matter.

Gringsing at artshop_Web copy
Gringsing sold in art shops is the same gringsing used for the ceremonies. The price ranges from one million to 25 million rupiah.

The statement above is derived from a cultural perspective, and gringsing should keep it as its core perspective. If not, then gringsing will be valued a tradable product, just like any other manufactured products. The problem that may arise if gringsing is not patented, someone or some nation can claim the intellectual property right of it. This is possible since historical facts and long-standing cultural practices are not recognized as today’s legitimate proof*. So, a thousand-year of work may no longer be claimed simply because someone has managed to obtain a piece of paper saying that it is his or hers. C’est las vie?

(*Serrano Sianturi)


Blue Color Through the Centuries: Sacred and Sought After

[Jakarta, LTTW] Do you know that some colors are much older than the others? Well in this case, the blue can be considered as the new kid on the block. As we know it, nature contains a myriad of information beyond its stunning appearance, either in the form of visual and/or sound. For centuries, man has perceived and treated the sky as the home of the Gods, mostly because it’s unreachable heights and it’s vast, beautiful blue color. But not until 6000 years ago that the blue was bring into life, a chemist found.

The blue possessed by the sky then became a particular symbol exist in many cultures. Man’s curiosities then led to various attempts of producing the sky’s blue into a tangible form, which turned out to be a very difficult thing to do, and not everyone can do it right. Unlike the green or red, the blue color pigment doesn’t really exist on nature. So it has got to do with some chemical reactions, and highly poisonous ones. But still, the Cleopatra still got her eyelid covered with beautiful blue eye-shadow, and Mary got her wonderful blue robe.

This is proof that humans have always been noticing, questioning, and finding answers to their problems. We’ve been discussing this matter in our past two Offline Series events, which conclude humans are curious being—unlike the other life forms exist on earth. While in this case, humans are incredibly capable of enduring and dealing with problems, although it may takes ages to actually resolve the problems. But as most expected, the result speaks for itself. The blues seems to be the most celebrated, favored colors in the world. And thanks to those brave, creative men from the ancient times, we can easily possess the blues.

This is an excerpt of the article entitled “Blue Through the Centuries: Sacred and Sought After” by Natalie Angier, published on October 23 2012 on The New York Times. [Ed.]

Blue Through the Centuries: Sacred and Sought After

Published: October 22, 2012

However inspired they may have been by the immaculate beauty of the sky and water they saw every day, prehistoric artists had no way to render the color blue with paint. As Heinz Berke of the University of Zurich has pointed out, the famous cave paintings at Lascaux and surrounding sites, which date back some 20,000 years, are notably lacking in blue.

“Early mankind had no access to blue, because blue is not what you call an earth color,” said Dr. Berke, a chemist who has studied the history of blue pigment. “You don’t find it in the soil.” Only with the advent of mining, he said, could sources of blue pigment be extracted.

The first stable blue colorant used in the ancient world came from lapis lazuli, a semiprecious stone mined in Afghanistan beginning about 6,000 years ago. The Egyptians prized all things lapis, combining it with gold to adorn the tombs of the pharaohs, or powdering it into eye shadow for Cleopatra.

But the scarcity of the mineral drove the Egyptians to seek new blues through chemistry. By heating together limestone, sand and copper into the chemical compound calcium copper silicate, they invented the richly saturated royal-turquoise pigment called Egyptian blue. Variants of the recipe were taken up by the Mesopotamians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, who built factories devoted to blue’s production.

In ancient China, chemists created blue pigments by blending copper with heavy elements like barium, lead and mercury. Unfortunately, those same heavy elements were often brewed into popular — and ultimately toxic — elixirs. “It’s said that 40 percent of the Chinese emperors suffered from heavy-element poisoning,” Dr. Berke said.

The Mesoamericans invented the third of the three great blues of ancient civilization, a vivid and durable pigment called Mayan blue that scientists recently suggested could be a mix of indigo plant extract, a clay mineral called palygorskite, and resin from the Maya’s sacred incense, copal.

Whatever its origin, the blue pigment remained rare and expensive until the dawn of the industrial age, which probably explains blue’s longstanding association with royalty and divinity, and possibly why it is a widely favored color today. According to Steven Bleicher, a professor of visual arts at Coastal Carolina University, blue got a big endorsement in the year 431, when the Catholic church decided to “color code” the saints.

“Mary was given a blue robe,” he said, “a dark, wonderful and expensive blue befitting the queen of heaven.”

Over time, Mary blue became navy blue, the color of trustworthiness and authority, of bankers and the police. At this point, navy blue is so tightly linked to the notions of authority, Dr. Bleicher said, that the United Nations specifically avoided the color in designing the uniform of its peacekeeping troops and instead opted for a softer robin’s-egg blue.

As for the color-coding of the sexes, the idea that blue is for boys and pink means girls didn’t really gain traction in this country until the postwar baby boom, according to Jo B. Paoletti, a historian of dress at of the University of Maryland and the author of the new book “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” Even then, some parts of the South lagged in adopting the strict rules of childhood attire. “I found examples of pink clothing for boys way up through the 1970s,” Dr. Paoletti said.

So, too, should we recall in today’s bitter blue-red, donkey-pachyderm dialectic that just a few years ago, red stood for Marx.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 23, 2012, on page D3 of the New York edition with the headline: Blue Through the Centuries: Sacred and Sought After.