there are no artifacts or records dating back to the Stone Age,
it is believed that the first settlers in Bali migrated from China
around 2,500 BC, and by the Bronze era, around 300 BC, quite an
evolved culture existed in Bali. The complex system of irrigation
and rice production, still in use today, was established around
History is vague for the first few centuries. A
number of Hindu artifacts were been found dating back to the 1st
century (AD), which suggests that the main religion, around 500
AD, was predominantly Buddhist.
It wasn't until the 11th century that Bali received
the first strong influx of Hindu and Javanese cultures. With the
death of his father around AD 1,011, Airlanggha, a Balinese prince,
moved to east Java and set about creating unity. Having succeeded,
he then appointed his brother, Anak Wungsu, as ruler of Bali. During
the ensuing period there was a reciprocation of political and artistic
ideas, and the old Javanese language, Kawi, became the language
used by the aristocracy.
With the arrival
of Islam in neighboring Java during the 15th century, a large number
of courtiers, artists, musicians and craftsmen fled to Bali. As
such, the Balinese have always been creative.
With the spread of Islam throughout Sumatra and
Java during the 16th century, the Majapahit empire began to collapse
and a large exodus of the aristocracy, priest, artists, and artisans
fled to Bali. For a while Bali flourished and the following centuries
were considered the Golden Age of Bali's cultural history. The principality
of Gelgel, near Klungkung, became a major canter for the Arts, and
Bali became the major power of the region, taking control of the
neighboring island of Lombok and parts of East Java.
The European Influence
The first Dutch seamen set foot on Bali in 1597, yet it wasn't until
the 1800's that the Dutch showed an interest in colonizing the island.
In 1864, having had large areas of Indonesia under their control
since 1700's, the Dutch government sent the troops to northern Bali.
In 1894, the Dutch sided with the Sasak people of Lombok to defeat
their Balinese rulers. By 1911, all the Balinese principalities
had been defeated in battle, leaving the whole island under Dutch
control. After World War I, Indonesian Nationalist sentiment was
rising and in 1928, Bahasa Indonesia was declared the official national
in bali is very communal with the organization of villages, farming
and even the creative arts being decided by the community. The local
government is responsible for schools, clinics, hospitals and roads,
but all other aspects of life are placed in the hands of two traditional
committees, whose roots in Balinese culture stretch back centuries.
The first, Subak, concerns the production of rice and organizes
the complex irrigation system. Everyone who owns a sawah, or padi
field, must join their local Subak, which then ensures that every
member gets his fair distribution of irrigation water. Traditionally,
the head of the Subak has his sawah at the very bottom of the hill,
so that the water has to pass through every other sawah before reaching
The other community organization
is the Banjar, which arranges all village festivals, marriage ceremonies
and cremations, as well as a form of community service known as
Most villages have at least one Banjar and all
males have to join one when they marry. Banjars, on average, have
a membership of between 50 to 100 families and each Banjar has its
own meeting place called the Bale Banjar. As well as being used
for regular meetings, the Bale (pavilion) is where the local gamelan
orchestras and drama groups practice.
are Hindu yet their religion is very different from that of the
Indian variety. There is a caste system, but there are no "untouchables"
and occupation is not governed by caste. In fact, the only thing
that reflects the caste system is the language which has three tiers;
95% of all Balinese are Hindu Dharma, and speak Low or Everyday
Balinese with each other; Middle Balinese is used for talking to
strangers, at formal occasions or to people of the higher Ksatriya
caste; High Balinese is used when talking to the highest class,
the Brahmana, or to a pedanda (priest). It may sound complicated,
but most of the words at the low and medium levels are the same,
whereas High Balinese is a mixture of Middle Balinese and Kawi,
an ancient Javanese language.
The main religion is Agama Hindu Dharma, which
arrived in Bali with the spread of Hinduism via Sumatra and Java
during the 11th century. Although originally from India, the Balinese
religion is a unique blend of Hindu, Buddhist, Javanese and ancient
indigenous beliefs, with customs that are very different from the
traditional form of Hinduism practiced in India today.
The Balinese worship Brahmana, Shiva and Vishnu,
who are seen as manifestations of the Supreme God Sanghyang Widhi.
Ganesha (the elephant-headed god) is also visible, but more commonly,
one will see shrines to the many gods and spirits that are uniquely
Balinese. The Balinese believe strongly in magic and the power of
spirits and much of the religion is based upon this. There is a
belief that good spirits dwell in the mountains and that the seas
are home to demons and ogres.
Most villages have
at least three main temples; one, the Pura Puseh or "temple
of origin", faces the mountains and is dedicated to the village
founders, another, the Pura Desa or village temple, is normally
found in the centre and is dedicated to the welfare of the village,
the last, the Pura Dalem, is aligned with the sea and is dedicated
to the spirits of the dead. Aside from these "village"
temples, almost every house has its own shrine and you can also
find monuments dedicated to the spirits of agriculture, art and
all other aspects of life. Some temples, Pura Besakih for example,
on the slope of Mount Agung, are considered especially important
and people from all over Bali travel to worship there.
