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Bali studies

Our overnight stay in Bali allowed us to see more of East Bali, including the fabulous scenery at Sidemen, and a visit to the new museum established in the main palace of Karangasem (Amlapura). East Bali still gives a sense of what made Bali so attractive before rampant over-development, you can actually see the rice fields and villages, rather than an expanse of wall-to-wall artshops, hotels, coffee shops and villas.

The Puri Karangasem Museum gives a great insight into palace life, although you have to imagine the royal family, courtiers and servants in residence, since the palace is beautifully quiet, and most people have moved to Denpasar. The Museum has a nice introductory explanation sheet, and some wonderful old colonial photographs in the restored main buildings, although some of these images need labels to explain who is who and what their significance is. Interestingly our driver, a Padang Bai local, came in to see the Museum too, since this was a new experience for him.

Anchoring at Padang Bai was fascinating, since this was the spot where the first Dutch ships stopped in 1597. Great views, but it’s amazing how much the whole coast of Bali, once pristine, is now covered in little housing developments and hotels. And let’s not talk about the desperate hassling as you step onto the jetty. Despite all the shows of government planning and marketing, the poor distribution of tourist income means that tourism is stuck in a time warp in which poorer Balinese crave the instant tourist dollar, and can’t understand why shoving a bit of ugly tat in someone’s face doesn’t produce instant wealth. In a competitive market such as exists in Southeast Asia, the poor experiences of Bali that many tourists encounter can have long-term consequences.

After Bali we sailed through the Makassar Straits, with small dolphins alongside, and a high traffic in industrial shipping going both ways. The next stop was Sandakan, very much your average out-of-the-way Southeast Asian port, although the old town had been completely flattened in World War II. We visited the memorial to the Sandakan POWs who died in the camp and on the death marches. The memorial is a park on the site of the camp, disturbingly beautiful for something so awful. The main display brings home the suffering of the nearly 2,500 prisoners who died in camp or on the forced marches, or at their destination at Ranau, over 200km away. My father had been in the Australian Army during World War II, and as part of the Pacific Command ended up in hospital at Morotai in this period. There he heard a first-hand account from Jack Wong Sue, the Z Force commando who had observed the March and helped three of the six survivors. As much as I know about the history of Japanese militarism, I cannot comprehend how such inhuman brutality could be possible.


Some thoughts on the 20th anniversary of my book


While notices of the death of Bali have been appearing for nearly 100 years, Susi Johnston's latest analysis of the island's problems, 'Does Bali need a reboot?' <> is an important contribution to analysing how the tourist marketing authorities and those responsible for Bali's infrastructure have lost the plot.

Mind you I don't agree with all of Susi's analysis, especially her view that wealthy westerners deserve their luxury holidays because they work so hard. This is an insult to workers everywhere who get run into the ground by their employers but would never in a million years be able to afford a good bottle of red while watching the sunset in a luxury hotel at Jimbaran. Some of those holidaying on Bali are indirect employers of the workers of the Third World, and even financiers who decide that for the sake of improving productivity or to make up for bad investment decisions, industries should shed thousands of jobs.


Just been to Siem Reap, where they could really teach Bali a thing or two about how to approach tourism. No overcrowding of buildings, no streets lined with art shops, people keep things clean (no sea of plastic bags dumped around the place), and the sellers certainly don't hassle you as much as Balinese sellers do (are Balinese sellers the worst in Asia? Even the ones in India didn't seem as bad for harrassment).

Just gathering my thoughts for the Bali Cultural Congress on 14th and 15th, where I'm talking about the future of Balinese culture. It seems now that Bali's 'cultural tourism' strategy is long dead, so where does that leave us?


This weekend proved a good time to be back in Bali. Being right in the middle of ritual season (at the end of the Galungan-Kuningan period) there was too much happening to be able to keep up with it all. But one thing I couldn’t resist was to go to the Pangerebongan at Pura Petilan Pangerebongan Kadaton. I’ve seen a lot of Balinese rituals, but this has to be up there with the most spectacular.


The temple itself is huge, having been the heart of the sub-kingdom of Kadaton, which played a key role in the rise of the kingdom of Badung in the eighteenth century, although Kadaton itself was subsumed into Kesiman when the neighbouring lord of that area became the power-broker of South Bali in the middle of the nineteenth century. The outer courtyard of the temple contains a huge cock-fighting barn (wantilan), although interestingly there isn’t as much cockfighting as there used to be. But it is essential for the temple festival that there are cockfights going on, so the noise of betting (‘cok’; ‘sal’, the calls for even or odd wagers on the central betting pool) booms out and blends in with the gamelan, singing of kidung and kekawan and megaphone instructions to worshippers from the usual self-important gentleman attempting to wrest order out of chaos.

