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Bali and Balinese Background

10 February 2011

Bali as a nation has experienced several major political changes over the centuries. It was first colonized by the Hindus who left Java in the fourteenth century and established their kingdoms and TeIigon on the island. Then the Dutch began their colonization with the conquest of North Bali in 1846, followed by that of South Bali in 1908. The Dutch were noted for allowing Balinese culture to continue with relatively little interference or reshaping in their image. After the Dutch, came the Japanese who invaded and occupied Bali until their defeat in 1945. In 1946, Bali became a province of the newly independent Indonesian Republic, Its capital is the city of Denpasar.

The island of Bali is geographically located about 8 degrees south of the equator and about 18 degrees north of the western end of Australia. It is a relatively small island, one of about 13,000 that make up the archipelago of Indonesia, often unrecognized as the fifth largest nation in the world. Bali extends over 5.633 square kilometers and is about twice as long as it is wide. A range of high volcanic mountains divides it into northern and southern portions. For the Balinese Hindu, the mountains are the palaces of the gods. The highest mountain, Gunung Agung (2900 metres), located in Karangasem district, is sacred to the Balinese Hiundus; on its slope stands the oldest and biggest temple in Bali, the mother temple, Pura Besakih.

The population of Bali in 1989 was 2,644,127, with about equal numbers of males and females. This represents less than 2 per cent of the total population of Indonesia, but Bali is the destination of more than 50 per cent of tourists visiting Indonesia. Approximately ninety-three per cent of the Balinese are Hindu. About 5 per cent are Muslim, and the remainders are Buddhist, Protestant, and Catholic. Occupations include farmers (animal husbandry, cultivation, of paddy and other crops), foresters, and fishermen, 50.74 per cent government officers and public services, 15.33 tradesmen, hotel staff, and restaurant employees, 14.52 per cent industrial workers, 9.84 per cent and builders, 4.82 per cent.

bali, bali indonesiaEarlier books in Bali (Krause, 1988 Powell, 1930) pictured and described the island at the beginning of this century as a paradise in terms of the beauty of its lush tropical landscape and the grace of its people, often with an unreal emphasis on lovely young women bathing nude under falling water. The former is still very much in evidence, but the latter is uncommon. Although the land is much more densely populated now than it was a half century ago, remains incredibly beautiful with vistas or terraced rice paddies, some deep green, some brown, mirroring mountains, clouds, and palm trees, set against backdrops of palms, bamboo groves, and an occasional house with a grass roof. A rice harvest is always going on somewhere owing to non- synchronous planting rice is harvested in the traditional, rather primitive way, with groups of people, predominantly women, cutting the rice plants by hand and carrying them on their heads to another spot where the rice plants are threshed against a board.

There are eight districts (kabupaten) in Bali. The villages (desa) are made up of organizational units called banjar. The total number of banjar is about 4,200. These governing and social groups form the basis of much of the communal life of Balinese society. Banjar are a major institution in the community. They are the main link with the central government and they transmit directives, as well as coordinate the customs of religion. Like the family, they are of critical importance in everyday life. Traditional banjar also deal with work, dances, music, and other arts. The banjar meeting hail, centrally located in every village, is an open pavilion, serving as a local clubhouse and gathering place day and night. Gamelan clubs often practice at various banjar, attracting a few villagers who gather around, chatting and watching. Banjar activities can draw large crowds, creating a festive atmosphere occasionally resembling that at temples during major ceremonies.

Members of the banjar are obliged to help one another perform a number of duties, especially in religious ceremonies such as the burial of a desa citizen and the construction and maintenance of buildings necessary for the functions of the banjar. These are obligatory activities for banjar members and take precedence over regular jobs on duties, regardless of whether such members are employed by state institutions or private enterprise. A man may need to leave his job without pay for days, or even weeks, in order to work for his banjar. One function of the banjar is to interpret the written and unwritten laws of the country and the banjar in order to ensure the security and peace of the desa and uphold the honour and good name of banjar and desa. When problems arise, the mechanism of the banjar, rather than lawyers and courts, settle disputes and mete out punishment. For example, if a desa member violates the decorum of the community, breaks its rules, or fails in his duties for the banjar, a sacred oath-taking ceremony (mecor) witnessed by the men of the banjar is held to determine his guilt or innocence. It is understood by all that if the decision is in error and fails to punish the guilty, the gods will do so. A guilty person is sanctioned, fined, or, if convicted of a very serious offence, isolated from the community. The latter punishment is indeed severe because it means that no one in the community will talk to him/her (puik) or help him/her to perform religious ceremonies, and the person so punished may not take part in the activities of the banjar. An awareness of these sanctions motivates the people to strive faithfully to execute all their banjar duties and follow the village rules which are clearly known to all.

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