"Offerings" play a significant role in
Balinese life as they appease the spirits and thus bring prosperity
and good health to the family. Everyday small offering trays (canang
sari) containing symbolic food, flowers, cigarettes and money, are
placed on shrines, in temples, outside houses and shops, and even
at dangerous crossroads.
Festivals are another great occasion for appeasing
the gods, where woman bear huge, beautifully arranged, pyramids
of food, fruit and flowers on their heads. There are traditional
dances and music and the gods are invited to come down to join in
the festivities. There are many festivals that are well worth observing.
Dance and drama
have historically played an important role in Balinese society.
Through this medium, people learned about the tales of the Ramayana,
Mahabarata, and other epic stories from Balinese history. The following
are brief descriptions of some of the better known dance-dreams
that are performed regularly on Bali.
This is a warrior's dance. It is usually performed by men, either
solo or in group of five or more . The dancers try to portray the
full range of emotions displayed by a warrior, such as anger, courage,
ferocity and passion. It is a dance that requires great skill, with
the artist having to display the whole range of inner emotions,
mainly through facial expressions.
Barong & Rangda
This is basically a story about the struggle between good and evil.
Good is personified by the Barong Keket, a strange, fun-loving creature
in the shape of a shaggy semi-lion, and evil is represented by Rangda,
a witch. Ultimately, the two characters engage in battle, at which
point the Barong's keris bearing followers rush in to attack Rangda.
The witch, however, uses her magical powers to turn the keris knives
in upon their owner's, who fall into a trance and begin to stab
themselves. The Barong uses magic to protect his followers from
the knives. In the end, the Barong triumphs and Rangda retreats
to recuperate her strength for the next encounter. The Barong and
Rangda dance is a very powerful performance and is not taken lightly
by those involved, nor should it be by those in the audience.
The Kecak, as a dance, developed in the 1930's, in the village of
Bona, where it is still performed regularly. The theme is taken
the Ramayana and tells the story of Rama, who, with the help of
the monkey army, tries to rescue his wife from the clutches of (the
evil) King Rawana. This is a very exiting dance to watch, and is
performed by a large group of chanting men sitting in a circle,
chanting & waving their arms and swaying to and fro in unison.
This dance tells the story of Princess Rangkesari who is held captive
against her will by King Lakesmi. Rangkesari's brother, Prince Daha,
gathers an army together to rescue his sister. Princess Rangkesari
then tries to persuade Lakesmi to let her go to avoid a war, but
he denies her her freedom. On his way to battle, Daha is attacked
by a raven (a bad omen), and is later killed in battle. The dance
only takes the story up to the point where the king departs for
battle, and it is performed by three people, two 'Legongs' and their
attendant, the 'Condong'. The Legong is a classical and graceful
dance, and is always performed by prepubescent girls, often as young
as eight or nine years old.
The Sanghyang is the force that enters the bodies of the entranced
dancer. There are a number of Sanghyang dances, but the most common
are the Sanghyang Dedari and the Sanghyang Jaran. The Sanghyang
Dedari is performed by two girls, and is very similar in style to
the Legong; the main difference is that the Sanghyang Dedari girls
are supposedly untrained and can keep in perfect time with each
other, even though their eyes are firmly shut. The accompanying
music is provided by a female choir and a male Kecak choir.
In the Sanghyang Jaran, a boy dances around and
through a fire, riding a coconut palm hobbyhorse. This is frequently
called the "Fire Dance", for the sake of tourists. In
both dances, a priest is always on hand to help bring the dancers
out of their trance-state at the end of the performance.
Topeng (Mask) Dances
In Bali, masks are considered sacred objects and are revered as
such. The best ones are traditionally carved on auspicious days
and the dancers who wear them are believed to be possessed by the
spirits of the masks. Characters can be identified from the shape
of the features; noble characters always wear full, refined masks;
while evil is represented by bulging eyes and garish colours. The
characters are silent, but communicate using complex gestures of
the hand, head and body. The story lines usually follow popular
myths, or episodes from history.
Wayang Kulit (Shadow Puppet)
Wayang Kulit is one of the great storytelling traditions of the
Javanese and Balinese. The Wayang show normally consists of a small
4 piece orchestra, which provides the musical accompaniment, to
around 60 'puppets' carved out of flat pieces of water buffalo hide
and the Dalang (puppet master.) The Dalang has to be both incredibly
skilled, as well as knowledgeable, and he not only manipulates all
the puppets, but also provides a different 'voice' for each one.
Good characters normally speak in ancient 'Kawi' and the evil or
coarse characters speak Balinese. The Dalang, must be fluent in