In the early afternoon, worshippers crowd in with their offerings. Some then move on while others stay as more people pour in accompanying the different figures of gods who either reside in the temple or belong to connecting temples from the region that Kadaton once controlled, over to Tohpati in the east and Sanur in the south. Amongst the deities coming in are a number of Barongs (lion/dragons) and Rangdas (witches), this time there were three of the former and I think five of the latter. Initially they are rested in different buildings when they arrive, but then, as the ritual gets more intense, the various temple priests attached to each of the deities gather together in huge clouds of incense. The build-up for the main part of the ceremony takes place over about an hour-and-a-half. At a certain point when the main prayers have been said suddenly everyone stands up to get ready to process. Meanwhile, not only have the main priests who will put on the Barong and Rangda costumes gone into trance, but so have a number of members of the congregation, male and female (it just happens spontaneously, one minute someone is sitting there looking intense, the next minute he is shrieking and his body convulsing as a couple of friends try to support him and keep him under control).


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Ide Anak Agung Gde Agung, former raja of Gianyar, former Prime Minister of the State of Eastern Indonesia, and Former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Indonesia, has been named in this year's round of 'National Heroes'. This elevation has sparked great controversy in Bali (and elsewhere in the Republic), since his role in Indonesia's achievement of independence was mixed. On a national level he took a pivotal action that brought the Dutch to the negotiating table, but on a local level he was involved for a while in the active suppression of nationalists, and according to the memoirs of Tjokorda Agung Sukawati (Memoirs of a Balinese Prince), the Anak Agung was involved in the torture, and possibly responsible for the deaths, of a number of independence fighters.

The most important action taken by the Anak Agung was in his role as Prime Minister of the State of Eastern Indonesia, which was a Dutch-sponsored state set up as part of their attempt to maintain an Indonesian Federation, in competition with the move to independence of the Republic. After the Second Police Action, a military action that saw the capture of the Republic's leadership and the independence fighters forced into guerilla warfare, Anak Agung brought down the State of Eastern Indonesia as a way of exposing the Dutch Federation as a sham, and thus undermining Dutch attempts to gain legitimacy in international forums. Most importantly this meant the Dutch could no longer maintain US support. From the reports I have seen, this move, which led to the final negotiations for Sovereignty, was what was recognised in the award.

The announcement has seen letters of support from some in Bali, but outcry from others, according to reports in Jawa Pos and the Bali Post over the last two days. Although no one has cited the evidence of Tjokorda Sukawati's book, or other similar accounts such as that of Nyoman S. Pendit, the criticism from surviving veterans of the struggle for independence and their family members has been very strong, and there are even calls to have the President revoke the award.

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Indonesia lost one of its national treasures at midnight on 4th September, with the death of Dr Anak Agung Made Djelantik. From the royal family of Karangasem, Dr Djelantik had an amazing life, to match his vast range of talents. Amongst other things, he had been head of Bali's main teaching hospital at Sanglah, and a leading figure in the promotion and study of Balinese culture.

When a group of academics led by the late Fritz de Boer, Hildred Geertz and Hedi Hinzler, started the Society for Balinese Studies in the early 1980s, it was Dr Djelantik who became the natural head of our Society. His publications on Balinese art include his 1986 short book on Balinese painting, still the only general account of Balinese art history, and important writing on Balinese aesthetics, only some of which have been published.

Dr Djelantik's autobiography, The Birthmark (sadly out of print), captures only some of the highlights of his life. Besides his immense contribution to Balinese culture, and to the practice of medicine in Indonesia, he deserves to be remembered as a man of extraordinary moral integrity. While others from privileged backgrounds have chosen to enrich themselves as members of the Jakarta elite, Dr Djelentik always lived very modestly in his cosy little house at Renon. As a student in the Netherlands during World War Two he had to dodge the Gestapo as he worked with other students in the Resistance. After the 1965 Coup in Indonesia, when the death squads came around to his hospital to remove patients, Dr Djelantik did what few others at the time had the courage to do, and refused the mass murderers entry, persuading them in his calm, humanitarian manner to leave. If anybody deserves to be declared a 'national hero', then surely Dr Djelantik fits the bill.


I was excited to receive the new book by Michael Hitchcock and I Nyoman Darma Putra, Tourism, Development and Terrorism in Bali (Ashgate 200&). This is more than a great overview of Bali in the last two decades, it includes some really good new material on internal conflicts and the tension between Balinese self-perceptions and the way Bali is viewed within Indonesia. Although there is some unevenness in the chapters—probably the product of having two writers working at a distance—overall it provides a comprehensive account of the perils of Bali's development processes. Most importantly, we are finally seeing more works come out with Balinese authors or co-authors, reversing the earlier trend of us Westerners speaking on behalf of Balinese.

Tuttle (Periplus/ Java Books) has recently published Father Norbert Shadeg's Balinese-English Dictionary. The dictionary has some quirks (notably the use of initial 'h-' for words, a product of Balinese spelling systems rather than of the way Balinese is spoken), but it is a valuable addition to the field, and the first really comprehensive Balinese-English dictionary (since Kersten's dictionary was narrower in its selection of words).

Also involved in the editing process was Professor Sutjaja, whose only contemporary dictionary is due for publication with the same publisher. The scholarly community owes Eric Oey of Periplus/Tuttle a great debt for publishing the Shadeg dictionary, following the publication of Stuart Robson's Javanese dictionary a few years ago. Few commercial publishers would be prepared to make such a contribution.

About the Blog

A series of notes and discussions about current research I am undertaking about Indonesia.

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