Whither Bali?

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Tiny Bali, with its three million inhabitants (compared with Indonesia's more than 200m) and its land mass of only 5,561 sq km (compared with Indonesia's nearly 2m sq km) is unique in one respect amongst the 13,600 or so islands of Indonesia - in its religion. Over 90 per cent of the population are Hindu, most of whom, including the young, are devout. They are followers of Hindu Dharma, a blend of Buddhism, Hinduism, and animism, which developed in eastern Java from the 8th century onwards and was brought by migrants to Bali. In Bali, unlike Java, it has been resistant to Islam. Preaching the harmony of God, nature, and man, Hindu Dharma enjoins participation in a seemingly endless round of rituals and ceremonies, which divert much labour and money away from economically productive activities but offer - so it is said - still greater spiritual rewards, both now and later. Music, drama, dance, shadow plays, painting, sculpture, and many crafts have been fostered by this religion, producing a culture that is deeply ingrained in Balinese people of all ages. Over the past century, this has attracted a steady flow of Western painters and musicians such as Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet, Han Snel, Colin McPhee, and Antonio Blanco, who not only took an interest in Balinese culture but also played a key role in its secularization and development. More recently, a huge influx of tourists has been drawn to Bali's culture and to its friendly people, landscapes, beaches, and shopping. Today Bali's economy is based almost entirely on tourism and agriculture, and the island accounts for about half of all tourist revenues in Indonesia; tourism is Indonesia's third most important source of foreign exchange. Surprisingly, tourism has not eroded Balinese culture, though it has altered it: tourist interest in Balinese arts has spawned a large class of professional musicians, dancers, actors, painters, and crafts people who work alongside and interact with the amateur practitioners found in almost every village. On the other hand, tourism, like television, has exposed Balinese youth to new ways, and one wonders how long the ancient culture, with its heavy demands, can survive. The Balinese view these developments with a mixture of hope and fear. Those who think about the island's future - seemingly a small minority - appear to hope that the present government will survive and attain its goals. As the government adopts measures to appease independence movements in other islands, they hope that the Balinese parliament, now largely powerless, will be given a greater role. This would allow it to limit immigration from other islands, which they see as a threat to their culture, values, and security; to guide the island's development, slowing the rapid loss of agricultural land, and reining in the almost uncontrolled construction of shops, hotels, and houses; to replace many Javanese bureaucrats with Balinese; and to give more emphasis to their culture and language in school and university curricula. They also hope that parliament would be given much greater revenues to carry out its programmes; some want to see the considerable tax revenues collected from tourists, over 80 per cent of which are taken by the central government, retained on the island. And they desperately hope that the tourism on which they depend so heavily will quickly revive. The Asian recession, the forest fires of 1997, and - now most important of all - the violence on many islands have all served to keep tourists away from Bali. Though Bali has been almost free of violence, except for riots in three cities (blamed by some on migrants from other islands) following the rejection of Megawati as president last October, tourism has proved highly sensitive to disturbances on the island and off. With the Australians in great disfavour for their alleged role in East Timor, and the Japanese only beginning to reappear, the revival of tourism in the past few months has been hesitant, almost imperceptible. View source

Watson A. M.



Secondary Title

International Journal


Sage Publications Ltd.











Political Science--International Relations, Politics & government, Bali Indonesia, Indonesia, 9172:Canada

Form: Journal Article
Geographical Area: Indonesia, Other

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